Archives for January 2016

The GPS to WMS – READY TO REPLACE? – Part 3 The WMS Project Team – Assembly Required

By Ian Hobkirk | 01/11/2016 | 1:52 PM | Categories: Weblogs

Blog picture team buildingBy now we have made the point that bringing a new WMS on-line is a massive undertaking. If your company is large enough to justify a WMS, the implementation process can take an army of your employees and perhaps people from the outside. Who is on this implementation team, how participants are organized into sub-teams, and how their time is deployed is crucial to developing a new system that is capable of delivering all that the company is hoping for to justify this considerable investment in time and finances.

Here are three aspects a WMS project leader to consider when putting together the implementation team.



I tend to agree with the studies that suggest in a project environment, there should be one leader for no more than about twelve individuals. If the leader is responsible for too many people, execution may suffer.

However, if the leader is responsible for too few people, process takes the place of communication. I have worked in organizations where a manager will have two to four reporting staff. Unless the manager of a team that small executes alongside the team and as an equal, then the manager “manages for the sake of managing,” and team performance is sub-optimized.

On most complex projects, there must be a structure; there must be a hierarchy. The project manager or leader cannot have everybody reporting individually on these bigger projects.

On larger projects, companies should set up sub-teams and put reporting structure in place. Each of the sub-teams should be responsible for doing its own status reports. It all comes back to laying out roles and responsibilities, making sure that people know exactly what they are responsible for, and then holding them accountable, updating senior management as to progress.

A WMS is different from any other system. Implementation team members should at least know the definition of the physical structures (rack, docks, etc.) and how physical materials flow in a logical system. Additionally, individuals must not only understand the capabilities of the WMS, but also the best operational practices.

Project participants must have reporting skills as well to write management reports and labels. Look for people who have testing skills to ensure the configured system operates as required; along with the training skills to develop and educate end users.

When all of those roles are filled, you have a team that is both broad and deep. The lack of highly skilled individuals in any one of the key roles can mean, at best, schedule slippage. At worst, this deficiency can threaten the shutdown of the system. The chart below shows a typical WMS implementation team structure and the associated required skill sets.

Team chart

Assembling this WMS implementation team is as challenging, intricate, and important as the project’s technology itself. Part of this challenge is that a company cannot afford to stop its material handling/supply chain operations in order to make the upgrade, and this consideration has an impact on the day-to-day activities of project participants.

Having the company’s employees involved with putting the new system in place makes a lot of sense because they intimately know how the business runs. They are familiar with the operation’s idiosyncrasies and with the personalities of those involved with the company’s material handling/warehousing function.

Further, those on the implementation team will be living with the system once it is place. This familiarity with how it ticks will dramatically shorten the system’s break-in period and enhance its success.

The ideal is to have team participants from within the company who are solid at their jobs and also well-qualified for being part of a WMS implementation. But because there will be few within the company who can devote full time to the implementation, it’s important to address a significant issue – how much time can the company realistically afford for them to take away from their daily responsibilities?

Some organizations are large enough to have a project management office and people available to be full-time on the project. For growing, mid-sized companies that aren’t perpetually doing projects on this scale, participants usually have to juggle time between the project and their normal responsibilities. When this happens, the role of the project leader becomes critical, making sure people are applying their time properly and moving things along that are not happening on time.

It’s really important for project leaders to be realistic about schedules if the team includes people who must devote twenty to thirty hours a week to a project and who can’t be away from their regular jobs for that amount of time. Project leaders must ask themselves a key question: Will we hire somebody else to do their day jobs or put someone in place to move the project along?

In a case like this it can be a good idea to consider bringing on a consulting firm to fill some of these highly specialized roles for a limited period of time —augmented, of course, by people within the company as much as possible. Considering the overall impact of the new WMS, this investment in outside personnel is modest – and smart.

For More Information
The Ultimate WMS Preparation Guidebook

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Ian Hobkirk

Ian Hobkirk

Ian Hobkirk is the founder and Managing Director of Commonwealth Supply Chain Advisors. Over his 20-year career, he has helped hundreds of companies reduce their distribution labor costs, improve space utilization, and meet their customer service objectives. He has formed supply chain consulting organizations for two different systems integration firms, and managed the supply chain execution practice at The AberdeenGroup, a leading technology analyst firm.


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