No successful distribution center achieves success or maintains it without the ability to properly monitor its performance across a variety of key metrics. Those metrics include throughput capacity, productivity, order cycle time, accuracy, storage density, safety rates and a host of others. Productivity usually garners more management attention, measurements and comparisons than the other metrics for good reason. Increasing productivity can also increase throughput (if there are no other constraints in an operation such as a dearth of dock doors), potentially lift sales and possibly decrease order cycle time, but most importantly, it can reduce the cost of order fulfillment.
The value of increased productivity is why it is the most oft measured and monitored metric in a distribution center, particularly at the individual employee level. Managers seeking to increase their facility’s productivity know an increase the productivity of each associate will reward them with higher productivity overall. They will seek to coach, sanction and/or separate from their poorest performers and reward, praise and seek to have their workforce emulate their most efficient performers. Managers working for their operation’s improvement in this fashion are focusing on the right metric, but before they take action based on observed or recorded productivity performance, it is wise to ensure the stellar or dismal productivity performances are the result of the effort put forth or methods used by their associates and not something out of the associate’s control.
If two distribution staff members each have same tools with which to execute their jobs and the same environment within which to perform those jobs, differences in productivity can not immediately be lain at the feet of the associates’ performances. With very rare exception, the work content each executes must be considered in evaluating their performance properly. Looking at a picking task more closely, let’s consider a simple picking operation where an associate walks the rack aisles with a pallet jack picking cases to a pallet from the ground level pallet locations. Both are tasked with picking twenty cases to a pallet, but picker A has two items of 10 cases each to pick and picker B has 20 items of one case each to pick. While both are picking 20 cases, picker B will likely be slower since they need to stop 20 times, confirm they are picking the right item and then move on to pick the other 19 items and cases. Picker A need only stop twice, pick 10 cases each time and they are done. Picker B may also need to deal with building a stable mixed pallet of 20 different sized cases and Picker A will only need to deal with two different case sizes. Picker A will be likely quicker in terms of cases picked per hour, but perhaps slightly slower in terms of lines picked per hour (after all they only picked two order lines while picker B picked 20 order lines). So which picker is more productive?
The answer is C – you cannot determine with the information available.
Any evaluation of comparative productivity must take into account the complexion of work content of the evaluated performance. Among those are, units per order line, order lines per task and most important and not even mentioned above, total distance travelled to complete the task. What if one picker needed to travel twice the distance of the other simply because of where the items they needed to pick were stored? Understanding the difficulty of the task at hand ensures that the truly best assets on your staff are identified as you seek to enhance your entire staff’s productivity and effectiveness. Ensure you are measuring everything that impacts the productivity metric at hand to ensure your picture of operation productivity is always crystal clear.
—Bryan Jensen, St. Onge Company
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