Warehouse managers might think a report of “no problems” means their warehouse is running in top form — but there is a big problem with a report of “no problem.”
You’ve probably heard the story of the Toyota executive who, while touring a plant, asked about the problems that the factory faced. When he was told there were no problems, he noted that if there were no problems, there was no need for a manager.
This illustrates a key management lesson that is especially applicable in warehouse optimization: if no problems are being reported, then no improvements in efficiency are being made.
Warehouse optimization is all about continually improving efficiency; a turnback is anything that causes a deviation from the established system. In order to address any inefficiencies, we recommend you tackle them in three parts:
- Turnback Collection: Identifying problems or inefficiencies that exist
- Turnback Response: Addressing and fixing the problems so they don’t happen again
- Implementing Change: Learning from your experience by implementing sustainable improvements
If, while a worker is packing a box, they notice there is an item missing and they leave their station to locate it, this constitutes a turnback. A vigilant manager would notice this deviation and ask what had caused the turnback, but ideally, the worker would report the missing item before starting his or her own search for it. The name of the game is getting these turnbacks reported so that action to remedy them can be taken.
Managers should be constantly on the lookout for turnbacks. While the workers in the warehouse are usually the ones best suited to notice an immediate problem, it is the manager’s job to build an environment that encourages all employees to actively identify these problems.
There are many methodologies in collection turnbacks. They can be as simple as a whiteboard and as extensive as a high-tech [removed] . Following the Lean 5S methodology can also help with collecting turnbacks.
Once a turnback is reported, it’s important to analyze the problem and discover its source. Why is this happening? Is it a substandard ID system? Is there a discrepancy in the order forms, or human error? Is the pick/pack process poorly engineered? Once the problem is identified, the solutions can be formulated that can change future outcomes.