There are warehouse managers that you meet that if that was your profession, they would be your mentor. Other times, you learn how not to be. The warehouse manager I spent 2 hours with recently was definitely the second type. Why was he so bad?
First up, this 'as per his business card' warehouse manager, had appeared to have never worked in the cold trenches of a warehouse, picking, packing, crashing and replenishing. How did I know this? His understanding of the processes waslimited.
Next, in his job description was to 'maintain the management information as appropriate to contribute to the performance and monitoring process'. He had looked at putting in a warehouse management system to give him this data, but concluded it was too expensive at £75K for a £50m turnover, without looking at the returns it would give the company. So he ploughed on, believing that his paper was more powerful than a system that does not make mistakes. At this point, I wanted to offer up a clipboard and a whistle and run away.
'Carrying out audits and quality checks on inventory and operators in the warehouse' is the next task he said was required. How did he do this? The warehouse manager had a team running around the warehouse constantly doing a stock take, avoiding the pickers who had their bits of paper as pick lists. There were 8 people in this team. Then there were quality control operators before despatch to ensure that the correct items were packed. I thought surely if they had a system to guarantee the pickers were picking the right items, you need neither a quality check at the end nor dedicated stock takers to ensure the right items were actually there. I mentioned that I have seen it performed that way by some of the best companies around the world, thanks to a good warehouse management system. Which leads me to me next point.
Picking. In this operation, the warehouse manager was confident that picking to temporary containers and then transferring that to final despatch containers was the best way to do it, as they were not sure what size final container was needed. So, sometimes they starting picking to one container, the items then did not fit, so they added another container to the order. I asked how many containers types they pack items in for despatch. His answer, 'God knows, loads'. My answer, other companies restrict the number of container types to say 3, so you can pick to final despatch container, so the packing bench is not required. Once again, 'no, that will not work in our operation.'
I could continue with more, but the general message was that this guy invited us in to help his operation. What became clear, was that his boss had made him do this and he was going to go back and say all is being performed in an optimal way. He certainly objected to being challenged, but then I am not interested in putting in a worst practice system, so no deal.
The DNA (denial, nostalgia and arrogance) of this individual was not matching what seemed to be a great company. After saying goodbye to him, I felt compelled to write to the managing director, as I would certainly like to know that reality if it was my company. I have not yet done so, as I think it would be the end of the warehouse manager, and even if I did it anonymously, they would know it was me. Case closed.
Author: Jonathan Bellwood