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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

December 9, 2015

Logistics News: Project Planning Lessons Learned From The World Of Politics

A Business is not a Democracy – That’s a Good Thing!

Holste Says:

When confronted with the need to implement changes, dealing with the associated people issues is complex, and can be frustrating as well as time consuming.
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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


Here in the U.S. our political parties are once again “duking-it-out” to nominate a candidate (one from each party) to be President of The United States of America. Yes, it’s a big deal! Because, whenever new policy changes are proposed there will be many diverse opinions and objections voiced along with some hysteria and name-calling. This whole messy and often disturbing democratic process brings into question if we are capable of intelligent rational thinking. However, this unique human characteristic of resisting change, sometimes referred to as the FUD factor (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), extends beyond politics into the business world.

As it relates to improving and growing a business, change is inevitable. When confronted with the need to implement changes, dealing with the associated people issues is complex, and can be frustrating as well as time consuming. But, alas, absolutely necessary if any large-scale implementation is to be accomplished successfully.

Forcing change will most likely result in a highly troubled and perhaps dysfunctional operation (such as the ObamaCare rollout). Getting people to work together to develop broadly acceptable solutions that satisfy company goals and objectives, and that achieve “buy-in” - is the key enabler leading to project success.

Implementing major policy and/or operational change can have a significant emotional and intellectual impact on people. Some changes, especially those involving automation, will require the development of new skills. Efforts must be made to dispel any miss conceptions and help people grow comfortable with the new processes and technologies involved.

Understanding and trusting new technologies can be a stretch for some people. The tendency (human nature) is to protect the status quo. The expression ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’ comes to mind. Extra effort must be invested up front to educate and train both operations and maintenance personal on the merits of adopting new methods that have an established track record of success in similar operations. Once they understand the benefits and become comfortable with the proven technologies involved, they will be better prepared and more likely to champion the project and work for its success.

Develop Trust in the Partnership

In order to avoid buyer’s remorse, care must be taken not to oversell the projects benefits. What you expect from the project and how you will measure its success must be established in the planning stage and explained to all stakeholders. A sense of partnership must be developed. For some companies this may include key customers who may experience some fluctuation in service levels during various phases of the implementation.

When planning any major changes, adopt the following proven practices from industry consultants and system integrators:


Operations people must be involved with system planning and have a clear understanding of their jobs/responsibilities after implementation.


Managers must understand the results that are expected and the timing for the realization of these results.


Project goals and objectives must be established, explained, tracked and understood. Everyone involved should have a clear understanding of what constitutes project success.


On-going communications with all parties involved must be a priority, as those who do not understand what is happening will envision the worst case.


When problems occur, look for immediate resolution - not blame.


Develop and maintain a “Project Planning Book” as the up-to-date record for all project related decisions and issue a book to all stakeholders. See - “Material Handling Automation Projects – By the Book”.

Of course, there will be speed-bumps along the way. By adopting the above practices you will have a much better chance of project success.

Final Thoughts

While achieving a high level of employee buy-in is an important objective, a business is not a democracy. Employees do not get to vote on business planning and strategy. However, unless they are going to be replaced with programmable robots, they need to be properly motivated, trained and inspired to perform their assigned tasks. Being included in the planning process is an effective way to overcome their fears and concerns while promoting a sense of shared responsibility.



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