Back in the 1980's, the San Diego Builders Association built a large home from the ground up in less than 3 hours. At the time it set a record. Here's the video.
It was a promotional effort to publicize the Association, but the overarching message was the importance of planning. While the build itself took just 3 hours, it was the product of months and months of meetings – among engineers, architects, builders, landscapers, tradesman and project planners – to spec out every last aspect of the project.
When hundreds of people showed up at the build site and the whistle blew to start, there were no questions or discussions. There wasn't any time. People just executed their part of the plan at the exact time designated.
KANE just brought a new distribution center online. Part of that process was handling all the requirements for data and phone communications. Fast accurate data capture and transfer is at the heart of today's supply chains, so any glitches could have delayed the start-up and possibly caused serious financial damage.
Our project went very smoothly and I got to thinking why. It certainly wasn't just the fact that we worked hard and smart for the 4 to 5 days that we actually spent in the facility. Like the 3-hour house, it was more about logistics planning – what happened in the weeks and months leading up to actual implementation. That's when our team did its engineering work, from layout of the offices and the data room to details such as determining data access points and the location of remote connection points.
Here are some keys to success from this logistics planning and execution project. Perhaps they will be useful to your future start-up projects.
- The people doing the systems planning must understand warehouse operations. It is simply not enough to just ask the operators what they need, take notes and make that part of the work plan. You need to probe to ensure full clarity on requirements. You must know what questions to ask. For instance, an operator may plan to have a supervisor walking the floor, but will that supervisor need a desk? Where will it be? Will there need to be a phone line, data line, WiFi for a tablet? It is NOT ACCEPTABLE for the systems team to go back at the end and say, "You didn't ask for that."
- Pick the right partners. No plan is good enough to withstand unprofessional partners who are satisfied with "good enough" and who believe all deadlines are flexible. Take the time for careful vetting of your partners for phone systems, networking, cable installation and other requirements. You won't regret it.
- Inspire trust from your customers. Service providers have a lot to lose if a start-up does not go well. But not nearly as much as customers do. So as much as customers may trust you, they are going to worry. The key is to maintain regular communication about progress and where you are relative to the timeline and, in the process, give customers a confidence level that the details are being handled with precision. Great project managers plan and execute in a way that allows others, even customers, to relax.
When things go wrong with a new facility start-up, it's popular to say that there were problems in start-up execution. Most times, problems stem not from poor execution, but from poor logistics planning.