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An Effective WMS Deployment Team Means an Effective Deployment

Properly building a warehouse management system (WMS) deployment team is one of the critical components that directly correlates to successful implementations.  Despite its importance, organizations often overlook this key component.

WMS deployments are sometimes viewed as an information technology (IT) issue – after all it is a software deployment.  But the WMS has many tentacles and touches several parts of the organizations they support, including IT, operations, sales, customer service, manufacturing, finance and more.

In other cases, there is an expectation that the software vendor or third-party software consultant should be responsible for the implementation.  This is a dangerous proposition because it divorces the organization from ownership of a key business application.  WMS vendor support – and often third-party consultant support – is valuable because these are subject matter experts who have deployment experience.  But they are also temporary resources in that they will move on to the next project while the organization has to live with the software deployed.

Finally, many businesses find it difficult to allocate the internal resources necessary to support a WMS deployment.  Many are discouraged by the expected resource commitment.  Based on experience, this is the primary roadblock to building an effective WMS team.  What is often not understood are the types of resources/skillsets needed and the expertise and level of effort required from each.

What Kind of Resources Are Needed?

There are three groups of resources that organizations should be prepared to fill to support a WMS implementation.  The first group is the steering committee.  The steering committee is made up of senior leadership – typically Directors and Vice Presidents.  The overall Program Manager is included in this group along with representatives from the software vendor and the third-party consultant.  As is the case with most steering committees, the purpose is to meet periodically to review project milestone status, issues, schedule, budget and progress with the Program Manager.  Meetings are held at appropriate intervals to disseminate information but not disrupt progress.

The next group of is the technical/IT team.  This group may have its own Project Manager who works with the overall Program Manager.  Within this group is an applications team.  They are tasked with learning the software code to ensure that it is functioning properly.  In time they become responsible for deploying patches/upgrades.  Next there is the technical infrastructure team.  These are the hardware specialists, network administrators, database administrators, etc.  They are responsible for making sure the hardware (e.g. servers, databases, network connections, etc.) functions properly to support the application.  The rise of cloud WMS deployments has minimized the need for applications and technical infrastructure team resources.  The last component of the technical/IT team is the integration team.  These are interface developers and specialists.  Their core responsibility is to make sure the WMS application communicates properly with other key business systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP).

Finally, there is the implementation team.  This team is commonly referred to as the “Core Team”.  Again, this group may have its own Project Manager who works with the overall Program Manager.  The core team is made up of resources that represent daily users of the system.  Here you will find a diverse background of resources.  As mentioned above, a WMS has many tentacles, so we often recruit resources from various parts of the organization to be on the core team.  The primary role of the core team is to put the system through its paces via vigorous testing to ensure that it is ready to be used.  This is also the primary avenue of the knowledge transfer.  Typically, core team members transition into the training leaders for end-users, i.e., warehouse operations staff.

Key Considerations

The next step after building out the project team is to document the expected effort estimate.  This varies significantly based on several factors such as; complexity of the project, vendor experience and availability, and the use of third-party consultants to augment internal teams.

There are several key considerations to keep in mind when estimating the effort required for WMS team resources:

  • Understand that in some cases resources can fill more than one role
  • Keep in mind that while some roles require full time equivalents, this may be addressed by assigning multiple resources used on a part-time basis
  • Identify and provide extra support for high-risk tasks
  • The WMS project team members have day jobs – be sure to plan for backfilling!
  • Don’t overlook personnel’s vacations and holidays.
  • Understand and clearly communicate travel requirements
  • All project work estimates should be based on input from experienced, qualified resources and adjustments to forecasted work estimates must reflect learning curves and potential risks when allocating resources with inadequate skill sets

Keeping these key considerations in mind will provide a solid foundation for informed effort estimates when building your project team and planning for deployment.
—Howard Turner, St. Onge Company

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