As we consult with businesses on implementing Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), we see several reasons why implementations often take longer, exceed budget and cause management headaches. Here are four general reasons:
- Implementing a new WMS often is planned at the same time as planning a new facility or opening a remote warehouse. The facility does not open on schedule and delays the implementation, but management may not allow the WMS Go Live date to be postponed;
- Inadequate testing with the WMS and automation, conveyance systems, technology (such as voice picking), etc.;
- Insufficient training -- the hourly workers a chance to get formal training and then time to use the system before being thrown into a live production environment;
- Assuming inventory is accurate, and no physical inventory is taken to start usage of the new system. The system’s credibility is questioned when inventory problems are identified.
In order for your WMS implementation to go smoothly, here are 9 considerations that should be part of your WMS project planning and a readiness assessment prior to Go Live:
Do everything you can to minimize modifying the new WMS system. Many WMS are now in use at hundreds to thousands of e-commerce and multichannel companies. Most companies should be able to implement with 90% to 95% out-of-the-box software. Configuration and software setup routines will allow adaptation to your company environment. Implementing with minimal modification reduces cost, timeframe, testing and risk.
Many businesses are multichannel. The WMS system setup may need to accommodate B2B and B2C, store replenishment, and orders shipped from store. These systems environments are much more complex and may require some modifications, and will definitely require much more testing.
Some larger operations may have a large percentage of orders which require value-added services and may mean sending orders using workflow processes to in-house departments or external vendors and then back to the shipping department.
IT departments often set up multiple instances of the WMS system – copies of the system for different uses. Some companies may have two instances – one for training/testing and one for production. Other companies will have three instances - training, testing, production. Testing instances will always be needed as new releases of the system are pushed out to the companies.
Testing of modifications needs to be done first by IT and then by department management and users. Even if there are no modifications to the WMS, you still need to test interfaces to order management, the shipping and manifesting system, labor management and transportation management systems.
Complete end-to-end testing and conference room pilot testing from origination of orders, returns, receipts and shipping through to WMS processes. This includes inbound product flow processes and outbound shipping functions. Be sure to process live data through to accounting and management reporting systems.
The WMS vendor will have some standard shipping interfaces to UPS, FedEx and USPS. If you use multiple shipping carriers and rate shop carriers, they will have integrations with one or more multi-carrier shipping and manifesting systems and/or have this as an extension of the software. All of the standard WMS transactions will need to be thoroughly tested to and from the OMS/ERP; e.g. item master updates, ASNs, orders, shipments, inventory adjustments, etc. These interfaces are the heartbeat of the WMS and their accuracy with the host OMS/ERP is critical. Repetitive testing of all these interfaces is critical to insure a successful implementation.
Interfaces to automation
Don’t underestimate the time required to fully test the WMS interfaces to automation. These include sortation, conveyor systems, pick and put to light, shipping systems, automated box and envelope insertion systems.
Training and procedures
It behooves you to look at how you are training people and then how much time you give them to actually practice with the system and the technology before go live.
Are there warehouse employees that are going to have trouble adapting? Should you consider changing their positions in the company? Set up a training environment – a conference room pilot – where they can come in and use the new system and technology. Be sure everyone is scheduled and does this. Is there a need to put in place new procedures?
With a new WMS and especially in conjunction with new automation and a facility, how much productivity do you expect to lose, and for how long? Obviously, this is a concern that needs to be discussed early. For many companies, it takes at least 6 to 8 weeks to get back to original productivity after a WMS implementation.
Is IT ready to support the company with knowledge of the daily processes, and is all equipment installed in IT and user departments?
Physical inventory prior to Go Live
As you implement, how accurate is your SKU inventory? We recommend a physical inventory just prior to Go Live so that you begin with clean inventory. Implementing WMS may also mean installing bar-code technology, voice picking and other functions, higher levels of product labeling and warehouse aisle and bin/slot location changes. Starting the new implementation with accurate inventory eliminates one major concern later.
Project task schedule
Have agreement on the conversion process and everyone’s go live responsibilities. Include all the stakeholders, including senior management, in the weekly communications. When you are ready to Go Live, involve senior and department management to sign off only after they’ve reviewed their respective processes, testing results and agreeing that all critical processes are ready.
Allow critical feedback from the fulfillment team using the new system. Create an open communication environment throughout the project where your employees are empowered and have the courage to say, “No, we’re not ready.”
There is intense pressure when you miss a Go Live date, as this means incurring additional project costs and taxing limited resources. But the situation becomes much worse when the Go Live switch is flipped before you’re ready. You risk company profitability, customer relationships and lengthening the clean up after Go Live and full use of the system.