Consider this client example. After planning and construction of a new 500,000-square-foot distribution center for two years, testing was started for a new warehouse management system (WMS) – four months before the opening date and the holiday season.
Time had been lost with construction delays and competing project needs. The client went through the holiday season fighting errors and exceptions daily. Unfortunately, testing and program correction carried into the first quarter.
Multichannel businesses of all sizes frequently have this problem: There is almost no low volume, off-peak time to implement a new system. What can you do differently from a system testing perspective to reduce business risk? The principles outlined below can apply to all large-scale system projects including ERP, OMS, ecommerce platform and WMS.
Following these 7 recommendations can help you avoid system implementation woes through a rigorous testing process.
Phasing In Changes
Often companies take on two major projects at once, such as a DC and new systems, and underestimate the amount of work and time required. Could they be done at separate times? Within the system implementation, are there ways to minimize changes made to commercial software? Can lower priority changes be implemented in later versions?
A best practice is having separate system incidences or copies for production, testing, training and backup. Your application license needs to allow these incidences. In the test incidence, build a test set of transactions that can be used as system changes are made. This will ensure thorough testing and save time testing for as long as you have the system.
Pilot Testing for Users
Get users involved in making sure the system configuration, setup and customized programming is tested and works to the script they – and management – expect.
Devise a written test plan and use a conference room pilot approach to test the entire system. This approach is a logical progression of test transactions. Here are sample steps in a test process:
- Create warehouse locations
- Download item files to the WMS
- Test inbound and outbound EDI
- Create advanced ship notices (ASNs) or purchase orders to receive against
- Receive new receipt
- Test QA functions
- Put the new receipt away to bulk and forward picking
- Test replenishment
- Pick orders, shipping and manifesting
- Test cycle counting
- Test the interface to material handling equipment (MHE) and all devices
While it’s difficult to get management involved throughout the testing process, it’s extremely helpful as they ask questions others would tend to overlook or minimize (e.g. interfaces to accounting, reporting, etc.).
Conference room pilot testing is a great way for key subject matter experts to gain a working knowledge of the new system.
Many larger organizations have implemented a practice where people are dedicated to QA for program changes and setup in the system testing environment. It isn’t so much a matter of trust but the need for an independent, objective party that can take into account the total picture of testing from both the user and IT perspective.
Have an individual programmer test their own programs and changes. When they feel their work is ready, a quality control person thoroughly tests it and determines the readiness to start the conversion and production process.
The very best resource is to rely on the vendor to provide support and benchmarking results that objectively validate the application and configuration will be successful based on your current and projected volumes.
WMS to MHE Automated Systems Testing
It’s not just the data that needs testing. While the automation includes common MHE components, its design and installation are unique to your fulfillment environment. Will it meet the design target goals and specifications, such as cartons per hour)? Are there written assurances from the systems integrator and manufacturer? How will you test this? This is no small part of the testing plan and time required.
Final Sign-Off by Department
First level of sign-off should be the department management. We recommend that senior management be involved in the final sign-off process as they are responsible to the stakeholders.
Don’t pull the trigger on a system implementation if the test results show it isn’t ready for production. After a long schedule and investment, there is often a lot of pressure to implement quickly. But consider well the business risks before making that call, if the testing results in any red flags.
As you install your new WMS and automation systems, are you doing enough testing to reduce and control risks? While you can’t possibly test for every conceivable variable and scenario, you certainly can’t over-test, either.
Brian Barry is President of F. Curtis Barry & Company