“My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’” – Forrest Gump
Depending on your taste, it might be nice to discover a hunk of caramel hiding under that chocolate from the heart-shaped Valentine’s Day candy box—or not. But when it comes to an automation and/or software implementation in your warehouse or distribution center, the majority of surprises are unwelcome and unpleasant.
So how can you reduce the chance of sinking your teeth into a “Box of Chocolates” scenario during your next installation or upgrade? Here are 7 tips to help avoid setbacks to both schedule and budget.
Understand why your organization is undertaking this automation and/or software implementation. Just as you wouldn’t launch an installation or upgrade project without first setting a budget, you shouldn’t start one without first clearly defining the business case. Be sure you first establish the project’s goals—whether they are for higher accuracy, throughput or productivity, a reduction in labor or processing time, or a transition to a single source enterprise resource planning (ERP) and warehouse management (WM) platform, such as SAP.
Establish a comprehensive list of “as-is” and “to-be” documentation. It’s critical to clearly define your current-state processes and your future-state objectives. Things to include are: existing and future data sources; existing, new and planned-for-future automation investments; mapping of current and future-state processes; and, existing and anticipated software customization.
Determine early who will champion the project from the information technology (IT) team, and from the operations team, i.e. executive sponsorship. Many new installation and upgrade projects suffer from a lack of sponsorship or shared acceptance of the goals and objectives. Operations may feel that IT is forcing an unwanted change that doesn’t correlate to existing processes; IT may feel that operations is demanding more than its fair share of available resources (particularly in terms of manpower and support). Instead, work to gain sponsorship from both sides—particularly at the C-level—before the project implementation phase begins. Further, the project champions need to continuously share the goals (as established above), as well as the progress, of the project with directors, managers and end users. Keeping all levels of an organization informed and up-to-date is key to ensuring smooth overall change management and system adoption by all users. This will ultimately minimize downtime and disruptions to both business operations and customer service levels.
Designate a point person to coordinate between multiple vendors. If your IT and operations teams are spearheading and directing the implementation internally, there may be more than one service provider contributing software and/or automation hardware to the project. To minimize confusion, it’s important to assign a primary contact to ensure that the different parties involved are in communication with each other regarding parameters, timeframes and other expectations. Alternately, if an independent outside consultant or systems integrator is selected to design and manage your installation, make sure to schedule regular and routine progress reviews that include outside vendors when necessary. It is very important to have an overall program/project manager, and (if the project is large enough) several project managers who manage separate tracks of work and report up to an overall project leader.
Beware the islands of automation. If you are installing a variety of new automated material handling technologies, be sure that all equipment and its operating software (new and existing) are networkable and connectable. With the demands of today’s real-time decision-making requirements, neither operations nor IT can afford barriers to accessing information and data from hardware and software. Without Internet of Things (IoT) connectability to leverage Big Data’s promise of predictive analytics, your new installation or upgrade likely won’t produce the desired outcome.
Consider the amount of training time you think you’ll need—then double it. This is especially critical when the new installation or upgrade represents a significant change in current processes. There will, of course, be training of front-line associates when switching from paper-based to system-directed picking based on radio frequency (RF) scanning or voice technologies, for example. More importantly, at the management level it’s critical to support users as they explore the new system’s functionality both during the installation and prior to the launch. Not only does this ensure a smooth transition into the new process flow, but it also maximizes familiarity and comfort with the new system and its reporting and troubleshooting capabilities when it goes live.
Dedicate ample time to testing and commissioning. Make sure you test all paths through the facility and software, paying special attention to exception processing. Most systems breeze through real-life business scenarios—it’s the exceptions that can bring a new automation and/or software installation to its knees in a hurry. Pull input from any levels of the organization that touch orders (including customer service, finance, sales, procurement and shipping) to capture details about the types of exceptions they’ve encountered. Then, simulate those scenarios to test the new system’s ability to handle them within the operating parameters previously established in your “to be” documentation.
Is that (to paraphrase Forrest) “all we have to say about that”? Nope. For more ways to avoid software and automation implementation surprises, give our warehouse planning specialists a call at 616.977.3950.