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Prove Your Best Practices

By: Thom Grohalski

Mark Cuban, Chairman of AXS TV and Co-Owner of the Dallas Mavericks, does not care for the term “relaxation”. If you’re in the distribution business, you don’t have to worry about relaxing any time soon. With constant technology improvements and customers that are demanding reductions in order fulfillment time, relaxing is the last thing happening in today’s supply chains.

As the timelines get shorter and the pressure for faster and better service with limited inventory grows, companies are looking at their old antiquated systems and moving toward the future. As this is happening, a couple of phrases are routinely being touted as the solution to solve a company’s problems: Best Practices and Standardization.

But what is a “Best Practice” anyway? This term is being thrown around at an alarming rate in the manufacturing and distribution world. And why is that? Well, we have more technological advances in software/hardware than ever before as well as more people coming out of college with a Supply Chain degree. With that fact alone, people are being taught a theory of processes which are being coined as “best practices”. With the decrease in order fulfillment time, we must come up with ways to make sure we can ship product to our customers in a faster manner, so we are looking for all ideas to improve the process.

I am going to caution you on the term “best practice” or “industry best practice”. Your company got to your level of success for a reason, YOU created your most efficient processes for your company at the time.

I want to be clear, I don’t mind the term “best practice”, but I would modify it a little to “best practice for YOUR company/warehouse”. I have seen too many companies adhere to the “best practice” Kool-Aid and lose productivity, add manual steps to an automated process and end up paying way too much for, so called “industry best practices”.

I understand that there are a million great ideas out there and a lot of them can be used within your company, but as you are looking to enhance your system or process, make sure you have people PROVE to you about their so called “best practices” because you wouldn’t be where you are without having some best practices yourself. Just because a best practice works for one company does not make it a best practice for you.

Now what about the term Standardization.

I would love everything to be cookie cutter to have the same standards in each facility in my company, but there may be a different standard between warehouses based on size, configuration and layout of the facility, which in turn you may have different “best practices” even between your facilities.

The more differentiation between your facilities makes detailed standardization more difficult. You can have global standardization regarding the high-level order process, but unless your facilities are setup primarily the same, detail standardization becomes difficult.

As you are going through the process of your requirements gathering, make sure you get ideas or input from the floor and operators. They will be the first one’s who will bring up red flags on new processes that need to be vetted out.

In conclusion, as you look for ideas to increase productivity, speed up processes or get your systems in the 21st century, take any and all idea’s that your employee’s have, vet them out and please, make sure that the “best practices” being recommended to you fit YOUR needs, not someone else’s.