The gamification of warehouse management and the 20 second rule by Jon Hansen

Posted on March 10, 2015


Whenever I do an interview I always look to gain an understanding of the subject matter that, as quickly as possible, can be summed up in a simple statement.  Perhaps this is a by-product from the dot com boom days and the purported logic behind the proverbial elevator pitch.  Specifically, if you cannot clearly demonstrate or explain to me the value of what you have to offer in 20 seconds, you either do not know what you are talking about, or what you have is of no interest to me.

Back then of course, everything was moving at light speed, as anyone and everyone was jumping on the rocket to Internet riches – real and imagined. There was no time for discussion or lengthy debate, just action.

Despite the obvious risks and shortcomings, I still like the 20 second rule – even with today’s somewhat pedestrian pace.

Here are my reasons why the 20 second rule is still important:

  • As previously stated, if explaining your value proposition has to involve a long and winding Somerset Maugham of Human Bondage-type journey, who has the time to listen or willingness to invest the time to hear you out.  By the way, this is the reason why the majority of PowerPoint graphics and charts are a waste of time (check out my post on PowerPoint Failures for more details).
  • There is the compounded conversion effect, in which the length of time it takes for me to understand your solution or service value, is multiplied 10 fold in terms of both implementation and cost.  In short, if it takes you a long time to explain what you provide, it will take even longer for you to implement it.
  • Then there is the organizational maturity and stability factor.  I have seen this with companies such as eProcurement vendors, who are trying to either gain scalable traction beyond an initial one-account success, or in making an attempt to create inroads into new markets.  In other words the situation is fluid and as such, the message that is often being delivered is both broad and convoluted, as the presenter desperately searches to find the right “combination” of words and ideas to hit the “yes I will buy” jackpot.
  • Finally, there is what I call respectful expedience – which is a gate that swings both ways. What is respectful expedience?  Every day I receive calls, e-mails and social network messages, offering everything from story ideas, to requesting interviews and seeking advice on career paths, and whether or not we should use a particular vendor.  I am of course both humbled and grateful that people value my opinion, and therefore I want to demonstrate my respect for them by giving them and their question and/or idea proper consideration “on a timely basis”.  However, because I want to give everyone a fair ear, I do not have the cycles to go down a proverbial rabbit hole of unknown length based upon vague concepts and random thoughts of perceived brilliance i.e. cut out the middleman by feeding mayonnaise to tuna fish.  What this means is that if I do not gasp what someone is saying, I will be honest and to the point in pretty short order.  Conversely, and in the spirit the old adage of “being prepared,” before seeking someone’s advice or input, take the 20 second test . . . can the core of the idea and its value be presented in 20 seconds?

Now that I have provided you with the above point of reference, let’s get to the gameficiation of warehouse management story.

When I was approached to do an interview with Kerwin Everson, RMG Global Practice Leader regarding the company’s warehouse management solution, it would be reasonable to assume that I already knew a good deal – at least conceptually speaking – about warehouse management. Back in the late 90s, I came up with a process to “compress” the inventory levels for the DND and NYCTA to a core of high turnover products that were strategically placed and managed through a web-based polling automation solution.  The solution, which leveraged advanced algorithms to expedite delivery performance, saved both time and money, so the potential value of a warehouse management system was reasonably understood.  The bigger question was simply this; how was this company’s solution different from other warehouse management platforms?

Both Everson and the company have a long and deep history originating in the telecom and call center management world.  RMG, as he described them, has been a visualization company since 1980.  This means that their foundation of effective communication management is what has enabled them to evolve and evolutionize warehouse management.  In fact, it is within the context of this transformation from reactive to proactive warehouse management capability that Everson used the term gamification.

Visual Warehouse

As he spoke, I was almost immediately reminded of a recent episode of Undercover Boss, in which the warehouse system – minus the RMG jumbotron scoreboards – was critical in terms of avoiding bottlenecks and thus delays throughout the entire supply chain.  The challenge that was quickly discovered by the “Boss”, was that the system was unable to eliminate many of the issues causing delays, and in the process frustrating what was clearly a motivated group of warehouse workers. Their frustration of course was not limited to increased cycles alone, but the fact that the delays actually had an impact on their “pick-pack-ship” earning incentives.

The key – at least from my perspective – with the RMG system, is that by creating a real-time visual scoreboard (see image above), the company offers a proactive warehouse management platform that identifies and eliminates bottlenecks before they occur, while clearly linking warehouse employee activity with financial reward.  Or to put it another way, employees know the score at any given moment, and what it means from a big picture standpoint, as well as on a personal incentive basis.

I guess this is why Everson referred to the RMG system as facilitating the gamification of warehouse management.  The only remaining question is if the RMG-type gaming network model will find their way into the industry, in much the same way that gaming networks have permeated the professional sports world?


Posted in: Commentary