Selecting a new warehouse management system (WMS) is only half the battle to significantly improving your warehouse operations. The other half is applying that WMS in a way that teams use it for the long-haul.
The methodology to make change stick is called change management, and you need a detailed plan to have that methodology work for you at the end of the day. Long-term, structural change is difficult and will require you to find support throughout your organization. You’ll also need to be a big cheerleader for the entire process.
There’s no single solution to make any team use new software. So, let’s look at one of the hardest parts of undergoing a substantial change: actually implementing the change management plan correctly.
Getting Started with a Team
For almost every organization, change management is a change in and of itself. That means you’ve got to start with a dedicated plan to make a change and discuss this with people who might be involved with the decision at various stages.
You will need different stakeholders to help you out during different phases. Look for allies who can help sponsor your ideas for leadership, reinforce the need for a solution with separate groups, help you prepare your company and impacted teams, and those who are willing to share ideas and communicate them to their business units.
This is likely the team who was there when you were reviewing demos and selecting your WMS vendor shortlist.
Find people who are willing to be change agents and get them on your side, discussing the commitment you’ll need and why they’re important. Key people give you an outlet to all the impacted business units. Without this group, you’ll face significant resistance toward the change efforts.
Understand The WMS
Technology has its own considerations for change management, whether you’re working on a warehouse management system or another piece of enterprise software. The important thing to consider is that software is designed to run in an orderly process, and people are very often disorderly workers.
Your team will behave unpredictably at times, so you’ll want to look at WMS options that cause the least disruption or make the most significant changes in terms of increasing efficiency and the ease of completing a task.
If your WMS gets in the way of fulfilling an order, no one is going to use it once you stop watching. If the platform makes it easier to do their day job and simplifies tasks, your team is more likely to adopt the program long-term.
One piece of good news for most of your warehouse staff is that they are using more cloud software in their daily lives, from email and phone calls to how they watch TV and more. While you can’t always predict how people will act, finding a platform that looks familiar to other software we use will make it a little less likely that they’ll break something.
Create Your Benefits List
When you were choosing your WMS, you made a list of all the features and platforms and integrations you needed. Here’s where you turn those needs into “whys” for the benefit of your team.
Craft a list that focuses on each of the main new features and discusses the benefit it brings to your team — this may be different than overall business benefits. A system that automatically creates fulfillment orders and sends lists to pickers, for example, reduces manual tasks and helps your team fill orders faster.
A voice-picking system can make it easy for your team to find things and check items of their pick lists without having to scan barcodes or do other tasks. CRM and ERP integrations will help leaders create more accurate forecasts and understand customer values, while marketing can better track purchases and make new offers that increase overall revenue.
Walk through your list and show people the reasons why they should get on board.
Pro Tip: This is also a perfect time to say, “thank you.” If teams are doing something great, call them out and highlight it in each section. It shows that you acknowledge their skill and aren’t trying to use software to replace people or because you think they’re bad at their job.
Train People Ahead of Time
A substantial change can be scary. Break it up into smaller parts and train people in those sections well before you go live. This training can happen during your normal business hours, or you can add a new shift to train people altogether. Start with a demo using your company’s data and then move to detailed training.
The big thing about training is that you need to make sure people are not double-booked. If you’re trying to train someone on a new platform while they must do their old job, it’s difficult in general. For warehouse teams, it’s impossible. They won’t be able to do either task properly, and that’ll create bad blood.
Training is a solid way to help people feel comfortable with your new WMS and to help them see how it will improve their operations. Let everyone see the benefits, and they’re more likely to adopt it over the long term.
Define Success Metrics and Share Them After Training
Once you have the first full set of training under your belt, go back to the list you used to choose your WMS. Look at the benefits it promises and your ROI decision to see what you need to achieve to make implementation worthwhile.
We can’t give you a specific list of metrics because they’re different for all. Choose what matters most to your team and company. Define how you achieve success and how you measure it. Then, provide that to everyone.
You’ll want to make it easy to understand and keep things positive. In terms of tone, it’s about improving and doing a better job, not making up for a bad job in the post.
Ramp Up to Go Live
Your change management system needs to have executive buy-in because you’re going to have some extra short-term costs. When any system, especially a WMS, goes live, you need more team members on hand.
You’ll want your best staff to manage the initial go-live process, while other members watch. Things may go wrong, so you’ll need people ready to help in case something major happens.
Go back to the part of the change management strategy earlier where you identified team leaders. These leaders are your best defense against people becoming overwhelmed or overburdened. They are your cultural buffer and can help make their teams feel like the changes are worth it.
Part of the ramp up needs to touch back on the past elements where you discuss benefits, how the change aligns with daily tasks and company core values, and why the change will be worth it after all the growing pains.
Review Immediate and Long-Term Wins
There are little things you can focus on first. Measure those and share the results with everyone. Create a story about the success and highlight it publicly. If you find a small win, celebrate it. Get your team to share wins with each other.
At the end of each day, find someone to thank for the excellent job they did. It makes the change management process more enjoyable and helps the new tasks stick — that advice can be used throughout the entire process.
The final note is that this process never ends. You’ll always want to come back to metrics and look for what is working and what needs fixing. Long-term successes are as difficult as change management itself, but they’re worthwhile for the health of your company and your career.
Geoff Whiting writes for Explore WMS. He is an experienced journalist, writer, and business development consultant with a focus on enterprise technology, e-commerce and supply chain development. Outside of the office he can be found toying with the latest in IoT, searching for classic radio broadcast recordings and playing the perpetual tourist in his home of Washington D.C.
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