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If you are not interested in seeing the implementation of your warehouse management system (WMS) succeed, its quite easy to ensure the systems failure. Just follow these five steps, and you will be well on your way to making sure that your WMS does nothing but cause headaches and problems for your operations.

1.       Focus on the technology, not your operations.

·         Only look at the latest and greatest technology; the latest technology is always better.

·         Dont worry about how well the technology fits within your organizations operating environment; trust the technical specifications that state the system is an open system architecture and is able to communicate easily across operating platforms.

·         Dont worry about how much user action is required for executing an action or process; assume that color screens and icons make it easy to enter data.

2.       Assemble a project team without concern of their knowledge of the current operations.

·         Dont worry about the operational objectives; the software is the area you need to be most concerned about.

·         Dont take the time to document and understand current processes and procedures. Assume that under the new system, they will change anyway, so they shouldnt be a major concern.

·         Dont include individuals directly involved with the day-to-day operations in the design process, since they wont or dont understand the technology.

3.       Select an organization other than operations to lead the design and manage the project.

·         Dont worry about how the WMS software will affect existing business processes not related to WMS; there wont be any impact since the WMS will only be used in the warehouse.

·         Dont worry about how the new software affects other existing business systems like order management or transportation management; assume the interface between these systems will take care of any problems.

·         If operations has concerns about how the system design process is progressing, allow them to only view specific areas they have questions about.

·         Dont worry about business procedures that havent been covered under the system design; any problems not covered during design can be addressed when testing begins since its so easy to change the software.

4.       Use a free form project management approach.

·         Just have a rough estimate of the project budget, and only take the time to track the status of expenditures when you have free time.

·         Develop a project ROI based on projections provided by the WMS software sales staff.

·         Dont worry about having regular project meetings or updates; use e-mail as the primary project communication tool.

·         Have many people individually track tasks or issues separately. Expect this to allow broad coverage of issues and tasks, making sure that everything is covered.

·         Allow the design of the system to be continually changed and revised. Assume the latest application development tools are perfect for on the fly changes, which can be easily incorporated.

5.       Dont worry about having a project sponsor in upper management.

·         WMS projects are simple and easy to manage, with no need for a project sponsor.

·         As the project moves along, there will be many individuals who want to align themselves with the project. Trust that these people will be sure to stay on board with the project as the implementation date approaches.

The previously mentioned items are compiled from actual experience acquired from implementing WMS and other software applications over many years. The list illustrates one of the greatest pitfalls we face with the continually expanding capability of technology too much reliance on software at the expense of basic DC operations and common sense. Approaching a WMS implementation focusing only on the software technology creates problems in the warehouse, not solves them.

When preparing to implement any system, whether a WMS, transportation management system, application interface system or ERP, it is a mistake to first design, and then review how the design fits current operations and practices. This will result in an over-engineered system that may provide a great deal of designed functionality, but that same functionality (and the effort and dollars expended to create it) may not be needed once the system is implemented.

Before undertaking a WMS implementation, those involved in the process must have a thorough understanding of current operating procedures, what works well for the organization and what needs to be improved or eliminated. This can be accomplished by creating flow diagrams for the different operating areas of the warehouse. Once the current processes are defined, you are then in the position to review your methods and design a system based on the areas that can be improved, eliminated or left as they are. A well-designed system that is based on a clear functional specification will provide structure to what can be a very complicated process.

No matter how you approach designing and implementing your WMS application, never lose sight of the fact that your mission is to get the product out the door and to the customer.

Ensuring Success

Since it is doubtful that you actually have any desire to see your WMS implementation fail, especially after all the time, money and resources your organization put into implementation it, be sure to internalize and utilize these following five requirements and not the ones listed previously. Granted, researching, selecting, implementing and supporting your WMS is no small task. With everything that is involved, its easy to skip a step or make a wrong choice that will have you retracing your steps, wondering where the whole thing went wrong. But it is possible to ensure success by adhering to these five tenets.

 Understand Your Requirements
Develop a detailed map of your current business processes. Make sure that the WMS can satisfy those business processes. Be open to using existing WMS functions and features that satisfy your business process needs even if the steps in your process have to change. Remember, its the end results that matter meeting customer service requirements and achieving productivity targets while maintaining high levels of inventory accuracy.

Minimize Software Modification
No modifications should be your mantra. Todays highly configurable WMS can satisfy most business requirements. Be prepared to look at changes in your current steps to achieve your business process by using existing WMS functionality. Software modifications are significant contributors to failed projects due to software bugs, upgrade problems and the negative effects on project schedules and costs.

Develop a Detailed Implementation, Startup and Transition Plan
Plan to succeed, and follow your plan. The old saying, If you dont know where you are going, any road with get you there, is especially true with WMS implementations. There are a large number of details that must be planned and managed. Spend the time upfront to define a detailed plan, and then, manage your project to the plan.

Test Your Configuration
After determining which WMS features you will implement, you will spend a significant amount of time entering parameters and configuration data. Use test scenarios for all of your business processes. Verify your training material is accurate. Resolve all configuration problems prior to system startup and transition. Starting up and testing with a small set of items or a piece of your business can be very helpful.

Train Your People
Spend the time necessary to develop training material, and then, train your users. If you only do on-the-job training and do not have a formal training program, you will be sorry. People come and go over time; this is another area where a formal repeatable training program pays off.

Bill Tyng is a systems consultant with FORTE, a distribution supply chain consulting engineering firm that empowers both large and small companies supply chains through distribution best practices and leading technology integration. He has over 20 years experience in designing and operating distribution systems and project-managing WMS implementations. Mr. Tyng can be contacted at or by calling 513-398-2800.