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Feature Article from Our Distribution and Materials Handling Subject Area - See All

From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

- Aug. 25, 2014 -


Supply Chain News: 10 Keys to a Smoother, Happier Warehouse Management System Implementation Part 2

WMS Implementation is Hard, but These Uncommon Ideas Can Reduce Pain and Risk


 Dan Gilmore, SCDigest editor, and Mark Fralick, president, GetUsROI


In part 1 of this two-part series, we summarized why Warehouse Management Systems are among the most challenging solutions to deploy in the supply chain software space. (See 10 Keys to a Smoother, Happier Warehouse Management System Implementation Part 1.)

While that is the reality, there are a number of steps companies can take to maximize their chances of a smooth, relatively painless (there will always be some pain!) deployment that will reduce stress, cost less, and make upper management happy (or at least happier).

SCDigest Says:

The full "round trip" of the function or transaction needs to be tested and validated, not that the function itself seems to be working.
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While we could have come up with dozens of additional suggestions, and may just do so someday, we have identified 10 key steps companies implementing WMS can take to maximize their chances of success.

Last week, we identified the first 5 of these, which were:

1. Broadly train employees about what a WMS is and does prior to the project kickoff: It will save time later and lead to better decisions as the project progresses.

2. Interview/approve the vendor's project manager: Do not sign a contract until you have a named PM whose resume you've seen and whom you have interviewed.

3. Recognize lost time is lost time - it really can't be made back up: Companies trying to make back time usually cut corners in testing, training, etc. that will come back to bite them later.

4. Focus on validation preparation and execution: What defines a system that is ready to go live? That effort is often short changed, as is testing to see if the system meets validation criteria.

5. Implement the "best methods" part of labor management: It doesn't usually make sense to implement labor standards with a new WMS, but training on how to do each task right? Doing this will bring order and precision to operations that help with overall WMS deployment.

With that as a refresher, here are the next five uncommon keys to smooth and successful WMS deployments:

6. Make repetition the focus of user training: Many of the training classes offered by the WMS vendors are what we might call "one and done" programs. Workers go through all the relevant screens, but how much of that can really be retained?

The key to a successfully WMS training regime is simply repetition, not only of the main processes - but critically expected exceptions (location overrides, etc.). Repeat the training over and over again until everyone is sick of it - then you will know you have people that are really well trained.

(Distribution/Materials Handling Story Continues Below )


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7. Do the IT plumbing early: It seems like simple blocking and tackling, but system to system communications, internal websites, proxies to external servers, etc. take time - sometimes a lot of it. The system usually can't function at all without this work.

Yet, such effort inexplicably is almost always left until near the end of the project, so that the integrations and the WMS itself must come magically together shortly before go-live.

To have a smooth WMS deployment, get IT on this work early - it should be well ahead of the functional part of the WMS deployment. Additionally, testing to make sure all of it is reliable and performs well of course needs to be part of the validation plan. It is common for integrations to look like they work, on a basic data set, only to break under the duress of real operations, doing great damage to the go-live.

Don't let this happen by getting started on the plumbing work right away.

8. Plan for extensive performance scenarios/testing: For one customer of Mark's company, which does some 50,000 order lines per pick wave, he developed a set of components that allow the company to run at 75%, 100%, 150% and 200% of normal volume to validate performance and ability to scale. There is nothing worse than having a solid system but one that does not cannot perform well under high volumes.

The vendor is usually able to address these scale issues - if they have the time, before go-live. Trying to deal with scale issues when the system is actually running the DC can cause real problems, as users and managers lose faith in the system.

9. Over-involve operations in decision making: Operational managers are busy, but they have to make the time to be involved in the decision making regarding system setup. This needs to start up-front in the validation prep phase, through configuration, to final validation. They should not be "handed over" a system from IT, and instead be heavily involved in the crafting of the system themselves.

That may sound obvious, but our significant experience shows that it is simply often not the case.

10. Do as must end-to-end testing as possible: Too often, WMS testing is done in what we might call an incomplete basis. By that we mean part of the full process is tested, but not the end to end result. The full "round trip" of the function or transaction needs to be tested and validated, not that the function itself seems to be working.

Here is an easy example: you can receive orders and do the picking, but are the shipment confirms really being sent up and correctly processed in the order management and inventory systems? Virtually all testing scenarios should defined as testing the end-to-end process, whereas today they are often broken into separate tests scripts, which can mask issues.

So there are 10 ideas for improving WMS deployment results. Someday we will add another 10, but following the steps listed here will greatly improve your chances of WMS go-live success.

Any reaction to our next 5 ideas for better WMS deployment? What would you add? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button (email) or section (web form) below.

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