Change is like throwing a rock into the middle of a pond: ripples radiate outward and can ultimately touch every aspect of the water. Your warehouse and inventory impact every piece of your business in the same way. If you’re ready for the ripples, you can flourish. If you aren’t you just might sink.
How do you prepare for that change? You apply a robust change management strategy.
Understanding change management
In broad terms, change management is a strategy for a structured approach to handling the change process, from selection and implementation to long-term support, to make the change successful. The more complex a problem or change, the more important it is to have a robust change management strategy.
One of the most important features for creating a plan to manage that process is the understanding that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Change management must continually evolve because you’ll come up against unfamiliar problems and different needs with almost every project.
With this in mind, you’ll need robust communication tools that your entire team will actually use as you work to identify and address barriers, create a list of steps you need to follow to change out your systems and allow for feedback to keep things headed in the right direction.
Applying change management to your WMS early on
Warehouse and logistics software changes can fail when the rip-and-replace strategy is applied vigorously from the start, without taking the time to properly understand what you’re facing.
Without a change management strategy, you’ll run into obstacles at full speed and risk setting your WMS project back by weeks or months. Remember, your WMS will impact almost every aspect of your business.
A smart WMS allows you to understand the sales your business can properly make, providing a vital link between the distribution center or warehouse to your suppliers, carriers, customers, e-commerce channels and physical locations. One hiccup in the WMS or warehouse can have a major knock-on effect at each of these touchpoints.
Managing change successfully
While the ultimate benefits of implementing a new WMS are many fold, deploying a new warehouse management solution is rarely without challenges. Here are just a few of the more common ones:
- Faulty or incomplete data is used to set up the WMS, so you get a lousy implementation and have lots of manual work to do to get things back together
- New features don’t work as expected and you don’t have any short-term contingencies
- Resistance to change/lack of acceptance amongst users
- Unexpected time or cost overruns that lead to management wanting to stop the project or remove features/upgrades you were expecting to rely on for your operations.
So, how do you avoid these problems?
Start by creating an action framework for the change. Set out who will be touched by each potential change the new WMS will bring and create a plan, not only to meet their needs, but also to manage their expectations.
Testing and training
After you’ve got a list of everyone who will experience a change, narrow it down to see who you must train on which parts of the system. Your warehouse manager will need to know everything, while your business analysts might only need training on how to generate reports. Members of your field sales or service team will need to know how to access your WMS to see inventory levels and create new sales orders.
Identify the training that you’ll need and how that will change based on your current workforce training. This might include needing an extra PC so you can have people test and refresh their memory as needed.
Testing goes hand-in-hand with training because you need to know that your WMS can do what it promises and that your team can achieve those results.
Change management must be considered for this part of WMS implementation because you need to work out how the processes will be different and what new capabilities your WMS can provide. For example, you might be able to send new data to vendors or need to provide new APIs so vendors can see data from your WMS.
Starting with one position
All of this boils down to a singular need: the change management lead. You probably already have a project manager and warehouse leads who understand your network and your warehouse. Ideally, however, you also need someone who is above those silos.
If possible, appoint a change management lead who can work with key individuals from all of the business areas you identified as being impacted, from customer service through IT, HR and more. Find someone who has a holistic understanding of your business, and you’re on the right way to not only identify the challenges that come with a new WMS, but plan to avoid them.
Plus, the better the relationship this lead has with your team, the more willing they’ll be to help find a solution if a problem arises.