Eliminating Waste: Waiting


Today we look at our second installment in our series covering the seven types of  “Mūda” (waste) common in order fulfillment and contact center operations.  Second on the list, “waiting”.

Waiting: Idle time created when material, information, people, or equipment is not ready


In The Operation

Also known as queuing, waiting refers to the periods of inactivity that occurs due to an upstream activity not being delivered on time. It’s also found in areas where capacity is lost as a result of equipment downtime and inspection.


What does this look like?

  • Operators without work – Employees are standing at work stations with very little work or nothing at all. This is the opposite of overproduction as it is the result of an upstream activity not producing at the required rate.
  • Loss of capacity – Extended periods of time without product moving throughout each process. You will observe empty conveyor/carts.
  • Organized Chaos at end of shift – In an attempt to make up lost capacity throughout the day, the operation attempts to complete three hours worth of work within the last hour of the shift.  This is actually “overproduction”, but it’s the result of “waiting” throughout the day.
  • Waiting for inspection – QA areas are notorious for letting work build up before someone begins working the backlog. This “rush to inspect” results in inaccurate inspections and overproduction to the next downstream process.
  • Waiting for information – Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) systems that do not support a real-time flow of orders to the FC will routinely experience periods without work, followed by periods where overtime is needed to meet customer promise.
  • Waiting on machine repair – When equipment is down, all downstream processes are without work.


How to prevent waiting 

Wave processing is an example of a “push model” production plan.  You’ll see higher levels of productivity due to increased picking density and then lower productivity levels as the work is completed. Moving to a waveless picking model will give you more control and allow you to accomplish a balanced workflow.

If your operation performs discrete order picking (one order at a time), this is less of an issue and can be managed by balancing staffing throughout the operation.

*contact Anthony if you would like more information on implementing waveless picking



Here are a few items to get you started on waveless picking:

  • Develop a pick sequence that moves employees through the building on the most productive path possible.
  • If needed, divide the picking area into smaller, more manageable zones.
  • Wave at a pace that is equal to your planned production rate.
  • Sort pick assignments by zone first, then by pick sequence.
  • Paperless picking only – Have the system assign picks to the employee who is closest regardless of the age of the pick/order (within reasonable limits)
  • You must also have controls around the number of multi-item orders being processed at one time.

Contact Anthony if you would like more information on implementing waveless picking.


In The Contact Center

Waiting on anything in the contact center is an obvious hit on efficiency and impacts your ability to address customer inquiries in a timely manner.



What does this look like?

  • Representatives waiting for customers to call.
  • Representatives waiting on supervisors/managers to approve refunds or similar customer benefits.
  • Representatives waiting for specialized positions to provide critical account information.


How to prevent waiting in the contact center

  • If you think balancing work in a fulfillment operation is difficult, then you should try it in a call center. Call centers wanting to provide world class service (answer < 20 sec.), accept that being overstaffed is an investment in service and the company’s overall brand. These operations may consider technology such as “Lucy”, which stand for “Let Us Call You” (www.lucyphone.com).  Lucyphone allows your customers to schedule a time for a call back instead of sitting on hold.  You’ll never have  complete control of your call volume, but this is the next best thing.
  • Empower contact center employees to make decisions that not only address your customers’ concerns, but also exceed their expectations.  If you’re worried about reps abusing those privileges, you might have the wrong employees.

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