Warehouse Management: 4 Best Practices for Implementing a Warehouse Management System

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Published November 10, 2022

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A warehouse management system (WMS) implementation can experience many challenges, from exceeding the budget to over automating exception handling. Below are four essential elements of a successful WMS implementation.

Understanding the Why

The first step of any successful WMS implementation is to understand the motive behind it, or “the why.” Is it a tactic of an overall strategic plan, a just-do-it project where the vendor no longer supports the current WMS or because your business has outgrown the current system’s capability to effectively manage the process or data? The implementation could also be driven by growth, an acquisition, financial write-offs or risk mitigation to support cost, service, quality, safety and recall capabilities. Once you decide to move forward with a WMS implementation, it’s imperative to clearly communicate the initiative and the motive throughout the entire organization, from the corporate, support and operations departments to the associates on the front lines supporting the value streams. These team members will be a key part of the change, alignment, support and resources.

The Right People in the Right Seats 

Author Jim Collins’ famous metaphor of “getting the right people in the right seats on the bus” holds true in WMS implementations as well, especially when it comes to the overall project leader. When evaluating this role, some of the key characteristics to look for include:

  • Autonomy: Someone who has the capability to self-govern a team of individuals to overcome adversity and drive to a desired outcome.
  • Team Player: Someone who has the right balance of hunger, humility and intelligence and has the leadership ability to overcome “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” as defined by Patrick Lencioni in his bestselling book.
  • Relevant Experience: Someone with a continuous improvement mindset and 10-15 years’ experience in manufacturing, warehousing, business transformations, prior systems implementations or governing a similar project.

The project leader should work with human resources to define the key roles and select their team members. From my experience, this leader works best with individuals that are:

  • Experienced in manufacturing, warehouse operations, systems implementations, supply chain management, industrial engineering, continuous improvement and other key supporting functions such as finance & accounting
  • Methodical, technical, detailed and process oriented

Executive Operational Leadership Engagement

During my career, I had a vice president of operations that would participate in team huddles to share his expectations to the management team and all the hourly associates involved in SAP R/3 WMS project. He opened by explaining the why to the team and went further to describe his expectations and how—to him—SAP stood for Scan All Production. He subsequently had a discussion around the required changes regarding the new systems and the need to standardize all plants with one ERP and one WMS platform. He then opened for questions and feedback. The hourly and local management teams came away with a clear understanding of the why and the expectations, and the feeling that if it was important for the vice president of operations, then it must be important to them. In credit to him, he visited all of his sites to have this conversation.

Effective Planning & Execution

In addition to having the right people in the right seats on the bus, companies must also have the right planning and execution processes in place to ensure success. An effective planning and execution strategy consists of the following:

Planning

  • Pre-maturity level assessment regarding people, process, technology and KPIs
  • People plan
  • Technical plan
  • Functional plan
  • Site detailed implementation plan
  • Readiness assessment plan by site

Execution

  • Daily and weekly huddles that include participants from the project, vendor and information technology teams
  • Monthly steering team meetings
  • As needed, one-on-one leadership meetings with the project, vendor and information technology leaders

While selecting the right WMS solution is critical, companies must have the right people, planning and processes in place to ensure long-term success. Contact us today to learn how we can help your company prepare and execute a successful WMS implementation.

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