What does agile methodology have to do with warehouse management system (WMS) implementations? Isn’t it an approach used for deploying smaller capabilities in areas like e-commerce and digital marketing?
That was the prevalent thinking more than a decade ago. Current market dynamics are more about being able to deliver incremental customer value at a rapid pace. In fact, enterprises that are nimble in introducing newer capabilities are able to retain and continuously grow their market share even amidst the global coronavirus pandemic.
Long gone are the days where corporations waited 12-18 months to roll out an enterprise platform. The market is shifting fundamentally in this respect. Hence, the need to rapidly deploy new software, and continuing to build on it, is more relevant than ever.
WMS implementations are inherently complex, involving disparate and interconnected processes such as yard management, inbound, inventory management and outbound. In addition, a WMS is connected to larger enterprise systems, such as purchasing and sales-order processing. WMS functionality features are tightly coupled in most commercial off-the-shelf package implementations. The traditional WMS implementation has always been a waterfall structure, in which businesses complete the build, unit test, system test and integration test, most likely in that order. This is how they get to see actual products during user acceptance testing, which can take months if not years to complete, making changes in business direction quite difficult to incorporate. Besides system complexities, warehouse processes are labor-intensive, so there’s always a need to carefully manage change while introducing a new system.
Considering all these factors, companies need to choose the right agile framework for implementing a WMS.
The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) provides one such method for implementing large-scale complex systems. It allows collaboration between multiple teams, which agree on the common goal of delivering business value. And it shows incremental progress through the continuous flow of new capabilities being deployed and released, typically within 10-12 weeks. Within the SAFe, teams use Scrum or Kanban to manage work, with each team consisting of a product owner who acts as the liaison for business, or a Scrum master who is the servant leader who helps remove impediments.
Uniquely, SAFe combines “lean” and “agile” principles to deliver quality software in smaller increments, using principles of DevOps and automation.
Key learnings from SAFe WMS implementations include:
SAFe is intended to be a key transformation for WMS and other application implementations. Many industry leaders believe the benefits of SAFe will help companies become more aware of, and knowledgeable about, the road ahead.
Vinay Kavde is consulting partner in the consumer business unit, and Sudhanshu Raj consulting leader in the retail consulting practice, of Wipro Limited.
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