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 similar 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 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 involved 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 SKU’s 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 for 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 documentation proves that you did the training in case there is an incident.


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Scott Stone Cisco-Eagle's Director of Marketing. He has over 25 years of experience in the industry.

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  • Thiago

    These are great tips. One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen is effective use of warehouse pallet racks, and I think this will at least free up time to address the problems.

  • Eric Budd

    fyi re: the Deming reference, His name is W. Edwards Deming. He said the most important figures are unknown and unknowable (such as the cost of a disgruntled customer) but those figures still must be managed. He also is attributed with the quote: “In God we trust. All others bring data.”

    • Eric, thanks for the comment. We will definitely correct Dr. Deming’s name. The largest struggle in business is probably as you describe: the unknown cost of a disgruntled customer.

  • Tip #13 is very important to me, I believe in extensive training and investing a good amount of time educating about efficient practices. Recently I started working on a medium size distribution center with an interesting mix of 15+ years seniority and a young revolving door, and all we got as a group was an initial tour of the facilities, a gun, not even an assigned Picker and a “you are on your own” welcome. They waste so much time with questions that should’ve been addressed by initial training. We changed RF handhelds models and type, and they didn’t even described the functions of the new guns, a week after, people are still stopping other people to ask for the added functionality of the new gun and system. I know this is not the case on most mayor DCs, but I’m taking this experience and this article as learning experience.

  • Corey Smith

    Wow, I’m sure that all these tips about warehousing would be quite a handful of things to be doing. Especially for the workers and staff to be doing in organizing things such as the inventories, measuring, and the tools. This sounds like a big project to do but it seems like it’s something that every worker goes through.

  • John Smith

    Could somebody share some innovative ideas about warehouse security? I have a large warehouse and facing lot of pilferage and theft issues. Have installed CCTVs, RFID, automated boom barriers but to no avail. Hoping this forum could be more useful

    • Ancil Robin

      Hello John Smith,
      You could implement WMS driven cycle counts for your stock holding bins. Here the locations for count are randomly allocated by the system and therefore the storekeepers wouldn’t know what locations would be marked for the daily counts. No temporary adjustments can be done by the storekeepers in this way. You could appoint an external security guard to frisk search all employees leaving the premises. The search must include open check of all hand bags/ tiffin boxes, laptop bags and anything that can carry your stocks dependent on the items you handle. Tiffin boxes must be open checked by the security.
      Hold the extra key to the the employees’ cabinets/ wardrobe cabinets as a security policy and have them open checked occasionally.
      The dispatch supervisors must count the cartons loaded onto delivery vehicles against the transfer/ dispatch notes.
      Restrict entry to the staff to only the areas they are assigned for routine jobs through bio-metric access. For e.g. We have section for watches and accessories storage and only the staff working in this section are allowed entry. This way the responsibility / liability can be accounted to the section staff. This should reflect in their KPI’s and affect year-end bonuses which is an indirect way to discourage the practice of pilfering rather than charging all employees for the loss.
      Anyone caught red handed must be served a termination with immediate effect.

    • cisco-eagle.comcisco-eagle.comcisco-eagle.comcisco-eagle.comcisco-eagle.comcisco-eagle.comJohn, there is a lot to consider in that realm. The good thing is that security and productivity are actually pretty “good friends”. The research tends to show that if a facility is lax about security, it’s demoralizing to honest employees, so it is worth the effort to control the thieves. They infect the honest people.

      Some things I can point you to:

      1) Security at the loading docks: http://www.cisco-eagle.com/catalog/c-3091-security-at-the-shipping-docks.aspx

      2) White paper on industrial security: http://www.cisco-eagle.com/uploads/White-Papers/eBook-Loss_Prevention-tall.pdf


  • Greg

    Another good system is to have your loading bays set out so trucks can be loaded without conflict of other loaders. This can marry up with the pick bays – set them out in a Geographic order, eg North South East and West, orders packed and placed in their respective areas ready for loading, and then the loaders go direct to those areas when loading working off their load dockets. I hope this makes sense

    • Thanks Greg. It makes sense to me, and I will add it to a future advice article.

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