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The Foundations for Successful WMS Training

The decision to embark on a new Warehouse Management System (WMS) implementation carries many risks and rewards. One of the key elements of a successful implementation is ensuring all users involved receive the necessary training to become efficient and proficient in the new system.  Training is often glossed over or rushed due to other project constraints or timeline – beware! Don’t squeeze in the WMS training, people need the time to learn and practice. Training time is not compressible and your project needs to make this necessary investment.

While WMS training might seem straightforward, the changes and complexities in the new system can be overwhelming and frustrating for users who have comfort in their existing system/process and have done the same tasks in the same way for many years. The keys to building a successful training program are emphasizing change management and the understanding of why things are changing, simplifying the process as much as possible, and ensuring power users are engaged early and often. The power users are your advocates and need to be part of the design, build, test.  If they are invested in the solution, they will be your advocate for the warehouse benefits.  They, in effect, are part of the change management and training team.

Manage the Change Curve

Users naturally assume when the investment is being made to transition to a new system that it should simplify processes and make the overall work effort easier. In the change management process, users can at times feel as though processes in the new system are slower or less efficient as they navigate the change curve.

Now, the best case is when they overall system processes are easier for everyone and the visibility is better for inventory and everything is less work.  Overall, for most operations, the efficiency is better.  Typically, there are some operations where the change impact rises, so that’s where we need to manage the change and WMS training so that people understand total process and the “why.”

For example, during one of our recent global WMS implementations, this one specifically for a medical device manufacturer, the process to receive items in the warehouse now required an additional scans.  This new receiving process had specific downstream benefits, but this user was used to a single  scan per item. We would observe obvious frustration from the warehouse operators during training sessions because although the program emphasized the efficiencies gained from the new system, from their perspective their job was becoming more time consuming. It’s critical to acknowledge the frustrations and perceived challenges while working with the operators to create visibility to the processes where efficiency is gained in the overall total system process vs. their specific case.

We were able to effectively illustrate the changes to the process to receive a single item in order to highlight a reduction in the overall time to receive and put away all shipment items, a now 25% faster process. Without the visibility to the overall business benefits it feels like a new, less useful system is being forced upon them and frustrations can continue to build up leading to continued push back. We also work to manage the whole workforce, so that a few individuals don’t have an overwhelming impact. Instead, we encourage a very open discussion and create an environment where users understand how the process change will create efficiencies and lead to a net positive outcome for the entire business. And, if the users have good ideas, we make sure these are incorporated into the design. For example, if a power user contributed a suggestion during our design review sessions during the WMS training, we highlight “this is the feature that Jane & Juan provided us during the design review and we incorporated it in the functionality.” We give the credit where due and the other users know that they folks helped design the solution.

Simplify and Practice, Practice, Practice

Although the overall processes for warehouse management are quite straightforward, there are many nuances and differences between each system; including screen layouts, terms, and order of task steps. When building training materials, the focus should be on making everything as simple and easy to follow as possible. Many operators within your warehouse have followed the processes and used the same terminology everyday they have come to work.

As trainings become too long and complex the result is less engaged users who have not been able to retain most of what they learned. Shorter process and terminology overviews along with clear step-by-step walkthroughs and user guides of individual tasks (as an example:  pick/pack/ship or cycle counting) will be much more effective classroom sessions than a dense system overview that tries to pack every detail into the training session. Research shows within one hour, people forget 50% of the information they were presented and within 24 hours up to 70% of the information.

Instead of extensive classroom trainings, there should be ample time for users to practice in the new system and ask questions as they execute their tasks. While true of all WMS training curriculums, this approach is even more important for warehouse training because unlike other users who are at a computer and can reference user guides quickly, warehouse operators are on their feet away from a desk. The more repetitions they can get practicing in the new system, the quicker they will be able to retain the information and adjust to their new processes.

Engage Power Users Early and Often

Early Power user and trainer engagement in the process is critical to delivering successful training and getting end user buy-in. We have found the earlier in the process we are able to engage power users and the more involved they can be in training development, the better the training results. The ideal power user is a situational leader (based on reputation, not title) within their team and has a strong understanding of the legacy system and processes.

By engaging these respected individuals during the design review and WMS training development periods, you can ensure that the training is being built in a way that will be easy to digest by the rest of the team while also getting ahead of any key questions or concerns around specific business critical processes. As they become more experienced in the new system during the development process, they can provide insights and examples using the companies own style of communication to explain “how something was done before” and the equivalent in the new system. This deeper understanding and experience will also allow them to provide a sense of comfort to the user base that the system will meet their needs, particularly in areas where this client perceives risk.  While we don’t want to overwhelm all the users with too much information, we want to be sure our leaders are empowered and confident in the new system and we will see that spread throughout the rest of the teams.

The Bottom Line on WMS Training

A smart and well-planned WMS training program is one of the keys to a successful implementation. It enables the change necessary and engrains the new knowledge in your workforce.  While, at the beginning of the project, it may be easy to dismiss training since it is “at the end” of the project, you can’t afford to underestimate training or “get it wrong” as users acceptance of new processes and work proficiency in their new warehouse management system is essential.   The warehouse operations at go-live will be fully visible to your customers, so this operation has to be ready. As you begin your WMS implementation, make sure you are engaging your users early and often to understand their needs and concerns, so you can build the trainings best suited to help them and the entire organization succeed. Make them an integral part of your team.

Warehouse implementations are exciting and getting warehouse training correct is going to reflect on your success.  We, at Clarkston, have both the experience to do the work and the interest to put our resources to work for your benefit.

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Coauthor and contributes by Alex Schneider

Tags: SAP, Supply Chain Technology, Warehouse Operations
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