Does This Past Year Have Your Operations in the Rough?

Preparing for the peak holiday season and 13 tactical advantages you can take now to “play it through” and WIN.

Many fulfillment operations are trying to deal with the conditions and situations the last four months has put in front of them. In the game of golf, this past year can be compared to a golf ball that lands against a tree, preventing us from getting into that really good position we'd like when taking a critical shot. The tree creates an obstacle that requires tactical thinking about how to work around it, keep our aim, and get the very best shot possible.

Unfortunately, in the highly competitive and dynamic world 

of retail distribution and fulfillment, mulligans aren’t economically feasible and the conditions impacting the industry have come with a “rule 13” that says we must “play the ball as it lies.”


Golf In The Woods


We can’t change the events continuing to unfold since last year, but we don’t have to allow the tree or a rule 13 prevent us from bringing our “A” game to this year’s peak holiday season. The following are tactical opportunities that distribution and fulfillment centers can take advantage of right now to ensure they are in the best position to meet the demands of the peak holiday season that is fast approaching.

  1. Make a Quick Win Assessment - Ask every team leader to perform a Quick Win Assessment with the goal of identifying opportunities for “quick win” solutions within their department that can be implemented, measured, and evaluated within the next 14, 30, or 60 days. Make it a competition among the team with some basic ground rules:
    • The solution is based on real information The change resides completely within the department.
    • The change is low risk and can easily be rolled back.
    • The opportunity is based on one or more of the three operational pillars (people, processes, and tools).
    • The solution makes measurable improvement to order cycle time, throughput, cost per unit shipped, or OTIF (on-time and in-full).
  2. Identify repetitive and non-value-add hauling tasks where the pick-up and delivery points are either well defined or have minimal variation. Dunnage removal from pick stations to collection areas, the replenishment of packing materials from storage to operator stations, and load transportation to and from deep reserve are good places to start to deploy autonomous mobile robots. Lease or transaction-based costing arrangements also makes AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots) good “quick wins.”
  3. Get aggressive with preventative maintenance and update your spare parts inventory to ensure that high-wear and critical components are on-hand and readily assessable for the upcoming longer operating hours and volumes.
  4. Change slotting strategies to incorporate the multi-binning of high velocity SKUs and reduce the labor congestion they create for both picking and replenishment. Designate a forward picking area for dynamic pick faces that allow the SKU demand to surge with minimal disruption to flow and fill rate.
  5. Split highly populated packing farms into multiple areas and extend each packing line so that the recommended physical distancing guidelines are more attainable. This will also provide better queueing for each station which can improve productivity and utilization.
  6. Perform a mechanical audit on your material handling equipment to identify potential issues and prevent them from leading to mechanical failures and operational down time.
  7. Reduce packing labor requirements by adding packing automation. Use automated carton formers, and induction for the highest volume of carton sizes. For non-breakable products, auto bagging machines are easily added to packing lines or can be implemented as packing islands that supplement packing capacities during peak volumes.
  8. Reevaluate staffing schedules so that processes can continue to run at capacity with a floating break and lunch schedule that reduces the amount of people in the cafeteria and break rooms at the same time.
  9. Optimize your outbound shipping system for loading efficiency by minimizing the volume undulation per destination, reducing side-by-sides on down lanes, and maintaining off-load presentation to maximize loading productivity and decrease the need for multiple loaders per trailer.
  10. Intelligently split low velocity single line, single quantities from multi-line orders so that the single items, often coming from separate sub-systems, don’t require consolidation and can go straight to singles packing. While this does increase total number of cartons shipped, the cost can potentially be offset by improving order cycle times, improving service level commitments, and achieving additional throughput.
  11. Automate singles packing by separating products into ranges of form factor, single line orders with single quantities can be sent to an automated packing line where the labor savings can provide a quick return on investment.
  12. Introduce robotic consolidation - For the right products, manual consolidation areas can be easily and quickly reconfigured for robotic putwalls. Again, a solution that is often offered at a lease or cost per transaction arrangement which makes it a low risk “quick win”.
  13. Take care of your teammates. Lead them with an understanding heart, motivate them with clear vision, equip them with knowledge and courage, and empower them to their fullest.

Golf Rangefinder - 4

OTIF = On-Time & In-Full Orders
UPH = Units / Hour


As distribution and fulfillment operations enter the last half of the year, there remains time to introduce tactical advantages that will make this a successful year. As we look at that tree, we must plan our position, take our best calculated swing, and celebrate at the 19th hole.


“Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you.”

– Arnold Palmer –



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