Why would you apply "Lean" to your warehouse processes?


Lean thinking is the concepts of customer value, continuous flow, pull, and relentless waste reduction to all warehouse activity.


The results will surprise you.

Lean in the warehouse

What is Lean?


Lean is an integrated set of industrial principles and methods first developed by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones and articulated in their landmark 1996 book Lean Thinking (Simon & Schuster).


It grew out of the authors' ground-breaking study of the Japanese automobile industry, The Machine That Changed the World (Simon & Schuster).

Lean enables warehouses to find the best way to:


  • specify value for the customer,
  • identify the value stream for each product,
  • cause the product to flow smoothly from supplier to customer,
  • permit the customer to pull value as needed from the business.

Lean gives you the power to:


  • find the best way to specify value for your customer,
  • identify the value stream for each of your products,
  • ensure your products flow smoothly from source to customer,
  • permit the customer to pull value as needed from the business, and
  • make a leap toward operational excellence.


Step 1: Specify Value


Define value from the perspective of the final customer.


Express value in terms of a specific product / services, which meets the customer's needs at a specific price and at a specific time.

Step 2: Map


Identify the value stream, the set of all specific actions required to bring a specific product through the three critical management tasks of any logistics, supply chain or warehouse: the problem-solving task, the information management task, and the physical transformation task.


Create a map of the Current State (As-Is or Road Map) and the Future State (To-Be) of the value stream.


Identify and categorise waste in the Current State and eliminate it!

Step 3: Flow


Make the remaining steps in the value stream flow.


Eliminate functional barriers and develop a product-focused organisation that dramatically improves lead-time.

Step 4: Pull


Let the customer pull products as needed, eliminating the need for a sales forecast.

Step 5: Perfection


There is no end to the process of reducing effort, time, space, cost, and mistakes.


Return to the first step and begin the next lean transformation, offering a product and service which is ever more nearly what the customer wants.


Sort (Seiri)

The first "S" focused on eliminating unnecessary items from warehousing.

  • Paperwork in a warehouse or store room is common but typically ineffective and should be eliminated.
  • Radio Frequency (RF) technology or pick to voice eliminate paperwork from warehouse or impress areas.
  • Single button automated stretch warp machine could be installed to wrap pallets.
  • Warehouse Management Software (WMS) could be configured with weights and measures (per item) to eliminate the need for scales and to allow auto calculation of weights and measures.
  • Warehouse Management Software (WMS) needs to be configured with shelf life and stock rotation rules (per item) to eliminate expiry of stock on the shelf.
  • Pick paths need to be set up with no loop back (shortest distance) during order picking.
  • Products need to be placed strategically so that heavy products could be picked first and smaller lighter items picked last, in order to eliminate the need to re pack.
  • Forklifts need to be able to operate anywhere in the warehouse.
  • Man-up order pickers eliminate the need for ladders, and assist with picking from levels 2, 3 and 4.

Set in Order (Seiton)


The second "S" focuses on efficient and effective storage methods.


A place for everything and everything in its place.


  • Racking should be erected in the warehouse to specification.
  • All racking and benches should be fixed to the floor.
  • Wide aisles allow fast movement for picking and replenishment.
  • Bin locations should be set up to allow X and Y coordinates for a standardised gird of locations in the warehouse.
  • All locations should be bar-coded and all aisles fitted with large visible signs, to enable quick and effective orientation on site.
  • Pick trolleys should have a place for a knife, RF equipment, cartons and a tape gun.
  • Packing bench should include cartons, tape and packaging material, all within arm's reach.
  • High speed printer(s) should be used.
  • Standard label size should be used in the warehouse.
  • When an order is completed and all cartons packed the store person can print all dispatch labels for dispatch.

Shine (Seiso)


The third "S" is to keep the warehouse clean.


  • Product should not be allowed in the aisles.
  • Product should not be allowed into the pick face from bulk until all stretch wrap has been removed.
  • Pyramid picking should not happen.
  • Cleaners should be engaged to service the warehouse office and all amenities.
  • Warehouse staff should clean floors daily with an electric sweeper.
  • Daily cleaning is part of the process.
  • A clean and clutter-free work area encourages staff to take pride in their work environment and take ownership of the equipment and facility.
  • A floor scrubber should also be engaged to remove ground-in dirt from the concrete floor as required.

Standardise (Seiketsu)


The fourth "S" is standardising best practice in your warehouse.


  • RF units and PCs should be standardised to minimise training on different equipment.
  • Equipment should be selected based on ease of use and colour (such as black for a warehouse).


The following process could be established:


  • When orders are received they should import in to the Warehouse Management System (WMS) automatically ready for picking.
  • Pickers select order picks and the WMS should direct them to the first pick location in the pick path.
  • When an order is complete the invoice (or delivery note) prints automatically in the warehouse.
  • Menus are specific for each warehouse function to assist staff with their tasks.  Pickers can see the pick menu, receiving the receipt menu and dispatch sees the information for dispatch.
  • Receiving requires items to be booked in and a pallet ID (license plate) attached to all inbound items. This is then used for put-a-way, replenishment and picking, as items move around the warehouse.
  • Stock takes, cycle counting and returns are all managed via the RF units, locations and the pallet ID labels.

Sustain (Shitsuke)

The fifth "S" is by far the most difficult "S" to implement and achieve.

  • Human nature is to resist change and more than a few organisations have found themselves with a dirty, cluttered warehouse just a few months after attempting to implement 5S.
  • The tendency is to return to the status quo and the comfort zone of the 'old way' of doing things.
  • Sustain focuses on defining a new status quo and standard of warehouse organisation.
  • Being a Lean implementation there is no "old way" of doing things. 
  • With the removal of manual paperwork and the use of RF units to perform tasks in warehouse this becomes the new status quo in the warehouse.
  • Be ruthless on housekeeping to set the standard for the warehouse.

Lean is a fact-of-life in today's healthcare world - remove waste to do more with less.