What Can You Learn From Wandering the Warehouse?

Practice the way of Gemba or ‘the Real Place’ from the Japanese phrase. Only by walking the warehouse floor can you see what's working or not.

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    Do you love the view of your warehouse floor and looking at the labels, stacks and pallets of products it holds?

    Many supply chain managers and distribution business owners may find themselves stuck behind their desks with paperwork or in meetings critical to business operations. But, there are huge benefits to getting out on your warehouse floor and looking at your storage, products, packaging and processes. The theory of managing by walking around (MBWA) was named by HP executives in the 1970’s and described in a variety of business management improvement theories and books.

    One of the principles of Lean practices is called Gemba or ‘the Real Place’ from the Japanese phrase. A Gemba walk takes place when managers and executives go to the front line production areas and look for waste in processes or other opportunities to apply lean principles.

    Talking to the people on your warehouse floor face to face will also give you a great perspective of current business processes and opportunities for improvement.

    Who should get out on the warehouse floor?

    The Boss – he should look at the personnel, products and processes overall for the big picture of effectiveness and efficiency.

    The Managers – are the people following the required processes and handling the products correctly? This should include safety checks and procedures.

    The Admin staff – get them out from behind their desks so they know exactly what it takes to do the job to get the products to the customer.

    What should they do?

    Ask your staff what slows things down on a daily basis?

    – What process works best or worst? Picking, packaging, staging, shipping, etc.

    – Ask how they would recommend fixing the problem?

    Why it matters?

    – shows your employees your involvement and understanding of what it takes to get the job done.

    – can lead to significant increases in productivity by streamlining operational processes.

    – increases and encourages communications between all levels and departments of your distribution company.

    But, remember, you and your management staff must take action and put in place the beneficial process changes based on what you learn. Put that warehouse wandering time on your calendar on a regular basis, then follow-up to make certain the recommended changes are implemented and working on the warehouse floor the next time you get up from behind your desk.

    This article in Modern Distribution Management explains some of the additional benefits and perspectives you can gain by MBWA.

    Many of the changes to your warehouse floor processes can be measured for improved results by your Enterprise Resource Planning system. Inventory Management metrics are a specialty of the Socius Distribution team.