How a WMS can help your business remain lean

Lean is going to remain a key focus for warehouses in 2019, no matter how much noise drones make in the news. It might stay your most important focus this year and beyond because it touches on your ability to run effectively whilst controlling costs.

Let’s look a little deeper at lean and see what it means for warehouses, and how a warehouse management system can help.

Why is lean important?

Lean manufacturing, supply chains, and business management techniques are designed to make it more affordable to run your business. In the world of the warehouse, leaner operations usually entail reducing your cycle times, optimizing floor and shelving space, managing inventory costs and losses, reducing reworks, and even freeing up some capital to try new things.

A lean warehouse is one that supports your business instead of turning into a money pit that creates unhappy customers and increased costs. Some of the best support you’ll have getting there comes from a lean WMS.

Three ways WMS can help achieve lean practices

There are a few different terms for getting your warehouse lean. Some of the most common include simple phrases like a lean WMS, lean warehousing, and lean distribution models. You might also hear about a 5S warehouse checklist or best practices. 5S is a developed lean strategy that aims to make problems more visible, so its application in a warehouse is easy to start imagining.

The 5S:

  • Sort
  • Set
  • Shine
  • Standardize
  • Sustain

We’re going to stick with the 5S warehouse checklist or practices goal of increased visibility to discuss three of the best things a lean WMS can do for your operations: making it easier manage inventory, orders, and scheduling, while also making their problems more visible.

Inventory management

A core function of any warehouse management tool, especially a lean WMS, is to give you visibility in your inventory. It can help your team understand what it has, track historical records to make sure you’re only reordering when you need, and even keep tabs on goods that might expire. It’s a giant effort in data, and data equals visibility in the warehouse.

A powerful system goes a step beyond knowing what you have and can actively help you manage it by allowing you to establish new product categories, sort based on historical data, optimize the location of inventory to speed up order fulfillment, and much more. It can even help you manage spikes in your operations.

One piece of the 5S program is “shine.” This is all about cleanliness. In the warehouse, this S makes it easier to see what you have, keep lanes clear so that there are fewer accidents, and quicken inspections without losing quality. A WMS supports these efforts when it helps you optimize inventory locations and resupplies.

Order management

Order management and fulfillment also get a lot easier with a lean WMS. One of my favorite benefits of a WMS for encouraging lean operations comes from order fulfillment practices that enforce FIFO rules. I’ve seen companies reduce annual product and raw material spoilage costs by thousands of dollars simply by having a WMS with a fulfillment module that verifies people grab the oldest items, not just those closest to the door.

A lean WMS can automate a wide range of fulfillment processes. You’re eliminating human error and even tracking goods as they move across your warehouse. This can reduce the need to backtrack to past stations to find products that haven’t advanced as they should, or allow you to, consolidate activities to fill orders faster.

Wave and batch picking, kitting, and many other techniques benefit significantly from the “standardize” element in the 5S and having a consistent WMS process makes standardization easier.


Our final look at the lean WMS is warehouse scheduling. When you use the data in your technology stack, you can make schedule decisions based on your data and network. This methodology allows you to understand and manage warehouse schedules for staff, shipments, partners, and more. This makes your operation much more likely to achieve goals in the final of the 5S: sustain.

Scheduling staff and orders can allow you to test for best practices such as dividing workloads by outbound destinations, such as LTL vs. FTL and when you might need to swap equipment, trailers, or pallets with another warehouse.

You also get a detailed look at outbound trunking and deliveries, ensure you’ve got the people to handle inbound goods, and even choose the best person for pick, pack, load, and other activities based on their efficiency and success rates.

Putting the right people in the right place, at the right time, is an effective way to drive down your costs while maintaining high levels of efficiency. A smart, lean WMS is a robust tool to help you achieve that aim.


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Geoff Whiting

About the author…

Geoff is an experienced journalist, writer, and business development consultant with a focus on enterprise technology, e-commerce, and supply chain development. Outside of the office he can be found toying with the latest in IoT, searching for classic radio broadcast recordings, and playing the perpetual tourist in his home of Washington D.C.

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Geoff Whiting

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