Understanding Yard Management: A Guide to Best Practices

Prior to the pandemic, I think most people believed the supply chain industry worked like a conveyor belt, which possibly ran on Christmas magic. Tap-tap-tap on the phone. Free shipping. Doorbell rings. Package sitting there. Oh boy! Thanks, Santa!

But then we saw the pictures of enormous container ships off the West Coast, or stuck sideways. We saw images of discarded boxes of stolen freight along Los Angeles railroad tracks. Our little supply chain crisis has grown into a national and global story.

In honor of the West Coast ports, today let’s look at how the supply chain handles yard management. Yards, like ports, are an inflection point in the supply chain. We’ll look at how technology is solving problems on the front lines in yards. Perhaps if we see how yard management is streamlined, it’ll help unlock the ports?

Making It Look as Easy as Christmas Morning

On one hand, we have the crisis narrative. But on the other hand, the supply chain still works pretty well for a lot of people.

Sure, your cousin never got his online couch. Wing Stop became Thigh Stop. And dance moms who ordered costumes from China were forced to go with a different plan. But overall, things still keep arriving on American doorsteps. And for the most part, the supply chain still has the air of a Christmas conveyor belt for most people.

Of course, we know how the sausage is made. We understand that graceful essence is far from reality. We know that the supply chain is more like hand-to-hand combat every day, all day. I’ve witnessed many minor miracles occur purely as a result of blood, sweat, tears, a dozen phone calls, duct tape, and guts.

In short, there’s a lot of grunt work involved in the supply chain. That’s why the supply chain is a great proving ground for technology. Any technological tool that actually streamlines the daily chaos will be worth using. Truckers know this. Warehouse managers know this. Yard managers know this. And I think that’s why one of the clear winners of supply chain tech is yard management systems.

Let’s look at yard management. What is it? What’s an executive summary of the language surrounding yard management? How does it make life better? What are best practices? What’s the big picture?

Are you ready? Back it in, and we’ll get you loaded up!

Yard Management and YMS Software

First of all, you can’t really have modern yard management without yard management systems software (YMS). Fourkites.com calls it a “software solution designed to monitor the movement of trailers in the yard of a facility, distribution center, or warehouse.” In other words, without YMS, you just have people looking and pointing where to go.

For example, warehouses and distribution centers typically handle trailers using a first-in, first-out approach. YMS helps with that. In turn, a YMS provides managers the visibility to allocate resources correctly, including yard mules, fork trucks, and personnel. In addition, with YMS visibility, yard managers can stay ahead of issues like bottlenecks, labor shortages, hot shipments, and exceptions.

Put another way, warehouse management systems (WMS) help managers organize chaos inside a facility. And a YMS helps managers organize that chaos by organizing the yard outside the facility.

A Checklist of Common YMS Features

Here’s a checklist of common YMS features that help managers organize the chaos:

  • Check in and check out vehicles
  • Schedule and assign dock doors
  • Designate and schedule staging areas for vehicles and trailers
  • Choreograph traffic patterns for trucks
  • Choreograph truck weigh-ins plus the sealing and unsealing of vehicles
  • Integrate with WMS and TMS systems
  • Integrate with digitization software to streamline documentation—and manage disputes

It’s worth noting that effective warehouse managers spot inefficiencies for a living. Whatever doesn’t contribute value to the process gets cut. Good managers constantly look to minimize waste and maximize resources. As such, yard management systems technology helps managers streamline their process of streamlining!

Any discussion surrounding yard management typically involves similar terminology. Consider the following an executive summary of terms and ideas relevant to yard management and YMS.


We know that global positioning systems use satellites orbiting Earth to interface with IoT devices that relay information to cloud-based software. The gold standard of next-gen GPS is real-time tracking. Real-time tracking of trucks, trailers, shipments, and even parcels is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to the concept of visibility, control towers, and fully optimized and integrated yard management systems.

The Role of IoT in Yard Management

“Internet of Things” includes the tracking devices that communicate with GPS software. The reduced cost of microchips theoretically allows more and smaller IoT devices to travel with smaller and smaller parcels of freight. We already have telematics tracking many trucks. Pretty soon we’ll track all trailers and chassis. Eventually, we’ll have IoT tracking beacons on all pallets. It’s possible that every parcel could someday include a small IoT tracking device.


Geofencing is an invisible border drawn via GPS that surrounds any given yard, warehouse, or production facility. When a person, vehicle, or device passes through a geofence, a specialized software program engages. For example, when a driver enters a yard with geofencing, a yard management system can begin sharing information with digitization software on that driver’s smartphone.

Gaining Visibility

Visibility can be as simple as a phone call and a paper bill of lading. But calls become inefficient. Technology found in YMS is essential to streamlining backlogs across the supply chain. Visibility tools allow yard management to stay ahead of issues. We’re talking about labor shortages. Vehicle locations, availability, and obviously performance. Priority shipments. Hot shipments. And of course, everyone’s favorite—exceptions.

Detention Denied With Document Digitization

Exceptions are painful. It’s important to note that YMS tech can be a painkiller for many common issues. The key is when YMS software integrates with a digitization app like Vector. As we know, paperwork burdens the freight industry. This issue compounds when there’s a problem. One central theme of the supply chain crisis is the topic of detention and demurrage.

These extra charges help no one. If your detention key performance indicators are lagging, they can indicate dysfunction and inefficiency at a systemic level. Not to mention, the time spent contesting detention claims compounds their pain even more.

How do digitized documents help? First of all, a digitized platform puts an indisputable time stamp on everything. For example, YMS uses GPS to put a time stamp on all digitized documents whenever a truck crosses your geofence. Nothing to dispute there. Seriously, this feature alone might provide all the return on investment you need to invest in digitization.

Best Practices for Yard Management

When we minimize exceptions in our yard, it helps minimize exceptions across the entire supply chain. Exceptions are those challenging shipments that fall outside our automated practices. Put another way, the word “exception” actually means “problem” in logistics.

Smart warehouses focus on the efficient allocation of resources. But we also must focus on the wise use of our mental horsepower. We’ll never eliminate every problematic exception. But we can corral more issues when we streamline our processes. How else will we continue to make miracles happen every day?

The supply chain is essentially a community of like-minded people. But we can’t just grunt, chop, call, and fax our way to success anymore. We must apply a level of streamlining to all our processes. Yard management systems allows us to work smarter, not just harder.

Automation Is a Carving Tool

We need to integrate our systems, and eventually the entire supply chain. Why? Because tech will help sustain us for the long haul. In essence, automation is a carving tool. With automation, we will carve out time. Time and headspace.

As leaders, we must use our time and brainpower to think deeply about problems we face—and how to solve them. In summary, this is how tech will bring more, and wiser, solutions in response to the growing complexities of our world.

This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.

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