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Oct. 15 2015 11:02 AM

In every warehouse or distribution facility, it's important to identify people that can manage projects. There are always processes, equipment or software to be installed. If you equate a distribution center to a person, if all is going well it's healthy and the heart is beating well. But when a project is being implemented, whether it's a new process, a new piece of equipment or a new software, the distribution center is in the hospital. If that project has trouble or fails, your distribution center is on cardiac arrest. Depending on the seriousness, it could be very problematic.

Therefore, it's always good to identify people in your facility that have common PM (project manager) skills such as:

1. Attention to detail

2. Task discipline

3. Multi-tasker

4. Able to delegate

5. Communication skills

6. Cool under pressure

7. Team building skills

8. Problem solving skills

Once you have identified the appropriate person for a project, make sure they have the bandwidth in order to perform their duties. Typically, distribution centers designate a PM who has already some responsibility. Someone else should be assigned the regular job task, or a specific amount of his/her time daily should be allocated for this project. Depending on the complexity of the project, assigning a PM task to an already overloaded job function is a recipe for disaster. There are some projects like new software, automated material handling equipment, new building additions, etc., which require a FTE (full time equivalent) as a PM.

A project manager should always document an as is-to be state and get approval by all parties involved. This process just prevents rework and expensive changes later in the project.

The objective and end result should be clearly defined and agreed upon by all parties involved. If there was an ROI (return on investment) analysis done it should be referred to throughout the project. Therefore, at the end of the "go live" and the learning period those milestones can be evaluated.

The scope of the project should be the next agreed upon element to ensure everyone involved in the project are in agreement with the scope. Doing a project in a warehouse is much like painting a room in your house. Once you paint one thing it's easy to identify something else that needs painting. This scenario is the same with many projects. Scope creep is a normal detriment to the budget of many projects. If the project is a software install and a modification requested, it should be looked at in comparison to cost and return on investment. Rank all requested modifications as: 1) must have 2) needed 3) nice to have.

The project manager should communicate and inform other project members and the executive sponsors. The project should have a diverse group of team owners, depending on the influence of the project. For instance, a material handling project should not only have the functional user and operations personnel but maintenance and facilities engineering. A software project should always include someone from technical services group (IT) along with operational users.

It is the PM responsibility to manage the project schedule, the task, the vendors and internal resources. The PM will need to assess very quickly whether internal resources are qualified to preform responsibilities.

It's always important to prevent "cardiac arrest" in going live with a project, thus it's suggested to have a mock or trial go live to simulate real time what happens and to identify any risk.

Before go live of any product or software a check list should be performed to ensure that all elements of the project are ready. If this is a major project don't forget to inform the executive team and internal customers down the line. In some instances it may be wise to inform customers in a politically correct manner. For instance, "We are installing a new system to better serve our customers."

Training is imperative with any new process, product or software. If the distribution center personnel have not been trained effectively, they will find a work around or revert back to their old process. If the project is trying to reduce paper or data entry, which is commonly an item that gives the employee comfort, there may be resistance to "let go" of the crutch. The timing of training is also very important. Some companies try to start with training and then it may take a couple of months for the employee to actually use what was learned; by then it is forgotten. The best timing for training is as soon as possible prior to implementation!

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