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WMS implementation steps and checklist for the New Normal

Most of the supply chain leaders and mainly warehouse managers across the globe today will agree on one common fact surely, that the number of drastic changes that they have seen in their operating models in the pandemic years have even eclipsed the ones done in the past 5 years. The sudden restrictions imposed on the way they operate to the radical shifts in consumer buying behavior have all in all increased the complexity of warehouse management processes. To be true, right now the situation is - the larger the facility, the more complex the operations have become, and the greater the headcount, the more difficult the task of management.

For warehouse managers today, it has become rather imperative to ensure faster adoption of new technologies that will lay a strong foundation for enhanced productivity levels, give them the agility to grow at ease, and have high adaptability to the business environment changes or fluctuations. And there comes the impact of a warehouse management system (WMS) which helps them in optimizing their daily operations and providing them real-time visibility into their operations. Not just that, it also helps them in providing the perfect setup for controlling the offsets and operational changes set in motion by this pandemic.

But how has the process of WMS implementation changed in the post-pandemic era? There has been a lot of unexpected events in the warehouse space like social distancing precautions which might be here to stay, to the inventory shortage issues to the decisions of reshoring/nearshoring manufacturing, and much more. How are these changes to the warehouse management process going to affect the WMS implementation steps and even the implementation costs for that matter? Experts believe that the most resilient systems will adapt to these changes quite fast and even ensure implementation process changes to incorporate the trends.

To help you out in this process, we have put together a WMS implementation checklist for the ‘New Normal’, with the steps from both your and your WMS provider’s end. Let’s have a look at what’s in store from the WMS implementation point of view:

Managing Expectations: Every big change is accompanied by uncertainty to some extent and in these times of crisis that tends to rise even faster than expected. Workers fearing their job is under threat to less technology-focused warehouse managers might think like this to be an unnecessary burden to their already complex process structure due to Covid restrictions and challenges. The top management must begin the WMS implementation process with a proper change management initiative in collaboration with the WMS provider. They need to educate the warehouse stakeholders at every level on the importance of the WMS implementation and also manage their expectations involving the system.

Important steps checklist:

  • Clearly define an organizational communication plan
  • Create a Change Management team in collaboration with your WMS provider
  • Conduct virtual/live team addresses to ensure proper messaging to every stakeholder on the upcoming implementation

Business Process Review: One of the most important and earliest stages of the WMS implementation process is a proper business review to understand the gaps even further in detail and sitting down with your selected WMS provider to explore and investigate the proper requirements of the WMS. Given the new challenges that have been set in motion due to the pandemic crisis, this is the step where any new feature or expected WMS behavior needs to be defined with the provider. This step also helps you define the goals, expectations, and success parameters of the WMS implementation. The following steps of creating the perfect implementation schedule revolve around the proper execution of this business review.

Important steps checklist:

  • Establish a Project Management Office
  • Define a thorough Requirements gathering process
  • Identify end-state goals for the implementation process and define the success parameters
  • Define the implementation process ROI and budgets

Risk Reduction: Risks form an important segment in the challenges section of the WMS implementation steps and one that needs to be addressed properly at the beginning itself. Considering the situation where there are challenges to travel or be on-site every time to address any risk arising during the implementation phase which cannot be handled remotely, any business needs to address all the possible unexpected risk avenues beforehand and keep a backup plan for each one of them. This needs to be done by sitting together with your WMS provider, who should be an expert in addressing risks from previous experiences and guide you in categorizing them to find relevant solutions.

Important steps checklist:

  • Secure implementation partners (if not performed by the WMS provider)
  • Review the best practices established by your WMS provider/partner
  • Define and Secure resources for the Project Risk Management team
  • Identify implementation end-state goals and the offset parameters to define risks
  • Categorize risks and define solutions to challenges

Implementation Schedule: Now in this new normal, this has become an especially important segment to consider and ensure a proper realistic approach is taken towards this. Covid crisis has shown us one thing for sure is, we can never be prepared for the unexpected. So given the scenario of WMS implementation in the new normal, we must go ahead with the learning in mind and use it in creating a proper WMS implementation schedule. Leaders must ensure that implementation stage goals are well defined, and the stage timelines have ample buffer time for unexpected delays and their backup plans regarding the same, which they might have already discussed in the risk assessment phase.

Important steps checklist:

  • Develop a proper WMS implementation schedule with well-defined stages
  • Develop a detailed Project Implementation Plan
  • Create timelines for Core team training and End-user training
  • Define schedule offsets and the corresponding backup plans

Customization and WMS Setup: Based on the business review the warehouse management systems might always need a bit of customization to fit it perfectly in your business process framework. And as discussed there are new features that most businesses today are expecting out of a WMS post-pandemic. This is the time when the system can be customized to ensure that the process changes due to pandemic are taken into consideration. This is the set of steps that ensure the functionalities you desire from your WMS are implemented correctly.

Important steps checklist:

  • Technical architecture review and creation of the application operating environments
  • Procure and install the hardware requirements with the help of your provider or a partner
  • Define the list of required customizations and costs with your provider
  • Define the integration mapping states
  • Define system integration success parameters
  • UI definitions and Reports
  • Business data capture and verification
  • Integration testing
  • Proof of concept implementation and testing

Final Acceptance Testing and Training: This phase defines the parameters for the next subsequent phases in short defines the final output of the implementation phases, along with the customizations and testing. Also, this is the phase where the end-user training starts to align them with the Go-Live schedule so that there is no disruption in the business process due to a lack of system training.

Important steps checklist:

  • UAT – User Acceptance Testing
  • Create a Go-Live checklist, plan, and resources
  • End-user training
  • Data Migration planning and creation of a schedule for the same

Deployment: After the modifications and testing the WMS implementation is all set for the stage of deployment where the WMS system snapshot goes live and is up and running for your business to use.

Important steps checklist:

  • Mock Go-Live
  • Data Migration
  • Final Assessment
  • Go Live

Though this checklist might not be exhaustive but will be a great starting point and a handy tool to ensure that the most important steps of the WMS implementation in the ‘new normal’ are taken into consideration and none of them are missed. If the research experts are to be believed then almost 34% of the changes seen in the pandemic era will continue to exist even in the post-pandemic world, which will be a game-changer for most supply chain leaders. It will mean that many of the old processes or implementation styles need to adjust to ensure a seamless operation in the future.

What to you will be the most important factor in terms of WMS implementation in the coming era of post-pandemic logistics? Share your thoughts in the comments

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About the author :

Srini Vaidy

President and CEO, Highway 905

Srini Vaidy is the President and CEO of the award-winning, cloud-based logistics technology provider Highway 905. He is an established innovator in the Supply Chain & Logistics space, with an ever-dying passion for coding and technology. For more than 30 years he has been ideating customer-centric and efficiency-driven supply chain execution solutions for the Fortune 500 to help them optimize their logistics costs and strengthen their competitive market position. With one eye on technological trends and the other on the happenings in the logistics space, he likes providing readers with an interesting perspective on the future of logistics industry.