Onboarding Best Practices: How to Transition to a New Supply Chain Partner

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Onboarding Best Practices: How to Transition to a New Supply Chain Partner

 “A good implementation process starts with a solid kickoff meeting, clear expectations and timeline, a clearly thought out transition plan of inventory transfer, and thorough testing. Open, honest, and transparent communication is absolutely key,” says Jeff Pfeiffer, Director of Customer Solutions & Project Management.

The onboarding and warehouse move processes are crucial to making sure your partnership with a new 3PL supply chain partner starts off on the right foot. Onboarding will set the stage for a successful transition with your new partner and long-term growth for your business. Three of our supply chain experts, Jeff Pfeiffer, Anthony Tart, General Manager, and Pat Diggins, Director of Strategic Accounts, discuss what goes into a successful onboarding. 

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Before onboarding

If you’re considering a new supply chain partner, you will want to understand if they are actually capable of meeting your needs and make the transition successfully. “Communication is key. You want to ask the right questions and know the right questions to ask,” says Anthony. 

What are some things a retailer should ask a potential 3pl partner to make sure they’ll be able to successfully implement their business?

  • Do your expectations match the deliverables or scope of work? There should be a clear vision of how the project plan will start-up your operations and deliver the key results required for your business.
  • Does the provider have experienced project managers? FIDELITONE project managers are PMP Certified, which is the gold standard of project management certification.
  • What project management tools do they use? Some of the basic, but critical tools are project planning software, master requirements document, communication plan and an issues or action log. 
  • What steps are taken during onboarding and is there a clearly documented methodology? Ask your potential partners to work you through their process so you understand how they will achieve success and manage any issues or along the way.

“Before onboarding, have a back and forth discussion in regards to data gathering. There’s a little bit of an education process for first time outsourcers. The desire to learn early on is a sign that it will be a good partnership v.s. just a transactional relationship,” says Jeff.  

So you’ve signed a contract and are moving forward with a new 3PL partner. What can you expect the onboarding process to look like?

Here’s an overview of FIDELITONE’s onboarding process:

  1. Kick-off meeting with our internal team - We bring together our team of experts from different areas of the business first before bringing our new client into the conversation. Our cross functional teams outline the project scope and develop a high level visual aid that has a concept of operations (COO). A COO is a visual representation of the operations and process. It details, step by step, how the operation will run from start to finish.
  2. Kick-off meeting with the client - The account manager coordinates the first meeting with both FIDELITONE’s team and our new client’s team. This is an introductory call to give an overview of our process and what to expect. During this call we map out deliverables and ensure that everyone shares the same expectation. 
  3. Project manager develops the Master Requirements Document (MRD) - This is a very detailed project scope. It details how many people will need to be on the project, if any new employees need to be hired, lays out the configuration of the Warehouse Management System, details integrations with the client’s retail partners, and more. 
    “A detailed project plan is the best way to track the progress of tasks,” says Jeff. Developing a very detailed scope and requirements document sets a realistic and accurate project timeline, helps to avoid issues post go-live and keeps the project team on track. 
  4.  Ongoing project meetings - Simultaneously, we have weekly project meetings, both internally and with the client. Ongoing conversations occur to gather necessary information as development of the warehouse move plan continues. 
  5. Quality assurance and testing - We perform thorough testing in order to avoid errors in the future including mis-shipments and picking errors. Shipping errors come with a high cost to both your business profitability and customer satisfaction. It’s important that your supply chain partner has quality testing in place to ensure inventory accuracy
  6. End to end user testing - The client sends automated transactions to mimic what future processes will be. We go through the entire life cycle of an order to validate that everything is running smoothly and there are no errors.
  7. Final production cutover before the go live date - We take all of the configurations and move into the production environment and get ready to go live. 
  8. Review - We share lessons learned during the transition to set the stage for a successful long-term partnership.
    “Our average start-up plan is typically around 90 days. Depending on the complexity of the program, it can more a little shorter or longer. It’s important not to rush the process to ensure a successful start-up and a sustainable operations post-implementation,” Pat Diggins, Director of Strategic Accounts.

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It takes a team. 

There are three core functions and roles on FIDELITONE’s implementation team:

  • Account manager – Manages relationships, expectations and deliverables
  • Project manager – Manages the project details, progress and communication          
  • Operations – Manages operations set-up, hiring and training

Our IT department is also heavily involved to manage integrations and applications. Accounting and finance leads set up the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Corporate billing manages contracts. An HR representative, general site manager, and transportation lead are also brought into the planning. 

During onboarding, the project manager is the main point of contact for our client. After onboarding is complete, the project manager will turn over communication to our client services team. We establish the cadence of future meetings with client services once the onboarding process is finished. 

What goes into the project plan?

“Everyone wants to jump to the end date but the purpose of the project plan is to develop a road map of how to get there. A successful project plan has a clear understanding and documentation of the requirements. The Master Requirements Document mirrors every item on the project plan,” says Jeff.

The project plan goes into detail on the following:

  • Milestones and deliverables
  • Configuration and management of Warehouse Management System
  • Integrations with the client in order to exchange purchase order transactions
  • Integrations with retailers or partners
  • Implementation of any automation
  • Billing and contract set up
  • Employee hiring as needed
  • User testing and quality assurance

The client should be an active participant in onboarding but trust is key.  

“We rely on new clients to create a bridge between us, their business, and any other partners. Our clients help bring the right resources from their business into the conversation and make sure those resources understand the timeline and key deliverables,” says Jeff

Before the project kickoff, consider coming in to tour the warehouse. Talk about your key concerns up front so the partnership can find a healthy balance.

Trust is key in a supply chain partnership. If you’ve gone through the process with FIDELITONE, then all of the i’s have been dotted and the t’s have crossed so there's no need for a client to come into the warehouse too frequently during onboarding. It can be helpful when the client comes in while the team is packing orders if they have any unique packaging requirements,” says Anthony.

Once the onboarding kicks off, the client is an active participant in information sharing and connecting their partners for integration. They help drive requirements for any special packaging. You’re the expert on your current processes so it’s important to share all of that information to ensure a smooth transition. 

What data should you share with your 3PL provider so they have everything they need to set up their systems for successful implementation?

“It’s important to make sure the data lands in the right place. Integration generally takes the longest. All partners who need to integrate data should be aligned including the client and their third parties,” says Anthony. 

Prepare to share these with your 3PL:

  • Item master - “One of the first things we ask for is an item master of your SKUs with item descriptions and sales velocity,” says Jeff.
  • Freight and parcel information
  • SOPs, labeling and packaging requirements
  • Retail routing guides
  • Systems integrations 

Notify any key participants in your supply chain early on so there isn’t a gap in supporting your business.

“We gather information from third parties early on in the project. We put together an inventory transfer plan from the client's current facility and have to give enough runway to transition the inventory to us. We need plenty of time to receive and put away the inventory for outbound picking in order to reduce downtime. If the client stops shipping with their current provider on Friday and start shipping with FIDELITONE on Sunday, for example, we want to have inventory ready to go so there’s no downtime,” says Jeff

Moving to a new location requires additional activity

As the client, you should understand whether you’re being moved into a new or existing warehouse location. The project plan should accommodate for the additional activity that may be required for setting up a new location.

Communication and transparency keep the project on track.

“There’s always something that pops up that wasn’t mentioned before so the scope changes a little,” says Anthony. “But as long as there’s good communication, you can work through most issues.”

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Make sure there’s a clear path to issue resolution: “As soon as an issue arises, we log it and get to the source of the problem internally. Then, we bring in the client if it’s going to impact scope. We have a working session to determine various options of resolution and how they impact time, budget, and scope,” says Jeff

Consult with a FIDELITONE expert:

Are you considering a new supply chain partner? Take the next step and consult with one of our experts. Contact us today to learn how we can provide a specialized solution to grow your ecommerce or retail business.

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