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Our Take: Preparation the Key to Smooth Software Implementation – Finish Line’s Recent Challenge

By Jim Piana  January 13, 2016

In the news last week, Finish Line announced a rough performance in the competitive and dynamic athletic apparel market.  The company president pointed to two major supply chain-related causes to the poor performance in the fourth quarter:  inadequate inventory of key items in important categories, and problems with a new Warehouse Management System (WMS) deployed in October of 2015.  LLamasoft’s Vikram Srinivasan recently wrote about developing strategies for a holistic inventory policy so today I’d like to focus on some steps that can help mitigate some of the risks associated with launching new supply chain designs or systems.

Unfortunately, this story isn’t an unfamiliar one, but it can be avoided by better preparing teams and defining process changes to encourage a smoother transition to a new system. Here are a couple of areas to consider before jumping into big changes with both feet:

  1. Who will be affected?

Supply chain changes affect a lot of people in a lot of different roles.  Education of all stakeholders before starting a project is critical – organizational buy-in without a common goal in mind is nearly impossible.  We often talk about people, processes, and technology as the keys to a project’s success, yet we often forget in the midst of a project that communication between all the people involved is critical.  Once you’ve identified the team, ensure that all are empowered to share problems and successes, and that all important project information (good and bad) are communicated immediately and frequently.

  1. How will processes change?

Now that we’ve identified the people impacted, we need to make sure the work or business process supports them as it’s deployed.  Launching a technology project often becomes an exercise in automating an existing process.  Instead, going into a project, we should look for opportunities to streamline the new process we wish to implement.  Another key is flexibility.  Many times I have seen a strict adherence to the initially defined to-be process become the source of project issues.  Sometimes, as you begin to implement changes, you may find better process changes and be able to make adjustments to create a more effective and efficient environment.  Be sure to take advantage of such opportunities.

  1. When will changes take effect?

The Finish Line chose to launch a significant new system just before the retail industry’s key holiday season.  It may have been a better idea to launch during a less-critical time of the year, or to identify a smaller pilot scope before going live across the board (incremental roll-out vs big-bang).  While there is never an ideal time to work out kinks, leaving a window of opportunity that doesn’t sync up with peak season is one way to avoid unnecessary hiccups.  A conservative approach behind establishing a project schedule and the related ROI can help limit any surprises to the good kind:  ahead of schedule, under budget, benefits delivered early!

As you consider potential changes to your supply chain design, be sure that you can answer the questions above, and be sure that you have both project governance and resources to manage the impacts of the proposed change.  You can’t predict every little thing that can derail a project, but with proper attention to the people and processes affected, your project will be your executive team’s source of pride instead of a source of stress.