Getting to Know Your Distribution Center – The First Step in Selecting the RIGHT WMS

Aug 13, 2017

Warehouse Management Software - Distribution CenterPerhaps 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

Continue Reading: Jump to the second blog in this series: Define the Current State – The Second Step in a Proper Warehouse Management Selection Process.  Or…read the white paper, How to Choose the Right WMS – Part I: Distribution Center Process Optimization

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