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Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

January 22, 2014

DC Changeover Projects Part 1 of 2 – Key To Success Depends On Leadership Skills

Company's Upper Management needs to Sponsor Change Projects

Holste Says:

Moving an operation forward by deploying more advanced technologies and by creating a more efficient, safer working environment yields many long term benefits for the company, its employees and customers.
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Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out: Packaging Construction Impacts on Logistics Operations

Sorting It Out: System Providers Offering More Modular & Scalable Solutions

Sorting It Out: Business Metrics Drive Technology Adoption

Sorting It Out: Supervising in the DC - Timeless Leadership Skills and Tools First-Line Supervisors Need to be Successful

Sorting It Out: Good Business Security is All About Paying Attention to Details


Perhaps, now is the time for your company to embrace that project which has been in the talking stage for years and that most everyone feels would be beneficial. No matter the circumstances, there must be a leader who can energize others to engage in the effort to affect the desired change. All of the elements may be present to bring about change. Still, some internal or external agent must take responsibility to lead the way. To have a reasonable chance for success, that “resource” must be sponsored by a member of upper management who has P&L responsibilities.


Part 1 - Appointing an Internal “Resource”

Change is hard! It takes a lot of effort, self-discipline, thick-skin, and political savvy to “shepherd” a major changeover project through the many hurdles one can expect to encounter along the way. After all, these changes may fundamentally change the way the company is currently operating. The following are a few of the attributes that need to be present in the individual entrusted with this awesome responsibility:



Hands-on experience, credibility and trust

Common sense and the courage to use it

The ability to organize and work with teams of people both inside and outside the company


A comprehensive knowledge of the company’s business model and processing strategy

Creativity – ability to think outside the box with a total system perspective

Facilitation skills – get-it-done attitude – projects a sense of authority

Coaching skills – ability to help others overcome the ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome


And, along with all of that, it doesn’t hurt to have a good sense of humor.


Experience is the single most important distinguishing benefit you would want your leader to have. Having been there and done that can save time and money while avoiding common pitfalls. If there are no qualified internal resources available – then consider hiring an outside independent industry expert which we will discuss next week in part 2 of this 2 part series.

Dealing with the Inevitable Challenges and Issues

It is generally understood that there are (3) kinds of leaders – those that take responsibility to make things happen, those that delegate responsibility and watch things happen, and those who wonder what just happened?

Every project needs a leader that can accept the challenges, deal with the issues, and bring about the desired change. If you are the “chosen one”, here are an accumulation of ideas that may help you to overcome some of the typical challenges:


Deal with conflicts: by inviting those who may disagree with various aspects of the project to join in the discussions. In order to “sell” change, you must first understand the objections. Try to minimize the time you spend in intellectual discussions. Your associates will respect you more for your clear thought process and rationale than for your easygoing manner.


Get others on-board: although you own the project initially, look for ways to make it an organizational endeavor. Light many fires. Spreading the ownership increases everyone’s commitment to the project’s success. Find ways to recognize people that offer helpful suggestions.


Educate before training: be ready for people to tell you that they only want to know how their jobs will change. Customize each educational session to your audience. And remember that labor must buy-in to the changes. There specific hands-on process knowledge will increase project success.

  4. Provide documentation: document all planning meetings – see (“Material Handling Automation Projects – By the Book”)


Anticipate plateaus: the first may come just a few months into the project as skeptics may try to subvert the effort. Resources will be stretched tight, nerves frayed, and management may be impatient. The second plateau generally occurs after the change over to the new system. The users have been told to expect change, but they now are beginning to actually experience it and need help. The third and usually final plateau occurs after the new methods are in use for a period of time and complacency settles in. You may need to refocus people’s energies on the tasks that remain.


Provide frequent updates: have an occasional barbeque or pizza party to bring those affected by the changeover up to speed on how the project is progressing and to celebrate important milestones. This is especially helpful if the project involves multiple phases spread over a period of time.

Another good idea is to make sure that you are up-to-date on the technologies most appropriate to your company’s business model. Trade shows and conferences provide easy opportunities for a quick review and exposure to the latest industry solutions being offered by a wide range of providers. Two great places to start are – MODEX 2014 (March 17 – 20, 2014 in Atlanta) & ProMat 2015 (March 23 – 26, 2015, in Chicago).

Final Thoughts

Bringing about change can be an intellectually rewarding experience. Moving an operation forward by deploying more advanced technologies and by creating a more efficient, safer working environment yields many long term benefits for the company, its employees and customers.

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