Going Agile Could Supercharge Your Warehouse

If you’re running a warehouse, you already know a hard truth: a lot of things can go wrong at any moment and many times, they do. While a warehouse might seem like a bunch of boxes on shelves, it’s much more than that, it’s a complicated dance that requires moving parts to work in concert; otherwise, disaster can strike. But a dedicated manager can be the saving grace when it seems like all hope is lost.

One of the most critical factors in running an active warehouse is communication. The boss is the central nervous system and strong leadership that vested in improvement is vital. The warehouse manager should be on top of what’s working with management, but more importantly what’s not. To combat turnover, a warehouse manager should be proactive and ready to find solutions to everyday problems. One way to change how a warehouse operates is to take a page from the tech industry’s book: go agile.

What’s agile?

Agile planning comes from software development but can be used in any industry. At its core, agile streamlines a process down to the nuts and bolts. The main focus of agile is two-fold: constant communication and setting small, achievable goals that toward more significant wins.

Agile helps teams deliver quick wins along with opportunities to assess a project’s direction. The process dates back to 2001 when some developers got tired of how software was being released. So, they created a faster, better way that’s a staple of the industry almost 20 years later. These developers created something called The Agile Manifesto and, in its pages, it contains four major values that hold true for all industries:

  • The focus should be on individuals and interactions, not processes or tools
  • A working  product is more important than over the top documentation
  • Customer collaboration is more vital than contract negotiation
  • The process should respond to change rather than follow a plan

These values make a lot of sense, don’t they?

Anyone who’s ever worked for a bad manager can tell you that clear communication is something many leaders lack when managing a crew of carpenters to making burgers with the King. Along with the 4 values, there are also 12 guiding principles in agile management. Some of them aren’t applicable in this instance, but let’s look at a few:

  • Motivate people to build a project by creating an environment of appreciation, trust, and empowerment
  • Both developers and business professionals must work closely together daily throughout the project
  • Information is best transferred between parties in face-to-face conversations
  • Self-organized teams produce the best architecture, requirements, and design

So how did they do it and how can I apply these principles to my warehouse?

Celebrate transparency and say Hello to the daily standup

One of the most important things that make agile work is that it relies on transparency. When you’re on an agile team, you know exactly where you stand. This goes for daily interactions, but also in meetings. After being summoned to pointless meetings regularly, the developers found a way to make meetings more valuable.

Standup is an easy process, every morning the direct manager gathers the troops on the floor to talk about the day’s plan. Every member of the team tells one another what they’re working on. They’re given 5 minutes to talk about their schedule, but also if there’s something in the way from them completing their tasks. This is called a “roadblock” – the purpose of talking about challenges is so that if someone on the team can help, they chime in.

Maybe someone’s having an issue with a new computer system, but no one realized the guy loading the trucks is in school to write code. By communicating freely with one another, it works to share problems in hopes for a solution, but also it lets one another know what work is getting done, A. which holds that worker responsible and B. creates a culture of trust, cutting down the chances of someone mumbling under their breath, “what’s that guy doing all day?” By talking about it, they know.

During the standup, everyone should answer three questions:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What am I working on today?
  • What problems am I facing?
Sprint planning works

Instead of assigning tasks at will, gathering the team once every two weeks and planning what everyone will work on, will help. If you’re trying to change how people are getting things done, set a plan of what everyone will be working on with their consent, so they can plan for it, and then with the standup, that keeps all work in focus.

 
Flexibility is everything

When you set tasks in a sprint, but also talk about work via the standup, it’s essential to leave time open on the schedule for as hoc tasks that pop up. By setting aside an hour or thirty minutes for smaller jobs that aren’t “on the books” it still gives a clear picture on the day’s work. This way, if something changes, the team is already set up to respond without derailing what work they’re already committed.

Because this method is broken down to showcase value, it shows upper management a clear path to getting things accomplished. It also improves quality because projects are broken down into manageable units. This gives the team the chance to focus on quality instead of blazing speed, which because the work is measured by effectiveness, allows for tweaks to the process. Working agile gives the team a shared sense of ownership, but also sets personal goals for the team. Instead of working with a false sense of urgency, the task becomes a personal quest and challenge.

Consider the Kanban board

If your team likes to have constant reminders of progress, a Kanban board is a simple way to keep everyone on the same page. This method charts progress with a few simple steps. You can make a Kanban either with a big poster board, with software, you can even paint the wall because it’s so easy. Imagine a big wall with four lanes:

  • To-Do
  • In Progress
  • Done
  • On Hold

Everyone who’s working on something has their job and name on a post-it note. The notes move along through the process, showing the amount of work done. This works in two parts: It gives the boss something to show the Big Boss when it comes to work getting done, and it also empowers the workers to see their daily routines broken down and finished. This practice establishes a tone of trust, culpability, and capability amongst the team. Because everyone is informed about one another’s progress and projects, a poor worker can’t hide on the fringes. People are responsible for their work, and the numbers don’t lie.

Agile makes things realistic

Instead of setting massive goals like, “we’re completely overhauling and rearranging everything by next Friday,” break the tasks down into smaller, more achievable goals. By setting smaller goals that are easily doable, the wins stack up and people’s confidence grows. This isn’t about a project being half-finished, but systematically showing trackable progress that informs management just how long something takes and if the difficulty is longer than expected.

We all need to look back

Another facet of agile is the retrospective – a meeting held at the end of a project, a sprint, or the quarter – whenever it works for the team. This is a chance for everyone to look back on the work and to talk about what worked, what didn’t and how they can improve the process for the next time. Everyone’s feedback is welcomed in hopes that it’ll improve the process.

How does working agile sound? Would you change management style for one like this? Let us know. What works for your team? What’s not working? We have so many questions. Hit us up if you’d like to talk about the challenges of running a warehouse (we can help.) For everything else, there’s the Adia blog where we attempt to answer all of the questions of the unknown, or just how to help with staffing needs.

Bobby Hilliard