Basic planning for a better project

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MACS Software is a leading provider of warehouse management software in the UK.  Every project it undertakes has challenges along the way ... they are inevitable.  But by planning well it is possible for warehouse operators to smooth the way towards a successful outcome.  Here, Richard Miller, Implementation Director for MACS Software explains the importance of the basics.

Getting the brief right

A bad brief usually means a bad project. Customers need to be sure what they want out of a project and that their objectives are clearly communicated and documented.  Very often uncertainties about outcomes are caused by poor communication within the company: one department wanting something that is incompatible with another. A full brief needs to go into detail: the type of reports needed; who needs them; production expectations; and even how the product codes will be handled. It's better to have too much detail than not enough. Time spent at the beginning getting the plan right will be paid back many times over the course of the project. "When we started our project to implement our WMS we were determined to get the detail right before we started," said Darren Yull, Head of IT for MSE Group "We have no doubt that this care helped to smooth the whole process and bring the project in on time."

Managing changes

Even so, there will always be changes along the way: the brief will evolve.  The key is to put all those changes in writing and make sure everyone agrees before implementing them.  Don't forget that a detail change at one point might cause a problem somewhere else.  Consider also that changes will probably affect the timing so expectations need to be managed as changes come along.

Managing the business

The business has to continue while a project is being implemented.  The aim is to install and implement a new system with little or no disruption. But planning is required for this to be achieved and timelines need to be realistic. Project staff need access to qualified personnel throughout the project. This might require staff to be put on stand-by to help out a key individual, should the need arise, so that the process is not slowed. Adequate time and staff cover should be allowed for training so that everyone understands how to use the new system and its importance to the efficiency of the whole organisation. Alex Brucciani, MD of PAL International Ltd., who oversaw the implementation of a WMS project for his company. "It's easy to under estimate the importance of adequate training," he said.  "Right from the start we were determined to make sure we allowed enough time and resources to get everyone up to speed.  We are sure it paid off."

Adhere to project time lines

When time lines get stretched it's usually because essential information is lacking.  All staff should be encouraged to adhere to deadlines and be required to provide information on time.

Clear communication channels

Communication can become fogged and ineffectual if too many people are involved as they will all look at the project in a slightly different way. The fewer people involved in decision-making, and the communication of those decisions to the project team, the better.  Everyone should know who is responsible for what areas of expertise - stock control, transport, quality control, overall operations, product coordination – and respect that authority. "Having these clear communication lines was essential to us," said Chris Silks from CML Ltd. who recently implemented a MACS interface project for CML with SAP and Marks & Spencer.  "We really couldn't have done it any other way."

Managing and coordinating new infrastructure

If the project requires the introduction of new infrastructure this should form part of the overall plan and be included in the project flow.  There's no use getting everything in place and then realise the new racking hasn't arrived.

Review the project and check the goals achieved

Sometimes it's difficult to know when to stop.  With every project there will be ongoing details that need attention even though it has been completed successfully.  Expectations should be managed and overall benefits be communicated.  People need to understand that a new system might require a little more effort from them to free up the process somewhere else.  They need to understand the big picture not just their day-to-day job.

Some of this advice appears to be obvious but it's amazing how often projects are held up because not enough care has been taken with something fundamental. Just a little more planning, and some effective communication, can ensure that a project is brought in on time and its efficiencies realised without delay.


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