Pick List Not an Eye Test

If you’re planning on automation to help improve picking productivity, take another look at your pick list. You may see a more immediate opportunity.

If you’re looking for a way to increase picking productivity and accuracy but aren’t quite ready to invest in a pick-to-voice system, consider a back-to-basics approach. Where picking is concerned, the pick list is the most basic thing in your warehouse. Sometimes the simplest things have the biggest impact.

A few well thought out changes to the pick list can generate double-digit returns in picking. In its simplest form the pick list should direct someone to the pick location and tell them how many pieces to pick. Unfortunately, most pick lists have morphed into a multi-tasking document that does more to confuse the picker than help them do their job.

A pick list can contain packing and shipping instructions, inventory replenishment information, sales and marketing information, and it can be used as a cycle count tool. A picker needs to filter out every additional field or piece of information on the pick list to do their job.

Let’s look at two pick lists and you decide which one you would rather work with. They are both for the same order.

Pick List A is typical of what is contained on most pick documents. It is used as the picking document, packing list, and is folded and placed on the shipping carton as the shipping label.

Customer and address – Needed as part of the shipping label.

Order number – Required to track and control the document.

Customer number – Used by sales, marketing and accounting, not the picker.

Order date/Print date – Not needed for picking, but it does let your customer know how important they are to you based on the span of the days between order entry and printing.

Stock number/Part number – Why are both numbers on the pick list and which one is used for picking?

Description – Required for verifying the item to pick. The picker doesn’t need the additional information on the second and third lines. The note on the second line runs into the “Size” column and may add confusion.

Size – Required to verify the pick.

Color – Required to verify the item. What color is “S”? Sage, Sandstone, Salmon? What color is “BL”?

UOM (Unit of Measure) – Required. When using a UOM other than “each,” be sure it leaves no doubt as to what should be picked. Is the “box” of golf balls a box of 12 or a sleeve of 3?

Location – Required for picking. The second location on line 1 is an overstock location. Is this meant for the picker to replenish the primary in a stock-out situation or should they leave the pick area and pick from the overstock location? Note that the pick list is printed in zone sequence order where the first digit of the location is the zone.

Qty – Required for picking.

Back ordered – Not required for picking. If the picker picks 2 for the order and there are some left in the bin, should they pick them to fill the backorder?

Unit price/Ext price – Not required for picking. They are added to the pick list because the document doubles as a packing slip.

Ship by date – Useful to the picker and helps them prioritize their picks.

Ship by method – (UPS 2nd day) Not required for picking.

Now let's look at Pick List B. It enhances the picking process for this order because extraneous information was removed. A bar code for the order number was added so that a proper packing list and shipping label could be generated from the pick document at time of packing.

The pick process is now location driven and all of the other fields on the pick list validate the picked part. Each line on the pick document now reads from left to right and the picker does not have to search for information. The font has been enlarged so the picker does not have to strain to see the numbers if in a low light situation.

Location – The first item on each line and the first piece of information the picker needs. Note that the zone B line has been highlighted. This visually signifies a zone change and the picker would pass the order in a pick-pass operation.

QTY – Quantities other than 1 are bolded.

UOM – Only UOM other than “each” are shown. The UOM is highlighted to draw attention to it.

Description – Verifies the item picked.

Size –Verifies the item picked. Remember not to stock similar items next to each other.

Color – Verifies the item picked. Spell out the color, don’t use abbreviations.

Stock Number – Verifies the item picked. Only used if there is a question on the pick.

Total Number of Pieces – Used by the picker as a quick check to make sure the order is picked complete. Especially helpful in a pick and pass operation. Can also streamline any audit function performed at packing.

The revised pick list provides only the information needed for the job. Information that can be confusing or misleading is eliminated. This will increase efficiency and reduce pick errors which results in a lower total operating cost.


Don Kuzma is an industry analyst based in Cleveland who specializes in distribution center design and management. He can be reached at [email protected].

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