Top warehouse management system (WMS) implementation best practices

Warehouse management system (WMS) software helps manufacturers run a productive warehouse. Familiarizing yourself with WMS implementation best practices can ensure that your WMS implementation goes smoothly.

How to get the most from your warehouse management system (WMS) implementation? Remember that you're really managing an IT system, albeit one designed to improve warehouse processing. 

"There are warehouse best practices in many areas -- safety, labor management, and many other areas," said Steve Banker, service director for supply chain management at ARC Advisory Group.

"But WMS is an IT application. What is the best practice associated with an IT application? If you drive a Porsche, don't drive a VW bug. Use all the functionality that makes sense and offers ROI for your business."

Familiarizing yourself with these five WMS best practices will help your WMS implementation project go smoothly.

  1. Supercharge productivity with task interleaving. The more advanced WMS task-management engines provide this method for grouping dissimilar tasks to maximize time during trips. It is most common where workers have permission both to pick and put away goods. "Instead of a selector returning all the way across a warehouse to a pick zone, they may stop at a nearby receiving dock, pick up a pallet for put-away, and then store it in a location near where their next pick occurs," Banker said.

    Keep in mind that productivity can plummet when interleaving is first activated; this happens to a lesser degree with other task-management methods -- but efficiency can soon jump by 50% or more. Gains are strongly determined by the proximity of inbound to outbound dock doors and the time of day that picking, shipping, and put-away are normally done.

    "Task interleaving works best at larger facilities where more tasks can queue up in the task management rules engine," and at greenfield facilities where workers have no old habits to unlearn, Banker said. It also requires managers to make sure the WMS task queue is full so people aren't waiting around.


  2. Choose mobile solutions over highly automated material-handling systems. The latter are typically in fixed locations and less adaptable to such changes as store closings and corporate reorganizations. They require additional warehouse control system (WCS) software that must be integrated carefully with the WMS. In contrast, forklifts, bar code readers and other mobile systems can be relocated easily.


  3. Combine radio frequency (RF) terminals and bar code readers with voice-recognition technology. Banker said he has come to believe this might be today's Goldilocks scenario, especially for large warehouses with mixed-SKU pallets. Voice-directed distribution systems from vendors such as Vocollect can speak WMS instructions into headsets that warehouse staff then use to confirm selections by talking into their microphones. In some cases, such setups can be further improved with an Automatic Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS) for raising and lowering full pallets, and mobile robots that handle some picking functions.


  4. Buy componentized WMS software. According to Banker, ERP vendors such as Oracle and SAP have started breaking out their WMS software into standalone products, which lets them focus more development on the WMS software and on separate schedules from the core ERP. This gives buyers more upgrade flexibility. The same goes for best-of breed WMS software from High Jump, Red Prairie, and others whose functional modules for cross-docking, for example, are easier to manage as separate components.


  5. Assign a certified project manager. This can minimize WMS implementation delays and help enforce best practices in using the software.

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About the author: Freelancer David Essex has covered information technology for BYTE, Computerworld, PC World, and numerous other publications and web sites.

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