A good warehouse manager has to be resilient and adaptive.
They must be prepared for the unexpected while pushing for continuous improvement. That’s not easy to balance, because on top of managing inventory, staffing, and equipment, they must also navigate customer expectations and relationships with carriers and other stakeholders.
Warehouse Managers who are new to the job tend to face a trial by fire. They need to learn quickly to be able to manage the complex interplay of factors that contribute to the success of a warehouse.
At any moment, they can be surprised with staff shortages or absenteeism, supply chain disruptions, and internal stakeholders with unrealistic expectations. All of this can add up to headaches that require resourcefulness to overcome.
But it’s still a rewarding job, especially for the warehouse manager who can navigate these challenges. Doing well can play a major role in the overall success of a business, and there’s nothing like the satisfaction of solving a constantly-evolving puzzle and bringing order to chaos.
Without further ado, here are the 8 most painful challenges almost every new warehouse manager will run into sooner or later:
- Elusive inventory accuracy
- High Workforce Turnover
- Space Constraints
- Being held responsible for Supply Chain Disruptions beyond your control
- Data Collection
- Managing Carriers
- Loss and Damage to stock
- Equipment Maintenance
Elusive Inventory Accuracy
Poor inventory accuracy results in stockouts, overstocking and lost sales. The business relies on warehouse managers as the first line of defense against these issues.
Even when warehouse processes seem to be working well, manual counts tend to reveal discrepancies from what your systems expect. A target like 98% accuracy can prove elusive.
To get the situation under control, a warehouse manager should conduct a rigorous root cause analysis, perhaps using an Ishikawa diagram.
There are a number of factors that might not be immediately obvious, like:
- The influence of storing the same SKU in multiple locations
- Frequent changes to the inventory mix
- Tech issues - e.g. faulty barcode scanners
- Lack of standardization
- The team’s beliefs about the importance of manual counting
- Thoroughness of inspection during receiving
Another tool to aid in your investigation is frequent cycle counting. By isolating parts of the inventory, you can identify patterns.
If you want to be methodical, the loading dock is the most logical place to start. Unnoticed discrepancies in what is actually received from suppliers will permeate through your system and soon become invisible.
Loss and Damage to stock
Human error, theft, environmental factors, accidents, inadequate packaging, and even natural disasters can seemingly conspire to keep you from hitting your KPIs.
To tackle this, warehouse managers must combine preventive measures, mitigation strategies, data analysis, and stakeholder collaboration.
Preventive measures include proper staff training, sufficient lighting and signage, anti-theft systems, and making improvements to the facility and storage equipment.
Mitigation strategies involve creating and enforcing standard operating procedures (SOPs), conducting regular safety audits and inspections and establishing a clear reporting and resolution process.
To effectively track and analyze loss and damage incidents, warehouse managers should collect data on incidents and their causes and analyze trends to identify problem areas.
Finally, if the problem starts with goods received, the only solution is to talk with suppliers and ensure proper packaging and handling. That can be a challenge if lines of communication are already somewhat strained. But taking carrier relationship management seriously is worth the investment.
High levels of labor turnover have become normalized in logistics.
As a result, warehouse managers often have to work with teams that don’t operate at peak efficiency, due to poor morale and a lack of familiarity with the facility and its processes, to say nothing of ineffective communication.
This also means that the warehouse manager must devote more time to training and people management, and so has less energy for operational thinking.
The personnel situation in warehouses is a vicious cycle, but there are ways to mitigate it and maintain a convivial workplace.
First we have to understand the causes of this phenomenon:
- Inadequate compensation
- Limited growth opportunities
- Lack of recognition
- Poor working conditions
- Mismatch between job expectations and actual responsibilities
To tackle this, it makes sense to start from the beginning, with the hiring process.
Warehouse managers need to manage internal stakeholders involved in hiring and identify discrepancies between what is communicated to applicants and the reality of the work. This ensures new hires are more engaged and trust the job from day one.
Next, they should assess the environmental factors that affect job quality, like temperature, ventilation, noise, natural light and sanitation. In some cases, small changes can have a significant impact on morale. Besides, investing in ergonomics can bring about productivity improvements.
Acknowledging the good work done by employees is the cornerstone of a strong team. Managers are well-advised not to overlook this small, simple daily action.
But above all, getting to know workers, what they hope to get from the job and where they hope to go next is the most valuable thing any manager can do to combat attrition. In some cases, there’s just a tacit understanding that the person will stick around for a few months before moving on. With mutual respect, both parties will work to give each other the maximum benefit from those months.
In other cases, there might be an individual who wants to learn a higher-earning skill, but isn’t sure what that might be, or otherwise lacks the knowledge of what pathways are open to them. If warehouse managers can find opportunities for these workers, whether it’s tasking them with learning the ins-and-outs of the WMS or coaching them to lead others, the morale boost will be well worth the effort.
The repercussions of sudden equipment failure can be dire.
Lost productivity, delayed shipments, and the potential for workplace accidents make it vital for managers to be proactive in averting such breakdowns. Regular inspections and predictive maintenance tools can help identify potential issues before they escalate.
Inability to afford extensive maintenance windows sometimes results in rushed repairs, squandering resources and increasing the risk of future breakdowns.
The way forward is to free up longer periods of planned downtime. Once again, optimizing the flow at the loading dock has the biggest impact. If you can be sure that there will be no more inbound or outbound shipments after a certain hour, that can be an excellent time to conduct maintenance activities.
Unpredictable Sales Preventing Space Optimization
Rapid business growth can lead to congestion. When sales exceed expectations, warehouses may find themselves struggling to keep up. Inefficiencies appear and quickly get baked into daily operations. Sudden drops in sales can be just as disruptive.
Warehouse clutter can also lead to unsafe working conditions and a higher risk of stock damage.
Budget constraints may get in the way of upgrading storage systems, and even changing layouts can be costly and disruptive to daily operations. Worst of all, it’s not easy to predict the impact of such changes on real productivity.
This creates a dilemma for warehouse managers, who may need to consider downsizing or consolidating inventory, increasing density or finding temporary storage solutions.
A counter-intuitive solution to this issue is for the warehouse manager to invest time into building relationships with the commercial team. A meeting in-person often reveals more than an official forecast, and a sales team that understands the real risk of stockouts or delays is more likely to take forecasting seriously.
Being held responsible for upstream problems
Whether it’s a supplier going bankrupt overnight, a natural disaster, or an outbreak of poor quality control, warehouse managers often take the fall.
This phenomenon is more pronounced in demand-oriented companies that outsource big parts of their fulfillment operations. In this type of organization, senior leadership sometimes sees the warehouse manager as the guardian of the supply chain.
You might get asked ‘what was your contingency plan and why did it fail?’ But even a detailed answer might not satisfy. There are really only two actions you can take to help your organization ‘get it.’
The first is up-front expectations management, during good times and bad, always pushing back against inappropriate goals.
The second is constant collection of data. Experience might give you a sharp intuition, but people outside of logistics won’t always understand. Hard numbers justify your decisions and help you build a more resilient kind of trust with stakeholders.
Whether or not warehouse managers seize the initiative, it’s quickly becoming a data-driven discipline.
New tech is designed for a world where business data is clean and accurate. But most warehouses still struggle with outdated systems and manual processes, leading to inconsistencies and errors in the data collected.
Sensors and RFID tags can reduce errors and streamline the data-gathering process, but it’s not always feasible to implement such devices.
Security can also be a concern, as can retrieving meaningful, actionable information from the data.
Some types of data may have to be collected from third parties, either by connecting to their systems or speaking to them directly. Partners might ask ‘what’s in it for us?’ and so warehouses have to think not just about their own tech strategy, but the tech strategy for the whole supply chain!
Fortunately there are paths forward.
Warehouse managers can find easy win-wins with carriers and suppliers, like working together to speed up truck turnaround times at the loading dock. These kinds of initiatives don’t require complex data-sharing protocols. It’s enough to have a platform partners can log into to book appointments.
Bottlenecks in the Loading Dock
Warehouse managers can painstakingly optimize every aspect of warehouse operations, but when it comes to shipping and receiving processes, there are factors outside of their control.
Sometimes the loading dock can go a whole day almost in silence, before every truck arrives at once at 5:00 p.m., including loads you didn’t even know were coming.
Slowdowns in shipping and receiving can force you to move workers and equipment from other areas, not to mention disrupting the overall rhythm and flow of daily operations.
The only way around this is to implement dock scheduling, and even then there’s no guarantee that carriers and suppliers will stick to the schedule.
You need a way to incentivize partners to arrive on time.
How DataDocks Helps
DataDocks lets warehouse managers take control of loading dock operations. When shipping and receiving processes no longer demand the lion’s share of your attention, you can focus on other areas of the warehouse.
To do that, DataDocks gives you a dock scheduling platform that collects data on the timings of loads, so you can get more accountability into the conversation with partners. Over time, carriers improve their performance because they can see how arriving on time gets their loads worked faster.
Warehouse management comes with many challenges, and it takes a cool head to face them. But dealing with external partners is one thing that doesn’t have to be so difficult.
For an in-depth discussion of what DataDocks can do for your warehouse, book a demo with our team or call us on (+1) 647 848-8250.