Kaizen for Warehouse

While setting goals is a great way to improve upon your work, there is an even better way – setting systems. A system will work in a never-ending cycle because growth must be constant, not stagnant. But you do not have to reinvent the wheel. There are many systems that exist in and outside of the industry that you can reap benefits from. One such method is Kaizen.

Kaizen is an idea or philosophy from Japan. The word translates into “improvement” and is a concept for continuous growth. One can use Kaizen anywhere, even in their personal life. However, it has found a special place in the supply chain industry.

With the rise of lean warehousing, Kaizen has become a vital tool. Lean Warehouse Management aims to improve the operations of a warehouse to consume fewer resources. Kaizen becomes an ideal tool in such cases, which helps attain the goal without any loss in productivity.

Why Kaizen for Warehouse?

The reason to adopt such a practice is not just to reduce waste. It can also help reduce costs, save time, avoid errors, and build a happier consumer base.

Kaizen believes that no process is perfect. Thus, it aims to repeatedly find errors and come up with simple or easy solutions to refine them.

In warehousing, Kaizen generally involves thinking with your team and fishing out creative ideas to solve problems. You can use this strategy with everyone, from managers to plant workers to make the most out of it. All ideas will have equal value, followed by testing to measure how effective an idea is.

The iterative process of Kaizen ensures that there are no errors. You not only choose the best path, but also a simple one.

How do I implement Kaizen for Warehouse?

Kaizen is an easy step-by-step process. You simply have to move from one to another, and when the process is over, you start again. Remember that it is about “continuous improvement” – the small, repeated steps that matter.

#1 Brainstorm – Identify & Solve the Problem

The first step is to identify and observe key areas that you must improve upon. Kaizen is a process that must include all of your team.

1) Enlist and address the problems faced by each person.

2) Highlight major problems.

3) Brainstorm all possible solutions. Do not discard any idea at this stage, however simple or complex.

#2 Measure – Test the Solutions

As you move ahead, you must sort and shortlist a few ideas which addresses one major problem. Try not to think too deeply about choosing one since we can always repeat the process for other issues.

After you have a list of solutions, you need to opt for the most effective and practical option.

1) Make use of quantifiable data that you can measure.

2) Create a list of pros and cons for each solution.

3) Alternatively, you can also conduct a SWOT Analysis to measure each idea.

#3 Compare – Compare the Data

Once you measure your data, it is quite easy to find the best one. Simple compare all data to each other and list them in a hierarchy before you move to the next stage.

#4 Innovate – Make Variations

There are many possibilities for one idea. For the next step, just let everyone get creative and have some fun. Think of new ways to bend the idea around and come up with ways in which it can serve you better.

This is where you can custom tailor any solution to suit the needs of your specific warehouse. Some innovative ideas may also just solve another problem – and that is just as useful!

#5 Standardise – Include all

A very important part of Kaizen is the practicality of your idea. If it does not help you, it fails its purpose. Every person involved in the process must agree and be at ease with the change.

Consider the opinion of each person on the tested idea and ask if they have any trouble adapting to the change. You will need to bridge the gap to make sure the idea works. Once everyone is on the same page, you can further standardise the solution to be long-term – one which the team can repeat and follow easily.

#6 Repeat

After all, Kaizen is continuous. You can repeat this strategy on the same problem if you are not content with a solution. It can help refine an idea to its most but remember that you must stop at some point.

In the end, it is all about action. In simpler, more generic forms the steps of Kaizen are: Plan, Do, Check, and Act.

Once you implement an idea, you can use Kaizen to move to the next problem. However, make sure to not spend too long on one step. These activities work best when they are done quickly. Taking too long can often hinder creativity, ideas, and waste time without any worthy output.

Kaizen Ideas to Use

The best part about Kaizen is that it is custom. Each warehouse will face its unique set of problems. Such a strategy provides the tools to solve these unique issues. However, they are some simple solutions to common goals that all warehouses can deploy.

Below is a list of problems with a few ideas that will benefit all. While the ideas are generic, you can build upon them to suit the specific needs of your own warehouse.

Problem #1 Waste Generation

A major concern for the modern-day industry is the amount of waste it produces. There are many reasons for inefficiencies in the system that lead to waste, such as –

1) Excess Transportation: The layout of your facility plays a major role in how your vehicles move. If it needs to travel in excess every day or in avoidable ways, the use of fuel adds up. Any activity, even travel, should always add value to the task, or it must stop.

2) Waiting: The workers in your facility may have to wait for several reasons. It could be a malfunction in a machine, a lack of proper communication, or a power shut down. Whatever the cause, waiting is a waste of time and human resources. It slows down the process and causes a domino effect of issues.

3) Defects or Damage: Damage is often a result of improper storage or if one handles goods poorly. Defects can come from labour, machine, method, or other defaults. Either way, you cannot sell or use a bad product. If one does, it will come back to the facility for returns. This does not only result in a waste of products, but also time, money, and labour.

4) Over-Processing: Doing more than what work demands may seem like a good idea but it truly is not. It not only creates more waste but makes the process much more complex. It exploits human resources which can focus on more essential parts instead.

Now that you understand the causes of the problem, it is time to seek direct or easy solutions. Looking for areas that have some scope for improvement or errors in your current system will guide you to your best ideas

A few tactics or strategies to cut down on waste in a warehouse are –

1) Upgrade Machinery: At times, the major cause of errors is old machinery. It is easier to maintain your machines in due time than to deal with loss or errors. If it has been quite some time, you may just need to upgrade your machines or even systems, for a better output.

Even if you keep your machines in a good state, you may still need to upgrade a specific group of tools, such as batteries or storage pallets. Identify the area that your team faces the most trouble with to gain more insight into the tools used.

2) Protect Goods: The key cause of damage is not protecting your goods. However, this can vary based on the items in storage. For e.g., the way to protect foods or chemicals will always differ from that of electronics.

While the above is true, there are also some common practices. Notice if there is any damage, or even injuries, caused due to poor packing of pallets. This may suggest that you need to train your team for such manual tasks to ensure the safety of goods and workers.

A lot of times lowering damage can be as easy as minding the weight on your racks. A simple practice like cutting down weight on one rack can save the products placed at the bottom from harm.

3) Use more Data: Are your decisions based on real data or are they often based on a guess? Most facilities face error because they do not rely on data to manage processes. Adopting a data-based approach on a regular basis can reduce both, minor and major errors.

With the rise of smart systems, using data is easier than ever before. Look for parts of the process that have the scope to be better with data and analytics. Upgrade your systems for faster, better, and more accurate data to save you time and effort.

4) Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOP): An SOP is a step-by-step guide set by leaders to help workers carry out routine tasks. An SOP can ease tasks for both, new and old workers.

If you do not already, having an SOP for each part of the process from start to finish can be a game-changer.

5) Schedule using Tech: The root cause for most errors and wastage is when the workers in a facility are not on the same page. The best way to reduce time wastage is to schedule using modern tools and systems.

An integrated cloud-based system that each person can access can help the team connect better. Perhaps, setting up a new and easy-to-use scheduling software or an upgrade is the next best solution you need.

Problem #2 High Costs

Money is a resource that many do not use optimally. To run warehouse processes is a costly affair. But more often than not, you can avoid these costs. Some causes for cost inefficiency in your facility can be –

1) Mis-picks: A mis-pick, or a shipping error, can cost a lot more than we can imagine. In fact, it costs more than just money. A mis-pick mostly occurs when the picker loses his focus. The use of RF devices is a common practice, but it also distracts the picker. Any distraction can cause a mis-pick, and mis-picks add to the greater problem of high costs for a company.

2) High Man-Power Reliance: There are a certain set of tasks that are best left to machines and modern tech tools. If handling your warehouse costs a lot, it could be because of a high reliance on manual labour.

While we need humans to look over and handle these tools, it is often better to leave the actual task onto a computer. If you can find any parts of the process that you can automate, perhaps it is time for an upgrade.

3) Delays: Delays are a problem in any field of work. In a warehouse, delays can have a number of causes. However, one of the most common causes is poor layout or storage.

If your workforce is not being productive, it can also delay tasks. This can occur due to poor work conditions or simply low morale.

When coming up with new ideas, each cause and its subset can have a unique solution. Some ideas, in fact most of them, will cater to more than one cause. This can create a net of ideas and their value, and help you choose the idea which brings you the most value at the moment.

Some ideas to tackle the above causes for cost inefficiencies or help you save more money are –

1) Warehouse Management Systems (WMS): A WMS is a one-step solution to a variety of problems. It can perform a number of tasks to increase efficiency, reduce the burden on human resources, and cut down on costs.

It can automate many processes, help with visibility, and also cut down on costs. A WMS will result in overall better management of each step of the process on one platform. However, you should always put in the research and choose the right one for your facility. If not, it can lead to more harm than good.

2) Dock Scheduling Software Dock scheduling software helps one to organize and streamline the appointments for pickup and drop of inbound and outbound shipments respectively. Dock appointment scheduling software considers the number of docks, manpower available and time and equipment required to load or unload goods in a facility to automatically suggest available time slots.

3) Seasonal Floor Planning: A great way to optimise your storage space and goods is to plan your floors based on the current season. This may vary for each industry and the items you store, but you can always deploy it in some form or the other.

The basis of the idea is that some items are often more in demand than others during a given month or season. If you can predict demand using data, you must store your goods based on that data. Each worker should place the goods in demand at places a picker can easily access. In the same way, one must place the products that are less likely to come out in far-off or hard-to-reach places instead.

4) Broader Aisles: Crowd and chaos lead to delays and damage. If your vehicles have to travel all the way around or if your workers have a hard time pulling out goods, it can cause delays and losses. Goods may fall off or smash into each other and cause damage.

If this is a usual in your facility, there is a direct solution. Just cut down on the chaos. Having the space to freely move around can solve all of the above problems. Broader aisles can also make the facility feel a little more open and better to work in.

5) Cross-Docking: Cross-Docking reduces the space needed in your facility. Since it needs little to no storage, this further adds to your fixed asset cost savings. But the method does not cut down costs on a single level.

Cross-docks also cut down on the chances of damage. They reduce delivery time and need minimal handling, which means low labour and fuel costs.

Problem #3 Low Productivity

Most common problems are inter-linked to each other. The metric of productivity is just another link to that of cost and waste. A few causes for lower levels of productivity are –

1) Low Employee Satisfaction: It is no surprise that how a workplace makes a person feel decides how good they are at their work. If a worker in your facility is not at their best, it could be because they just do not enjoy the job.

If they loathe their job, no amount of upgrades in tech or help will make them work better. An employee must have a reason to be happy with their work.

2) Poor Facility Layout: A poor warehouse floor plan or layout can lead to many disasters. It does not just waste space. But it can also take up more time and energy to fulfil a task. The key reason is that it hinders the proper flow of goods, which impacts the ease of handling goods. It can also make it harder to pick orders or access a product.

If that was not bad enough, you might just be surprised at the amount of damage and errors it can cause every day.

3) Miscommunication: This is a major cause of delays or inefficiency in work. For a team or group to work together, they must connect with ease. Each person needs to be aware of the process and other members.

In a warehouse, this can lead to errors at various stages of the process. As a result, stock can often get misplaced or delayed. If you often find your workers in fights or making mistakes, this may be a major cause.

To solve such issues, a few ideas that you can use for your own are –

1) U-Flow Layout: An easy way to avoid chaos from a floor layout is to establish a unidirectional flow. The best way to implement such a movement is to adopt the u-flow layout. A U-flow layout is just as the name suggests – U-shaped – and can be one lane or two lanes. Two distinct lanes in a U-flow allow people and vehicles to move at a faster pace with safe storage of goods.

2) Prioritize Employees: There is no short cut to employee satisfaction. You cannot hack your way into their happiness. The only way is to pay heed to what your workers have to say. To build a better place to work in, put health above other things. Aiding in their work and giving solutions to their issues is an essential role of a leader.

If you always look for ways to ease the burden on your workers or to help them, they will develop a deep respect for you and the company. This makes it much more likely for them to put their best. At the end of the day, it is a give and take method – one you cannot dodge.

You can also use financial or other incentives and rewards to encourage a productive work setting and motivate the entire team at your facility.

This might need you to get more self-aware, but that is what Kaizen is for. You can use to help others, the process, and yourself. Link Kaizen with another popular belief – all things are inter-connected.

The above list is only generic. Your warehouse will need your own attention, and for you to “Kaizen” it. Knowing the many causes of why your facility has inefficient practices can help directly tackle the issue. When using Kaizen for your own warehouse, it is ideal that you pick one cause and look for ideas. Taking it one at a time helps narrow down your focus.

Further, to build upon an ideal solution, note to get to the root cause of an issue. The ideal will vary for each facility that deploys Kaizen on the same problem. You must choose what is the most tangible option for you and your team at the moment.

Kaizen is a process that involves all, not only when you sit down to do it with your workers. It is best to encourage your team to use Kaizen with their work as well. Kaizen works on small steps, one by one, and each tiny fragment has value over time. Like any other skill, you get better and faster at Kaizen with time. So, make sure to turn Kaizen into a regular practice across your team and in your own daily practice during a short break.

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