During my technology consulting career over a period of 20 years, I can say, I have been part of a few crazy projects. One of the project was this WMS deployment we did for this hardware distributor. If you look at what was happening globally at that time, it was early 2001, in the US we were coming out of the dot com bust, the interest rates had been lowered so much to get the economy out of this bust effect, so there was this wide spread home buying phenomenon that started happening, people after having lost money in the stock market, decided to invest their savings in their homes, for two reasons, one was that, the interest rates were so low, it made sense to borrow money at such a low interest rate and invest smartly into homes, and two investing in your home was less risky than the stock market. That is when real estate started heating up and in Atlanta, with its sprawling land availability, unlike San Francisco or other smaller cities, there was a lack of space, construction was all over in Atlanta, I had friends that bought homes around 2003, 2004 for $250K, which were worth $350K just before the real estate crash in 2008, also remember Las Vegas, it went through crazy construction during this time, which eventually resulted in the 2008 crash that started in real estate and eventually brought the economy to a screeching halt, of course part of the reason for the crash was also the mortgage scams that went on, where people that were not eligible to get loans got loans and also on the other side there were the credit default swaps with AAA ratings even though the CDS were made of lousy assets, so technically here in the US, we got burnt from both sides, from the consumer side as well as the institution side.
So this hardware distributor was supplying a lot of fasteners to Lowes and Home Depot, these guys had a very interesting business, they had this nice key making machine, a patented technology, they were sort of the monopoly, that they had installed in almost every Home Depot. This CEO had decided to get funding from an investor group and they had decided to massively expand. With a strategy to leverage the key making machine business, supply all kinds of fasteners to Home Depot and Lowes, with the relationships and track record already in place, as long as they can execute on the distribution they can win massively. So they started commissioning the first warehouse. And these folks were typical, Midwest people, very hardworking, with very hands on common sense approach, with perfect production based operations culture, show up perfectly at 6:00 AM work hard till 4:00 PM and then go home, unlike software industry, where we spent all our hours with our heads buried in the computers all the time, so the typical 9 to 5 doesn’t work. So these guys set up a team, had a great project manager, had an okay technical team, but they were trying to go from nothing to Star Wars, imagine trying to build a spaceship and going to space like in Star Wars, that is what these guys tried to do and we were engaged to implement not only the WMS, but also integrate with 3 different material handling equipment along with the Radio Frequency based picking function that worked from the WMS.
- Conveyor system – that would divert the boxes to the right diverts.
- Carousel – That would hold all the high velocity A SKUs.
- Pick to Light – For faster picking.
- RF Handheld Picking from the WMS.
This was a complicated project for a team that came without any high-speed WMS implementation experience, which is what we were good at, but sometimes we fly so fast, the client doesn’t always catch up. The budget of the project was half a million $$$. I was the part of the technical team and we had to do so many trials to get the 4 systems to talk to each other and that consumed a lot of budget, synchronising testing between all the 4 parties took a lot of time. Eventually we accomplished everything and the DC went live. But by the time we went live, the team had consumed $1 million, which was twice the budget. Not only we doubled the budget, but also the throughput numbers were not met, the warehouse was running slowly, and the speed at which the boxes were being processed were not good at all, this was not the throughput numbers that were promised to the client. No wonder, the client side COO was mad and there was a warning letter that was sent to us, both companies exchanged emails and the only thing did not happen was this client had not filed a law suit yet. They had sent this letter demanding our SVP to be onsite at Monday morning 10:00 AM on a specific date. Our SVP showed up, fixed the situation and then we got re-engaged and we worked our ass off to make the overall processes faster, my boss and I were the only two people that was engaged and we worked towards fixing all the issues. Previously when we had walked out, everybody on the client side was mad as hell, after our re-engagement, my boss identified all the slow points and made them faster, both from a process perspective and also from a system perspective and I assisted with implementing all those changes. So eventually we finished our mini project, which was about 8 weeks, I still remember the last trip I made to this client, right after that trip I was going to go to India to get married, so I was going to finish my last week here and then go to India, so I was excited to finish off my last week and I was flying into Dayton on a Monday evening, and this pilot was trying to land the plane and the plane’s wings vibrated so much when the pilot attempted to land the plane due to the wind conditions, he tried landing three times, but he wasn’t able to, that is when everybody in the plane started praying. I thought man, I am not going to make it, all my dreams about getting married are gone in this Dayton wind. Eventually the pilot flew to Cincinnati and landed there. And my last week was fine at the client site, I finished the last week and then came home. Even when I left they weren’t fully happy, the users were kinda still mad.
How the Client Achieved their Success
But after almost about 10 months, my boss heard back from the client side project manager and they were so happy. They had implemented all the things we had asked them to implement and after spending more than double on the previous project, this client side project manager had nicely pulled the team together, they realized their adverse situation, they worked together as a team, monitored and fixed every single issue they had seen, they had clearly documented standard operating procedures, incorporated a very good training process, all the associates were thoroughly trained and disciplined, they functioned like a well-oiled machine, the team was so knowledgeable, many things they had figure out themselves by running smart tests themselves, the older not so solid IT team had been replaced by some young strong players, and this team had turned the DC around. With all the changes my boss and I had implemented, everything was working fast, they had met their throughput numbers there was a renewed sense of confidence, they knew what they were doing, we had implemented a complicate task interleaving functionality, these guys had played with that and clearly figured out how it needed to work and had re-configured the system to make it work the way they wanted. This was the first time, I observed where a disgruntled client, with a solid team turned their situation around. There were a lot of reasons for this success
The first and foremost is that the team realized the adversity they were in and came together, they realized that they had to learn the system, which they did, then they realized they had to train the associates, which they did, they realized they had to set up solid highly disciplined SOPs, which they did, that is why it is said, the men that go to war together become the best buddies, brothers ever, shared adversity creates very strong bonds among people.
Then second they understood what they were in, for example you cannot take a 1980 Ford car with 300,000 miles and attempt to drive from Atlanta to New York, for sure this car is not going to make it to New York in 12 to 14 hours. If you want to really make it to New York on time, you are better off going to the nearest rental car place and getting a relatively new car that is going to last for that many miles. So this project manager assessed his team and got some good players, especially the technical team. Then clearly assigned roles and responsibilities, got rid of some people. In the startup world, it said that your company is a bus, as a leader you need to know where the bus is going, so you can tell the driver where to go, then you also need to make sure the right people are in the right seats in the bus. If the people are not in the right seats, then they need to be re-assigned, or sometimes you may have let people get off the bus.
Then third they understood and managed the change management process, humans need time to adapt to a change, and also a lot of hand holding is needed to help humans get through the change, when they did this as a team, everything came together.
So the point is, finally when I saw the smiles in all of their faces, I felt so good. I wasn’t feeling guilty anymore, nobody wants to be part of a failure, everybody wants to be on the winning side, that is how, we all knew about Donald trump, but once he won the election, people switched to his side, because everybody wants to win and be on the winning side, nobody wants to be on the losing side.
This is exactly what I saw from a most recent client trip. When we implemented our wearables for the first time, our users weren’t completely happy, there was confusion, they had to do things differently, they had to get used to the new technology, many older workers were afraid that they were going to lose the job, the expert that was supporting our technology didn’t know everything, but the technology was faster, so easy to use, especially when the work force that is walking into your DC is so young and when you give them 20 year old technology, when you see frowns in their faces. Once the top management saw how easy the technology was to use, they supported our devices, they pushed it through. Now again these guys went through all this, but as a team they pulled it together. They established processes, they made the whole thing work and they are happier than ever, when I talked to the VP, he said their numbers are so much better across the board their averages were so much better per user. And I went to the client site this time, I was greeted with smiles from everyone the top management, the expert that supported our devices, the end users that were using our devices, man it was so nice to see the smiles on users’ faces.
So have you been part of such projects in your Supply chain? How did you overcome such challenges? How did you pull the team together? What did you do to make your project a huge success? Would love to hear your thoughts.