Warehouse ITs Handheld Exchange Project Adventure: Part 1 (Success Story)

Part 1: Story of Warehouse ITs delivery of the Handheld Exchange Project from 2018 until 2021

photo of Jason Lipscombe
Jason Lipscombe

Senior Project Manager

Posted on May 19, 2021

I remember back in 2018, my lead approached me with the proposition for kicking off what would be called the 'Handheld Exchange Project'. It was just after I passed my probation period and completed the WiFi Upgrade Project in Erfurt's Warehouse. At that point I already felt very much settled in my role as Project Manager in Zalando's Warehouse IT Team.

I was extremely excited by the opportunity! This would be the largest scale project given to me since starting my career in Project Management. Overall there have been many teams and warehouses across Europe, with thousands of new devices and accessories, and a multi-million euro budget involved in the project.

Now, we are at the stage of completing the final phases of the project. The rollout of new handheld scanning devices at our Return Center sites began in April, following the completion of rollouts at our German Warehouses last year and International Warehouses earlier this year.

But for this blog post I would like to take you back to the beginning of the project. I want to share what we did before the implementation, why and how we kicked this off, what our scope was and goals were.


Here I will run through the necessary steps for how the project was planned and executed.

Step 1. Understanding the situation and idea of the project

The Project Team understood from our vendor of handheld scanners that the devices were coming up to the status of End of Service. This meant that we would no longer be able to order the previous standard of devices or have support for the devices we already had. Therefore, it was decided that a project would be required to prepare for this change and look for a suitable solution.

Rather than go straight away with ordering an upgrade of the previous standard device we decided to challenge the status quo. And these were the next steps we undertook.

Step 2. Involving stakeholders and presenting the project concept

A key part to the success of every project is to involve stakeholders at the right time. Usually this is at the beginning when the project is introduced and its goals are set.

We identified all relevant stakeholders by brainstorming all interfaces of those using the devices from Operations to Software and IT Teams. We also identified the roles and responsibilities of those involved.

The stakeholders were then included in an email group to ensure communication would be transparent. Over ninety stakeholders were included in this group. They received notifications every time when relevant major updates occured.

The more involved stakeholders (project team for example) were invited into a detailed chat group forum.

Once these exercises were complete we kicked the project off with a presentation inviting all representatives of stakeholders identified.

In the presentation we shared the following:

  1. The current situation

  2. The scope of involvement (all Zalando warehouses)

  3. The goals

  4. Timeline

  5. Next steps and expectations

Step 3. Gathering stakeholder requirements

After the project was officially kicked-off we sent a survey to those who attended the kick off. The survey came together out of a short brainstorming session between the core Project Team.The survey asked stakeholders to rate the previous standard of device, what they thought could be improved, and what features would be mandatory and useful. Once we had enough feedback, this gave us a good basic understanding for how stakeholders found the then current solution and setup, and what would be required for the future device. However, further insights were needed to prepare for the project.

Step 4. Gathering technical requirements and confirming the project plan

In order to gather technical requirements, we conducted two workshops. The first workshop was done with Operations interfaces and the second with Technical interfaces. Each workshop came out with two sets of requirements. For example, the Operations were looking for a rugged and quicker scanning device, whereas the Technical Teams were looking for the latest OS version of Android. These workshops became essential for our requirements in search for the future standard device which would be conducted in the following step.

The requirements were gathered and confirmed. Now we had a great feeling of what was to be expected of the project, how it would be done and when. This gave me the initiative to confirm the project plan. This was done by planning with the Project Team themselves and getting approval by the Project Sponsor. Once the project plan was approved, it was shared with all stakeholders, showing a timeline for the project and when to expect key milestones to be achieved.

Step 5. Device evaluations

Using the requirements gathered previously we had now the incentive to work in-detail with the Procurement Team to start an RFI (Request For Information) from handheld device vendors.

Twelve vendors (including the current) were identified by the Procurement Team and received our requirements. The majority of vendors came back with suggestions of new device solutions, however it was a lowlight that not all vendors replied. The solutions were then rated against the requirements sent using a thought-out scoring matrix. If devices scored a certain rating we would then go ahead and plan a physical test of the device to gain further insights on whether the device was compatible for our requirements. The result was that devices from five vendors were identified as being worthy of testing against our requirements in the RFI.

Once the devices were received, further evaluations were done with ratings being made against a more developed scoring matrix of one hundred and forty requirements in eighteen different sections.

The testing requirements included eighteen sections from different identified focus areas such as environmental features, scanner, connectivity and display.

The devices were also tested and rated in warehouses by onsite teams (Operations and IT) to ensure that more than just the core Project Team was involved in testing.

We also met with vendors of the devices to gain insights into how their support models would work and how Zalando could potentially use the supply from the companies going forward.

After three months of thorough testing and evaluating, the decision came that three of the vendors were applicable and compatible to move forward into the next phase of evaluations by an RFQ (Request for Quotation). The devices that were acceptable were rated against the given requirements and scoring standard set by the Project Team.

Step 6. Decision making

Now we had three potential solutions to choose from. The key factor of decision making at this point was based on financial offers from the vendors within the RFQ phase.

Following long negotiations between the Procurement Team and vendors, final offers were made, which were then discussed within the core Project Team.

This was a challenging time for the Project as initially the pricing given by vendors was poor and much higher than expected, however the Procurement Team ensured competitive pricing within the final offers from all vendors.

The challenge turned into success, and it was decided to go for the upgraded solution from the current vendor.

The other vendors could not reach a better offer than the current one. From the technical standpoint all three vendor devices could have been suitable to the project's requirements and standards established, however the device chosen was the most technically applicable.

Step 7. Project review and planning implementation

After selecting the new standard handheld scanning device for Zalando warehouses, we were able to look back over the course of the project's journey and review lessons learned. This was mainly done with the Core Project Team. We went through the highlights of what was done well and the challenges of times when things could have gone better so we can improve for the future.

Following the lessons learned exercise we then planned the implementation for the devices exchange. The first year of exchange across German Hub Warehouses and the second year of exchange between International Hub Warehouses and all 3PL sites were planned. Due to the sheer amount of scope, planning across two years would be much more achievable to meet a good standard of quality for the project.

All stakeholders were informed of the decision of new devices, the project's strategy and next steps as we planned for the huge challenge of implementation ahead.

Overall I feel that the project achieved everything set out from the beginning, in regards to finding a new suitable solution as well as challenging the status quo and evaluating what the market has on offer with the latest handheld technologies. I believe this was achieved mainly due to careful planning with the stakeholders involved that supported the success of this project.

From a personal point it was a great journey to be involved in and I appreciate working with so many colleagues, who supported the successful delivery of this part of the project. I gained extremely valuable experience that helped me plan the next phase of the project.

I hope you enjoyed reading this and looking forward to my next blog post, where I will describe how we implemented the rollout of the thousands of handheld devices across Europe between 2020 and 2021.