Warehouse management systems (WMS) continue to evolve with new features and functions designed to meet the dynamic challenges of distribution dictated by a global supply chain with the consumer at its core. Since the inception of these systems in the early 90s, the promise of WMS software was easy maintenance and upgrades, stability, and of course, easier implementations, all of which made the investment in WMS more affordable and accessible, especially to smaller companies.
However, three decades later since the term WMS was first coined, as the software has gotten much better, implementations continue to show a high rate of failure. But why? With the WMS software so much more advanced than it was decades ago, why is it still so difficult to successfully implement it? This topic could fill a textbook.
There are many common themes that tie back to why WMS software fails involving both failures on the part of the vendor and on the customer. Ultimately, the reasons for failure can be summarized into five fundamental areas that can make or break your project.
1. Choosing the right WMS software vendor
It starts here. In reality, you are not just choosing a vendor but a business partner. Going forward, the vendor’s software will be critical to the success of your business. You will be joined at the hip. Partnerships start with the acceptance of this relationship. Both parties need to work in the best interest of each other. It is an attitude as much as it is an approach to doing business.
While many selection processes are laser-focused on the functionality of the software– at the end of the day all WMS systems perform the basics of moving boxes through a distribution center. However, when selecting a vendor it’s important to understand the additional features that differentiate a solution; that is– the nice-to-haves, not the need-to-haves– that fit your business’ unique use cases.
Another vital part of choosing the right vendor is understanding the resources they have to support you through the project and well after go-live. There are too many horror stories about businesses that deployed a software product only to eventually find that the vendor support was poor or even nonexistent. When choosing a vendor it is critical to not only consider the features and functions of the software that fit your use cases, but also the partnership that you’re entering into.
2. Clearly defining and understanding business requirements
It is always difficult to make the distinction between a business requirement and an operational or functional requirement. A business requirement is fundamental to supporting your business, for example, having the ability to accept and verify newly received products. There are as many ways to check in a new receipt as there are software systems that do it. Your business requirement may dictate that all receipts have to be inspected. Exactly HOW you do the inspection, or how the software does it, is not so essential. Because these terms often bleed into each other and are not clearly defined at the onset of a project, you put the project at risk of never being completed.
Here are a couple of ways not clearly defining your business requirements for a solution can lead your project astray.
Don’t try to change how the software works
Even after decades of product evolution, all implementations continue to require some software enhancements. However, oftentimes adding enhancements stems from a failure to clearly distinguish business requirements from operational requirements.
The key is to develop a gap analysis that strikes a balance between the way the system works and the way your business requirements need to be met. This will ensure you select a solution that meets your business requirements without having to add a bunch of enhancements to force-fit the software.
Don’t be a kid in a candy store
In addition to adding enhancements, there is always a temptation to want to add new functionality that may be slick and beneficial but are not necessary to meet your business requirements. Think about the kid in the candy store faced with so many delightful options. They can’t just have one, they need it all. Meet your business requirements first, and then you can go wild with additional capabilities on your own time.
3. Correctly staffing the project teams
Most projects are understaffed on both sides, the vendor and the customer. Understaffed, includes the number of bodies, but more importantly, it includes: 1) the very critical resources from the customer that bring the deep knowledge of the operations, and 2) the SMEs from the vendor who knows how that software works and how to deploy it.
On the customer side, the resources who know the operation in the deepest detail are often seen as too important to be removed from their “day job” and to be dedicated to the project. As a result, you end up with a solution that is designed by resources who do not know the operations well enough. It’s the folks on the floor who know how things work, much more so than the supervisors they work for. Sometimes you simply must bite the bullet and bring your best and brightest to the table when they are needed and for as long as they are needed– but not a minute longer.
4. Creating and following a structured process
“You won’t get where you are going unless you know how to get there.”
The famous quote from Yogi Berra, in his unique way, captures the importance of having a plan and a proven process for execution. Even before vendor selection, it’s important for everyone involved to understand why you are looking at a WMS. Staying true to those goals will guide you through the decision-making process as the project proceeds. Having an execution plan and schedule will ensure that you meet those goals. Projects fail when customers stray from the goal and aren’t disciplined to stay true to the plan.
5. Marketing new WMS software to the team
You are asking your workforce to totally change the way they are spending their day making their living. That is a source of not just apprehension, but often, of resistance. Never underestimate the positive effects of communicating the change that is happening with your new system.
Conversely, consider the negative effects of a system that your workforce feels has been thrust on them. People resist change as part of human nature. Every person wants to live in his or her comfort zone. It’s not the system they are resisting, it's the change! A new system rips your workforce out of their comfort zone, creating resistance. When you market the change to your workforce, that is, when you openly communicate what is going to happen and why– you create the atmosphere for an easier transition into a new comfort zone.
Avoiding WMS failure is all about your people
WMS projects fail for so many reasons. But as highlighted above, one thing you might notice is that so much of what is written has to do with the management of people more so than the software, hardware, or technology. Projects more frequently fail because the people factor is underappreciated. The software and hardware are just tools to be used by your people. Your implementation process is just a roadmap to guide you through the project. People are the wild card in any project. Understanding that appreciating that and addressing it by investing in your people is the surest path to success.
Want to learn more about how to avoid WMS failure? Reach out to our team today!