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How to prepare for a successful Warehouse Management System implementation

Written by Simon Abi Saad
Created: 06 February 2018

Benefit of implementing a WMS systemIn this post we’ll look at various steps you can take in preparation for your warehouse management system (WMS), to help ensure that everything goes smoothly. That way you can enjoy the full benefits of your WMS right from the start.

Implementing a warehouse management system (WMS) has many added benefits for your business, from reduced operational expenses to efficient labour allocation, better staff morale, improved inventory visibility and accuracy and improved customer service.

What defines a successful Warehouse Management Software  implementation?

Although supply chain and warehouse management software and technology is highly sophisticated, the benefits are well worth it. WMS components are more integrated and interoperable than ever before, dramatically expanding the opportunities to improve supply chain performance. The key to maximising the reward is in minimising the level of risk.

 

Organisations can do this by:

  • Understanding and clearly defining the scope of the supply chain challenges they're trying to address.
  • Ensuring any new warehouse management system supports and aligns with the organisation's overall business strategy.
  • Assembling a great project management team that combines internal as well as external resources where appropriate.
  • Delivering results through meticulous project planning and execution, supported by effective organisational changes that are continuously measured and reviewed.
  • Benchmarking against industry peers and leaders.


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Your WMS can act as a catalyst for dramatic improvements in efficiency and customer service. However, the really successful projects require well-managed planning and execution, and effective organisational change management.

The following list of key elements will ensure a successful implementation:

Ensure the WMS supports Corporate Strategy

 Warehouse management systems are mission-critical technologies. They should be selected on the basis that they’re evolving strategic tools, that support the organisation's long term strategy and goals. Additionally, they need to be dynamic and able to adjust to changing market conditions, rather than tactical point solutions that only fix short term problems. You can achieve this by considering best in class technologies and benchmarking them against rival offerings.

 

Your chosen technology needs to be adaptable, to meet different scenarios that may present themselves. Your WMS needs to evolve constantly, so it can meet changing industry-specific requirements and it needs to be scalable to facilitate future business growth. This is vital to support the company's long-term business direction and objectives.

Assess whether the system’s functionality supports specific business scenarios

It’s critical that supply chain and IT executives perform an objective gap analysis when considering which warehouse management system to implement.

 

This will ensure that the system’s functionality will actually meet your business needs, and should form the foundation for implementation against Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Once you’ve selected a number of systems that closely match your business goals, companies shouldn’t rely on functionality check-lists. Most advanced supply chain systems will look very similar and claim to tick all boxes. Instead, the vendor should be asked to demonstrate how their solution would handle particular business scenarios. This is best done by visiting organisations with similar business challenges and processes to yours.

Define realistic objectives and time-frames for achieving a positive ROI

When implementing a WMS, the business case needs to be robust. The time-frame for delivering results must also take into account the software learning curve. Deployment times should be proposed and verified from research on similar projects, and executives must make an assessment based on a rational analysis of what needs to be done. Appropriate staff members must be recruited into projects and executives must agree on a realistic time-frame for delivering a positive ROI.

 

Once you’ve chosen the right warehouse management solution, supply chain executives have to define the various needs and objectives of different stakeholders, and need to set out what they might require from them. One of the best ways to establish these needs, is to run an executive workshop led by an experienced facilitator. The facilitator helps produce a vision of the project, along with broad goals, which together define the path ahead. This enables the team to create processes and detailed action plans to meet business goals.

What are the best practices when implementing a WMS

Adopting best practices recommended by your software provider is a quick way to bring significant benefits and enable process improvement changes that would otherwise be unattainable.

 

Once you’ve chosen the right supplier, they should be able to advise you on how to  develop an implementation strategy which seeks to unearth process improvements by considering time, cost, functionality and risk. This route should provide an established system of project management that facilitates a clear analysis of a company's operations and distribution channels.

 

Subsequently, this identifies the steps necessary to improve processes that deliver operational efficiency improvements and facilitate growth.

Project Management and Change Management are Critical to Success

If your company doesn’t already have experienced project and change management resources on staff, it should consider outsourcing this function to an experienced industry expert. We recommend seeking project and change managers with a least five WMS implementation projects under their belt.

 

Effective organisational change management, to prepare for the implementation, includes coordinating and communicating with various teams with different objectives. This is a complex but necessary part of project and change management. While some organisations have highly qualified project and change managers, many are stretched with existing projects. A project's success will hinge on the organisation's ability to make decisions, resolve issues and coordinate the activities of multiple departments and initiatives, and build the culture to support this.

Involve the operational team

Although software and technology is a major investment for any company, it's common to find highly effective and engaged IT teams. However, you should include limited representation from your operational team. Your IT team will ensure the technology performs as it should, but your operational team will receive the largest benefit and ROI from your WMS, and should therefore be a part of the process. Your operational team will ultimately be the end users of the WMS, so their involvement is critical in testing, training and conversion.

 

 A key mistake to avoid, is an operations-heavy project team that lacks sufficient representation from your IT team.

Test your WMS

Testing really takes in three phases – system testing, integration testing and user acceptance.

 System testing ensures the system has been configured correctly to support defined business processes.

  • Integration testing is when the system is plugged into your company's existing systems and external supplier or customer's systems, which will make sure they all work together seamlessly.
  • User-acceptance involves 'super-users' – operational staff who will be the heaviest users of the system – and getting their buy-in that the system is fit for purpose.

In each testing phase, companies should use actual data that has been copied from their live business environment, involve real users and adhere to established business processes. Project managers should not underestimate the importance of volume testing. This is the 'stressful' part of this phase, but is vital to the success of your WMS implementation.


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Train users

Training matters! Your WMS supplier should have proven methodologies to support software implementation, process development, daily operational procedures and change management to expedite system adoption throughout your organisation. You should therefore strongly consider leaning on your WMS vendor to support some of your initial training needs.

 

Executives should also make sure users understand the importance of following the standard operating procedures, and that SOPs are clearly documented (with use of screenshots and non-system-related processes that users also need to follow).

 

It’s a good idea to ensure that the training skills required for bringing future system users up to speed are transferred to your organisation. Training an internal trainer will minimise long-term reliance on your vendor for all your additional training needs.

Communicate effectively and aim for a quick win

During the system's pre- and post-implementation phases, ensure there’s a structured communication program in place, so that the project team regularly meets, shares issues, exchanges ideas, reviews costs and reports on progress and achievements. For large-scale and complex WMS deployments, companies should aim for a quick win.

 

In a climate where results are the watchword, your team should plan to deliver at least one significant and tangible benefit within the first twelve months so they can quickly demonstrate value to the business. A bigger ROI will take longer, but this helps garner support from executives eager to see that progress is being made.

Assess long-term risk and undertake scenario planning

Make sure your implementation planning takes into account the time until the solution is fully implemented, as well as the long-term timescale. On average it’ll take 6-8 months to fully implement a WMS, with a further 1-3 month bedding down period – organisations need to be prepared for this.

After the implementation, it’s even more critical to plan appropriately when, for example, project teams are partly disassembled, or key project team members leave the business. People who know how to address impending issues, which may be a threat to the business, will need to be available.

For the long-term, companies need to have established a team made up of individuals who worked on the project, as well as stakeholders from other functional areas within the business. Collectively they should have a responsibility to periodically assess risks (and the probability of those scenarios occurring), to prepare for high-risk events or developments.

The key to a successful implementation, over the short, medium and long term, is having quality people (and enough of them), dedicating sufficient time to complete the project. Your team need to be able to communicate effectively, both internally and externally, with suppliers and clients throughout the pre- and post- implementation phases.

 

These tactics all point to the importance of the pre-selection approach, and how business operations execution plays a critical role in delivering the benefits promised by the warehouse management system.

 

When business operations embrace and internalise the changes associated with supply chain process improvements, the effective and long-term use of a WMS will deliver significant benefits. If your focus is on meticulous execution, ongoing risk monitoring and a well-orchestrated implementation, driven by skilled program managers, superior business benefits can be achieved, delivering a positive and measurable ROI.

If you’re looking a sustainable WMS solution to help you stay ahead of your competitors, contact Supply Chain Junction. Our supply chain experts will help you identify the right system to help you meet your business goals. 

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