Q: How have performance management programs changed over the years?

A: In general, I have seen LMS software become much more ubiquitous, but relatively few organizations are getting the value out of the system to effectively manage their labor. There really is more data readily available from the WMS to the LMS that can enable standards to be very specific, based on the work mix, which increases the possibility of highly accurate standards regardless of seasonal changes in workflow. The problem is that they are also more complicated and often less time is spent setting up standards. What should be more accurate can end up being less accurate because organizations have not invested properly in the setup and validation process. There is much more data available with much less internal expertise on how to properly leverage it. This is a gap that I am constantly thinking of the best way to fill.

Q: When did you begin consulting? What was your first project?

A: My consulting career started with KSA in 2001. My first project was a performance management implementation for Global Sports which had one small facility in Louisville primarily fulfilling web orders for sporting goods stores such as Oshman’s Sporting Goods. That company became GSI Commerce and is now Radial—one of the largest 3PL distributors for retailers and brands. It has been a really good example of the dramatic increase in Internet retail and how it has transformed the industry to where every organization must have a strategy to effectively serve a multi-channel profile.

Q: What is your most memorable experience while consulting?

A: My most memorable experience was while I was working on a project with a footwear brand/retailer with a tilt tray sorter. The operation had no ability to separate waves on the sorter chutes and chutes had to be fully packed before the next wave could be induced, leading to very low MHE utilization which limited capacity and labor effectiveness. We were looking for a “brick” that could be inducted to separate the waves but could also be easily stacked and returned to induction for subsequent waves.

All totes available from typical suppliers were too bulky and heavy and nothing we found worked. Then one day I was at the grocery store, randomly walking down the pet aisle and there on the top of the shelves was a stack of cat litter trays! Needless to say, I bought the stack and brought them with me to the DC the next day. They were the perfect size and worked out great!

Later that week the client ordered 1,000 of them from the manufacturer and had them shipped to the DC. Within weeks they integrated them into the process. You truly never know how you will find a solution to those nagging process inefficiencies, and it need not necessarily mean a costly capital investment.

Q: In the past 10-20 years, what piece of technology changed distribution the most, and what technology today will change distribution the most over the next 20?

A: I think the putwall and its supporting programming has transformed distribution the most over the past 10-20 years. It was an elegant and inexpensive way to create batched picking orders and then sort them into the small orders that drive web business. Sortation systems on their own could not be effectively utilized for such small orders until the putwall was added to the end of the process. It also allowed facilities to transform part of the process in order to support web business within their current processes without significant capital investment or transformation of their core processes.

In the last few years, very sophisticated and expensive goods-to-person systems have tried to be even more effective at this process to further reduce labor in a distribution environment, but the capital investment is so high that it often takes ROI periods of 7+ years. I think goods-to-person options will continue to come down in cost with innovations such as pocket-on-hanger waveless sorting from inventory buffers that can immediately reprioritize work based on dynamic order fill priority patterns, allowing inventory to dynamically reallocate to the most urgent orders. Emerging technologies such as this will make it possible for even more organizations to dramatically reduce labor footprints by enabling cost effective solutions that can be retrofitted into existing facilities.   

Q: Shifting gears, with Christmas right around the corner, what was on your Christmas list this year?

A: I am always hoping to stay on top of technology in my own house the best I can. From Ring doorbells to Hue lighting systems, there is so much out there that enables us to keep tabs and be creative with our lives right from our smartphones. With my Hue light bulb, I can change the color of the light coming from the 50-year-old mid-century light fixture in my living room to match each season—it truly is awesome.

I think the next thing on my list is something that helps me broadcast more content from my laptop or tablet to the TV so I don’t have to remember how to use the five remote controls that we currently need to make everything work properly. Maybe I can even cut the cord in the process!

Seth has been in the retail distribution and supply chain industry for more than 15 years. Serving on both the consultant and client side, he has overseen many transformations through labor management and process innovation. Today, Seth turns complex environments into systems that can be managed and optimized. Read more about Seth here.