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Five Expert Tips from WMS Implementation Pros

Making the decision to install a new Warehouse Management System (WMS) is an exciting one for your business with the new efficiencies and cost savings it can generate. As you start thinking through how you’ll approach the overall project, consider these tips learned from years of hard-earned onsite experience.

1. Staff the Project Appropriately

A WMS implementation requires input from various stakeholders as well as diverse skillsets. At the end of the day, placing employees in positions that will allow them to succeed is the priority, even if it means reevaluating current roles and responsibilities.

The two main business units that must be involved at a high level are supply chain operations and IT/MIS. Your project will also need dedicated company resources from related internal groups (potentially risk management, finance, HR, etc.) and strong leadership and cooperation between them. If you lack any resources internally, pull in experienced consultants who specialize in WMS implementations. 

One of the most important roles is the WMS project manager. This is someone who isn’t just a task manager but who is also experienced with the specific aspects of WMS project work. This person should be good at gauging risk, assessing user understanding and comfort level, as well as keeping track of all the moving pieces of the project. Often the success of the PM will come as a result of being part of previous WMS implementations. They can bring the best of what they’ve seen in other projects and point out possible pitfalls to avoid. In addition, this resource will be able to identify when certain tasks require more attention to ensure a smoother implementation.

You’ll develop a vital and likely new role with the WMS super users who straddle IT and business. These employees will learn from all members of the project team regarding how best to apply the system to the business to achieve the desired results. Ideally, they’ll be able to take the knowledge from the first implementation with the experts and continue to rollout any additional sites with less dependence on outside resources going forward.

Having a dedicated software vendor resource will help in multiple ways. Having this role means the vendor can remain engaged and knowledgeable of all business decisions that affect the software beyond the initial sales cycle. This person will help ensure the team knows the full impact of each proposed modification so they can weigh the pros and cons from a business and operational perspective. For those instances when this resource isn’t able to answer a question for you, they can usually get an answer quickly from a colleague.

Also be sure to bring in warehouse leads who are familiar with current business processes. These are typically future onsite “power users” who can be the front line of support for daily operations and questions about the system.

It can be tricky to maintain warehouse operations staffing, especially when it comes time for user training. You’ll always need enough associates to backfill daily operations while others undertake thorough training. Identify key personnel who understand the business for power user training. This training should be extensive, and the users are basically part of all RF and GUI training for their general work area (inbound, outbound, etc.).

2. Promote Collaboration

While you don’t just want meetings for the sake of meetings, regular huddles with group leaders are important to discuss activities, issues, timelines, and any questions that arise. Have team leads update daily/weekly status information on a shared drive that may be published/emailed weekly to the entire team. Having this done ahead of time helps ensure the bulk of group meeting time is used to discuss activities and issues directly related to the current timeline and that affect the overall project.

The project manager will ensure the best use of team meeting time. They will control discussion topics, and when appropriate, ask that certain discussions be continued later with a limited number of people for more effective problem-solving. This is important to uphold the project timeline. The project manager can also function as a liaison between the project team and upper management to keep everyone on same page and escalate issues before they get out of hand.

3. Control the Modifications

This is a big one and can be a balancing act. Your goal in working which modifications to apply is trying to ensure operations run as efficiently as possible with the new system while protecting the path for future upgrades. Think of it as determining whether to build the warehouse around the system vs. modifying the system to fit the current warehouse processes. 

Ideally, you’ll be able to keep the new packaged software system as standard as possible to ensure stability, upgradability, performance, and supportability over the long term. Modifications can lead to issues in other parts of the software and require extensive testing before they can be put into production. Changes can also drive the cost of your project up when standard configuration can usually meet or come close to the desired outcome.

Extensive customization can make upgrading down the road very challenging and costly as modifications are usually not seamlessly ported to the upgraded version. However, not all modifications are created equal. Some are intrusive software modifications that change a major WMS process. One example would be altering the allocation logic. There are also non-intrusive, stand-alone modifications such as creating a new report that are far less problematic. At the end of the day, both intrusive and non-intrusive modifications can greatly benefit the business, but it’s important to evaluate the potential impact to long-term system maintenance as well as the associated costs.

4. Perform Thorough Testing

There is no substitute for thoroughly testing every WMS process with scenario variations and different data sets to ensure a successful go-live. This is a great opportunity for any project team member to learn the system inside and out. It’s important for the testing team to identify and understand any system modifications so they can put focus on them while testing all related tasks.

Testing tools: Quality assurance can be done with a tool such as qTest, but make sure you define your business requirements prior to selecting the system that will work best for your environment. Leveraging a robust testing documentation tool will allow you to ensure the system operates effectively to meet everyday business requirements.

You’ll want to establish a well-documented, centralized place for all to see real-time testing progress and activities and understand the testing workflow. Having documented, official testing includes capturing screen shots to show results. These can also be reviewed at a later time to verify the outcome or recreate a scenario.

5. Don’t Forget the Training

Your employees will need to feel comfortable executing all of their assigned tasks using the new WMS. It’s important to involve all end users in training early to facilitate this process and help them become fluent in the new system quickly. With the right level of training prior to go-live, users will feel comfortable using the system on day 1. This makes for a much more successful project.

Simulate the actual environment: When training, use the actual RF equipment employees will have, not RF emulation software sitting in a training room. You want to mimic the real-world activity as much as possible within the training environment. This means you should have end users physically walk through the processes during end user RF training.

You can use actual (empty) product boxes in the training area for employees to grab, apply labels, scan, and use the new system as they would in real daily operations. You can apply printed barcodes on the walls/floor to represent warehouse locations/staging lanes/dock doors. It’s also helpful to push a rolling office chair around the training room as a “lift,” scan “locations” with the real RF equipment, and physically perform a version of the actual warehouse process.

Phase in training: Make sure you have enough personnel to allow for thorough training while not falling behind in production. In-depth training should span multiple weeks leading up to the go-live, which builds user confidence, reduces fear of the unknown, and also generates excitement about the new system and how it will enable employees to do their jobs better.

What to cover: There are three hierarchies to warehouse end-user training, including RF, GUI, and power user (from lowest to highest respectively). Each higher level must be part of the lower-level trainings. For example, everyone should get RF training in their respective business area, but the significant number of RF users will not get GUI user training. Users should be able to grasp the basic concepts of the new WMS while also understanding how to perform every aspect of their job function. Review any unique scenarios that may occur during day-to-day business while also having a solid support plan in place that everyone understands.

How to Get Started
Beginning your WMS implementation project can be daunting. 4SiGHT is here to help you clarify the path forward and can supplement your internal team with resources ranging from project managers and engineers to QA associates and training leaders. Our goal is to give you the tools you need to achieve a successful go-live and move your operations to the next phase to support your business goals.

Contact us to get started.

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