“A well-managed factory is boring. Nothing exciting happens in it because the crises have been anticipated and have been converted into a routine.”
That’s what Peter Drucker said, whose practical ideas became the foundation of many modern management practices. In fact, until this day his teachings are still widely applied in many factories, warehouses and other commercial facilities.
Why make the factory or workplace quiet and boring? According to the above quote (and you might have also noticed it by now), boredom in the workplace can mean high efficiency and productivity. The problems were already anticipated and prepared for. Instead of the whole team busy putting out fires where ‘there’s a lot of action’, the fires were being prevented or they were addressed early on before they become much worse in the first place.
Productivity, predictability and boredom in warehouses
Often we look up to managers and leaders who always step up whenever there’s a crisis. We admire their courage to take action when it counts.
However, there are countless other leaders and business managers who quietly do their work and prevent crises in the first place. They’re not busy putting out fires. They’re just busy preventing the fires, identifying the causes and improving further the results and productivity in the workplace.
This also applies to warehouses where there’s a lot of daily crises managers deal with. Whether it’s a forklift collision, a pedestrian getting hit by the forklift, material handling equipment tipping over or boxes falling from trucks or shelves, managers and engineers have to face these problems on a regular basis.
It becomes exhausting and it’s not the most managerial or engineering way to approach things. A much better approach is to prevent those events from occurring in the first place. A useful framework to accomplish this is by making all operations predictable and boring. In other words, almost everything should be converted to routine.
This removes all the excitement of putting out fires every now and then. The good thing is more and more companies adopt this mindset when managing their operations and business. For example, logistics companies that have already maximised their growth make their warehouse operations so smooth that you might just hear a few noises every few hours. It’s the perfect example of a well-managed business.
Another example is about who will operate the forklift and how to best accomplish it. Electronic devices can now be installed on forklifts to set who will be authorised to drive the equipment. Only certified drivers will be allowed and this method also increases accountability. This also increases predictability because there are clear assignments of who will operate the forklifts. In addition, there is increased accountability which can help drivers become more aware of their actions.
Checklists, traffic management and more
Using a pre-shift checklist can also make things more predictable, especially in forklift and warehouse operations. The operators can inspect the engine, tyres, fork and other parts before proceeding. They can also check if they’re wearing safety gear or remind themselves of wearing a safety belt before driving the forklift.
Many warehouses now have electronic and configurable checklists to make it easier for operators to use as a reference. The audio-visual display can be very helpful in ensuring safety before each shift. In addition, the checklist can be configured depending on the loads, area and other safety precautions.
Aside from checklists, another way to make things routine and predictable is with a traffic management plan. It starts with analysing the current traffic flow (both of people and material handling equipment) and movement patterns. Then, the whole department can devise ways of making the flow more straightforward and efficient.
Perhaps more forklifts should be assigned to fast-moving consumer goods and place the shelves containing those products near the entry and exit points. This makes the flow more efficient and straightforward because it minimises travel time and distance. Another way to implement this is by placing similar goods together for better organisation.
Managers and engineers can also restrict access for better traffic management. For instance, they install automated gates and barriers to prevent people from accessing busy areas frequented by forklifts (especially when there’s incoming traffic). This can drastically reduce accidents between pedestrians and forklifts. A more effective way than posting and sending memos to all the staff on which areas are accessible or not.
Often, technology is put to good use in times like this. Automatically closing the gates or putting up barriers can make the environment safer, while relying less on human willpower. Also, putting up alert systems can lengthen the reaction time pedestrians and forklift drivers have. The alerts will give enough time for forklift drivers to make better decisions; to manoeuvre or for the pedestrians to clear out of the way.
Better traffic flow can also be accomplished by reducing the number of blind spots and intersections. These areas are where most accidents are likely to occur. Although their presence would never go down to zero, reducing the number will have a huge safety effect for both the pedestrians and forklift drivers.
As you’ve already noticed, a few workplace modifications can be much more effective than sending out countless instructions. The former seems boring because there’s not a lot of action. There will be fewer meetings (monthly instead of daily). The changes are also somewhat permanent and may only require occasional revisits throughout the year.
Make your warehouse quiet and boring for improvement
The goal here is to make the workplace boring by making everything predictable and easy to implement. Adequate training is still required to properly execute any plan and fully take advantage of what modern technology has to offer.
Often, it’s an integrated approach that uses both human resources and technology that yields the optimal results. For example, technology can be used to better monitor forklift usage and schedule maintenance. On the other hand, the operators and managers can then better focus on strategy and planning. Instead of being busy putting out fires, the whole team will be busy making the whole structure ‘fireproof’ or almost free from any crisis.
Making warehouse operations boring and predictable allows people to focus on higher-level problem solving such as increasing productivity and making the work environment a safer place for everyone. This also allows people to spot more opportunities and take advantage of them. This is essential in a competitive industry and marketplace.
You won’t find this mental framework of boredom and predictability in many management literature and business books. However, this is actually crucial in maintaining productivity and safety in the workplace. Without predictability, the whole structure and operations will be thrown into chaos. There will also be no improvement because there are no predictable scenarios to analyse in the first place (“What gets measured gets managed”).
Once everything is predictable and boring, our mind will then start to focus on other things. After all, boredom makes us want to try new things and approaches. In addition, making everything routine can free our hands and minds to get busy with other tasks. The routine structure can also provide us with more opportunities for improvement because we can closely watch the flow and predict what will happen. Productivity, return on investment and safety will all be improved in the warehouse because of the clear structure you’ve built.
Get in touch with us if you’re looking for a quiet and boring warehouse.