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Topic Title: Lean Six Sigma in a Warehouse
Topic Summary: How to introduce Lean Six Sigma in a Warehouse?
Created On: 09/22/2010 05:51 AM
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09/22/2010 08:41 AM
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Eduard Wensch

We are going to introduce the Lean Six Sigma principles in a warehouse.
What questions are best to ask in order to
- increase awareness and importance of Lean Six Sigma?
- identify the value streams?

Has somebody a good strategy?
Which role should the warehouse manager take over regarding VSM and 5s?

09/22/2010 09:48 AM
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Ken Hunt

What are your goals?

If you are looking at improving flow, reducing inventory, etc. you need to look at the Lean principles.

If you want to play with numbers then go with Six Sigma.

I split the two because, as several previous threads have stated, trying to combine the two is counter intuitive. It's come to the point that when Lean Sigma comes up I simply cover my ears and sing the la-la song. :-)
09/22/2010 11:25 AM
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Jon Samborski

Lean should always start with the Voice of the Customer. Here are some important points to consider:

1) What do your customers say about your warehouse?
2) What is the customer demand expressed in terms of takt time?
3) What are the defects in the eyes of the customer? (could also be from the eyes of the warehouse owner also)?
4) Do you have metrics which measure the warehouse performance? (Customer Service Level, Inventory Days Supply, Cycle Time for key warehouse processes, etc)

Next, map the process. So in this case, map the material and information flow for the warehouse. You might also calculate a timeline to determine overall lead time, value-add time, non-value-add time - but this might require some product family stratification.

Then target where the improvement opportunties exist to create a future state map. This should invoive people who actually do the work, not just managers.

Good luck.
09/23/2010 09:38 AM
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Ronald Turkett

First you need to make sure why you are making the move. Starting with a Vision, Mission, Values and Behaviors to support the values aligns he organization. Don't post and forget like 99% of the companies do that make the effort.

The CSM should clearly define the current state of material and information flow from the customer to your suppliers. Logistics and inventory planning will be very important.

You may also need to dive deeper into processes used to order parts and material from your suppliers including logistic details. Next a plan for every part should be constructed.

After identifying the opportunities in the current state the future state will be developed. The first two steps are involved in planning. The harder part is the action plan is the execution.

It is necessary to define what Lean Sigma means. Six Sigma should be used to drive the advanced problem solving process of lean.

Ron Turkett
09/24/2010 12:53 PM
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Owen Berkeley-Hill

Warehouses are intrinsically not LEAN, so there is little point in trying to make them more efficient.
If you want to make a difference, take the radical step of turning your warehouse into a Market Place. The two are as different as chalk and cheese. There are many differences but the main one is that in a warehouse the human being is dominated by a very expensive piece of software which tells the human what to do. A good Market Place is based on good Lean practice (5S, Visual Management), is a safer place to work in, and is designed so that the human makes the decisions, perhaps supported by compatible software.
I wrote a paper on this over a decade ago when I was struggling with why my coaches always crossed themselves when they went near a warehouse, particularly the automated ones. I try and locate it if there is any interest.
09/27/2010 09:10 AM
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Ronald Turkett

I agree if the warehouse is in a receiving location in a manufacturing plant. The move to market place is a must.

However, if the warehouse is a distribution center the option you have is to increase efficiency. I worked on a project where the throughput was doubled to accommodate a doubling of volume. The original request was to double the size of the facility.

Modern distribution centers continue to improve efficiency with innovative ideas.

Ron Turkett
09/27/2010 09:11 AM
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Jean Wallace

Coming from a warehouse environment, I would suggest that the Plant Manager be a driving force for 5S, 7W, and further lean endeavers. I would send one or two engineers to learn Six Sigma Tools for advanced problem solving, including root cause. After that, I would utilize LEI to its fullest extent for implementing Lean. Engage managers, supervisors, and workers to find out where the problem are and to assist in developing a plan of action. You can always invite a trained person to begin VSM in one area to help you get started and to teach other staff how to engage this tool. Lean has totally changed out warehouse and enhanced our business by reducing inventory and streamlining processes throughout the building. In 2-1/2 years, we've become a whole new and effective company. Good luck!

Jean Wallace
09/30/2010 09:09 AM
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Victor Zapien

Depending of how bad / good your warehouse is, i would suggest the follow.
1- Clear definition of the problem you want to solve (this is the first step ), define a target
2- define simple & clear rules to follow in order to drive the operation to the defined target.
3- start with 5;S program, focus on the continuous follow up of the defined rules, and define clear audit routines (Manager/Supervisor daily checks)
4- Make everything visible, drive your 5's efforts in order to get a visual management of the warehouse (identifications, locations, racking, etc)
if you start uo with this simple rules, you will be setting up the foundations of a continuous improvement enviroment.

good luck!!!

03/13/2014 06:49 AM
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Johan Smit

Dear Owen,

I am very interested in your paper you wrote.
This sounds to me very very interesting idee.

Johan Smit.
03/14/2014 08:30 AM
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Sam Tomas

First off, Lean and Six Sigma ae usually considered to be two separate activities.

Lean focuses upon directly eliminating waste. Six Sigma eliminates waste by eliminating process variation, subsequently eliminating defects. This in turn eliminates waste in all its forms, including wasted materials, wasted labor and the waste involved in return logistics (paying for return shipping), etc.

An article on using Lean Six Sigma to improve warehouse operations can be found at:


Some of many possible applications for Six Sigma:

1. In the stockroom: Used to reduce parts counts that are found to be inaccurate.

2. In personnel: Used to reduce the number of requisitions unfilled after 30 days.

3. In customer service: Used to measure number of calls unanswered on the 2nd or 3rd ring.

4. In sales: Used to track errors in completing order forms.

5. In order fulfillment: Used to eliminate returns because of wrong product being shipped.

6. In finance: Used to reduce the instances of accounts being paid after a specified time limit has elapsed.

Questions to ask can include the following:

1. What actual problems exist.that need to be corrected?
2. Assuming current problems have been corrected, what improvements in current warehouse performance are desireable?
3. What improvement goals should be set?
4. Should Lean, Six Sigma, or both be used to attain the improvements?

In regard to the attached picture of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Lean tools and techniques and Six Sigma have both been used to assure problems were resolved, potential problems were anticipated and corrected before they happened, standards of aircraft performance were met - wth safety margins, and all production schedules would also be met, to support that 3 day final assembly schedule.

Sam Tomas

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