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Getting to Know Your Distribution Center – The First Step in a Proper Warehouse Management Software Selection Process

By Ian Hobkirk | 08/13/2017 | 3:34 AM

IStock_000067146697_MediumPerhaps the most important way to ensure a successful Warehouse Management Software (WMS) project is to begin by thoroughly understanding the operational requirements. This may sound like a self-evident statement, but most failed WMS implementations can be traced back to a team of project leaders who only had a surface-level understanding of the needs of the distribution center, and were either unwilling, or unable to do the hard work of digging into the details of how things really work on the “other side of the wall.”


It is appropriate, therefore, that our first step in the process of selecting a new WMS begins with “Discovery” – or, in some cases, “re-Discovery” of the day-to-day requirements of the distribution center.


An effective discovery process consists of the following tasks:


1. Kickoff Meeting: This involves assembling all key stakeholders to review the project tasks, timetable, and roles and responsibilities. Another key component of the project kickoff is a thorough “future visioning session” to document the various changes which could impact the business over the lifecycle of the software system which is being selected.


2. Personnel interviews: These interviews are often most effective when conducted in an organized way in a conference room as opposed to on the warehouse floor, where notes can be more easily taken and through documentation can be created.  The following key staff members should generally be interviewed:


    • Warehouse manager
    • Receiving manager
    • Shipping manager
    • Transportation/logistics manager
    • Inventory control
    • Manufacturing/production manager (if applicable)
    • Procurement/purchasing

3. Detailed Process Observation: This task involves taking the detailed descriptions of processes from the interview stage and comparing them to how the processes are observed to work in the distribution center. This task involves actually watching processes like picking and packing, and sometimes following an inbound and outbound order through its lifecycle in the warehouse. This observation often affords an opportunity to talk to workers who may have additional details of how processes work, and exceptions to the rule which must be accommodated by the software.


4. Document IT architecture and infrastructure: This task involves discussing the various software systems in use and their relationships to each other. It is important to document which systems and versions are in use, and what key functionality is handled by each. Interface points should be mapped (what data elements are exchanged between systems, how frequently, and in what format). Preferences that the IT group may have for databases, programming languages, and operating systems should be noted.


5. Analyze operational data: This task involves reviewing key operational data and identifying patterns which will help in subsequent steps when improved processes must be designed. Key data reports which are often reviewed at this time include:


    • Outbound order volumes, average and peak
    • Typical order profiles by order type
    • Typical inbound purchase order profiles

Subsequent blogs will outline the steps that follow Discovery in a proper WMS selection process.



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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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