Creating a change management plan for your WMS implementation

Your warehouse needs a new WMS, and you want to implement it right the first time because that makes your life easier the next time you need a hefty budget for a project. To maximize your potential for success right away, it’s time to implement a change management plan.

This plan is your best way to clearly define the activities and roles you need to manage and control to have a successful change in your organization. Here, we’re thinking about WMS implementation. However, you can use a plan for any major change in your organization. They’re common for CRM, supply chain management tools, and even changing a network in your central office.

WMS implementations are a major shift in any warehouse and company. They change your entire relationship with products, vendors, and customers. That’s why it’s important to have a plan for the change to mitigate the risks you might find.

Here’s what we’ll help you answer:

  • What is a change management plan?
  • What does a change management plan include?
  • Why is a change management plan important?
  • How does it help?
  • Why use a WMS change management plan?
  • What should I include in my WMS implementation change management plan?

Let’s get started with the first question.

What is a change management plan?

A change management plan, whether you’re working on a WMS implementation or any other project, is an outline and guide for any organizational or structural change you’re making within a company. The change management process is about taking one action and replacing it. The plan makes things easier and clearer.

Think of your change management plan as a living document that will help get everyone on the same page around the shift. In this case, that’s adopting and implementing a new warehouse management system.

Find out how much your business could save by implementing a WMS with our free guide

Change management plans are often left for major projects like a WMS because you need to minimize the impact of the change on your business, but also ensure your staff and teams actually implement the changes you need.

Why is a change management plan important?

We all make perfect plans in our heads; it’s only when we try to realize these plans that things can go horribly wrong. A change management plan for your project is the backup to those mental plans that can keep things on the right track.

The reason you want a living document is that strategy and other aspects might change, so you need something to return to making certain everyone is on the same page at all times. When they’re agile, they’re useful.

Here are some of the other benefits you can achieve with a change management plan:

  • A clear picture of the stakeholders and leadership in your company who need to have a voice in the process.
  • Understanding existing day-to-day processes so you can plan for continuation or change.
  • Clear definition of change plans, allowing you to create incentives or motivation for the change.
  • List of milestones for you to meet with deadlines so that you can keep costs and processes under control.
  • Understanding your existing assets so that you know what you’re working with as you move throughout the process.
  • An idea of all employees who are impacted so that you can understand employee concerns.
  • Potentially comprehensive list of inefficiencies and risks for your business as well as the teams involved in your transition.
  • Metrics and KPIs to help you judge if you’ve reduced costs, increased ROI, or met other benchmarks.

Not having a change management plan comes with counterpoints to all of the items above. You risk not being in control and not being able to manage the adoption of a WMS, where cost overruns occur and people at the end of the day don’t use your new platform.

The risk is an aimless project creep that turns your WMS implementation into a money pit with no end in sight.

How will having a strong change management plan impact WMS implementation?

Beyond the benefits listed above, there are further impacts on the actual WMS implementation itself when using a change management approach. A strong plan gives you a step-by-step guideline of how to manage the WMS selection and implementation process.

Use our free WMS implementation checklist for a comprehensive guide to implementing your WMS

You’ll find a clear path for each action with relevant metrics and decision-makers. It helps you keep leadership and the staff who’ll work with the WMS engaged. You can identify processes together as well as uncover issues as you go.

Managed change also reduces the resistance to change, making it more likely that your teams will use the system after they’re trained and ready.

Giving your people a voice in the process throughout can also improve morale and productivity around the WMS implementation. Collaboration can help reduce the stress they feel about a new platform and makes it less likely to seem “forced” on a group of unwilling users.

Many people focus on leadership buy-in to get the funding they need for a new project. Robust change management also ensures you have user buy-in, which translates into people sticking with the platform for the long haul. Leadership secures the money; users secure the ROI.

Careful planning also ensures that the right managers and leaders are in control of each step. It’s an effective way to guarantee that the right people are in the right place at the right time. If you’re in the middle of a supply chain, it’ll also help keep your vendors and suppliers in mind so that there are no interruptions to their supply chains when you go live with the new warehouse management system.

Important steps for a change management plan

A change management plan needs a framework to get started. There are some structural elements that you’ll want to put into place, and WMS implementation steps that you should take to ensure things go right. Here are a few of the must-have steps.

1. Create a list of all the people or jobs that may be impacted by this change.

Identify leadership in each section that will take ownership or get reporting as you progress. Keep this list handy and review it for updates after each of the other important steps below.

2. Identify the processes you want to be impacted.

In a WMS this means not just regular pick and pack, but also fulfillment and order management. It can include adopting innovative technology like voice-assisted picking. You’ll also want to think about your system processes that change. This might include moving to a cloud system to allow customer service to access your data and see tracking information at a moment’s notice.

3. Take your list of processes and build a case for why each should change.

Look at the stakeholders who are impacted by each and create reasoning for the changes that you can bring to each group. This is your plan to get buy-in so that onboarding is successful, and people are willing to adopt the plan.

4. Work with stakeholders to create metrics for your change.

Take the reasons and determine how you can judge if they are achieved and if things are a success. This might include faster picking times, more efficient warehouse storage, better adherence to FIFO rules, more on-time deliveries, or happier customers.

5. Understand the data you want to have and determine how to collect it.

For example, if you want a more efficient warehouse, define what that means and who you’re measuring. Work with stakeholders to see as many aspects of these metrics as you can. Identifying data may also show if you need additional software or training to make your change a success.

6. Review your communication processes.

Clear communication is the make-or-break aspect of change management. Your team needs to understand why a change is happening, what it will accomplish, how to judge success, how to identify problems, and who to share information with at each step. Not only do you need to clarify leadership and ownership of every process, but you also want a way to broadcast successes, failures, challenges, and new discoveries with the whole team.

7. Add in a feedback loop.

Yes, this is partially covered in step six. However, many companies forgot to make it a robust process. So, you want to take specific time to see if it’s easy to communicate when there is an issue. Develop a process to review steps, revise what’s next, and improve to make the implementation useful when things inevitably change on you.

8. Build a way to celebrate throughout.

You’re going to forget this if you don’t plan for it. During an implementation, tons of things can and do go wrong. Hopefully, many more go right. Each of those things is worthy of a small celebration. When you hit a new milestone, thank the people who got you there. It’s a fantastic way to keep up morale during a complicated process too.

9. Create a roadmap for change.

This will start identifying the steps you need to take and bring together your targets and measurements as well as the reasons for doing the project. It is a good guide for your steps and allows you to stay the course. Here is also where you put together the “must-do” steps to avoid cutting corners.

These are the pre-planning steps that allow you to create a proper change management plan and keep your project on track. They’re designed to get you ready and then dive into the specifics for your WMS implementation.

Change management plan example for WMS implementation

Your change management plan will include a variety of specifics for your WMS implementation, but we can give you some guidelines in a generalized document to start. Here is a sample WMS change management plan that incorporates many of the elements above as well as some considerations for your warehouse.

Complete before WMS selection

  • Define the proposed change. 
  • Establish why the change is required. For a WMS implementation, you want this to include the reasons for the new WMS as well as individual features.
  • List the intended outcome and estimated time frame for adopting the new software. This is essentially an impact analysis.
  • Brainstorm and list any additional factors that are critical to successful implementation, which may mean other software, training, changing company culture, etc.
  • Establish a budget and who is responsible for keeping track of it.
  • Create a list of stakeholders and leaders of each team that will be impacted. This should have a subset of people and areas that will be impacted by the change, including the expected benefits and potential adverse effects of each.
  • Rank your needs in a new WMS and circulate these through the stakeholders to ensure everything is covered.

Perform your RFP and select a vendor

After vendor selection

  • Update cost-benefit analysis considering your staffing, assets, technology, and any consultants you may need to achieve your goals.
  • Create change descriptions or documents for fundamental areas of your project. These include budget, documentation and training, implementation schedule, and the scope of the software. Try to define the parameters of change and events that might require compliance or considerations.
  • Re-establish stakeholders and leaders. Assign them to each area associated with the change document.
  • Build out documents and communication processes for the assumptions you make before starting implementation, issues you expect, risks that are likely, and how to mitigate them. These documents will need to be updated continuously throughout the process.
  • List out implementation activities and break down operational costs for each. Put the responsible person, expected start date, and planned end date as well.
  • Work with the vendor to create a training plan.

As implementation begins

  • Create an implementation plan with the same leaders.
  • Incorporate your communication design with the implementation plan.
  • As you move through your implementation plan, at each step, check back with the change management plan to see if assumptions, risks, issues, and benefits have changed.
  • If something is different from your expectation, discuss this change within your leadership group and get approval to incorporate that difference.
  • Review your evaluation criteria and milestone regularly.
  • Implement your training program.

Prepare for your WMS implementation with our free guide for WMS implementation planning

Soft launch

  • Review your steps to make sure everything is on track.
  • Ensure your system is operating correctly.
  • Perform a gap analysis to see where you have operational or workforce gaps and weaknesses.
  • Address those concerns and then go for your hard launch.

A change management plan can be turned into a spreadsheet with each of these objectives. List out stakeholders, communication methods, leads, and timeframes for each. Then, share this document. It’s best if it lives online so everyone can see and work on a single document.

A change management plan must go hand-in-hand with your WMS implementation checklist. This is the tool you need to keep implementation steps on track and make sure they ultimately lead back to your objectives and ROI needs.

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Geoff Whiting

About the author…

Geoff 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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Geoff Whiting

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