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Picking Error Problems - Suggestions and Solutions

picking error problems

To err is human and order picking is not an exception.  To accept marginal performance and not be diligent with finding solutions for picking errors is costly.  To conquer problems related to errors in order picking, below you will find suggestions from those who have already found solutions.

Picking Error Problems - Suggestions and Solutions:

Make sure the picking process is a simple one.  Our pickers are trained to go to the correct bin location, find the part number on the pick ticket and match to the bin box on the shelf.  Then, they look at quantity on pick ticket and pull that amount from the box and make sure the item number matches the pick ticket in case it was put away wrong.  The next step requires them to get the paperwork and the parts back into the correct tote.  We have dozens in an area, and it is simple to find the right tote, but you have to add this in the process anyway. They may need to slow down a bit to do this but in the long run it will save time. 

Have each picker sign their name or number to each item they pick for accountability.  This is a good teaching opportunity. Then continue to teach as long as the employee is willing to try. If the employee doesn't care and you have tried to work with them several times you may determine that you need to let the employee go. 

All warehouses go through this issue, and how you deal with the problem and the employees will go a long way in solving the problem. Ask yourself, "how would I want my boss to address this issue with me?" Probably with understanding and kindness, and in a very professional manner. You do that and you should be able to reduce the problem. 

      • Mike Gulley - Purchasing Agent at Western Power Sports

In our operation, we double check every order. If there is a pick issue, it does not go out the door.  Training a puller takes several weeks.  The more experienced are told not to worry about speed, that will come. They need concern themselves with accuracy and a quality pallet build so customers receive only the best quality.

One procedure we have used over the years is puller Observations.  You get on equipment and follow an employee for an hour or two. (Without speaking or interacting with him.)  You want to observe his habits, the pick path he is following and how he handles himself.  After the observation, give a few work tips to help him improve his performance.  If he does not improve, replace him.  Sounds "mean" but it does wonders when there are employees who are dogging it out.  It shows everyone that you aware of the operation and and who is meeting expectations. 

Our operation had a similar picking error problem.  We gave each picker his own "Pick ID".  We then monitored which picker is the problem and where the problem occurred.  Once we noted the problem we recorded the success or strike rate on the notice board in the office.  This also gets discussed at our morning meetings. It soon becomes a competition between themselves as to who picks 100% correct.

Accountability is step one, you need the ability to track each error. Then posting and discussing the numbers can have a huge effect, and rewarding the best rate adds to the competition. (Keeping an eye on the operation to be sure the person with the best rate isn't suddenly moving at turtle speed to get it right).

      • Jim Larkin - Warehouse Operations Manager at Turn 14 Distribution, Inc.

Accountability is important. Each person must be responsible for their potential errors. 

Carefully track the errors. Look for common mistakes. Are part numbers too similar, e.g. 80569 vs 80659.  Are number sequences to long, e.g. 859742369 vs 8597-423-69.  Barcode scanning with built in alerts to confirm pick can help prevent development of bad habits. 

The most effective way I've experienced to increase quality and accuracy is based on ownership.  Have each employee check each others work.  Celebrate and reward every error that is found BEFORE it leaves the building.  Post and use these as training tools.  Accepting the occasional error and using it as an opportunity to learn will breed a culture of Quality. 

Of course, habitual and repeated mistakes cannot be tolerated, but the primary tool for Total Quality is not fear, it must be pride and celebrated as such.

Picking error problems could be bigger than just picking errors.  There could be a couple of underlying problems as well like "not happy with......." "salaries" and more.  Sabotage can also come into play. Like packing a size 7 and 11 shoe in the same box. Training and disciplinary action must not be ruled out. There is always more to it than picking the wrong stuff and it is a waste of valuable time and money.  Rewards and penalties go hand in hand.


Use the triple check system where the puller initials the upper left corner of the pull ticket, a checker checks the order and initials the right upper corner the driver or loader then checks it as its loaded and signs the bottom when it is delivered.  You then have proof to the customer the products are there and when they sign for it, you now have four different signatures verifying the order was pulled properly.

      • Art Meyer - Procurement, Fleet, Warehouse manager at NPL Construction

It’s important the warehouse system you are using can track all warehouse transactions daily. You track individual errors committed through RF transactions reports.  Schedule error discussion sessions with your team members and document the discussion.  Have feedback sessions and give recognition to associate without errors and state how their performance made a difference to you and the organization.  Many errors committed originate from receiving and eventually will affect shipments.  Make sure all receipts are accurate. You must have a written receiving and put away procedures how to receive your inbound freights accurately. 

Some ordering patterns can also lead to shipping errors. Request your customer service department to ask your customers to order product in terms of full pallets or layers. This will improve your overall warehouse quality and productivity. Some customers like to order one case or 3 cases and if an associate has a pick ticket that has more than 50 SKUs, it will take him/her all day to pull the order, build and shrink wrap the pallets. This is when errors are committed. Try creating fixed bin locations for customers who like to order in this manner and make sure all your fix locations are replenished daily. 

Finally, random location audits and Proper housekeeping is key to a successful warehouse operation. Poor housekeeping will affect your quality, productivity, safety, and warehouse morale.

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Assuming that cost has been taken into consideration, utilize the paperless picking using the RF scanner might be a solution.  Together with necessary labeling on respective goods, RF scanner will be the first gate to prevent picking error.  The picker who validates goods when picking-up will serve as another filter/gating to achieve accuracy

      • Keah Wai, Chang - Asst. Manager, Logistics at Flextronics Global Services and Software

Random audits of orders while in process of being pulled and inventory slot verifications should assist. Involvement of management on the whse floor, visual presence will support the auditing process and on the spot communication of errors upon audits should help perhaps about 50 percent reduction. If there is no communication there will be no improvement.

First and MOST Important.... Pick orders via RF. This will help identify to the picker they have the right OR wrong Item.

Most, if not ALL our errors are QTY related. 

We use a process we call Pack-Check. In short, all our shipments pass through a weight scale in where the carton gets weighed and checked against what our WMS system "thinks". Any carton that does not match the system is spurred off to a Pack-Check station where it is hand checked and any errors are fixed before the customer is impacted. 

These errors are recorded and saved to a common file that is accessible to ALL area managers. This allows them to address these issues both systematically and with the Picker who made the error on a daily basis.

      • Bill G - Warehouse/Distribution Manager at Robinson Home Products

I just recently took over a new warehouse position. Everybody was doing their function's their own way. I documented the exact procedures that were needed to fulfill their work, in the order that was most efficient and got everybody to do things the same way.

Some pick errors were the result of the put-away process. By documenting and listing the kind of mistakes that were being made in the Put-away and Picking procedure, errors came and are coming down. It's important that each employee understands exactly how to do their job (which I found they didn't) and the mistakes that are being made.

Making one mistake is bad enough, but making the same kind of mistakes over and over again is unacceptable.  When a mistake is now made it is usually the result of not following procedures.  By documenting procedures, it is also a great training tool for new employees.

      • William Childs - Warehouse Manager at NAC Marketing-Exploring New Options

Barcode scanning to verify picks helps, but the real solution might be something else: Are mis-picks due to sloppy locations, overly complex system, or worker errors?

Clearly defining the cause of mis-picks will help you solve it, otherwise you're just running around chasing your tail.

I recently implemented an analysis and feedback process which has seen a significant reduction in picking errors over the last 3 months.

The first stage is to record all areas in the format that works best for you.  Data will include all quantities, the product name, product number, etc.  Analysis of the products has helped us identify trends and problem products which in turn gives us the ammunition to make everybody aware of these products through briefs etc.

The feedback to the picker is also vital as it's helped us identify the issues they are having as well as ensuring that the pickers understand the importance of first time pick accuracy.

In summary, analysis and communication on a focused level will improve your first time pick accuracy.

Use RF scanners the make pickers go to the right location. We use a system that makes the picker scan a custom pallet id, this way they now the exact pallet they need and not just the right location. If they scan the wrong pallet it won't tell them what to pick. Then to double check their work the loaders audit every pallet they load.

      • Mark Conner - Operations Manager, Allied Plastic Supply

Retrain,retrain and endless process. Rewrite or write SOPs in detail have staff members help write the procedures so they understand and an help you find where the miss picks are coming from. A lot of money can be spent on scanners but they don't work unless staff understand the procedures and I feel no sense spending the money until people understand the program first

Always make sure it is easy for the picker to get to the items they pick. 

Have someone spot-check some orders going out and see where the problems are. Maybe you have similar looking items too close together in the bins. Hopefully you are using bin locations that are on your pick sheets, if not, that is a place to start.

Label boxes with the mm number you use, mark the quantity of eaches in the packages inside the box. Talk to suppliers to have the box quantities always the same.

We can only minimize the number of wrong picks. There are always background root causes for these. Here are two points to ponder not related to equipment.

  1. Ambiguous item description. "clear Vs white or transparent". 
  2. Package unit of measure. "10 pins in a bag, 10 bags in a pack, 10 packs in a box, and the 10 box in a carton."

Clearly the above 2 points are to be resolved outside warehouse boundaries.  If you are confident now with all the procedures in the distribution center more time should be spent on issues caused by other departments.  These issues affect DC performance but can only be resolved with multiple departments in an organization .

      • Henry Hu - Warehouse Supervisor at OfficeMax Australia


We have a process in effect in my warehouse. where we have 1 person pick the orders and another packs the order verifying the right product was pulled. We have very little errors going to the customer this way.

Warehousing errors begin with culture.  The way it is done is the way it will continue to be done unless leadership takes a roll in the solution.  The question becomes what has management done to ensure pick errors are a priority to their staff? Are there pick slip errors? If so the picker is unaccountable and no discipline will convince him it was actually his error.

Are there clear instructions that order pickers are the last link in a chain of customer service. And that your company is known for its accurate shipments and it is a priority to protect that.

Now, there is justification for reinforcement training and the expectation of accuracy. Further, how much knowledge does your picker have?  I wouldn't expect him to have knowledge of all product but the ability to identify product A from product B is essential. I don't believe that RF and voice pick systems can replace knowledge.

      • Rick Nelson - President, Rickbuilt Equipment Sales Inc.

Have you done a root cause analysis with a fish bone or some other method?  Picking errors, like every other error, has a root cause or multiple causes. Get your team together to brain storm possible cause.

Look at the following: 

People - Who has the most errors - how many errors are made stocking and how many are made picking and who is doing it. This could reveal 20% of the people are responsible for 80% of the defects, it could also reveal that there is an even number of errors over most of the people. 

Method - Go through the process.  Is the process a good one?  Process may be a part of the problem if multiple people are making errors.  The process could require physical capabilities that you don't have.  Undocumented process?  The process is confusing?  The parts are being put in the wrong bin to start with.  There are many possibilities under method. 

Training - Is the training what you actually expect people to do?  Is there any training?  Is the training word of mouth?  Go through the possibilities. 

Equipment: Do you have sufficient equipment to carry out the task?  Is there a pick list that is clear?  Does the equipment you use work? 

I have yet to have a problem that doesn't have a cause. This is an opportunity to improve and be a part of the solution.

      • Nancy Hesch - Electrical/Electronic Manufacturing Professional

We had a similar issue when I managed a warehouse for prescription drugs. As you can expect, there was an enormous expense for bringing products back to the warehouse and resending them. I would visit and walk around the floor (GEMBA Walk) a few hours a week to observe and better analyze the problem and why it reoccured.  

If the same people were part of the issue, I'd spend an hour or so to retrain them personally with documents in hand and had each employee sign to confirm complete and understood.  

If the product or skus look similar to the product next to it, then I'd move it to avoid confusion in the future.

It was important for them to tick the picking slip of the location their picking from, check the product against the picking slip and if correct get them to tick it and also if more then one, check every product code to make sure that it is the same product and tick the quantity for the amount requested.  It's time consuming but once the employee gets the hang of it, I guarantee you, your picking error will improve. This way you'll know who's making the error and take them through the process with documentation.

If the training and documentation is not effective, then we began the process of hiring someone else and train them the same way.  If the role requires using a scanner, get them to do the same thing before confirming.

Or alternatively, you can nominate a person to check the order and some else to pack it. As I said, I know it's time consuming but it certainly worked for me. I also use to rotate my staff so they weren't doing the same thing every week.  I suggest having a multi skilled staff also helps.

These suggestions may offer new insights.  We also have available a new white paper that will help you dive deeper into order picking solutions.

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Topics: Order Picking