If You Run a Warehouse, Should You Trust Statistics?

Charles Frederick Mosteller (December 24, 1916 – July 23, 2006), usually known as Frederick Mosteller, was one of the most eminent statisticians of the 20th century. He was the founding chairman of Harvard’s statistics department, from 1957 to 1971. He knew a thing or two.

A while ago I wrote an article entitled “You Gotta Love Maths”. I did my best to pay homage to all those impressive people who work in the Warehouse Inventory Management teams to juggle stocks every single day in an effort to accommodate budgetary targets set by their company’s finance people.

If LinkedIn’s analytics are to be believed, the word “maths” was a loser. Outside of academia, the word is more likely a turn-off than an immediate route to your brain’s pleasure receptors.

In fact, my recent experience suggests that some people simply don’t trust maths, as if it is a tool tainted by those (far too many) people who misuse statistics to “prove” any point that they want. If you want to convince somebody of something even if you’re wrong, statistics can be your best friend. It’s why they’re often discounted, and with good reason.

Today, I feel mildly provocative. I’m going to suggest three things:

  • Maths is too hard, and mathematical results of anything are easy to misinterpret
  • Thinking about doing things differently is too hard, because it takes time away from doing things the way you already know how to do them well
  • If you agree with the above two statements, you might as well start your day by stacking a whole bunch of £10 in a pile and setting fire to them (providing that all H&S requirements are met first, of course).

Actually, I think maths is hard too. Much of it is certainly too hard for me, and I’m thankful that there are some people who have mastered it sufficiently to send other people safely into space and return them to earth still breathing and in one piece.

Other people have mastered maths to the extent that they can build computer programs that tell you how much money you’ll save if you shuffle stuff around your warehouse according to an easy-to-follow list of moves given to your FLT drivers.

We are experts in the use of this program, and we know it can’t see into the future. But it can use statistics and it’s not trying to mislead anyone, post-justify a speed camera, or get them to vote differently. It simply takes all the hard work out of thinking about how to do things differently, and tells you what is most likely to happen if you did. It does all its thinking in minutes, not in hours or days.

Here’s my challenge to you. If you have a warehouse that stocks more than 5,000 lines but no budget for thinking differently, how would you feel about letting us do the hard yards for you without charging you a single penny? All we need is some of your data: the existing layout of your warehouse and the output from your WMS showing a week’s worth of orders.

We’ll show you how much money you can save by doing better what you already know you do well.

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