AdobeStock workers meetingBy Bill Lucarell, Senior Software Development Engineer, Lucas Systems

During a recent site visit, I walked into a warehouse and observed a huddle with shift workers standing up. What I saw was part of a trend that started in the software development industry – the Agile Framework with Scrum. It is now spreading its way into distribution centers.

Agile and Scrum are popular frameworks in the software development industry, but they have also been successfully applied to various business processes beyond software development. The framework emphasizes collaboration, adaptability, and frequent feedback, leading to a more responsive and effective approach to achieving business goals and continuously improving. The word “agile” is fitting because the unpredictable nature of warehouse work needs early issue identification and quick adjustments.

Daily Scrum (also known as standups), a crucial component of the Agile/Scrum process, occurs at least once a day at most warehouses. Standups serve as a short, daily synchronization meeting where team leaders and members discuss their progress and achievements, challenges, and plans. Furthermore, these meetings provide a checkpoint on team performance, including how they may have done against goal, and helps set expectations and motivations for the day’s goals.

Another benefit for warehouse standups is recognition. In Lucas Systems’ recent market study on gamification in the warehouse, feedback mechanisms and recognition were two areas that workers identified as being central to their engagement and motivation.  Many distribution center (DC) operators are using these meetings to provide productivity feedback, celebrate success, and offer motivational moments. Recognition can sometimes be in the form of gift cards or other leader-donated incentives, or they can merely be praise and recognition.

Let’s look at some best practices for an effective warehouse standup meeting.

Duration, format, and pitfalls to avoid

At software companies, daily standups occur at the beginning of the shift. This works well for warehouses, too. During customer visits, my colleagues and I have observed that approximately 4 out of 5 warehouses performs such a meeting. The Scrum process advises that these meetings should last a maximum of 15 minutes, but we’ve seen that most warehouse standups last 5-10 minutes. Due to the fast-paced nature of warehouse work, the brevity of the meeting enables managers to have a mid-shift standup if it adds value. The value added from these brief checkpoints exceeds the time lost spent in standups.

Typically, workers briefly explain their accomplishments yesterday, their plans today, and impediments that may get in the way. This will help the warehouse manager identify issues early so that the picking process is seamless. Some warehouses use Scrum’s practice of using a whiteboard to foster transparency and enhance collaboration.

When conducting standups in a warehouse, there are pitfalls to avoid so that the meetings are effective and adhere to best practices. Workers should arrive on time, stay on topic, avoid lengthy “problem solving sessions”, listen without interrupting, and avoid using electronics. This way, team members retain focus and only relevant parties resolve roadblocks afterwards. A “parking lot” on a whiteboard is a useful way to handle roadblocks after the standup.

Communication and collaboration

Having one or more standup meetings in the warehouse creates a steady synergy throughout the shift. These meetings are crucial in breaking down “silos” that may hinder such synergy. By sharing progress and impediments that may get in the way, teams can promote a shared sense of purpose, accountability, and transparency.

The increased awareness of each picker’s activities fosters a sense of unity, aligning the team towards common objectives. This transparency not only enhances collaboration but also aids in identifying potential areas of overlap or interdependence in tasks. As a result, teams can perform tasks more strategically, efficiently, and effectively. Consequently, the performance improves the accuracy and speed of supply chain fulfillment.

Adaptability and quick turnaround

In the warehouse, priorities often change. Because of this dynamic environment, lack of team synchronization can cause picking productivity to fall behind. During a shift, pickers must quickly adjust to priority changes. By employing the agile principle of standups, team members get a frequent feedback loop so that they are confident that they are working on the highest priority warehouse activities. For instance, a slotting or replenishment issue may surface. Without standups, warehouse workers cannot promptly mitigate such issues. The quick and frequent dissemination during standups enables a collective understanding of shifting priorities, fostering a culture of responsiveness, accountability, transparency, and agility. Such collaboration also quickly identifies issues, which is critical in a fast-paced warehouse environment. Many warehouses have multiple quick standups per day because 24-hour waits will cause longer than desired supply chain bottlenecks.

AdobeStock workers clappingTeam empowerment

Regular sharing of updates not only enhances individual accountability but also instills a sense of collective ownership within the team. By routinely discussing achievements and forthcoming tasks, team members invest more in their roles, taking pride in their contributions and assuming greater responsibility for the overall success of the project.

As members regularly report on their accomplishments and commitments, this heightened accountability also serves as a motivator, driving individuals to meet their goals and contribute actively to the team’s success. As one V.P.  of  Distribution  at  a $3.6  billion  hardware  distributor shared in our gamification insights research,  “In  many  of  our  employee  surveys  it’s  not  necessarily  about  money,  it’s  about  quality  of  work  and  supportive  management  recognition  at  work. Employees want a company that’s going to recognize them and say, we want you to stay and get better. We want your engagement as much as you want our engagement.”

Facilitating continuous improvement

Warehouse pickers and managers continuously improve thanks to standup meetings. Managers work behind the scenes to address roadblocks pinpointed during standup. They also observe patterns and use such patterns to leverage the team’s productivity. Over time, this will result in a smoother supply chain.

By regularly discussing what went well and the obstacles encountered along the way, team members engage in a collective reflection on their performance, fostering a culture of learning and adaptation. This iterative and reflective process becomes invaluable, as the insights gained from frequent standups contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the team’s dynamics, strengths, and areas for improvement. We’ve seen supervisors using meeting feedback to identify opportunities for improvement behind the scenes.

Implementing daily standup meetings for on-floor warehouse workers is a strategic move that can significantly enhance the efficiency, communication, and overall effectiveness of warehouse and distribution center operations.

Daily standups reduce stress, empower teams, and build trust due to their collaborative nature. As the logistics landscape continues to evolve, embracing daily standups not only empowers workers but also positions warehouse operators to adapt swiftly to changing demands, ensuring a more resilient and agile operation in the dynamic world of supply chain management.

Therefore, if you visit a warehouse and see these quick huddles, you know that warehouse is respecting the fast-paced nature of the supply chain and keeping its workers engaged!

Bill Lucarell headshotBill Lucarell is a Senior Software Development Engineer in Test at Lucas Systems, where he leads testing and automation processes. He brings over 15 years of software industry experience to Lucas and has worked as a developer and a test automation engineer for various B2B products. After learning Agile in 2010, he became a champion for Agile processes and leverages those processes to produce high quality software and build team camaraderie.

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