Streamlining business and user needs by developing a new internal process and tool.
Inventory management is an essential factor to accurately track and project stock quantity for the Ben Davis Clothing Company. Historically at Ben Davis, they’ve utilized a simple excel spreadsheet and handwritten documentation for tracking. An opportunity to craft a more efficient process was needed to strengthen accuracy and usability. Thus, we paved the way to implement a new inventory management system by barcoding boxes and creating a computer system to support this.
Research, design and development of a new way to manage inventory. With a low budget but high demand, I came up with a process beyond a digital platform and developed a user-friendly computer system by learning Microsoft Access and VBA code.
An easier process for employees, from start to finish, was required to create a successful business tool.
An excel spreadsheet was used to keep track of the pallet inventory. Maintaining this to monitor what lived on pallets was a series of highlighting cells, cutting & pasting and "command find" actions.
Discussions with employees and extremely inaccurate data proved that the current system was flawed. With a multitude of boxes transferring daily, the archaic process of handwritten tracking and up keeping an excel spreadsheet caused inefficiencies and data inventory inaccuracies resulting in frustration for all stakeholders.
Warehouse employees are busy packing large orders for customers. When they move boxes from pallets to shelves it is in a hurry to complete the packing process. Manually transcribing which boxes came and went was inefficient and left a lot of room for error. In addition, a language barrier makes it difficult to communicate mistakes and questions that arise.
The users (office administrator and warehouse manager) of the Excel spreadsheet are not computer savvy. They expressed the frustration of using the document and that it was hard for them to understand and find the answers that they need quickly. Without being able to use it easily, mistakes were often unknowingly made until inventory counts were off leaving everyone confused.
In order to minimize errors and maximize time, we needed to eliminate the handwritten paper. By using "piggyback" labels, a warehouse employee can simply pull off a sticker after moving the box to the shelf. The benefits of utilizing these labels includes: a visual queue that a box has or has not been accounted for, faster recording of information and less room for user error.
In researching to find an external software that would support the barcode system and ease user pain points, many programs had an unnecessarily complex user interface and outdated features. And through a wireframe exploration that I presented to the developers of the Ben Davis internal business management system, we found this option would require a full system upgrade resulting in high cost, which was out of budget.
Determined to solve the ongoing inventory management problem, with a low budget but high demand, I decided to get creative and set out to build something on my own. I chose to use Microsoft Access because it was a program that was already installed on the company computers and after a quick online course, I had a strong feeling I could build a custom tool in this program.
Upon opening the database, a home screen is displayed with the main everyday actions of a user. Searching by pallet, style, size and length are displayed initially since often times we try to pinpoint information in these areas fast. The other two options on this screen, "Barcode Search" and "Move Pallet Locations", are not as time sensitive.
A user can scan numerous barcodes at a time without having to touch the mouse. This replaces the constant "command find" action with the excel spreadsheet so it is faster and more accurate.
The count at the bottom shows a user how many barcodes they scanned to ensure nothing was missed. Duplicate barcodes can not be scanned to ensure accuracy.
After scanning in a list of barcodes, a user is brought to the window to display the corresponding boxes. I wanted to make the interaction an easy button since the user's hand is still on the mouse from hitting search on the previous window.
The table displays the results of a given search criteria. In designing the results page, I went back to the wireframes that I had shared with the developers of our internal system. There were important pieces that I wanted to included to make it easier for the user to access information quickly: box counts, quantity totals and the ability to quickly print a report. In addition to finding information quickly, fields are locked so a user cannot easily change the information within.
The overall feedback from the employees has been positive. The once daunting and frustrating task has evolved into an easier and even enjoyable process:
"This is fun! I hope they bring more [barcodes] in to work on soon!" - New Trainee
"Wow this is great, so much better and so user friendly!” - Office Administrator
“I feel like I actually know what I'm doing now. I can easily find what I’m looking for, a big improvement.” - Warehouse Manager
In addition to the positive feedback from the users, we began to see results:
Accelerated workflow. A process that used to take over 20 minutes now takes under 5 minutes.
More boxes are recorded. With a more visual process, no boxes are left unrecorded.
Accurate data. By connecting the box information to the database, we saw a huge improvement in data accuracy.
After thinking about this long-standing problem, I am proud of this new process I developed and the system to back it up. I acknowledge it's not the prettiest thing out there, but it works great for what we need. I’m glad that I took the time to learn Microsoft Access and develop a custom tool that is easy for us to use and supports the barcoding that has always been a goal to incorporate into the business. I am confident that this will not only keep our data accurate but it will also ease the frustration of the workers involved.