How to match your WMS to your workforce

The argument can be made that the last people who touch your product or service before the customer sees it should be among the highest paid in the organization.  After the engineers have designed it, the marketers have positioned it, the manufacturers have produced it, the quality assurance people have tested it, and the sales people have priced it, the warehouse makes sure that everything about the order – the quantity, the packaging, and the timing – are correct, and as the customer specified it.  One might expect, with that much responsibility to represent the efforts of everyone in the organization, that people who work in distribution would be highly paid and highly skilled.  

However, the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor standards place the mean wage of a warehouse worker at around $15/hour. This means the people who apply for your warehouse positions are largely unskilled labor and/or people being employed for the first time.

What does this have to do with your WMS selection activities? Step out of your own shoes for a moment, and put yourself in the shoes of the people who will be operating your WMS. Look at WMS from your key users’ perspective and ask yourself:

1. Is your WMS software’s transaction flow intuitive?  

Will WMS users be expected to perform many steps or a relatively few?  Are there multiple process flows requiring different transaction sequences?  How many transactions are required per process?

Recommended reading: find warehouse software that works for your workforce using our WMS vendor directory

2. Are the screen GUIs closer to a video game, or a complex spreadsheet?  

If the former, you are actually ahead; most entry level employees have at least been exposed to video gaming. If the latter – a complex spreadsheet – be cautious.  Data abstractions that stand for real world objects work well for some people and are totally lost on others.

3. How difficult is it to correct mistakes?  

Assuming you will be interviewing current customers of your WMS software shortlist, try to probe this question. (Your vendors will all assure you mistake correction is easy).  Some software systems require at least supervisory skill to operate in reverse and undo mistakes, or risk making the original problem exponentially worse.

4. How difficult and extensive is the training to operate the WMS software?

This isn’t asked from the standpoint of people not being able to understand basic WMS user training -  it’s an acknowledgment that -as with any entry level jobs – there will be higher than average turnover. This means that you will be training people over and over and over, so the training program needs to be both effective and efficient.

5. Is there a naturally hierarchy of transactions that fit with your existing organization?

Do certain people today produce pick and pack lists (or putaway), others build shipping loads, still others prepare export documentation?  How does the software structure align with your existing organization?

The key point to remember is that not many computer programmers reached that position after having started in the warehouse.  Not everyone designs computer software equally well for ease of use.

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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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