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A Guide to Preparing your WMS for the Demands of Peak Season

how your warehouse management system helps you prepare for peak seasonA business’ peak season can place a huge demand on its internal warehousing and distribution capabilities and without adequate planning and preparation can have a negative impact on its customer service levels. The below proposed steps should help you to plan internally and externally with your customers and partners to ensure that you minimise any potential service disruptions

1. Internal Planning

When planning for peak season, it is helpful to collect historic and forecasted volume data as well as the expected peak season timeframe(s). This data will help you to plan out resources, required functional flows, daily volume and resource expectations. After collecting this data, it should be communicated to key stakeholders. Sample data may include:

2. Operational Preparation Considerations

2.1 Identify Peak Season Specific Functional Flows 

Peak season preparation does not just mean preparing for additional data volume. It can also require special operational considerations, such as the use of specific functionalities or processes. It is important that these special flows be identified, documented and tested in advance. 
Here are a few examples: 

  • A grocery distributor may use a rarely invoked option when shipping turkeys before Christmas. 
  • A wholesale apparel/footwear distributor may rely on shipping directly to retail stores during back-to-school. 
  • A direct-to-consumer distributor may need to prepare for additional VAS capacity during holiday season.
2.2 Consider Different Operational Strategies

A discovery and/or design session should be held to determine if altering operational strategies might be beneficial during peak season. The current functional flow may be adequate under normal volume, but a revised strategy may be necessary to optimally handle increased volumes.

2.3 Temporary Workers 

It is very common to hire temporary workers during peak times to augment the labour force. Preparations for handling these inexperienced workers include: 

  • Developing a process for administering their user profiles 
  • Reviewing security and user profiles 
  • Ensuring adequate equipment is available (RF guns, voice units, etc.) 
  • It is important that standard operating procedures and training materials be in place before peak season begins for both temporary and full time workers
2.4 Dashboards and Reports 

The fast-paced environment during peak season may require additional operations tools to manage increased workflow. Peak season dashboards and reports can be instrumental in helping to manage operations and set expectations during this time.

3. IT Preparation Considerations

3.1 Maintenance Windows 

If peak season involves additional or extended shifts, the following items should be reviewed to ensure they are not negatively affected: 

  • Scheduled waves and other jobs 
  • Automatic operating system jobs (start/stops, system bounce, etc.) 
  • Database maintenance scripts 
  • Purge schedules (purge start time and duration should be reviewed) 
  • Host system jobs
3.2 Hardware 

There are several hardware considerations when planning for peak season: 

  • Perform a hardware sizing with your vendor’s Hardware team to confirm the original sizing can handle an increase in volume 
  • Consider load balancing to increase performance 
  • A hardware disaster recovery plan should be in place
3.3 Code and Configuration Freeze 

Changes to the system should be avoided during peak season in an effort to minimize disruptions. Therefore, a code and configuration deadline should be agreed upon and implemented. However, a process for approving and installing “hot fixes” should also be documented in order to accommodate situations in which system changes are necessary.

3.4 Test and Production Synchronization 

Synchronization of test and production runs will confirm that the latest code updates have been installed and will minimize issue research delays caused by inconsistencies.

3.5 Perform System Audits 

Audits should be scheduled and conducted before each peak season. A checkpoint should be added to the peak season preparation calendar to confirm all audit recommendations are implemented by a pre-determined date.

4. Volume Testing 

4.1 Volume Testing Planning 

A volume test is recommended when volume is expected to surpass the original design assumptions. It is also suggested if functionality was added after previous volume tests. Testing can be system-wide or specifically focused and should identify any operational and system bottlenecks. Volume testing should be performed after audit tuning recommendations have already been implemented. 
The volume test checklist includes: 

  • Review of current state system response time and hardware utilization 
  • Evaluation of the percentage increase in volume by transaction (users) and messages/data (for MHE) 
  • Determining if the increase requires a scripted automated volume test using tools or can be performed manually 
  • Evaluating if MHE message volume and/or frequency is changing due to increased volume (for automated facilities only)

5. Monitoring and Diagnostics 

5.1 Troubleshooting Tools 

In the event that issues arise during peak season, the following tools should be installed (and staff training completed) well in advance to mitigate impact to production.

  • Database monitors 
  • Operating system monitors
  • Application monitors
  • Network monitors

6. Support and Contingency Plans 

6.1 Vendor Support 

Ensure that your vendor offers different levels of customer support depending on customers’ depth of product knowledge, resource availability and degree of risk aversion.

Supplemental Support Services 

Onsite Support 

If this is your first peak season utilizing a WMS, consider having our personnel onsite on critical days. This ensures that you have immediate access to: 

  • Expert product knowledge for user questions 
  • Assistance for your internal team providing extended support coverage 
  • Expedited research and resolution of operational and technical issues
Remote Dedicated Support 

If onsite support is not required, remote dedicated support is available. This provides on-call assistance from specific WMS support personnel during predetermined hours.

6.2 Client Triage and Escalation 

An issue triage and escalation plan should be developed to expedite issue research and resolution. This plan typically starts at the user level and ends with executive escalation. Contact information (home and mobile numbers) for all key personnel must be provided, including rarely contacted resources, such as DBAs, network administrators and operating system administrators. Plans can be in the form of flow-charts or spreadsheets, and should specify escalation timeframes and guidelines for determining various levels of severity.

7. Post Peak Follow Up 

At the conclusion of peak season, it is important to follow up on open action items as well as how critical scenarios were resolved. It is recommended that a post-peak overview meeting (that includes all stakeholders and your WMS representative) be held to review: 

  • Lessons learned 
  • Action plans (including target dates) for any follow-up items 
  • Restoring temporary changes to pre-peak settings 
  • Code/config unfreeze date 
  • Determining the timeframe for planning for the next peak season

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