Successful WMS Software Implementations

Successful WMS software implementations are handled with dedicated focus and eagerness.

If you’re like me, you probably have a to-do list at home that gets more projects added to it than crossed off. For me, such a scenario always brings to mind the Hydra from Greek mythology—an immortal water monster where every time someone cuts off any one of its heads, two more grow back in its place. Unfortunately, important work projects run the risk of morphing into a never-ending to-do list or sometimes taking on the look and feel of a giant Hydra. Once the project is started, obstacles present themselves, priorities or people change, energy deteriorates, and momentum is lost. Just visualizing the finish line gets more and more hazy as the very idea of project completion becomes mired in details and delays.

To quote William James (the “Father of American psychology”), “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” One of the best ways to ensure a project’s completion, without losing its initial gusto, is to set an ironclad schedule from the start. Project teams must agree to do everything they can to commit to and stick to the schedule while tracking cost, performance and results.

This rings especially true when it comes to new technology implementations in the warehouse. If one project milestone is delayed enough to cause the original implementation timeline to expand, it can create a snowball effect that impacts other project milestones down the line. It’s hard enough to realize a return on investment when one project objective isn’t met, much less multiple project objectives. When momentum gets disrupted to the point where the overall implementation takes a hit, project stakeholders can lose interest and confidence in whether or not the deployment will be a success.

If you’re waiting for the ideal warehouse scenario to present itself before embarking on deploying a warehouse management system (WMS), grab a snack and make yourself comfortable because business challenges such as variations in seasonal demands or staffing concerns, for example, don’t just magically go away to make room for a software implementation. The truth is, you won’t know what’s actually possible or how fast you can realize success until you get your business in the race. Perhaps even more important than navigating the initial “scariness” that typically delays WMS implementations—or any new technology adoption, for that matter—is seeing the project through with dedicated focus and eagerness.

For the sole purpose of examining which contributing factors are synonymous with successful WMS software implementations, I periodically dedicate a portion of my time to tap into my analytical side to review and examine a sample size of deployments after the official “go-live” milestone happens. Following are seven factors they all have in common.

1. There was an Project Champion

One thing that successful WMS software implementations have in common is a project champion. In other words, one person that is identified as the individual responsible for overall success of the project. Not to diminish the importance of the rest of the team, of course, but you need a “captain” to lead the way. The project champion isn’t necessarily the one doing all the key tasks, but their job does involve ensuring all tasks are being completed. This person is charged with fully learning the system from the inside out, so they can work closely with the WMS software provider’s implementation team to optimize the software for their organization’s unique warehouse environment.

2. Responsiveness was Key

Without fail, there will be numerous occasions when the WMS software provider’s implementation manager needs prompt feedback, input, or action from the internal project team to complete a task. Responsive communication is a critical part of ensuring any implementation project progresses smoothly.

3. Follow the WMS Software Project Plan

When a project plan with milestones is followed, and in collaboration with the WMS provider’s implementation team, it ensures the project will get the internal attention and resources it deserves, while also creating a dedicated window of opportunity for the implementation partners to deliver the project on time.

4. They Raised Their Hand

Implementing a WMS can be a daunting process for a new customer, and there is often a lot of unfamiliar territory (and terminology). Don’t hesitate to contact the provider’s WMS implementation specialist when a question or concern arises.

5. They Were Open to Process Changes

It’s common to get excited about all the new benefits and features of WMS software, but reverting to old processes can be tempting. It’s important to keep in mind that some old processes will no longer be needed because of the increased accuracy and efficiency that a WMS will bring to your business. Being open-minded when it comes to the dialogue with the implementation specialists about how certain warehouse processes may change with the new system is key.

6. The Project had Dedicated Resources

Like having a project champion, it is imperative to ensure that proper resources are dedicated to making the WMS implementation successful. It’s not unusual for us to become so busy with our day-to-day work that we don’t have time to focus on the implementation itself. Whether it’s removing some tasks from team members’ plates so they can focus on the project, or even contracting with an outside project manager that will be dedicated to the implementation, project champions will want to make sure they and their teams have the all the necessary resources to make the rollout as smooth as possible.

7. They had Fun in the Sandbox

Successful WMS software implementation teams work to fine-tune new processes and encourage users to “play” as much as possible in their test environment. This is a great way to tweak those processes in a controlled trial setting before rolling them out into the live environment.

Behind Every Successful WMS Software Implementation . . .

Great things happen when you finish what you start. There’s a psychological science, as well as an economical one, that essentially says, “Here’s why it’s really important to start, continue and finish.” Not doing so can effectively kill your motivation and leave your business in the dust while the competition races ahead. Or rather, to cast an equally true but more positive light on this sentiment, perhaps the American poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sums it up best: “Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”

This article, authored by Kevin Murch, was first published in Material Handling & Logistics on August 4, 2022. Kevin Murch is the professional services manager at PathGuide Technologies, Inc., a provider of warehouse management systems for distributors. He has more than 25 years of experience in software engineering, project management, and working directly with customers to help solve workflow and process challenges.