Order picking in most facilities is where all the action is, and with that being said, it is where usually the greatest opportunity is found.

How do you improve your order picking process? Do you have room for improvement? Usually the answer is yes. One of the first thoughts is training. When was the last time an overall training program was completed? Do order pickers know why they are doing steps? If they don’t, many may find them irrelevant and skip the process, thinking there is no harm. A typical distribution center will experience between 50-60% turnover rate in this area per year (yes, I know many facilities have much higher rates, I was trying to be kind). With that kind of high turnover, a training program is not merely suggested, but instrumental in the success of productivity and accuracy. Especially if you have a WMS, pick to light, carousels, or any type of automation or software. If your system was installed more than three years ago, the odds are that not one person remains that was there during the initial training. Therefore, the nice bells and whistles that you paid good money for in the system you selected are probably not being utilized to the benefit that can be achieved.

Another area of improvement is second or third shifts. Many times the productivity/accuracy rates are lower on these shifts and managers seem to be okay with the phenomena. Why? Your team should be as productive or accurate whether it’s light or dark. So work on building that team. Each shift should set the other up for success.

My favorite area is attitude. Okay, I see you rolling your eyes! But in many facilities I walk into there is this attitude about the order pickers like they are second class citizens, and that attitude promotes a complacency that is prevalent in the area. They think no one cares, so why should I bother to do a good job? This is a management issue that many Vice Presidents don’t even know exist. When was the last time you walked the floor or picked an order? Do you have a recognition or affirmation program? Seriously, do you spend more time catching people doing things right or do you focus on catching them doing things wrong?

Accountability is another gold nugget. In the early days of pick to light it was not uncommon to get at least a 50% increase in productivity. One of the tangible gains was from accountability. Accountability is why labor management systems are so popular or standards. They give you total accountability and if employees know that you will know everything they have done, they have a different mindset. Whether you have a manual system or an automated system, accountability is a huge key for productivity and accuracy. If you don’t know who picked every order every time, start today with a manual system to accomplish accountability and down the road look to an automated system. Start a KPI (Key Performance Indicators) or benchmarking program it will pay dividends.

Slotting is another nice-to-have product or system. Many people do a poor job reviewing their slotting needs and just buy a product only to find it on the shelf a year later. What are your real slotting pains and what can you do to improve them? A great example is the golden zone. Do you need sophisticated slotting software to put your fast movers in the golden zone? No, a simple spread sheet and a little management guidance will work fabulously. Review your slotting today. Look for fast movers on the bottom. Realize if you have a fast mover on the bottom of a gravity flow rack and you are making an order picker bend every time they pick it over a period of a couple of hours, productivity will go down over 10% and depending on volumes it could be more. Think about where that productivity is at the end of the shift. Do you have someone else slotting the product besides the order fillers? Is that person’s bonus based on the productivity of the order fillers? It should be!

This is a common problem. Receiving usually slots the product and, quite frankly, many times they just do not care where they put the product because they aren’t the ones picking it. 

Lastly, don’t underestimate the value of another view. Your team gets so used to doing what they are doing they overlook the obvious. Have someone from the outside perform an operational audit, odds are you’ll find lots of gold nuggets!

Happy Order Filling!