Tag Archives: warehouse

Are Your Reverse Logistics Leaking Profits?

Reverse Logistics Leaking One of the issues many growing companies face is obsolete inventory and customer returns. These have a nasty habit of sucking up cash and bringing otherwise profitable firms to their knees. In this episode of the Supply Chain Cowboy Podcast, I talk with Curtis Greve to get his expert advice on how best to handle reverse logistics.

Reverse logistics are kind of funny in that they tend to fly under the radar. Returns usually aren’t thought of as one of the most attractive parts of operations. However, improving how you handle obsolete inventory and returns by just a fraction could be the best thing you can do for your bottom line.

You can listen to or download the podcast from the link above, or check out the full transcript. Also, please subscribe to the podcast through iTunes to receive new episodes automatically.

About Curtis Greve

Curtis Greve managed returns for Walmart, ran the 3PL GENCO as its CEO, and started his own consulting firm, Greve-Davis. He’s also one of the founders of the Reverse Logistics & Sustainability Council (RLSC), the premier group on advancing the field of reverse logistics.

RLSC’s upcoming annual conference will be held on January 19-21, 2015, in Dallas. More information on the conference, as well as a wealth of advice and information, is available at ReverseLogistics.com.

“He Ships, He Scores!” Improving Your Supply Chain with Games

Mario Fork Lift
Friday evening had arrived, and I was very excited to be on my way home. My wife and I were going on our first date in over four months – the first time we would leave our new daughter with family as we had some fun. After dinner, we went to one of my all-time favorite places: The Nicklecade. The Nicklecade is an arcade full of older games that each only cost $0.05 to play. Ten dollars can keep two people playing the gaming classics all evening. As we played Ski-ball, Dance Dance Revolution, San Francisco Rush racing, and even Guitar Hero, I was struck by how motivated I was on a Friday night.

I had just spent an entire week in typing emails at a computer and occasionally helping with repetitive physical tasks in the warehouse. Now, on a Friday night, I was in front of computers again pressing buttons and tossing ski-balls up the ramp over and over to try and beat my wife’s high score (which I was unable to top). How could the similar skills and activities be so fun and motivating as I worked for tickets, and less so as I worked for paychecks?

The Game of Work

My question caused me to recall a business book classic called The Game of Work by Charles Coonradt. Written in 1984, before a generation was raised on videogame achievements and scores, Coonradt was struck by a similar question to mine regarding construction workers. They would slowly plod along building a house, but during lunch time, they’d run to a local basketball court and give everything they had to obtain 4-on-4 lunchtime victory. Realizing that the principals of games could increase motivation and productivity in the workplace, Coonradt defined five rules of gamification – harnessing the power of game thinking in traditionally non-game work.

  1. Clearly defined goals – Put the basketball through the basket
  2. Better scorekeeping and scorecards – The score is 87 to 89, our team is down by two with a minute left in the game.
  3. More frequent feedback – The scoreboard tells you immediately if you made a goal, and a referee’s whistle will sound every time you break a rule
  4. A higher degree of personal choice of methods – Score points; it doesn’t matter if they are lay-ups, dunks, field goals, or 3-pointers
  5. Consistent coaching – whenever I have a question, I can look over to my coach for guidance or call a time out for more detailed help

Supply chain and operation works lends itself directly to this type of job enhancement. Below are some examples of how gamification has helped boost productivity.

Charles Schwab Throws Out a Challenge

In Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, the story of Charles Schwab keeping score is a fun example of early gamification.

“Charles Schwab had a mill manager whose people weren’t producing their quota of work.

“How is it,” Schwab asked him, “that a manager as capable as you can’t make this mill turn out what it should?”

“I don’t know,” the manager replied. “I’ve coaxed the men, I’ve pushed them, I’ve sworn and cussed, I’ve threatened them with damnation and being fired. But nothing works. They just won’t produce.”

This conversation took place at the end of the day, just before the night shift came on. Schwab asked the manager for a piece of chalk, then, turning to the nearest man, asked: “How many heats did your shift make today?”

“Six.”

Without another word, Schwab chalked a big figure six on the floor, and walked away.

When the night shift came in, they saw the “6” and asked what it meant.

“The big boss was in here today,” the day people said. “He asked us how many heats we made, and we told him six. He chalked it down on the floor.”

The next morning Schwab walked through the mill again. The night shift had rubbed out “6” and replaced it with a big “7.”

When the day shift reported for work the next morning, they saw a big “7” chalked on the floor. So the night shift thought they were better than the day shift did they? Well, they would show the night shift a thing or two. The crew pitched in with enthusiasm, and when they quit that night, they left behind them an enormous, swaggering “10.” Things were stepping up.

Shortly this mill, which had been lagging way behind in production, was turning out more work than any other mill in the plant. The principle?

Let Charles Schwab say it in his own words: “The way to get things done,” says Schwab, “is to stimulate competition. I do not mean in a sordid, money-getting way, but in the desire to excel.”

Quoted from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People

A Jewelry Manufacturer Keeps High Scores

A factory that made recognition jewelry created a very simple computer program in the 1980s. The employee would log in his or her manufacturing job, say polishing 100 medallions, and the computer would time him. After the employee completed the work, he or she would see how quickly he or she had accomplished the work. The computer then ranked him or her against personal past records as well as everyone else. The program let the employee know whether the score was above or below average – and by how much. This simple program quickly increased efficiency of the entire factory as everyone tried to beat their coworker and their own records.

Real-time Shipping Dashboard Focused our Warehouse

A couple years ago, as our company quickly grew, we felt a need for better visibility to our warehouse operations. I had worked at Sonic in high school where little TV screens showed each order and helped me know how many hamburgers to make. Could we make a dashboard that showed us what orders we had to ship? With some VBA coding, I was able to create a real-time shipping dashboard that did just that. Every ten minutes, the computer would automatically update from our system database and show the orders we needed to ship and had shipped already that day. If an order went late, it would show up in red. As long as everything was green on the dashboard, we knew we were shipping on time and winning for the company. The dashboard was so effective that I was able to completely step away from warehouse operations as the team worked together to keep the dashboard green – or score points –rather than a manager directing every step.

Ideas for Gamifying Your Supply Chain

Having a better grasp of the principals of gamification, how can you better apply them in your supply chain? Here are some ideas:

  • Vendor Scorecards – We’ve been working extensively on a comprehensive vendor-scoring program. We are giving quarterly feedback on how key vendors are doing on dimensions important to our success. We also hope to build a “Vendor of the Year” award to reward good scores. Without the scorecard, however, our vendors can’t be confident in how they can better serve us as their customer.Crosstraining
  • Cross-training Achievements – An easy way to turn long-term training into a game is to create a grid of people and processes. As employees learn new processes, they receive a sticker that becomes a badge of cross-training achievement. Fast-food restaurants do this all the time. When we put this together in our warehouse, I was amazed by how quickly people began asking their supervisor to train them on new skills so that they could mark it off on the grid.
  • Pick-to-voice Warehouse Picking Systems – Wearing a headset that tells you where to pick your next order is a popular technology in large warehouses. These pick-to-voice systems often track efficiency and set goals for each picker. Taking that technology a step further, you could keep score on a large screen or let pickers “level up.” As employees reach certain scores, they could be rewarded with more difficult orders to pick – or move into new zones of the warehouse. Even adding the “1UP” sound from Super Mario and other video game trademarks could make order picking more engaging.
  • Pallet Wrapping Competition – If you have 30 pallets to wrap by hand, divide everyone into three teams and see who can wrap 10 in the shortest amount of time. Whenever students from local colleges tour our company, I ask them to compete in a “warehouse Olympics” game to see how they fare with the most basic of supply chain tasks. I quite enjoy watching college students race, and often struggle, to tape boxes, sort returns, and wrap pallets.
  • Vendor Terms Competition – Our CEO created a list of vendors that he wanted a dozen employees to contact and ask for extended payment terms. Each Vendor had an employee assigned to it. The list was in a Google spreadsheet we all shared, which allowed us to see each other’s progress in real-time. We could approach the request any way we wanted, and we even received a small gift card when we achieved our goal.
  • Real-time Dashboards and Metrics – Building on our shipping dashboard, we now have a large handful of other real-time dashboards. Purchase Orders, Accounts Receivable, and Accounts Payable are just a few examples of how we keep score. Our jobs become a game of keeping the dashboards free of red lines, which helps us focus on activities that help the company.

Supply chain is the ideal place to apply gamification principals. Large amounts of real-time data make keeping score much more achievable than in other less data-driven disciplines.

Whether it’s PlayStation 4, the NFL, or Monopoly, everyone on my team has a passion for games. Tweaking processes to channel that passion has helped my company in powerful ways. Applying Coonradt’s five “Game of Work” principals helps everyone better achieve results that help the company and enjoy their work more. Most importantly, that increase in motivation helps us become a stronger company and a more competitive supply chain.

Now instead of getting back to work, get back to gaming.

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If you’d like to learn more, please check out the below sites that were a source for parts of this article.

7 Simple Ways to Manage Temporary Workers Better

Temporary WorkersWhether it’s a seasonal jump in orders or an unexpectedly large rework project, calling on temporary workers is often the only way to get everything done on time. I refer to temporary employees as one of my three supply chain silver bullets that help me pull off operational miracles. Having managed dozens of projects with workers I just met, I’ve gathered a list of seven ways to make those projects run smoother and quicker. By incorporating the concepts below, your next project with temporary workers will be a better experience for everyone involved.

1.     Start Right with a Clear Orientation Huddle

The first twenty minutes together with your new team sets the tone for the entire day. Use this opportunity to set clear expectations and preempt later distractions and problems by answering common questions.

When temporary workers first arrive, I have them read over a laminated, double-sided sheet. Not only does this protect our company by letting them know of HR policies, but also addresses common issues and questions. The sheet contains a two- or three-sentence summary of our policies on the following topics:

  • About Our Company
  • General Warehouse Safety
  • Forklift Safety
  • Dress Code
  • Time Clock Procedures
  • Breaks and Lunches
  • Bathrooms, Break Area, and Smoking Area
  • Cell Phones and Personal Items (be sure to address cell phones specifically)
  • Substance Abuse Policy (from HR)
  • Harassment Policy (from HR)

After reading over the list, each temporary worker signs an acknowledgement sheet that we keep on file. This protects the company and gives us recourse to send people home that break policies.

After gathering everyone’s signed acknowledgement, I hold a brief huddle. Before going into the days’ work, I emphasize a few key expectations. Specifically, I show them the lockers they can put personal items (or when lacking lockers, ask them to keep everything in their cars). I also point out work and break areas as well as recommend local places for lunch. These few minutes answer 90% of the common questions I encounter, which allows us all to focus on the work at hand.

2.     Set Clear Expectations

Having given a clear orientation, I then strive to set very clear expectations of the day’s work. The key here is many visual examples of the end product and a clear standard procedure to reach that result. For example, if we are trying to build 3000 retail displays that day, then I have several completed examples to show everyone. Each station has a color picture of what the display should look like at that station’s point in the process. I build one or two displays completely with everyone watching to ensure they understand how the display look as it is built and completed.

As much as possible, I strive to make the work mistake-proof. Setting up checks to ensure the display is built correctly helps catch errors. If physical checks aren’t possible, then I ask several people to act as quality lookouts along the assembly line to catch any defects. I empower them with the ability to stop the process and call for help when they see errors. I also let everyone know I’ve asked them to do this job to avoid offense.

Finally, I share with the team hourly and daily production goals. This gives a score to the team’s work and helps them gauge their speed. When I’m building something new and have no experience on what to set the goal as, I just guess optimistically. The team usually rises to meet my estimated goal. Sometimes I even run the process myself ahead of time. This allows me to time how long it takes me to complete a few rounds of the process to set a realistic expectation.

3.     Add Meaning to the Work

Just before they get set to work, I answer the often-unasked question of “why am I doing this?” Even though these workers may just be on the job for a day, I’ve seen impressive results when they know the deeper reason behind their work. My goal becomes theirs as well, and many of the workers will give extra effort and suggestions to better accomplish the larger goal.

The explanation doesn’t need to be long. It could go something like this: “Today we’re building 3000 displays that we’re sending to Walmart. They have to be built this specific way because it helps the Walmart employees quickly put the product out in the store. In a couple weeks, you can visit your local Walmart and find one of the displays you built. Then you can point to that display and tell your friends or children ‘I helped make that.'” As your team is able to focus on the higher goal, not just the menial work that lies ahead, they will rally behind the cause and work hard to produce something they are proud of. Five minutes before lunch or the end of the day, I gather everyone around and solicit their feedback for improvements to the process. Without your team knowing the end goal of their work, helpful feedback is rare.

4.     Create a Positive Work Environment

As the workers begin, I help set the pace and atmosphere by working alongside them. This helps me make sure the project gets off to a good start, but it also helps me learn more about my team. I rotate people to find their strengths and adjust workloads to balance bottlenecks. Once everyone is comfortable in his or her role, I try to ensure enthusiasm remains long after the first hour of work.

If everyone can do a great job while talking together, then those conversations often keep everyone upbeat. However, if they become distracted while talking, then I instead turn on the radio. I always see better results when I try to have a little fun with my team, especially toward the end of the day, than when I am overly strict and serious. Simple rewards for meeting goals, such as cheap popsicles if it’s a hot day, or letting the team take five minutes longer on their break, go a long way toward motivation.

5.     Don’t Make Leadership a Mystery

The biggest problems I’ve had with temporary workers come from not assigning adequate supervision. I am frequently called away from the work, and when I don’t assign someone to be in charge, disagreements often arise. Therefore, if I can’t be there to supervise, I do everything I can to have one of my full-time employees, or at the very least a returning worker, assigned to answer questions that arise. This isn’t to quell power struggles, but to create order in a group of workers who still don’t know each other. Knowing there is a supervisor close who can answer question creates order and prevents most problems.

Having someone you know and trust working on the project also fosters more communication. That person can act as a liaison to the shyer, new employees by giving voice to concerns or suggestions they have. I’ve received some great suggestions for improvement that passed from a new worker, through a returning worker, to me.

6.     Be Detailed in Time Management

Simple Excel Punch Clock

Being exact in timing brings great results. I once used a clipboard to have temporary workers track their time each day. This created some tension because some people would write 8:00, even though they really showed up at 8:07. To avoid this problem, I put together a simple punch clock in Excel – which you can download from the Supply Chain Resources page. Having the computer track the time took away any question of timing – and saved our company a few hundred dollars.

Another time trick I love is something I learned from my high school band director. Whenever we had a concert, she would ask us all to report at 6:53 PM. Such a detailed time was memorable, and many more people showed up on time than had she said 7:00 PM. I use this same concept with breaks. If its 2:03, then I tell everyone, “Ok, it’s break time, we will start the line back up at 2:14 – so be back by 2:13.” This brings much more success than “Be back in 10 minutes.”

7.     Build Your “A” Team

Finally, do all you can to build your temporary worker dream team. If your project spans over many days, only invite back the hard workers – and ask the temp agency to send you others to try out.

If someone is not working, hindering the work, or fostering a negative work environment, don’t be afraid to send him or her home. I’ve only had to do this on rare occasions because talking to the person often resolves the issues. However, if someone is causing a safety risk or HR issue, send that person home as soon as you can. Failure to do so not only invites the issue to grow, and other workers may mirror that behavior since it’s bringing no consequence.

For the most part, however, your team will likely be full of good, hard workers. Pay attention to the best and consider bringing them on full-time. We have found some of our very best employees through temporary assignments. It’s our vehicle of choice to add a new team member in our warehouse because we can try them out for an extended period before investing completely in them.

These seven simple tips have helped me better manage the projects I’ve run with temporary workers. Investing some time and effort into the process will result in more efficient workers and better results. These projects, although sometimes stressful, can become positive experiences for everyone involved.

What other suggestions do you have for managing temporary workers? Please leave your thoughts in a comment.

Thoughts on the Standard Pig Game

Pete Abilla over at Shmula.com has put together an excellent 5-minute video exercise on standard work. The training teaches the “Standard Pig Game.” It asks you and your team to go through three different scenarios of drawing a pig. The first is with no standard, the second is with a written standard, and the third is with a visual standard. You can access the video here:

The Standard Pig Game Video at Shmula.comThe Standard Pig Game

Note: You will need to supply your email address to view the video, but when I entered mine, I only received one email asking if I would like to receive more information from Smula.com.

Thoughts on Visual Standards

I like this video because it makes a clear point, and it’s easy to share with my team. From this, I plan to work more on creating visual guides for standard work. Diagrams in the warehouse of how to package a product properly is an easy start, but what about the many processes in the office such as writing a purchase order or analyzing sell-through data?

In an effort to train on standard work, I have written scores of step-by-step procedures, similar to the one in round two of the game. However, when I refer others to learn the process from the document, they often soon return to me and ask that I walk them through the process. Essentially, what I have failed to hear is that they are asking me for a visual standard. Written procedures are just too confusing or overwhelming for most standard work. Small businesses especially are always working to document their processes, so this is an important rule to learn early in the creation of standard work manuals.

Recognizing that visuals are the key to standard work has given me a couple ideas. The written procedures that seem to work well have many graphics and screenshots in them. I now strive to add a visual for every step of instruction. (If you don’t take screenshots often, then here’s a great visual process of How to Take a Screenshot)

A great example of visual standards are the instructions for changing the toilet paper in our office’s bathrooms. The toilet paper dispensers in our building are actually quite difficult to figure out; you have to rip off the cardboard to change the roll. However, after posting the directions below, our problem of empty toilet paper rolls quickly resolved.

How to Change the Toilet Paper in the Restrooms

The next level of visual standards that I am striving for is creating how-to videos. When I want to learn how to do something new, I go straight to YouTube and look for a tutorial. I hope to build that same type of resource in my company so that employees can easily learn standard work on their own. Whether it’s a quick video taken with a cellphone or recording your screen as you walkthrough how to access information from a database, videos showing how to do something are gold compared with pages of text. I have yet to find a screen recorder that I absolutely love, but I’m evaluating a list of free screen recording programs for windows.

What can you do in your company to increase visuals for standard work? How can you create training resources that employees will actually use and apply? Share your thoughts below, including how your team liked the Standard Pig Game training.

Epic Warehouse Warning Signs

Recently, I asked my friend in the design department to put together new warning signs for the doors leading into the warehouse. I was surprised the next day to find the following on my desk for approval:
Warehouse Zombies
After a good laugh, I went and talked to my friend.

“Stace, this is fantastic, but not quite what I’m looking for. We really want to warn people about the forklifts…not zombies.

“You’re not worried about the zombies? Okay, how about this?”
Scary Forklift Warning
“We’re on the right track, but it seems like this one suggests: ‘As long as you can outrun your coworkers, you’ll be safe.’ That doesn’t really promote team unity, does it?”

“If you’re worried about team unity, let’s just get rid of the team! Here you go.”
Scary Forklift Version 2
“Removing the running crowd certainly helps, but it might be a red flag for OSHA if they drop by.”

“That’s fine, if you want to suck the fun out of safety. How’s this?”
Forklift Final
“Perfect! I appreciate your creative approach to this task, though I’ll probably never give you keys to the forklift. However, you did inspire me to put together my own sign.”
Forklift Cowboy
Special thanks to Stace Hasegawa for the wonderful signs and Audrey Fuller for editing help.

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