Bruce Lee once said “The height of cultivation runs to simplicity. Halfway cultivation runs to ornamentation”. While he may have written it in the context of Martial arts, the implication is true for any domain of skill.
As the Indian consumers are getting pampered with more variety, faster delivery and no questions asked return options, the complexity of retail supply chain is increasing multifold.
It is no more a manufacturer to distributor, distributor to wholeseller, wholeseller to retailer, retailer to consumer, movement of goods at a predefined frequency, ordering levels and service levels. Given the amount of volatility the consumer products exhibits seasonally and monthly, logistics SLAs and accuracy cannot be managed by just putting disproportionate amount of focus on important days/events. In peak volume times, the logistics teams often find pressed for resources and manpower to handle the demand variability. While seasonal fluctuations is something that is built-in any logistics annual operating plan, it is the weekly or short-term frequent fluctuations that are difficult to cater to.
Why is it so? If there is additional business, why is it so difficult to deploy additional manpower and cater to the demand blip. That too in Indian ecosystem where temporary hiring at Warehouses and distribution centre has always been the way of operating.
The reason that it becomes difficult to operate is because the business complexity is such that a lot of interpretations of SKUs codes, article description, and promotional relevance is done by the Warehousing team at the time of dispatch. A lot of it is learnt by the operators by being in the system for a while and not as a part of an ongoing process.
The other uncomfortable fact about a warehouse operations is that most of the staff operating there is unskilled or semiskilled staff. Postponing some of the interpretation and decision-making to that end of the supply chain means only an old-timer in the system will be able to operate successfully.
To make a new entrant operate successfully, every “next step” in the process should be so intuitive that any new semi skilled or unskilled person can follow through the whole process successfully and independently. It can be done through the use of colors, visual signs, audio signals, varying level of illumination, animated pictures etc. A classic example of this level of simplification and intuitive process designing is mobile application interface. We know that the smart phones have penetrated far and deep in the Indian villages. Irrespective of the educational level or native language, most of them know how to use applications like WatsApp, Facebook etc. How is it that from downloading to setting up to using the application is so easily communicated by the app developer and understood by the app user? That is because “easy to navigate” is one of the foremost requirement for any successful app. The app developers understand this extremely well and hence the design caters to it. The Efficiency and custom levels comes much later in the priority list. Similarly, for process designing at warehouses, “Easy to follow through” should be one of the foremost criteria for the Warehousing and logistics managers. The more they are able to keep things simple and stupid for the manpower below, the easier it will be scale up the operation as and when needed, at a short notice.
I believe the current retail disruption and promotional explosion is the right opportunity for the logistics managers to relook at their warehousing processes and ask themselves, Is it as intuitive as Watsapp?. If not, may be it`s time to meet some Mobile app developers!!