This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2018 issue of PARCEL.

Have you ever wondered what consultants look for when they come in and audit your facility to suggest better processes? Much like the game when you were a child, the consultant looks at your operation with a curious eye. If you are new as a distribution manager or if you have been having trouble with throughput and productivity, now’s a great time to get a review.

If you have deep distribution operational experience, you can do this yourself. Start at the beginning and step back like you are seeing the operation for the first time. Try to avoid criticism or suggestions until the end of your review. While you’re there, take a look at how many people you have in each functional area as well as their job descriptions. It is common for the order entry or order management department to mushroom as your company adds customers, regions, or sales associates. Assigning one person to each customer is crazy if that person only has a three-hour job during the day, or they are only busy for two months of the year and sit idle for the other 10. One facility I visited had a person each for Walmart, Target, and four other big box stores. They felt it necessary, but in the analysis, the workload that was given to six people could have been done by three. Oftentimes, companies will choose a consultant to come in and do the audit or analysis of processes not because they aren’t qualified or they can’t do it themselves, but because they want a fresh look. There are a couple of other reasons consultants are brought in. The management team may know what is wrong and what needs to be fixed but may want a third-party recommendation to validate the decisions. A consultant might also be brought in to agree with management’s decisions. Unfortunately, they don’t always agree, and that’s when management shoves the report in a drawer somewhere. Harsh, but true.

Once you have your order process down to a succinct science, move on to receiving, putaway, location strategy, picking, packing, and shipping. If you have an area that is wreaking havoc on the rest of your operation, you may want to start there and then go to the beginning. Look for things that are no longer needed or processes added because a mistake happened once and a new process was added. What commonly happens is a problem or issue develops, and instead of going to the core problem and fixing it there, an added process is developed in hopes of catching the mistake in case it ever happens again. Ask yourself if this process is still necessary.

Also look for opportunities for small investments that will save a lot of money. For example, one facility I visited need an inexpensive way to remove corrugate from the second floor. It was taking too much time and effort having people go up and down the stairs to remove; therefore, it caused a lot of clutter that had to be walked over, etc. A maintenance guy bought a large black plastic drain culvert pipe, cut it in two, and created a slide for the corrugate. It was positioned next to the bailer, creating less handling and walk time. You would be surprised how small investments like extra printers, tape dispensers, scissors, extra batteries, and others would reduce the amount of search time, distractions, and walk time, as well as increase productivity.

Cross-training is also very important. Most companies don’t exercise this practice and wait until the instrumental person leaves or gets sick to figure out how that job works. Cross-training also helps during vacations so that the person off doesn’t come back buried in work. Many that do participate in cross-training only do it within departments. But if you have departments that could work better together, cross-training across departments will help them appreciate the impact of certain operational requirements or processes.

Susan Rider, President, Rider & Associates, and Executive Life Coach, can be reached at