Finding success implementing WMS solutions is challenging due to the project’s size and complexity. While numbers vary, failure rates are high and even worse overall customer dissatisfaction is even higher. Experience is always important and helps to build a framework which guides the implementation project from inception to conclusion. However while most projects have a similar framework, each is also very unique. Team members have unique personalities. Managers have a unique style of leadership which impacts employees and creates unique interactions between the vendor and users. Companies strive for a unique competitive advantage which impacts the solution deliverables. The point here is important to understand. Even with a proven implementation methodology, there are variables within each unique implementation project which need to be managed in order to achieve a successful outcome.
So what are the critical success factors that both customers and vendors should embrace to avoid an implementation project nightmare? The goal of this document is to define several of these critical factors which drive success implementing WMS solutions.
A Clearly Defined Project Scope Document – The goal of the project scope or user story document is simple; define how the “out-of-the-box” software will be used and what customizations (if any) are required to fill in the gaps between the capabilities of the software and unique needs of the customer. While the goal is simple, the creation and execution of the scope document is often a complex exercise. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, there are differences in interpretation. As an example, a WMS might have specific cycle count capabilities. However, the customer’s expectation of what cycle counting provides may be different from that of the software. If this gap isn’t identified in the project scope then the delivery of cycle counting will not be satisfactory to the customer. Second, it is very common for the customer to identify and document 95% of their operations. But it is the 5% that comes up at testing or after Go-Live that causes considerable problems. It is recommended that during the sales cycle or project kick-off that a detailed walk through of every screen and function of the software is performed. If GAP is identified, it is documented. Once the scope document is finalized and agreed to by the customer, any issues that arise that were not covered in the scope document are understood to be handled as out of scope changes.
Understand The Roles of the Customer and Vendor – One common misconception that occurs in implementation projects is the roles of the customer and vendor. Vendors are hired to perform specific tasks to meet the objectives of the project and expectations of the customer. And vendors are obligated to perform those tasks competently and within the project budget. The customer also has the obligation to assign the correct resources necessary to meet the project objectives. A problem that customers face is that an implementation project is above and beyond their normal work or company role. A warehouse manager’s normal, full-time role is to manage the warehouse. But within the project, the manager must also assume additional roles which take time and effort. If the new roles are outside of the comfort zone of the employee(s), they will attempt to shift the responsibilities of those roles back onto the vendor. A warehouse manager spending an additional 20 hours per week testing may try to shift that effort to the vendor. This causes the vendor to consume budget hours more quickly which then results in cost overruns and the testing which should be done under the careful scrutiny of the customer is less likely to be successful. It is important to define the roles and expectations of the project team up front.
A Realistic Timeline with a Short as Possible Path to Completion – There is a saying in business that time kills all deals. Simply, projects that take too long to implement lose momentum, struggle to allocate resources, must contend with staff turn-over, and eventually become irrelevant leading to failure. But it is also problematic if a project is rushed to completion. Like Goldilocks, the project team must develop a timeline that is “just right” balancing the need to complete the project tasks thoroughly while striving to minimize delays. This is easier said than done. First, determine the timeline required to do the project tasks. Then determine the possible Go-Live dates (notice the plural). Find the Go-Live date that fits the timeline but also allows you to schedule “flex” or “catch-up” blocks before critical milestones. These blocks are used to drive the project back on schedule enabling success implementing WMS solutions.
Customer Dedication to the Project – I can’t over emphasize the importance of the entire customer team being dedicated to the success of the project. And yet there are projects where members of the executive management team provide little or no assistance to the success of the project because they didn’t vote for it. There are internal turf wars between departments resulting in resources not being adequately allocated at key tasks. And as discussed previously, there is the belief that it is the almost sole responsibility of the vendor to do the work. A successful implementation project requires dedication from upper management and throughout the department stake holders.
Test, Test and Test Again – Your project plan timeline should have one of its largest allocation of time set aside for testing. Testing is so important. It helps identify how changing parameters can impact operations. It helps identify problems before Go-Live. It helps identify processes that might have been missed in the Scope Document. It provides training reinforcement which, in turn, makes users more proficient on the system. There are three important keys to testing. First, allocate time for both a vendor (alpha) and customer (beta) test of the entire system and any points of integration. Second, create a detailed test plan that identifies every process in the system and a corresponding signoff that the test was performed and accepted. Finally, create a large and quality volume of test data. A good test will involve hundreds (yes hundreds) of transactions and help insure the goal of success implementing WMS solutions.
Schedule Weekly Progress Meetings – At the end of the day, the customer wants to know if the project is on-track or failing. Regular status meetings keep lines of communication open between the team members. They should be short (10 to 15 minutes) but can be longer if there are important issues which need to be discussed. At a minimum the team should review the project plan providing an update on tasks that were assigned during the previous week and an overview of tasks assigned for the upcoming week. Tasks that are no longer on schedule need to be addressed immediately and a plan created to get the tasks completed and the project back on track.
Success implementing WMS solutions takes time, effort and planning. Focusing on these success factors will certainly help in creating a successful project. You are certainly encouraged to research other factors which may also be helpful. Good luck and stay positive.