In the course of implementing numerous warehouse management systems (WMSs) and other software applications over the years, I’ve come across numerous problems and pitfalls. Below are what I consider the most deadly errors:
Mistake #1: focusing on the technology, not your operations. Don’t get transfixed on the latest and greatest technology; the latest technology is not always the best fit for your needs and won’t always provide the best value. Instead, consider how well the technology fits within your organization’s operating environment.
And don’t assume that because the software uses an “open system architecture” it can communicate easily across all operating platforms. Understand how much user action is required for executing an action or process. Color screens and icons don’t always make it easy to enter data.
Mistake #2: assembling a project team without concern of their knowledge of the current operations. Although software engineers are important project team members, you also need representatives who know the business needs and operational objectives. Although they may not deeply understand the technology, individuals directly involved with the day-to-day operations need to be included in the design process.
Make sure you take the time to document and understand current processes and procedures. Don’t assume they will change under the new system. Likewise, don’t design the system first, then review how it fits current operations and practices. This will result in an overengineered system that may provide a great deal of designed functionality that you simply don’t need.
Mistake #3: selecting a department other than operations to lead the design and manage the project. The WMS software will affect business processes not related to WMS, such as order management and transportation management. Interfaces between disparate systems will not always take care of any problems with data transfer.
For that reason, operations managers should be encouraged to ask questions about the system design process. Their knowledge should be incorporated into every area of the project.
It’s not easy to modify software installation and testing. Business procedures need to be comprehensively covered under the system design in order to avoid problems.
Mistake #4: using a “free form” project management approach. Have a detailed estimate of the total project budget. Take the time to track the status of expenditures throughout the initiative.
Do not rely on projections provided by the WMS software sales staff to develop a project ROI. Be accountable for your results with informed calculations. Have regular project meetings and updates with your project team and suppliers. Face-to-face meetings are more effective than e-mail for sharing important information.
Avoid having many people individually track tasks or issues separately. A project manager should know how to ensure broad coverage of issues and tasks, making sure that everything is covered.
“No modifications” should be the mantra. Software modifications are significant contributors to failed projects due to software bugs, upgrade problems, and the negative effects on project schedules and costs. Even the latest application development tools are not perfect for “on the fly” changes.
Mistake #5: not worrying about having a project sponsor in upper management. WMS projects are complex and difficult to manage, so they require a project sponsor. As the project moves along there will be many individuals who will want to align themselves with the project, but they may not stay on board to see it through to fruition. A project sponsor needs to be accountable when the implementation date approaches.
Bill Tyng is systems consultant for Cincinnati-based FORTE (www.forte-industries.com), a consultancy specializing in planning, designing, and implementing automated distribution systems.