7 Steps To WMS Success

March 30, 2023
Ankit Agarwal

Our Proven Methodology To Help Clients Succeed

It’s Memorial Day and after 9 months of intense configuration, development, integration and testing, followed by a few weeks of robust checklist reviews and alignment, the warehouse you’ve been working on is finally going live with a best-in-class WMS application. The entire team is working seamlessly together and the ambiance is almost festive. Yet, upon go-live, things don’t go as expected.

Despite all the careful planning, the issues-tracker list keeps growing at breakneck speed. Shifts start to overlap, days run into one another, meal times have become forgotten and sleep has become almost unheard of. Nerves are raw. Tempers are running high. Everyone is desperately trying to put the system back on track. 

What went wrong?

Everything? Nothing? Or probably, a little bit of everything!

At K2S, we’re proud to have a team with an average of 18 years' experience. Each of us has been part of multiple WMS implementations across categories like Retail, 3PLs, Healthcare and Life Sciences, as well as Consumer Products. Over the years, we have learned many invaluable lessons and we pride ourselves on our robust methodology and rigorous processes - even when faced with uncertainty. 

Often WMS projects go awry due to common missteps and pitfalls that could have easily been avoided by following our process. So today, I want to share with you our 7 Steps to WMS Success to help you identify the key ingredients for a successful WMS implementation.

Understanding WMS

Efficient warehouse and distribution processes are essential for a positive customer experience - and this is where a Warehouse Management System (WMS) comes in. A WMS enables enterprises to manage warehouse operations by automating supply chain fulfillment activities right from the distribution center up to the store shelf or the customer’s hands. 

At the same time, a WMS provides visibility into a company's inventory management, tracking products and/or materials as they enter or leave the warehouse. By coordinating and optimizing processes and workflows, from equipment, manpower to warehouse space, a WMS helps businesses make the most of their resources by saving time and money. In addition, it enables companies to make better decisions by providing full visibility of operations. 

Defining WMS Success

What does a successful WMS implementation look like? At K2S, we know that the best processes are simple and easy. Anyone walking into a warehouse should know exactly what to do with little instruction. That’s why we focus on delivering systems that are functional, easy and above all consistent. As we like to say: “If it’s boring, then we know we’ve done our job right!”

Beyond the technical, a WMS should be saving a company time and money, thus making a measurable, positive and long-lasting impact on the business. 

This is how we define WMS success. 

WMS Success Factors

A successful WMS implementation does not purely depend on technical skills and talented software engineers - although they are of course important. It requires complete situational understanding, robust processes and quality control every step of the way. 

Before I dive into this in detail, I should mention that choosing the right warehouse management software is of course critical. From Blue Yonder, Manhattan, Softeon, Oracle, SOLOCHAIN and more, WMS vendors tend to offer a few different options:  

  • Integrated WMS: Offered by an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) provider or as part of a supply chain management (SCM) software, an integrated WMS provides warehouse and inventory management, as well as accounting in one system. 
  • Standalone WMS: Focused on warehouse management, a standalone WMS is more suitable for companies that require more advanced features and reporting. By definition, it offers limited functionality in other areas like inventory accounting.  

These two types of WMS can further be categorized into:

  • On-Premise WMS: Allowing for total control over factors such as uptime and security, an On-Prem WMS requires high initial investment and ongoing maintenance costs in terms of hardware, software and hosting.
  • Cloud-Based WMS: With a level of guaranteed service uptime, cloud-based WMS are becoming more common as management and hosting costs are reduced, while ensuring the system is always up-to-date.

Whichever WMS solution is chosen, its successful implementation ultimately depends on a combination of technical, operational and organizational aspects. Follow our 7 Steps to WMS Success to ensure your project is on track!

1. Developing Situational Understanding

A first step in any successful WMS implementation is to assess the long-term strategy and objectives of the business and project, along with the technical and operational requirements. By conducting a thorough analysis of current operations, including existing processes and systems, as well as data and performance metrics, areas of improvement and optimization can be identified, while gaining complete situational awareness.

As part of this, it is important to identify all key stakeholders within the organization and to engage with them to understand their needs and priorities. This includes talking to warehouse managers, supervisors and front-line staff to gain insights into their day-to-day challenges and pain points.

Based on these insights, one can begin to develop a clear understanding of the current state of the operations of the warehouse. This situational understanding will form the foundation of the WMS implementation plan and help to ensure that the solution being designed is tailored to the specific needs of the organization, setting the warehouse up for long-term success.

2. Securing Buy-In From All Departments

A WMS never exists in isolation. Being connected to other host systems and processes, it is an integral part of any business. From the ERP to the Order Management System (OMS) and alike, it is essential to identify all related systems and to ensure buy-in and support from all departments. Only if all systems are calibrated to function together, can the WMS deliver the results expected by the organization.

For example, the OMS must only drop orders to the WMS that can be fulfilled by the warehouse based on stock available. Thus, it must be set up to have accurate information on inventory levels in the warehouse at the end of each day, accounting for inventory dispatched, lost, found, damaged and received during the day. This reduces exception handling by warehouse workers, improving productivity and ultimately the end-customer experience, as the OMS can redirect out-of-stock items to other channels or warehouses for quicker fulfillment.

Clearly, it is critical to look at the bigger picture by considering all systems and engaging key personnel from various teams to ensure the overall success of the WMS implementation.

3. Putting The Right People In Place

We all know the importance of having the right talent in place to drive an organization's success. When it comes to implementing a WMS, choosing the right team of operational and technical resources is even more crucial. Not all consultants have in-depth knowledge of day-to-day warehouse operations and the intricacies involved, which can lead to an oversight of specific requirements. 

For example, if vehicle access is not configured correctly, it can cause a Stock Picker to be directed to perform full-pallet-picks - a task typically suited for a Reach Truck. Just this one error can have a significant domino effect on any warehouse operation. The fulfillment of orders would have to be paused, workflows interrupted, resources diverted and entire systems would have to be slowed down. This is a classic example of a minor issue ballooning into major inefficiencies and delays.

Diligent WMS consultants with experience on the ground, not only design, implement and maintain systems and processes. They also take time to understand the bigger picture and assess the feasibility and risks of each decision throughout the project. In addition, they can identify and communicate risks early on, put contingency plans in place and recognize when timescales need to be adjusted to ensure success. 

Pro Tip: Choose WMS Consultants with Technical and Warehouse Operational Services to ensure the success of your WMS project.

4. Process & Control

As part of any WMS project, a clear Implementation Methodology should be agreed to by all stakeholders. This will ensure that all the right things are done at every stage and that there are clear processes in place to control the quality of the build.

For instance, if a process or code defect is detected in a QA environment, changes should be worked out in a development environment, unit tested, and then moved to the QA environment for re-testing. Strict adherence to a "no bug-fixes in QA environments" policy, no matter how minor the change, can prevent surprises during go-live.

A skilled Project Manager (PjM) plays a critical role in enforcing best practices. In addition to maintaining control over the build, the PjM also tracks timelines, safeguards the storing and sharing of information with all relevant stakeholders, assigns gatekeepers for source code control and quality assurance by keeping all environments pristine. They also ensure the deployment strategy, including code or configuration migration across environments, is enforced throughout every phase of the project.

5. Test Everything And For Every Scenario

Testing is essential at every stage of the project to make sure that the system functions as intended. For a successful WMS implementation, a series of tests is recommended: 

  1. Unit Testing to make sure that each use case is functioning exactly as designed  to properly support business activities.
  2. System Integration Testing (SIT) to determine how well the WMS integrates with the current technology infrastructure and to ensure seamless operations.
  3. User Acceptance Testing (UAT) to make sure the system is fit for purpose and can be used by operational staff to complete their work as intended.
  4. Regression Testing to ensure the entire WMS still performs as expected after any modifications, updates, or improvements to the code.
  5. Volume and Stress Testing to ensure the system is robust and has the necessary capacity.
  6. Scenario Testing, such as a “Day-in-the-life” (DITL), to test multiple users running different operations concurrently - as they would on any given day in a warehouse, to explore interdependencies and synergies and ensure the system performs as expected when everything is in motion.

Such tests using real data gathered from a simulated live business environment with genuine users, while adhering to established business standards, will uncover pitfalls that are easily overlooked during development. 

For instance, in a warehouse, workflows and inventory need to be managed efficiently across work zones to avoid crowding of workers in one area. Such crowding may not be visible on paper but during DITL testing, it will become noticeable, as resources may get into each other’s way while completing their duties, causing delays and creating additional costs as orders arrive too late. 

Pro Tip: Looking to expedite your project timelines? Consider implementing an Automation Testing solution.

6. Contingency Planning

In a warehouse, every detail matters - even if it seems insignificant and small. While rigorous testing should be conducted to uncover those pitfalls early on, it will be impossible to test for absolutely everything. Even in the perfect project, there will be some technical or operational issues to iron out upon go-live. If the project has been managed well and strategic contingency plans have been put in place with the necessary time and resources to mitigate unexpected errors and risks, these should however be manageable. 

For example, an overlooked hazmat indicator label that needs to be printed and affixed to certain packages could escalate into a significant problem with shipments being returned. If the necessary support for troubleshooting and rebasing is allocated as part of the contingency plan upon go-live, such mistakes can be quickly identified and rectified. 

In addition, planning for potential disruptions to deliveries upon go-live and setting customers' expectations can help minimize any negative impact. In fact, starting slowly by selecting a weekend when the warehouse is typically closed is recommended.

7. Additional Maintenance & Support

After the WMS has been implemented and is live, it's crucial to continue to fine-tune and optimize the system and its processes during the hyper-care phase. This support should involve close monitoring of the system and address any issues that arise promptly. 

Once completed, a smooth handover should be facilitated with the Warehouse Support team. This should include a thorough review of common issues found during QA and the hyper-care phase, along with their potential root causes and fixes.

Furthermore, ongoing maintenance is essential for the WMS to perform optimally over a prolonged period of time. This includes implementing processes to manage the volume of data generated by the system, such as archiving data every 10-14 days to keep the system agile and prevent it from slowing down day-to-day operations. 

Finally, allocating resources and budget for regular expenses like training, consulting fees and continuous upkeep is also crucial for the long-term success of the WMS.

Final Thought

In a warehouse, attention to detail is crucial. Choosing the right WMS and partnering with experts who understand both the technical and practical aspects of day-to-day warehouse operations can make all the difference in achieving a successful WMS project with measurable, long-term positive impacts on the business.

However, technology alone is not enough to ensure success. Robust processes, trust, and collaboration are critical components of any successful project. This is particularly important when multiple consultants and supporting resources are involved, all of whom must work seamlessly together. Establishing a positive environment and ensuring that all stakeholders are aligned and motivated to support the client's goals are paramount.

At K2S, we are committed to providing our clients with the best possible support throughout the entire project lifecycle. From design to go-live, as well as post-implementation support and maintenance, we are committed to ensure the longevity and success of your WMS implementation. Our team of supply chain specialists provides both technical and operational expertise to develop the optimal solution for your specific warehousing needs. We work tirelessly to ensure your WMS remains optimized and effective, helping your business achieve its goals and drive growth.

Contact us to discover more about how we can help you achieve WMS success!

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