The house TMS built! A trilogy by Tony Wayda.

Implementing a TMS is much like building a house.  In this first blog we will begin by discussing key planning elements necessary for the successful implementation of a TMS no matter who the software provider is or if your provider is tier 1 or 2.

The architect, blueprints and construction schedule.

If you want a nice custom house you need a good architect to design it.  If your design is poor then your house will be as well.  Good TMS design starts by reviewing all business processes and changing them to mirror industry standard best practices. If you change or configure the TMS system to support your bad business processes you will only speed the rate of your inefficiency. This seems obvious… right, yet it is one of the hardest things for companies to do.  I have seen countless companies bend over backwards to justify why their business process is “unique” when really it is just a bad process.  Modifying systems to support bad processes becomes costly and is the gift that keeps on giving.  Not only will you pay for the modification before the implementation, but every time you upgrade your system you will have to pay the provider ensure your modification works with the new release.

A good architect will ensure that industry standards are followed.  Have you ever been to a house that the stairs are not the same height and depth? This is why you don’t trip going up the stairs in someone else’s house. Do you know any house built in the last few decades that the wall studs are not 12 or 16 inches on center?  Standards were developed for a reason! They are the basis which others are measured against so why not follow the industry standard and then improve upon them.  This does not mean you have to go from a ‘crawl’ to a ‘sprint.’ Following best practice can be right-sized to fit your organizational capacity and complexity to build a path to optimization.

Once the architect has completed documenting the design, you will have your blueprints.  Every blueprint starts with basic components – foundation, plumbing, walls and a roof.  A TMS should not be any different.  Do not start by designing complex optimization and processes.  Begin with the basics to minimize the operational impact and change management then pick out the granite counter tops and chandelier.  Starting simple will increase the likelihood of successful user adoption and minimize risk to the flow of goods.  Once the basic functionality is stabilized then more advanced optimization can be implemented.  Think of it as planning your unfinished “man cave” in the basement.  You plan for expansion by framing it out, running plumbing, electricity, cable hook ups and wires for your surround sound but you know it will be a year before you are settled in and invest the time and effort to trick it out.

Now that we have our blueprints we must ensure that the construction schedule is reviewed and all the resources are committed to perform their tasks at the time designated on the schedule.  A TMS implementations usually effect several other departments, their business processes and other systems throughout the organization so it is important that all parties are involved in the TMS design and planning.  At this point the schedule should not be a surprise to anyone!  TMS implementations typically require changes in sales order modification/cutoff time to allow for outbound transportation planning, changes in PO modification/cutoff time to allow for inbound transportation and changes to warehouse/DC waving and picking times.  Hopefully your architect involved all the affected parties in the design and planning so the schedule has already been committed to and the review is a formality.

Coordination across departments and business units is not a “nice to have” but is critical to the success of the project.  If each participant does not review and commit to their tasks and timeline, you will end up with the sheetrock crew showing up before the electricians finish running the wiring.  Do not forget to communicate to external parties and lock in their commitment.  Carriers, suppliers and 3PL’s may have task to perform on the plan.  Many carriers need several months advanced warning to plan EDI and/or integration work so make sure they are contacted early in your design and planning.  A good construction manager will build in some slack time in the schedule for rainy days just as a good project manager will build in slack time in between phases for stabilization and at key milestones.  There are always external factors beyond anyone’s control that can affect project time lines, so it is important to identify the known risks and have a mitigation plan.

In the next blog, we will break ground and begin construction!