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About the Author

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

March 18, 2015

Logistics News: Deploying A Continuous Improvement Plan

Improving Operations must be a High Priority

Holste Says:

Making improvements to create jobs that can be done safely, efficiently and consistently correct is just good business.
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Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking To Increase System Capacity Are Surprised To Find It May Already Exist!

Sorting It Out: For Shippers - Benefits Of Real-Time Control In The DC Are Huge!

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking to Improve Operations Choose Customer Centric Approach

Sorting It Out: Productivity is a Crucial Factor in Measuring Production Performance

Sorting It Out: Packaging Construction Impacts on Logistics Operations


As the US economy continues to grow stronger many shippers face antiquated operations that are not optimized. There are the obvious signs of trouble: insufficient system processing capacity, increasing customer complaints, extended hours and high overtime cost, higher than normal turnover and absenteeism, poor moral, a cluttered warehouse, etc. You’re thinking perhaps now is the time to invest in improvement projects. But, you’re not sure that the effort will yield any measurable result. No doubt it will improve working conditions, but in the end will the “squeeze be worth the juice”?

The answer depends on whether or not the business is growing profitability. If in order to increase shipping volume headcount needs to be increased incrementally, then doing more business may not yield more profit. If overhead continues to increase disproportionally, then at some point the business may experience a negative balance sheet.

You might be thinking that it’s hard to justify investing in improvement projects if most employees are willing to tolerate the current conditions. However, you need to take into consideration goals that are not being met because of the time and energy being consumed by inefficient and outdated operations.

This didn’t happen overnight. Years of complacency often results in an outdated and inefficient operation that can put an otherwise healthy business at risk. This is especially true when the economy improves and the hard working people you currently have choose to leave for better working conditions. It is much better to pay continuous attention to whatever affects performance, efficiency, customer service, and safety in the workplace, and make the appropriate improvements.

Start by commissioning a team made up of individuals from the various functional departments plus a few who have no direct association (such as manufacturing, accounting) in order to get a fresh “out-of-the-box” perspective. Then task them with coming up with improvement suggestions. Let them know that you are looking for ideas such as:

Adopting basic industry standard processing improvements, such as: ASNs, EDI, WMS, along with newer technologies like product/container 2D matrix code technology - see “Supply Chains Benefit from Adoption of 2D Matrix Code Technology”

Follow work orders through the various operations looking for tasks that are physically challenging. Then recommend alternatives for automating or mechanizing them. For instance, it may only require changing the elevation of a picking container to make it easier to reach inside.


Recording and prioritizing safety issues, errors, exceptions. Then search for the cause (not the blame).


Develop and recommend solutions that can be implemented on a continuous basis without major interruptions.

To negate the possibility of the “not invented here” syndrome in addition to the typical internal politics, it may be beneficial to have an outside industry expert/consultant direct this effort.

Final Thoughts

A business that is dependent on the daily extra efforts of it’s over stretched workforce is a business at risk. Making improvements to create jobs that can be done safely, efficiently and consistently correct is just good business. Continuous improvement should be high on every ones priority list.


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