Ever since COVID tested the supply chain industry’s ability to deliver under duress, many firms began looking to ramp up their game by installing a new warehouse management system (WMS). After all, if the latest technology couldn’t keep them on the fairway, what could? The fact is there are many WMS solutions out there, and choosing the wrong one will not only fail to improve your game, it may drive your operation clear out of bounds. This article lays out a common-sense approach to selecting a well-fitted WMS that will serve your purposes to a tee. And, like everything, the journey for a WMS project starts with proper preparation.
What’s in Your Bag?
As in the game of golf, before you hit the links, you need to assess what’s in your bag. You wouldn’t step onto the course without a putter or driver, and you shouldn’t dive into an WMS install without first shoring up your project plan.
WMS installations will affect all stakeholders, not just IT or operations. For this reason, you will need a team that goes beyond the obvious. Certainly, IT will support the bulk of the work, and operations will weigh in on warehouse requirements. But customer service representatives will also need support. Sales will have to do a lot of explaining. Vendors and customers will be affected. And back-office finance and accounting folks will have much to say about the numbers.
Organize your team around roles. Look into and prepare for expectations. Examine interdependent workflows and determine what’s working well and what needs to be fixed.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Target what you want from your installation and assess what you’ll need to make it happen. You may need to replace material handling equipment or RF guns. You may be able to accommodate a need by changing a rack arrangement or rerouting an area in your warehouse.
Understand that it’s a collective effort and harmonize your project to ensure a good RFP of your wants and needs before you schedule any solution demos.
Understand the Course
No golfer leaves the pro shop without a scorecard. You need a basic layout to go by, so you can avoid the hazards on each hole. This means prepping potential providers on the specifics of your project, so you don’t waste time sitting through demos that don’t apply to your situation. If you must, invite them out beforehand to walk your floor and get some ideas. Their input could add much value to your final decision.
Also know that along the way, there will be a few bogeys and a few birdies on your final scorecard. Review what you learned in your original assessment, focus on areas of greatest need and be prepared to compromise. Everything will not be perfect in your final installation, but if you shoot for birdies on the items that can truly transform your business, and can solve the majority of your operational issues, your final installation will pay greater dividends over the long run.
Take the Least Amount of Strokes
The best golf scores are the lowest golf scores. Added strokes don’t win jackets and added modifications in a WMS installation will cost you plenty. The problem with modifications is that one change in a system here will create untold changes in related areas that then must be further modified to make the system work.
The esoteric coding involved in customizing software, over time, can lead to your product falling out of warranty early and make the cost to maintain it intolerable fast. If you must modify, see if you can do so without having to pay for outside help. Or better yet, look for ways to extend your software within the confines of the program. There may be a module you can purchase that solves your problem. Or, perhaps, a cosmetic change that adds a simple field to the dashboard. Even a basic process workaround can serve you better long term than getting into the expensive customization game.
Keep Up the Pace
No one likes arriving at the next hole only to find the foursome in front has yet to tee off. It can spoil a round of golf and throw your game off quickly. The same is true in a WMS project. Pacing is critical. Figure it into your plan early by carefully assessing what it will take to navigate the sales cycle and execute your delivery wish list.
A straight-forward, out-of-the-box installation will go a lot faster than one involving complex integrations, heavy extensions and changes in the base software. Ask about your provider’s project methodology, as it will impact your timeline greatly.
If your provider is a waterfall shop, that is, they depend on one phase to complete before another can start, you can expect delays versus working with an agile implementer. Agile teams play “ready golf.” That is, all subs work on their parts in parallel, allowing integrators, configurators and trainers to advance the ball independently, compressing your timeline and accelerating ROI.
Improve Your Game
The key to getting the most out of your WMS project is not so much about the technology as it is the people who use it. A state-of-the-art set of golf clubs won’t turn an amateur into a tour professional, unless that amateur gets expert coaching and hits the practice tee relentlessly.
Likewise, it will take proper training for your people to maximize the value of your solution and proper change management to ensure that the implementation sticks. Top leaders must set expectations to encourage early buy-in and reward ongoing progress. Show your people how the system can make their jobs easier and add value to their day, and you will be well on your way to climbing the leader board.
Also, make sure your new system works together with the other systems supporting your operation. This means coordinating any enterprise, transportation or labor management systems, vendor and customer systems, plus related databases into a holistic unit. Find ways to level silos and equip your people with the tools they need to execute workflows seamlessly.
Like golf swing mechanics, if one piece of the unit is out of sync, you’ll be losing balls and paying penalty strokes until you hit the 19th hole.
Go for the Green
In summary, the best way to avoid buyer’s remorse in a WMS implementation is to prepare correctly, articulate your needs, align with a provider who fits your timeline and budget, and get your people to full productivity fast. If you can stay on the fairway, avoid the hazards and sink more birdies than you do bogeys, you’ll be lowering your handicap and upping your game in record time. For a video on how to avoid buyer’s remorse for a WMS project, click here.
Jeremy Hudson is Director of Client Services at Open Sky Group. As a Director at Open Sky Group, Jeremy’s focus is the products and services clients need to stay competitive and flexible in the ever changing, disruptive business environment that is the world of supply chain. Open Sky Group’s mission is to deliver technology-enabled solutions that allow our customers to achieve more, often with less, while having the flexibility to adapt to change. Our mission and core values are the foundation of our culture and guiding source in our interactions. Jeremy lives the core values and mission each day by bringing the best experience possible to our clients. Not only does he provide internal support to our Sales and Marketing team through software demonstrations, presentations and industry interviews, he is an essential member of implementation teams, working alongside our clients, encouraging them to use innovation and best practices instead of customizations for their long-term success.