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Empowering The Workforce

Managing the workforce in a fair manner while pursuing productivity goals can be a challenging task for retailers, who often turn to technology to address the issue. This delicate balance was illustrated during the recent Worldwide Chain Stores (WCS) user conference by Brendan Fitzgerald, logistics industrial engineer at Musgrave Retail Partners Ireland (MRPI), who described the use of the vendor’s labour management module at the wholesaler’s distribution centres.

Introduced between 2012 and 2014, the solution is rolled out in Musgrave’s two ‘pick by store’ warehouses in the Republic of Ireland, which handle dry goos and non-food products and ship over a million cases a week. It is also used in the company’s two ‘pick by line’ stockless warehouses in the same region, which house chilled products.

“Historically, our measurements would have involved things like ‘cases per hour’ or ‘tasks per hour’, which is inherently unfair as they were based on the number of cases a person can pick, which the type of goods being picked can affect,” explained Fitzgerald before the wholesaler hosted a visit to its largest Irish ambient product warehouse, located in Kildare, Ireland.

“We moved towards a system with multiple variables, which is very time consuming to create but is based on averages over categories of product and engineered standard times, for example. It’s subject to volume fluctuation and seasonality.” Musgrave, which operates leading brands such as Centra and SuperValu in Ireland, wanted to move to a more British Standard Institute (BSI) oriented system, which focused on the actual work that a person does rather than arbitrary averages. “We wanted to strengthen the link between work effort and reward and create a fair time for every task, not an average for all”, continued Fitzgerald. “We involved the operatives in the changes we wanted to make and tried to create a situation where what we’re doing is fairer for them as well.”

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The WCS labour management module is based on discreet engineered labour standards. Each task is defined and measures based on its unique characteristics, and includes factors like weight, location, distance travelled and equipment used, which adjust the standard accordingly. “In managing productivity, information is the key”, said Fitzgerald. “The WCS labour management module gives us the information that we need, it allows us to look at each individual task and tracks every assignment for an individual analysis of all tasks”.

This has allowed Musgrave to have meaningful discussions with both underperformers and high performers, according to Fitzgerald. “For the first time we can genuinely look at what work effort the person is putting into their job, create that link between effort and reward and try to recognise the people who are genuinely putting in their best effort”, he noted. “Standards are recognised as being fairer, people know if they have to lift heavier boxes they get more time for it. Productivity measurement is more accurate and more realistic. You no longer have to worry if all the good pallets have been cherry picked.” As a result, the company also reaps the benefits of any time gained. “Moving to labour management allowed us to realise that benefit a lot quicker.”

This article was first published in Retail Technology magazine: