The Seven Variables of a WMS Implementation: An Interview with Open Sky’s Curt Sardeson

There are many factors impacting the success of any warehouse management system (WMS) implementation. But according to Curt Sardeson, Managing Principal of the consultancy Open Sky Group, there are seven key variables that determine ultimate success. As part of our Expert Insights series, Supply Chain Nation sat down with Sardeson to explore the implications of his list.

SCN:      Curt, can you please give us a brief overview of the seven variables of WMS implementations?

Sardeson:  What we have done over the years is look at our implementations after they are finished and ask what was interesting about this one, what were the lessons learned. Out of the years of doing these projects we came up with seven things that drive how complex or how easy, or where the potential trouble spots will be in an implementation.

The first variable is people, which really comes down to what is the type of workforce you are dealing with—are they temporary or permanent. That usually has an important impact on training. And what is the management style, which also leads into variable two, culture, because we know there is a huge cultural impact—how well will they deal with change; how well will they deal with improvement; do the people actually care; are the people able to contribute to the project and take ownership of it early?

One of the variables, facility size, is a little misleading. We really don’t care about what size a warehouse is because there are big simple warehouses and complex small ones. It is really about how many different ways the company is using that building and what type of material handling equipment they may have.

The fourth variable, processes, is where you start to understand how complex that environment is going to be. Normally, the more processes you have, the more difficult the configuration is going to be and the more important training is going to be. You also need to include the exception processes.

Number five is the number of inventory types, which in conjunction with processes, paints a picture of what is being handled—pallets; cases; am I doing layered picks; do I have drums or coils or ingots. Each inventory type and its attributes drives what the implementation is going to look like in terms of time, cost and complexity.

The sixth variable is inbound and outbound because it is very important to know how many different ways you are bringing product in and how many different ways you are shipping product out. Are you shipping pallets or cases? Are you over-packing? Clearly those variables are going to determine how much work there is going to be to configure, test, train, and build the ultimate solution.

Number seven, the final variable, is integration.  Integration is very important because there are all kinds of systems that may be integrated to the WMS. It is rare these days to integrate with nothing. There is usually some kind of ERP or order management system. And then there could be integration down to the scales on your line or dimension capture equipment, or even a transportation management system or shipping system. That is the seven variables in a nutshell.

SCN:      I know your second point on company culture can be so important, but how should companies address the issue of “we’ve always done it that way?”

Sardeson:  That is probably the hardest question. You always have to ask why. You just have to continue to say—why is it that you have always done it that way—until you get a logical and rational answer. Let me give you a non-warehousing example of where the question why was asked. There was a fireman who had to check for equipment on his truck every day. One of the items was a bottle opener. The fireman could lose his job if one of the items was missing, but he wondered why he needed a bottle opener. The only answer he got was we’ve always had a bottle opener. He finally found a chief who answered that back in the 1960s they had bottles of Coca-Cola that they gave the firemen to keep them hydrated and they had to have an opener to open the bottles. Well, they hadn’t had a Coca-Cola bottle on a fire truck in twenty years since they went to bottled water and Gatorade, but they still had a bottle opener. Finally, after his persistence of asking why until he got a reasonable answer, he was able to get the policy changed so he no longer had to check off that bottle opener every day.

It’s just human nature to resist change. When you do something out of habit, sometimes you just forget why. I have a ton of warehouse examples, but I think this fireman one is something everyone can relate to.

SCN:      Thanks, Curt. In Part II of this series, launching October 2, Sardeson will discuss how to determine when customization is warranted and why integration to other systems is getting easier.7 Variables of WMS Infographic (Curt Sardeson)

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