Solve Inbound Processing Problems to Boost Fulfillment Performance
Everything flows from the inbound. The absence of a systematic, accurate inbound process makes it nearly impossible to prevent problems in fulfillment operations.
Ensuring a solid upstream process creates the environment for excellence in downstream operations. Prevent problems before they start.
Q. What are the symptoms of fulfillment problems caused by inadequate inbound processes?
A. Common issues include slow receiving times, inventory problems, delayed shipping, and incorrect box sizes that result in damage or increased transportation spend.
For example, imagine the seemingly innocent scenario where the advanced shipping notice (ASN) indicates there are 20 “eaches” in a case, but there are actually only 16.
The warehouse trusts the ASN and receives the product in at the case level. The warehouse management system now tells the stakeholders that 20 eaches are on-site and can be ordered against by end customers, but in fact, four are fictional.
Problems ensue. Directed put-away fails to consolidate locations, causing unnecessary space to be used. Pickers scramble to fill delayed orders from bins with the wrong product or that are out of stock. Backorders (i.e., lost sales) rise as end customers place orders against inventory that is there systematically but not physically.
Now extrapolate this “small” discrepancy across thousands of cases over many months. Frustration builds for operations, customer service, and sales.
Q. How do you identify the underlying causes?
A. Explore the assumptions in your processes. Review KPIs to identify potential problem areas. Is inventory accuracy starting to drop? Is case “sampling” (opening up a portion of cases to count eaches) validating the ASN and product dimensions? Are damage rates (package too small) or dimensional weight billing frequency (package too big) increasing? With such data as your guide, start studying specific areas and interviewing team members to understand pain points.
Q. What are some next steps to improve your inbound processes?
A. Utilize data and team feedback to implement new processes, training, and quality control checks.
If ASNs aren’t trustworthy, sample a greater percentage of cases, count every each, and/or receive eaches into bins to ensure consistency.
Assign senior team members to the inbound team; ask them to perform the work with the correct process (short-term) and correctly train team members (long-term).
Overstaff your inbound team until problems stabilize.
Measure/weigh all new SKUs to ensure correct box sizing is used on packouts.
Track data on inbound discrepancies and provide ongoing feedback to suppliers so they can improve performance.
Utilize your WMS to drive system-directed verification, sortation, and consolidation.
The inbound process is where your warehouse game is won or lost. Prioritize an effective inbound and your whole operation will start seeing better results.
Peter Davis is the vice president of fulfillment at WSI, bringing a blend of experience in logistics, business, and corporate law. Davis works across teams, with the goal of using an interdisciplinary approach to identify gaps and drive previously unseen solutions. WSI’s commitment to this approach is a key reason for its success in delivering reliable and insightful fulfillment services over the past six decades.