For nearly four years, Usain Bolt has been widely regarded as the "fastest man in the world." But late last summer, he temporarily lost that title when a false start disqualified him from the 100-meter world championship race.
Although logistics is anything but a fast-paced sprint, Bolt's experience offers a powerful lesson for every supply chain professional: There's a right way to approach the start of any major endeavor, and even world-class competitors occasionally get it wrong.
Consider, for example, the prospect of getting a new 3PL-driven project or contract logistics operation off the ground. Many things need to get done between the time a 3PL is brought on board and the date the initiative goes live. And the way your company chooses to execute them could wind up being the difference between a winning effort and a less-than-perfect track record.
That's why a formal project management approach to 3PL start-ups is so important - and why it's important for shippers to get behind that approach with healthy practices like the following.
Do expect formal project management from both your 3PL and your own company.
Whether your company will be using a contract warehouse in a new location, switching from one provider to another or outsourcing some element of logistics for the very first time, a process-driven approach almost always increases the potential for start-up success.
This formal approach may vary from company to company. But it usually starts with a highly qualified project manager who is adept at 1) assembling and leading a team, 2) working with a time-tested collection of formal planning and reporting methodologies, and 3) carrying out vast amounts of communication and analysis.
Even though your 3PL should supply the project manager in question - as well as most of the required IT, human resources, legal and operational experts - don't assume this absolves your company of all project management responsibility.
For best results, you'll still need to appoint one of your own employees to project-manage, too, because your 3PL project manager needs a primary point of contact at your organization that can escalate things through the proper channels within your organization as questions or issues arise. Your PM won't necessarily need to focus as intensely on the project as your 3PL's project manager. However he or she should expect to spend up to 50 percent of his or her workdays playing this role until the go-live date.
Do pay close attention to your company's "guest list" for the project kick-off.
One of the first things any 3PL project manager worth his or her salt is going to do after that 3PL has been awarded your business is schedule a kick-off meeting. Such a meeting will enable your two companies to start relationship building and allow for the accurate completion of a detailed business requirements document (BRD), and its significance cannot be stressed enough. Nor can the importance of identifying the right mix of people to attend, because without the most appropriate personnel present, something could inadvertently get overlooked or lost in translation.
For example, if your company has an unusually long or cumbersome legal review or financial approval process, it would be beneficial to have a legal or budget expert in the room who could remind all the players of this possible roadblock.
Do everything you can to help your 3PL project team avoid delays, additional costs or quality issues by bringing a cross-functional team of your best and brightest to the kick-off and BRD development process. You won't regret it.
Don't underestimate the time your start-up will take.
We all have times when we want to put a definitive stake in the ground and insist on a particular go-live date, even if we know it's too ambitious. However, there are some elements of a start-up or transition (like following the rules of safe construction) that simply cannot be rushed - and others that really shouldn't be if your company wants things done well.
As you're providing input for and review of your 3PL's project timeline, be realistic about what's truly achievable within the time you've allotted. And avoid the temptation to be too conservative when you're estimating how long it will take to complete certain steps in the process. This is especially true in four key areas: getting the contract signed, EDI development, training and testing. Speaking from experience, most companies tend to low-ball their time estimates on these by about 25 percent.
Don't pack the stands on the "go live" date.
It's not uncommon for a company's highest-ranking executives to want to be present when a new project goes live, because there's something about opening days that seems to attract huge crowds. Unfortunately it's also not productive - for several reasons.
First, having to entertain or accommodate multiple VIPs will add another item to several team members' to-do lists during a time when their bandwidth is especially limited and their need to focus on the start-up paramount.
Second, having company dignitaries present on the first day can be distracting or nerve-wracking to an operation's employees, many of whom will still be nervous enough learning the ropes.
Third - and perhaps most important of all - VIP visitors won't be seeing the operation in its normal state, because even the most seamless of start-ups usually experience minor but temporary glitches immediately after the switch is flipped, and anyone who sees the operation during that time won't be getting a fair or accurate representation.
By all means, plan to have an official grand opening or launch celebration and invite your VIPs. But like restaurants, hotels and other places that have "soft openings," schedule it later in the game- perhaps several weeks or a month after things have gone live.
Do be prepared to say goodbye to your project management team.
No matter how long your start-up takes, it's important to note that your 3PL's project manager and start-up team are rarely intended to be permanent fixtures in your logistics organization. As a result, you can expect these professionals to work closely with your company through a project's go-live date - and to stay involved beyond that for as long as it takes to get the new endeavor running like clockwork. However you should also expect that they will make a graceful exit as soon as that initiative's permanent operations team has things well under control.
This is not only a standard way of doing things, it's the optimal way, because much like the talents that make an athlete a good sprinter are different from the ones that make a good marathoner, the qualities that enable a person to be a good project manager are very different from the ones required to be the best possible general manager.
And as any runner will tell you, while getting off to a good start is definitely an important part of running a perfect race, it never stops being important to put your best foot forward at every stage of the journey.
Source: APL Logistics
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