As a supply chain advisor, I always challenge customers to identify and establish standard processes across the distribution network, wherever possible. Invariably, every time I sit with supervisors and managers of two different distribution centers for the same customer, processing the same product, I end up listening to each representative state how they are somehow unique and different from the other DC.
Network standardization presents some compelling efficiencies for the entire network. In this article, I explore how network standardization benefits large WMS implementation projects.
Network standardization starts with common Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), which lend themselves to fewer operator mistakes, better labor monitoring, and more cross-trained workforce. While the description is simple, any WMS implementation “survivor” knows that developing SOPs is not so simple after all.
To create SOPs for processes that apply to the entire network, organizations need to consolidate business requirements and establish one efficient way that works for their business and operations across DCs and design solutions for the common network process.
Senior management must make network standardization a strategic decision before the project begins, resulting in an organized effort to reduce the variations in process.
Is Standardizing My Network a Good Decision for My Supply Chain?
In short, the answer is almost always “yes”. But there are a few key considerations when determining the extent of the standardization. Thoughts like:
- Do all DCs handle the same type of product?
- Do all DCs service the same fulfillment channels?
- Are there major differences in material handling equipment?
- Does the size and layout differ dramatically?
Once the answers to these questions are found, you are left with segments of DCs that could essentially operate the exact same way, reducing the number of SOPs that need to be evaluated and adapted.
The first and most important step is to make sure there is a feasible, functional strategy for network standardization.
No approach will cover 100% of the needs of all facilities in a detailed manner. Simple, physical differences on a DC to DC basis can require small variations. Some examples include:
- Space constraints in key areas, such as staging or consolidation areas
- Differences in workforce, both users and equipment used
- Small region-specific fulfillment channel
None of these would warrant the need for a completely different design, but they do require flexibility in the template. Spending some additional time upfront during an implementation to consider these types of variations can result in tangible benefits for the network.
As more facilities go live with the new system, the benefits of the standardized approach come to fruition.
The implementation process is continually optimized, leading to faster, more stable deployments
Lessons learned throughout the phases of the project can be directly adopted into the upcoming implementations and a repeatable training program can be instituted.
In the past, we have seen the ramp-up time for DCs to reach pre-implementation throughput levels go from one month at the first site, to as little as four days by the fourth site.
A smaller, centralized team can provide support for all DCs should any issues arise, and any resolutions developed can be proactively shared with all other facilities.
Previous network implementations projects have seen a reduction in the application support team from more than a dozen in the beginning to as little as three people to support a network of eight DCs.
All continuous improvement projects, including process optimizations or labor standards, can be implemented across the network with ease.
Engineers can spend less time traveling from facility to facility, instead learning the standard process at a single facility and then deploying strategies to every DC in the segment.
Reporting across the DCs is standardized, reducing report development times and facilitating easy aggregation to analyze the network as a whole.
This improves visibility at all levels, from the operations to senior management, linking what numbers the COO may be looking at to the day-to-day operations managers.
Key Performance Indicators for each facility are measured using the same method.
This provides relevant, useful DC comparisons that are used to motivate the adoption of other, higher-performing facilities’ methods. Additionally, optimization impact measurements can be precisely measured, such as comparing non-automated facilities with automated ones, to determine if large investments in infrastructure are warranted by the increase in throughput.
Employees across the network are more empowered.
Operators are now trained to work in multiple facilities and managed based on standard labor metrics, facilitating more upward mobility opportunities for the best workers throughout the network. Additionally, “super-stars” from initial deployment sites can be leveraged to help later sites’ implementations on a short- or long-term basis.
Seize the Moment
Implementing a WMS across your network is a moment full of opportunity. You have assembled a team of your best people and coupled it with a powerful optimization tool. Your entire warehouse operations process is under a microscope, being analyzed and optimized. The timing is right, and there is a rare moment in the 24/7 world of operations where you can stop for a moment and enact long-lasting, beneficial change. Making sure you are aware and take advantage of every opportunity is something we at Bricz are passionate about. Make the most of your moment and let us help you realize your supply chain potential.