July 26 2006 12:53 PM

Successful WMS implementation is possible, providing you do your homework and learn from others how to avoid the many potential hazards that can sink your ship.
The cry from management to reduce costs, the lure of productivity increases as high as 40% and inventory accuracy of 99.9% offered by a Warehouse Management System (WMS) is as seductive as the call of the Sirens. But as Odysseus learned, this call can be deadly, causing your ship to crash on the rocks and sink. As others who have gone before you have learned, this quest can be a treacherous journey, much like the one that Odysseus faced in The Odyssey. 
Learning from the mistakes of others who have sailed this journey can help you safely navigate your ship around the numerous potential hazards that await you. The right WMS will aid in managing labor, space and inventory. The hardware and software provide the tools for timely and accurately collecting labor, inventory and order information. Unfortunately, these tools are not plug and play, a task you can perform alone. You will need the most important ingredient, people. People will make it successful.
To increase your chances of success, you will need to begin with a clear vision; a champion; the right crew or team to assist you to integrate people, process and the technology; hard work and the appropriate time to perform these important tasks. As others have learned, this is no easy task. In retrospect, many wish they had allocated more time to these important first steps.
Begin with the End in Mind
If you do not know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? To evaluate where you are going, you will need a measurement system. The measurement system will track the project success to share with everyone in the company. The first step is to clearly determine and articulate where you want to be. For example, if you want to increase productivity, you must determine where, for which functions, how much and when, in how many days. In order to accurately select your measurements, you will have to know what they are before you begin your project. It is important to measure your progress and share it with everyone in the company during the project. Common ways to accomplish this are posters and company newsletters.  Frequent communication will keep everyone informed and allow you to champion the project success.
The Champion
Next, you will need a champion. The champion shares the vision with management and the workforce. As the change agent and champion, you will need a captain of the ship, a project manager. In many operations, your champion and the project manager are the same person. The project manager should be a good communicator and understand workflow and work processes. The champion will be responsible for securing the funds, selecting the team and acquiring the WMS to assist you safely on the journey. The champion will face numerous challenges and obstacles, especially with people in the company. 
Because you will be integrating people, processes and technology many workers will be affected.  The course you are embarking on will change many things in your company and you will face resistance. Change is unsettling and scary. Some workers will fear job loss and some workers will fear they will not be able to do it. The team you select and the skills they use to assist you turn this vision into reality. Enabling your workforce to accept the change and deal with this resistance will affect your success. 
Assemble a Winning Team
It is a team effort. Implementing a WMS is most likely the biggest project you will undertake.  Because this system will affect so many people and functions in your company, team selection is critical to success. 
Who should be on the team? At a minimum, a representative from finance, human resources, information technology and fulfillment center departments such as receiving, putaway and picking. It is important to have workers whose jobs will be changed. Successful champions have learned to do this with their workers not to their workers. Do not forget that at any time, help is available. There are many resources such as articles, books and outside profess-ional assistance.  
Understand the Current Process
Can you change what you don�t know? You don�t know what you don�t know and this lack of information may sink your ship. Many have failed because they did not take the time to fully under-stand what actually happens � they assumed they knew. Numerous times I have inter-viewed managers and supervisors who have described their methods and procedures. � This often is how it should be. Unfortunately, workers do not always perform as it should be. Frequently, they create performance-enhancing short cuts to obstacles they face on a daily basis. 
For example, imagine the measurement you select is to increase picking productivity by 25%, and your order pickers are supposed to pick orders one at a time. However, some of your order pickers take a few orders at a time and skip around the center to create their own pick path, which is a more efficient pick path than the one on the pick slips. The system you select requires them to pick orders using an RF terminal. RF terminals present one line at a time for your order picker.  Most likely, the RF picking process will take more time to pick orders than the previous process, resulting in a failure to increase picking productivity. This is only one example of the many workarounds you don�t know that could doom your system. 
Take the time to thoroughly understand your current process by especially listening to the workers performing the tasks. Yes, this will take time and lots of it, but this is not a step that you want to skimp on. Without this understanding, you will not be able to identify the gaps in the system you select and your current process. These gaps can cause numerous problems and possibly failure of your WMS project. 
How do you thoroughly understand the current process? Documenting it through interviews with current workers, shadowing workers, flowcharting and video taping the operation are some tools to use. It is important to document the flow of merchandise as well as documentation. One eye-opening activity is to track how many people touch a document. Take a document, for example, a pick ticket, and have each person who handles it initial a document as it moves through your operation.
Examining your current methods places a magnifying glass to your operation, exposing excessive steps, backtracking, delays and other nonproductive activities and revealing how thing really are.
And, learning the pitfalls from others who have traveled this journey will help you avoid their mistakes. These important beginning steps described above are crucial to your project success. Allocating the proper time for them will minimize your pain and increase the chances of success of your WMS system implementation.  
Wayne M. Teres, president of Teres Consulting Inc., is a frequent writer and speaker on fulfillment topics at Direct Marketing conferences. For more information, visit www.teresconsulting.com or e-mail him at teresw@aol.com.