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About the Author

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

May 20, 2015

Logistics News: Guidelines For A Successful Project Development

First Establish Goals & Objectives

Holste Says:

...hiring an independent industry expert or consultant can save time and money...
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Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking To Increase System Capacity Are Surprised To Find It May Already Exist!

Sorting It Out: For Shippers - Benefits Of Real-Time Control In The DC Are Huge!

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking to Improve Operations Choose Customer Centric Approach

Sorting It Out: Productivity is a Crucial Factor in Measuring Production Performance

Sorting It Out: Packaging Construction Impacts on Logistics Operations


Fear is a huge motivator. Knowing that your competitors are enjoying the benefits derived from the adoption of advanced order fulfillment technologies - has got to be a little unsettling. Especially if they can now provide a broader menu of customer services such as, item gift wrapping, personalization and monogramming, along with special packaging and shipping services that would seriously constrain your current operation. The demand for these types of services is steadily increasing.

Providing specialized customer services efficiently often requires mechanized and/or automated handling processes. When planning and deploying this type of technology, most companies are going to need some assistance from industry experts. It takes a considerable amount of time to acquire the highly specialized knowledge and experience needed to plan and develop an automation project. Therefore, hiring an independent industry expert or consultant can save time and money – that is, if you are ready.

For example: it’s a good idea to bring in an industry advisor to help figure out where you need to go relative to operational improvements. But first you need to have a clear understanding and consensus of what your company’s goals and objectives are. For example:

Will the company be moving to multi-channel marketing?

Is e-commerce in the near term future?

What about growth in sales and products?

Is facility expansion a consideration….etc, etc?

As was obvious at ProMat 2015, there is a plethora of industry service providers to choose from. They include academics, consultants, and system integrators whose operations range from small firms to large companies with hundreds of employees, and everything in between.

Choosing an industry adviser, who is best suited for your company, may depend on the scope of the project. If you’re trying to put in place an integrate network of regional DCs, you’re going to need a large logistics consulting firm or system integrator that has the proven experience, and resources. Many small to medium size businesses don’t have the resources required to do network analysis. The same applies if you are considering consolidating several regional warehousing and distribution operations into one main centralized DC. You need full service project developer who has been there and done that.

On the other hand, if you want someone to assist in the planning and development of an implementable solution for automatic case labeling for example, the best bet may be a small independent firm or sole practitioner with specific experience in your market sector.

In any case, it’s crucial to have a clearly defined scope of work for any consulting engagement. However, it’s almost guaranteed that the scope of work will change, usually do to new issues that are uncovered along the way. In addition, you may want to retain the services of your consultant throughout the design, implementation, and commissioning of the project. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep the follow guidelines in mind:

Insist on solid, experienced, and well-qualified consultants.

When hiring a large consulting firm, get a high degree of commitment on the level of consultants to be used on your project. Otherwise a senior partner, with lots of experience can come in to sell the deal, but then you get MBAs fresh out of school (strong on theory, weak on practical experience) who barely know what a forklift is.

Ability to get along with the internal team.

Once you know who you will be working with - make sure there’s good chemistry between the principal advisor and your team. Look for individuals who fill-in any technology gaps that your team may have.

Don’t look for a clone of yourself.

Look for advisors that think differently than you do. Try to find someone who will bring up potential solution that you or your team would not normally consider and by doing so contribute to a much stronger result.

Establish an open atmosphere.

To successfully work with the advisor, establish a strong relationship and promote an open environment and tone where you are free to challenge the advisor and each other. There has to be a real open environment of sharing and feeling that you’re in this together.

Keep the executive staff informed.

It’s critical that information flow back and forth between the planning team and the executives. This will help to promote ownership and buy-in and greatly reduce the chances of getting off track and consequently presenting a project that they will not support.

Keep detailed records.

Keep a project planning note book containing a list of assumptions and decisions that were made and how they were resolved. This record will prove to be invaluable later on when you want to know why a particular decision was made.


Final Thoughts

No matter how well you plan, problems invariably arise. Be sure to let your associates and customers know upfront what you are planning and what the expected benefits are, and then keep them posted on the projects progress.


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