Labour management in warehouses is an essential tool enabling the manager to monitor one of the main resources available to him. Variability of work load is a major issue to be addressed in planning for efficient operation of a centre.
Applying the well know summary from US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to the operation of a distribution centre, this variability can possibly be due to a known known in the business, e.g. seasonality, a known unknown, such as promotional activity or the famous unknown unknown if there is an completely unforeseen change in demand for the products.
So companies have striven to respond to these possibilities in several ways, often using logistics consultancies. The core of the problem is an accurate understanding of the work rate combined with a good enough estimate of the demand to be satisfied. Measuring the content of the work required has always been difficult and software tools are now the normal approach to this complex task. Providing information on future demand is a science in itself and marketing departments can rarely give the level of information that distribution centre planners require to produce a plan that lasts beyond the arrival of the first orders in the centre.
So with these difficulties it is no wonder that the key to labour management is often seen as flexibility. This can be introduced by means of variable and flexible working hour contracts for staff or the wholesale outsourcing of labour requirements to agencies. This may minimise costs but does it really address the issue of managing the labour content of the work, it is still possible to be over-provided or short of resources at any time with these forms of flexibility.
So, although it is possible to make the resource available fit the demand at reasonably short notice, the crux of the matter comes down to how good is the demand forecast. There is therefore no excuse for not understanding the nature of the business as deeply as possible and recognising the signals that indicate a change from the average demand that most labour management plans work on.