This article originally appeared in our July/August issue

Many retailers are starting to plan now for the 2017 holiday shopping season — some even began planning immediately after last season’s rush. Not everyone needs large strategic transformations to prepare their supply chains for peak season. Most oftentimes, there are a handful of small, and sometimes simple, adjustments that can be made to increase throughput, boost system performance, and maximize the effectiveness of your labor force.

Check out these four best practices that can transform your holiday readiness strategy into a well-oiled machine.

System Tuning

Many organizations have system “jobs” that must finish prior to productive work being started or that require down time from operations such as pick waves, shipment confirmation, or batch order load. As volume increases, typically waves take longer to run, which cannibalizes operational activity time. There are actions that can be taken to minimize or neutralize this impact and extend outbound processing hours such as:

· Reducing the amount of active data through a purge and archive strategy

· Boosting platform horsepower either permanently or temporarily during the holiday season

· Reviewing and enhancing processing jobs to increase efficiency and speed

· Creating multi-threaded jobs where single-threaded exist

Training and Onboarding

Most retailers increase their workforce leading up to and through the holidays with variable capacity contract labor to absorb increased volume. To maximize their effectiveness while minimizing total cost, it is critical to establish a highly operative onboarding/training program to get them up to speed as fast and efficiently as possible. A company’s traditional training program should be enhanced to create real world, hands on, situational education for its temporary workforce. Extra investment in this incredibly important variable in holiday preparedness will have guaranteed ROI. Companies should carve out areas of their warehouse and create simulation areas that mimic the actual work activities as close as possible. The more advanced the training is, the faster the holiday workforce will come up to speed and become productive.

Process Streamlining

There are simple process changes that can be made through system configuration or physical layout optimization that will make significant performance and throughput improvements. Small performance gains, multiplied by hundreds or thousands of instances a day, add up to serious improvements, especially during the heightened volume holiday season. Areas of common gain are:

· If picking with paper or labels, there is often time required at the beginning to sort or burst these into groups or by task to facilitate picking. This process can be laborious and time consuming. Many times, there are small amounts of information that can be easily added to these documents that will significantly reduce the amount of up-front, non-value-added time and get the picking started earlier.

· Many distribution centers have sub-optimal picking paths implemented, or the physical layout may have changed since initially implemented. For example, moving from a “U” pick path that travels down one side of an aisle and back the other side to a “Z” pick where you take one path down the aisle toward the shipping area can save 20-30% of overall travel time.

· You can relocate supporting materials necessary during operations such as pallets, corrugated boxes, and value added services areas. By optimizing the layout of these materials, you reduce wasted time and unnecessary travel by 15-25%.

· During times of higher volume, the focus is getting the right product into shipping containers and out the door. Consider creating some additional packing areas to handle the increased volume. If you pick into temporary cartons or totes, consider picking to the final shipping container and bypass the whole packing step altogether.

· Your material flow throughout the DC can be analyzed and changed to produce a leaner path. You can also review each process flow and identify which steps are non-value add and take steps to drive those and the associated waste out the door. Small gains realized on high volume processed add up to big wins.

Dust off that LM Module

Did you purchase a labor management module with your WMS but haven’t used it yet? Someone once said that the best time to plant an oak tree is 30 years ago. The second-best time is right now.

If you haven’t gotten this off the ground yet, getting the full benefit that a labor management system and program can generate by the holiday season (15-30% productivity gains) will be tough. However, you can get good visibility into your workforce’s productivity, set some reasonable performance expectations, and measure the temporary holiday workforce.


If you haven’t taken action to address your throughput and performance to gear up for this rapidly approaching holiday season, it isn’t too late, but you need to act now. As explained above, there are many areas that can be positively influenced to generate wins and help mitigate risk this year.

Broc Pittsford is a Director in enVista’s Supply Chain Solutions practice. Broc brings more than 17 years of experience to enVista’s supply chain consulting division. As a Director, he oversees supply chain execution projects on the iSeries and Windows platforms and is involved in project and program management engagements as well as IT strategy for the company.

Mike Krabbe is a Director in enVista’s Supply Chain Solutions practice. Mike has over 16 years of experience in supply chain technology systems implementation. Mike has assisted multiple clients by improving their warehousing operational performance through optimizing slotting strategies, designing warehouse layouts, and developing scalable warehouse processes.

Bo Hicks, Senior Sales Director at enVista, brings over 13 years of Supply Chain and Manufacturing expertise as well as solutions implementation experience. His responsibilities at enVista are focused on client delivery in supply chain strategy, network analysis, technology implementations (TMS, LMS, WMS, OMS) and facility design & build services both domestically and internationally.