13 Best Practices for Warehouse Productivity

How to improve storage, layout and security in the warehouse

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Improving a warehousing operation is a complex endeavor that can be approached from any number of angles. Here are 13 common actions you can consider in any warehouse improvement effort:

13 Best Warehousing Practices

1. Organize with care.

Divide your facility by zones based on the pick type. This simplifies order picking and reslotting because items with similar storage and picking methods are grouped together.

2. Have real, actionable data. You can’t make good decisions without it.

Whether that means that you utilize real-time data capture systems such as RF, voice, RFID or manual data gathering, you must understand what’s happening from a high level to make effective changes. Do you utilize a WMS system? Does it provide good operational information you can parse?

3. Execute cycle counting operations to enhance inventory accuracy.

You should work to create a culture of inventory control through a cycle counting process. Do it every day before orders start shipping. This sounds difficult, but the accuracy, efficiency and morale increases will be tangible. And it’s easier than it sounds.

4. Re-slot your pick positions as often as necessary.

Up to 60% of a picker’s daily activity can be tied up in travel time (afoot or on a forklift or walkie), so reducing that time-spend is an excellent idea. A good product slotting strategy can reduce travel time, thereby reducing picking labor. Always weigh the time and cost of a complete re-slot against the costs of it. Busy operations re-slot their fast moving, high-profit SKUs every day. Slotting the facility once and leaving it that way for years is typically a recipe for wasted time and money.

5. Automate where it makes sense – but understand the ROI.

Automation has become much more affordable the last decade or so in the face of just about everything else (labor, space, time) escalating. The idea of a robotic palletizer, automated stretchwrapper or AS/RS system can be intimidating, but these methods are proven across every industry. For instance, robotic applications were once exclusive to manufacturing (in particular for welding in automotive manufacturing). Now, the same technologies are frequently applied – affordably – to distribution, picking, packing, etc. But you must understand the payback, not just the benefits. The basic formula of replacing multiple shifts of workers with a $200,000 palletizer can be intimidating until you do the math. Does the robot cost more over its expected life than the labor does? One focus on automation can be for fast movers in standard sizes with high volumes.

6. Consider labor management tools to optimize performance.

Labor management software can help you gain control of these costs and enable you to visualize, understand and take command of the labor situation as it really is, not as you think it is. Handling labor resources correctly can be the difference between an adequate operation and a good one, or a good one vs. a great one. These tools are best applied in high-volume picks, not for bulk items where heavy machinery is required to deal with stock.

7. Define how to plan & pick orders – in advance.

What picking process are you going to use, where and when? See split case picking methods for more information.

8. Focus on replenishment.

This ties to slotting frequency and methodology, and is just as important as picking methods. Is inventory as easy to replenish as it is to pick? Putaway logic can help you define both the receiving process and stock locations.

9. Secure your operation.

Studies have indicated that a secure supply chain is often a more efficient one. Check out our industrial security area for tips and information on warehouse and factory security.

10. Measure, measure, measure. Then do it again…and ignore some of it.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming is often misquoted with the maxim that what can’t be measured can’t be improved. What he actually said was that managers must know the unknown and the unknowable (such as the cost of a dissatisfied customer). He acknowledges that you can’t measure everything of importance, but you must still manage those important things. For the things that are quantifiable, the quote still stands.

11. Don’t work in the dark. Literally.

Proper light distribution improves any operation. When a warehouse has rectangular rack rows and circular fixtures, visibility and light distribution suffers. Utilizing the correct lighting geometry can reduce picking errors on its own. That’s not to mention the energy saving benefits, tax breaks and utility rebates that accompany (and often finance) energy-efficient lighting systems.

12. Hire an inventory manager.

If your operation is of adequate size, taking that responsibility away from supervisors, customer service or warehouse management may be one of the best ways to optimize the operation. A decision maker should be involved.

13. Train relentlessly, over and over, to break bad habits and instill good ones.

Employees need more training than the basics of how to run any machinery in their area, where things are and their direct reports. How do you expect things to get done? What way does your company conduct business? What processes do you expect them to use? Whatever you teach new employees needs to be taught – again and again – to your veterans. This allows you to update skills for everyone and make sure your processes are always top-of-mind. Better yet, document that training and keep a file on it. Employees who are trained in safety operations are less likely to have accidents, and  if an incident does occur, documentation proves that you did the training.


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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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