Relative to their larger competitors, mid-sized retailers spend more money on IT projects while realizing fewer benefits. Part of the reason for this is that larger retailers can afford skilled project managers who possess both the technical and domain skills to lead a successful IT project. Meanwhile, mid-sized retailers rely on already stretched team members and executives to somehow meet the project’s demands. To make matters worse, the interested parties tend to fill the leadership void with “sub-project leaders” from IT, the business, and the software vendor. This muddies the chain of command, increases tension, and gives rise to private agendas and conflict.
In this blog, we offer ten tips for mid-sized retailers to up their IT project game:
- Empower a single project manager. Dedicated project management is the most important determinant of IT project success. Bring in a qualified outsider if you do not have the right candidate in-house.
- Do not underestimate the importance of retail knowledge. Without essential domain expertise, your requirements are likely to be muddled or misunderstood. Your team must take on an enterprise view to ensure all processes tie together.
- Leverage the experience and knowledge of your software vendor. Your project is usually dependent on your adaptation of 3rd party software packages. The companies behind the software usually have deep benches and exquisite knowledge. Be wary of unmentored newcomers who might be assigned to your project.
- Be wary of “miracle” software tools. We see mid-sized retailers set up internal teams to exploit tools for data integration (ETL), data visualization, dashboards, or the like. These tools require a tremendous amount of expertise to use well, especially with enormous retail volume and data complexity. Internal resources are much better used in other pursuits.
- Focus on requirements. Many projects go over budget and encounter delays due to the lack of detailed requirements at the beginning of the project. Figuring out how existing systems and business processes work during the project is a recipe for change requests and missed deadlines.
- Stress and motivate user adoption through change management. A successful software implementation is no guarantee of user adoption. At the first sign of trouble, users are likely to revert to their spreadsheets or semi-automated habits. You cannot afford to underestimate their resistance to change. Successful project management does not skimp on training, hand-holding, mentoring, and incentivizing.
- Limit the “I know a guy” syndrome. When projects get behind, or new requirements emerge, mid-sized retailers inevitably play the “I know a guy” card. Soon the miracle worker ascends to the task, working weekends and crashing through established protocols for testing and governance. The short-term “fix” is rarely worth the long-term pain.
- Tie requirements to tangible benefits. The definition of “requirements” usually omits the vital conversation about benefit. “We need this…” is not enough without a clear statement of the expected goodness once the requirement is fulfilled.
- Do not be seduced by “offshore” rates. On their surface, “offshore” rates can look like a fraction of the onshore equivalent. But securing these savings in practice can be extremely challenging. Plan for 18-hour days, resolving frequent misunderstanding of requirements, and onerous test protocols.These things cause delays, disruptions, and data corruption – all of which are much more expensive than the apparent savings from offshore technicians.
- Give data integration the attention it deserves. Moving and transforming data from one system to another is much harder than its looks. The path to success must deal with timing issues, data nuances, redundancies, merging multiple sources, deltas, and data failures. The testing environment must be robust enough to handle simultaneous user engagement. Data integration is the Achilles heel for most IT projects.
We hope you take these tips to heart. Mid-sized retailers can be at a tremendous disadvantage in an era where technical innovation is paramount. Fortunately, the solution marketplace is ripe with well-vetted solutions. If you address the ten tips above, you will become proficient at IT projects and find yourself on equal footing with the big guys.
RIBA-AYDEPT can help with its team of seasoned project managers. Contact us to learn more.