Friday, October 7, 2011

Quality Focus Day - The Power of Benchmarking - by Charlotte Williamson

Think back to preschool. What were some of the key skills you learned?
Did you include counting on that list? Maybe you remember teaching your children how to count to ten before they even began school. This is one of the most basic skills we learn as children, and it is used on a daily basis throughout life.

At last week’s NAPB Focus Day, we spent 8 hours discussing warehouse quality: damages, counting errors, wrong part errors, etc. We’ve seen companies add voice technology and scanners (and remove these tools as well), all in an attempt to be more productive and perform with higher quality. But the quality tool that came up over and over again is something you learned in pre-school: how to count. It happens to everyone, but when you lose track in the middle of counting, it can cause errors in our dealers’ orders and impact our quality and satisfaction scores. The anecdotal evidence shows that shortages tend to occur when picking quantities from 2 to about 10. The problems seem to go away when you get into the hundreds of units and can be helped by having quiet zones in the warehouse, allowing our workers to focus on the task at hand.

The NAPB Focus Days allow experts from the major heavy equipment and automotive manufacturers to spend the day sharing and learning from each other. Each expert has time to present their struggles, tools, and best practices, followed by questions from the group. The attendees came away with lists of ideas for improving quality to take back to their teams. Some ideas are easy, can be implemented quickly, and are low cost. Others will take more planning and budget, but have been tested and proven to be effective by our peers.

The solutions presented by the participants range the gamut from working with people and refining processes to implementing new technology.

One company has found great success in reducing picking errors by working with its people. All employees go through a 35-minute training to learn tips and tricks for counting quickly and accurately. They have a 3 -minute narrated version of the training for on-the-floor use at the time of counting errors. This reinforces the basic skills needed to prevent shortages and overages, resulting in almost a 50% reduction in picking errors year-over-year.

Another company found that they can improve their dealers’ receiving processes by intentionally sending them an over-shipment, under-shipment, and mis-pick and then monitoring the resulting claims. For any dealer who does not accurately report the incorrect shipments, the company will give them time to develop a plan to fix their receiving processes. In the past, dealers have tended to report shortages but not overages. Now that the dealers know they are being monitored, overage claims have become more balanced with shortages.

Sometimes technology changes can have unintended consequences. One company found that switching to voice picking not only let them improve quality, but also enabled them to monitor employees in detail and view productivity over specific time periods. This allows them to see gaps in the day where little or no work is being performed. They can use this information for discussions with employees about their work performance and have seen an immediate improvement after the employees were made aware of this functionality and their own performance.

These are just three of the many ideas and success stories shared by the 20 participating companies during 8 hours of presentations and discussions. The participants were very interested to hear the challenges that others are facing and the initiatives they are using to overcome them. This is a unique forum at which companies can interact at many different levels (strategic and tactical) and benefit from each others’ knowledge and experience. Even those who are doing well can learn from the others during the Focus Days.

We look forward to seeing subject matter experts at the 2012 NAPB Focus Days, which are being scheduled to deep dive on the topics of Supply Chain Collaboration, RIM, Pick/Pack/Sort/Ship, as well as two sessions on eMarketing.

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