Elevating Warehouse Productivity With My Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt

Discover how Derek McDowell, Warehouse & Technical Support Specialist at SK&T, leverages his Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification to enhance warehouse operations. This blog will guide you through the transformative power of Lean Six Sigma and inspire you to apply these principles to your workplace for increased productivity and efficiency.

Derek McDowell's Six Sigma Yellow Belt Certification

As a warehouse specialist at SK&T, I was frequently confronted with the challenges of inconsistent stock turnover. Some items quickly moved off shelves while others languished and collected dust. This inconsistency hampered my efficiency and my sense of responsibility for the inventory’s stagnation. Determined to find a solution, I was drawn to the Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification, a decision motivated by the desire to refine our processes and better serve our customers. My journey through Lean Six Sigma training has not only equipped me with the tools to address inventory challenges at SK&T but also transformed my approach to problem-solving—a valuable skill that any warehouse manager could benefit from.

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma combines two powerful methodologies to enhance business processes: Lean, which focuses on eliminating waste and maximizing value, and Six Sigma, developed by Bill Smith at Motorola in 1986 to reduce manufacturing defects and improve quality. Together, Lean Six Sigma offers a systematic and data-driven approach that allows organizations to boost customer satisfaction, elevate quality standards, and achieve sustainable productivity enhancements.

In this blog, I will outline three key insights from my Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt training: Poka-Yoke techniques, the seven types of waste, and the 5S Framework. Drawing from my role as a Warehouse Specialist at SK&T, I’ll provide practical examples that showcase how these principles have been effective for me so that others can use similar strategies to enhance their business operations.

The Power of Poka-Yoke

The term poka-yoke is Japanese for “mistake-proofing” and is a common Six Sigma principle that businesses can benefit from, regardless of industry. Poka-yoke is all about making mistakes obvious or impossible. Picture it as a safety net for your processes that ensures smooth operations and minimizes errors.

Graphic showing Poka-Yoke in Japanese translates to

Your typical file cabinet is a great example of poka-yoke in action. If all the cabinet drawers were opened at once, the extra weight would cause the cabinet to flip over. Recognizing this flaw, file cabinet manufacturers apply poke-yoke to their design so that only one drawer can be pulled out at a given time.

In my role as a Warehouse Specialist at SK&T, implementing the poka-yoke principle is an essential part of my daily tasks. Similar to how perishable food items have expiration dates, many products I store in our warehouse also have a limited shelf life, particularly thermal printer supplies. To manage this, I apply the poka-yoke concept to shipments and assign color-coded labels to them each quarter. This streamlines the placement and rotation of stock throughout the warehouse, making sure customer products on our shelves never expire.

Mastering Waste Reduction

Waste reduction in Lean Six Sigma is crucial for enhancing organizational efficiency, reducing costs, and improving customer satisfaction This methodical approach focuses on identifying and eradicating the seven predominant types of waste: transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overprocessing, defects, and overproduction. Here are some pro tips and examples of how I address the seven types of waste in SK&T’s warehouse.

Transportation: Waste due to unnecessary movements of products or materials.

  • Tip: Look for ways to minimize unnecessary movement of goods to reduce costs and limit the risk of damaged items by aiming for consolidation within facilities.
  • Example: To reduce transport waste, I’ve optimized the layout of SK&T’s warehouse to minimize the distance between frequently used items. I also leverage equipment, like forklifts, that can move multiple items at once.

Inventory: Excess products and materials not being processed.

  • Tip: Implement a precise inventory management system to avoid excessive stock levels that tie up capital or cause delays.
  • Example: SK&T uses a Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory system to keep stock levels closely aligned with customer demand, minimizing excess inventory on our shelves.

Motion: Waste from unnecessary movements by people.

  • Tip: Try to cut down on unnecessary movements within your facility to save time and reduce worker fatigue.
  • Example: My workstation is laid out in a particular way to ensure tools and materials are within easy reach, reducing the time and effort I spend moving around. Another option is to invest in mobile-powered workstations as a way to reduce footsteps and boost worker productivity.

Waiting: Idle time created when waiting for processes, materials, or access to tools.

  • Tip: Time is money, so you need to find ways to eliminate bottlenecks and dependencies in your operations that cause delays and work towards shortening the idle time between each step in your process.
  • Example: I’ve synchronized SK&T’s workflows and processes to improve the scheduling of shipments and ensure continuous operations. By doing this, I don’t have to wait as long to access the tools or systems I rely on to process customer orders.

Overprocessing: Doing more work or using more materials than necessary.

  • Tip: Avoid redundant checks and simplify processes to eliminate wasteful steps that aren’t necessary.
  • Example: At SK&T, I’ve simplified the packing and receiving areas so that I’m only using the minimum necessary materials required. This helps me protect the flow of goods through our warehouse based on an item’s size, weight, and durability.

Defects: Production of faulty products or the occurrence of errors.

  • Tip: Work closely with vendors and suppliers to address quality issues upfront, reducing the need for rework while improving overall customer satisfaction.
  • Example: I use quality control checks at multiple stages of the SK&T warehouse to identify and correct defects early in my process. This minimizes the cost and impact of errors, leading to improved customer satisfaction.

Overproduction: Producing more than what’s needed or before it is needed.

  • Tip: Align production closely with customer demands to prevent resource wastage.
  • Example: I use demand forecasting and lean techniques to ensure SK&T’s warehouse is stocked with goods in response to actual demand instead of anticipated orders.

Derek McDowell, Warehouse & Technical Support Specialist, shown operating a forklift in SK&T's warehouse.

Image of Derek McDowell scanning barcodes while operating a forkflift in the SK&T warehouse.

The 5 “S” Pillars of Lean Six Sigma

The 5 “S” Pillars are a Lean Six Sigma methodology used to establish a structured approach to maintaining an organized, efficient, and safe work environment. It focuses on eliminating clutter by promoting cleanliness so that organizations can systematically enhance productivity and ensure optimal working conditions for their teams.

1.) Sort

Declutter and eliminate unnecessary items to optimize space and streamline workflow efficiency. In SK&T’s warehouse, I’ll sort items on shelves by part number or by customer. This makes it easier for me to locate items quickly and efficiently, saving me valuable time.

2.) Set in Order

Arrange essential items logically to minimize search time and enhance accessibility. In SK&T’s warehouse, I ensure that every item is stored in a designated location. This practice allows items to be efficiently returned to stock or shelved upon receipt, enabling quick and easy access for everyone involved.

3.) Shine

Make sure your work area is clean and organized in a way that’s easy to see everything. Clutter makes it hard to find what you need, even if it’s sitting right in front of you! Every Friday before leaving the SK&T warehouse, I spend 30 minutes cleaning my work area and putting stuff back where it belongs. It also helps me get a fresh start to each week.

4.) Standardize

Establish consistent procedures and make sure everyone is clear on how things are done. If everyone follows processes differently, mistakes are bound to happen. At SK&T, we ensure multiple employees are trained in both receiving and shipping processes. We’ve documented step-by-step instructions for these procedures so that employees adhere to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) consistently, every time.

5.) Sustain

Focus on sustaining productivity by making sure procedures are being followed and continually being evaluated to ensure they’re beneficial to your business. At SK&T, I’m constantly evaluating workflows and SOPs to make sure my co-workers are aware of all the procedures in place that contribute to a sustainable warehouse operation.

Are You Ready to Take Action?

If you manage a warehouse like me, I hope this blog inspired you to take the time to evaluate your own warehouse operations. In the spirit of continuous improvement and utilizing Lean Six Sigma principles, I encourage you to reflect on your own processes. Consider any inefficiencies or delays you frequently encounter and recognize these as opportunities for enhancement using Lean Six Sigma. Do you notice any patterns in stock levels that can lead to better optimizations? Is your inventory management system helping you keep tight control of stock levels? Have you taken time to recognize the 7 different types of waste and strategized ways to eliminate them?

If Lean Six Sigma certification is something you’re interested in, you can sign up for courses at: www.6sigmacertificationonline.com.

Feel free to reach out to me directly if you have any questions or would like to discuss ideas on how Lean Six Sigma can be used to improve processes in your workplace. My door is always open.

Author: Derek McDowell

Warehouse & Technical Support Specialist