How sophisticated should my WMS software be?

There are four questions that need a brutally honest answer in order to determine how sophisticated your WMS software should be.  Often, ‘business’ and ‘brutal honesty’ do not always go hand-in-hand.  However, without the sea anchor of a clearly-defined starting point, your WMS project is subject to scope creep, cost overruns, missed deadlines, and failed expectations.

These four questions are:

1. How much change between where we are and where we are going can we realistically handle?

There are two trains of thought on change management. The first is that gradual change is adopted more cost effectively and with less organizational turmoil than massive change.  So a change plan to modernize transportation might call for gradual shifts from a bicycle to a motorcycle to a car to a helicopter to a jet plane to a rocket.  The other train of thought is that change is always painful and difficult and you might as well skip the middle steps and just go from a bicycle to a rocket.   But the problems with bicycles are very different from problems with rockets, so accurate risk assessment of change capacity is essential.

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2. What kind of talent pool will my pay scale and career opportunities provide?

There is a good possibility that what makes your warehouse supervisors and expeditors effective in their current roles will not be the same skills required to maintain and feed a warehouse management system.  In many organizations, distribution employees are among the lower paid, higher turnover positions. Changing the mindset of upper management to increase pay scales for the talent to operate and maintain the expensive software system you just bought is often an uphill battle (“wasn’t that supposed to save us money?”). Be aware that the sophistication of your WMS might, realistically, be limited by the talent you have available to use it.  

3. What are the key problems driving my interest in WMS?

Before you talk with WMS vendors, accept that WMS will be positioned as the solution to every warehouse problem you have, and many that you don’t.  This isn’t because people are deceitful or manipulative, it’s because most of the technology that drives a WMS has been around for almost 50 years. As a result, most competitive functionality differences are rarely at the core; they are at the margins. Knowing the critical few problems you need to address will focus you on finding the software strongest in those areas.

4. How many non-standard movements do I deal with?

Almost all WMS software works well when everything moves normally as designed – usually, into storage, out of storage and out the door.  Does the system work equally well when handling returned goods, for example?  Is it easy to reverse movements and return things from the warehouse to manufacturing WIP?  If a warehouse storage unit needs to be split, is that easy or hard? Try to spend as much time asking about the non-standard as the standard.

Some degree of sophistication is always required.  The challenge is finding the degree of WMS sophistication that will maximize your organization’s profits.

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Shane Starr

About the author…

Shane Starr is a former ERP project manager, with business experience in manufacturing management, supply chain, finance, and strategic planning.

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Shane Starr

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