Affordable Distribution Management - Picking Document Design

Feb. 1, 2004
By Don Benson, P.E. Some companies experience significant problems in order picking productivity and quality, and inventory accuracy. There are a variety

By Don Benson, P.E.

Some companies experience significant problems in order picking productivity and quality, and inventory accuracy. There are a variety of elements that can contribute to these problems. The next couple of suggestions will address some of the more common causes. I have found that a frequent cause of problems in picking accuracy and productivity is the design of the picking document. For some reason it seems as though the design was not to optimize the work of picking. There are probably three general ways in which the document can make it difficult for the picker to do a good job.

The first way to make picking difficult is the excess information on the document. There are only a few items of information that a picker must have on the picking document to accomplish the task. These items include the location from which the item is to be picked, the unit of measure (each, case, etc.), the quantity in this unit of measure, and a space to enter the quantity actually picked or to verify that the pick had been completed per the list. In some warehouses the picker may also be asked to enter additional date such as the lot or date on the merchandise. Yet on many documents we find such a variety of additional data that we could wonder if the design guideline was to create one document with which to operate the entire facility; receiving, picking and shipping.

The second way to make picking difficult is the layout of the information on the picking document. The documents often appear to have been designed by someone that has never even seen a picker do the work or read a book, or a data entry specialist. Specifically, I believe first we should design documents consistent with the way in which we read other materials, reading left to right. Second, the logic of the information should follow the way in which the work is done, the first item in each line be the pick location and then the item number, unity of measure, quantity ordered, quantity picked. All other spaces or data should follow after these.

The third way to make picking difficult is the sequence in which the items/SKUs are printed on the document. I am amazed at the number of warehouses in which the items listed on the picking document are not in a picking location sequence. I recognize that some companies do not have a computer system with which to sort the order into this sequence, and yet even in those situations; no one has attempted to create some consistency between the list of items on the order and the placement of those items in the warehouse. Consequently, I frequently see pickers walking back and forth across the warehouse, potentially many extra miles every day, being asked to do their work faster, while productivity and throughput could be substantially improved with a better item placement.

I recognize that whether your task is to change the content of the document, or the document format, or to improve the sequence of order lines on the document, it may take some time and energy to get these changes made. However, the results, every day for even small changes will amaze you, and your personal skills in improving performance will improve as well.

You can reach me at [email protected])

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Other articles in this series:

Improving Distribution Operations

Evaluating Vendor Shipping Performance

Improving Labor Productivity

Picking Document Design

Implement Cycle Counting

Inventory Storage