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Cliff Holste

Supply Chain Digest
Material Handling Editor

Logistics News - Sorting It Out

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.

December 13, 2017

Sorting It Out: The Importance of Innovation as a Competitive Factor

A List of 12 Suggestions That do not Require Capital Funding


It is often said that innovation is the driver of growth. It is the spark that generates new ideas that lead to marketable goods and services. No doubt innovation is a key competitive factor in today’s business environment. New projects, especially those that take advantage of emerging automation technologies are often capital intensive. What if funding is not currently available? In this case, innovation (otherwise referred to as thinking out-of-the-box) may offer interesting alternatives.


While many business managers are struggling to keep tight control of the reins, they must be careful not to inhibit growth. The question is how can this untapped resource be turned on? It’s a good question. So, we did some research and developed a list of innovative improvement ideas that do not require capital funding and that might just get the creative/innovative juices flowing:

Holste Says...

Creative, innovative ideas, like the ones listed above, promote a higher level of participation through shared experience.

What do you say?

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1. When someone does something above and beyond. Carry gift certificates to places such as Starbucks, McDonald's, movie theaters, or the car wash. When someone has done something above and beyond the norm, recognize their efforts immediately by giving them a small token of appreciation.


2. When you notice someone doing something that is not in according with SOP, ask their permission to discuss it. For example; you could say – “what you’re doing is interesting, may I discuss it with you”. Doing so softens the feedback that follows, and gives the other person a moment to prepare so they are less likely to be defensive. Their method may be an improvement or lead to an improvement. If that’s not the case you can then use it as a teaching opportunity.


3. Have your daily goals and results open automatically on PCs when staff members log in. This keeps everyone aware of the previous day's achievements verses targeted objectives.


4. Have all information shared at huddles or team meetings in an accessible file. Anyone who missed the huddle can simply read the file and catch up on what they missed. This keeps everyone up to speed at all times.


5. Help everyone in the facility understand your metrics. Have managers in one department learn the metrics used by another department. Then, in a small group setting, have the managers teach these metrics to the supervisors. Supervisors then teach metrics to team leaders, who teach them to associates. Continue the process through the ranks until all levels of employees have completed this cycle for all metrics. The result may improve overall performance, as employees at every level better understand the business.


6. Improve your operations by talking with your top-performing employees. Ask for their ideas on how to improve efficiency and cut costs, then listen to their replies. Don't forget to give full credit for their ideas if you adopt them.


7. Focus on DC cleanliness. Consider assigning a group of aisles or an area in the DC that each department/team is responsible for keeping squared away. Every day at the same time, an alarm goes off, which alerts everyone to stop and pickup clutter for 10 minutes. This helps keep the DC in tiptop shape daily.


8. Make it easy to spot pallet jacks that have wandered off. Assign different colored tape to various areas in your operation, then attach that color tape to pallet jack handles assigned to a particular area.


9. If you use bar-code scanners to scan order numbers, hook each scanner to a bungee cord. This keeps the scanner in the same spot and enables associates to simply let go of it, eliminating the possibility of the scanner dropping to the floor.


10. If you have multiple facilities in your distribution network, conduct a monthly best practice conference call between DCs to share and discuss internal best practices. Focus on two or three different departments each month. Group departments by process, such as receiving, quality assurance, and putaway for inbound.


11. Take a few minutes each month to pick an order or pack a shipment. There's no substitute for experience - get out there and re-experience your operation. Benefits of doing so include enhanced visibility, heightened awareness, increased approachability, improved manager/employee relations, increased efficiencies, reduced operating costs, improved safety, and more.


12. And then we found this idea:

Reduce Touches: In some operations as much as 50% of labor hours are spent on double or triple handling tasks. To draw attention to this put up signs promoting O.H.I.O. (no not the state) Only Handle It Once. Why? Because this will encourage associates to ask – can we crossdock this SKU, or, at a minimum, can we by-pass reserve storage and put it directly into an active pick slot. By simplifying processes, reducing touches, combining tasks, shortening travel and eliminating steps, labor and cost is reduced.


Final Thoughts


Good ideas don’t have to be limited to physical equipment, controls or software expenditures that require capital funding. Managers can boost productivity of their operations by creating an environment where everyone has some “skin-in-the-game” and know what is expected of them. Creative, innovative ideas, like the ones listed above, promote a higher level of participation through shared experience. It does, however, require taking the blinders off and being open to new ideas.

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