You have gotten approval to take on a new project. You have gathered requirements, completed vendor selection and made preparations to begin. So what is next? Most would say you map out your project plan. This could be a big mistake. If you already have a signed statement of work (SOW) or contract and have yet to put a project plan in place, you are launching on the wrong foot. All too often, retail projects are contracted with an arbitrary future deadline that sounds good on paper but in no way represents the work requirements or necessary resources to actually complete that work. It happens to the best of us; but is that a good excuse to let it continue?
A major problem within planning
There are major drawbacks to limiting project planning and executing too soon. How many times have organizations had to shortcut testing, training or another helpful element just to meet a milestone? It is easy to see where these deadlines come from—a planned business expansion, an outdated legacy system, a key business initiative, etc. One major problem is that these deadlines rarely account for the full workload, nor do they accurately estimate the human resource needs. In good news, this problem is not inevitable.
What is a possible solution?
Before signing an SOW, it is important to have the work clearly mapped out and involve as many stakeholders as possible. These stakeholders will likely represent voices from around the company in many departments at different levels. Some leaders may argue there is no need to integrate stakeholders until their involvement in a project. Another view asserts being judicious in choosing stakeholders while not excusing leaders from the hard work of representing all parties touched by the project. In our experience, this second view leads to optimal outcomes.
On this note, Logile’s Mary Field and retail analyst Kyle Ferlic recently wrote an exposé entitled Retail Technology: Can “Collaboration” Become Catchy Again? for Logile’s blog. They outlined how retailers can combine innovative viewpoints from employees and vendors to come up with best practices for implementing technology solutions. I believe this glass holds water around setting project timelines. Like Mary and Kyle noted, “collaboration [such as around project timelines] must be balanced with effective budgeting and proper execution.”
Asking the tough questions
In other words, leaders must balance stakeholders’ desires with company needs to make the plan effective. So where to begin? Start with planning basics and then ask the tough questions. Although the plan does not need to account for every project hour, it should be more detailed than single-labeled milestones every three months. Many retailers use internal project management professionals (or an equivalent) to find this level of detail. Here are some more questions to consider before signing on the dotted line:
- Have you involved a complete set of stakeholders in your requirements gathering and vendor selection process?
- Does your vendor have recommendations for how long each phase should take?
- Can you talk with references who have completed a similar scope of work? What was their experience like?
- What assumptions are there on resources? Do we need to hire or move people from within the organization?
- Are the people involved fully dedicated or only part time? How will this impact the timeline? Is contingency time built in?
- Should you adjust the scope of the project to meet the business deadline?
- How is training being handled? Who is delivering it? Do training materials need to be created and by whom?
- Is a rollout included in the timeline? Is there adequate time between pilot and rollout for adjustments? Are there resource changes during this time?
Expectations from your vendor
No matter what, there will be challenges that arise in this process, and your first defense is a well-constructed plan. Your second defense is a flexible, knowledgeable vendor. Great technology vendors recognize their responsibilities and hold themselves accountable. Vendors who truly desire to solve problems with retailers, versus offer out-of-the-box solution sets to complex business issues, adjust project scopes based on client specifics. Thus, retailers and vendors can work together (starting with the RFP) to accomplish objectives, meet milestones, estimate needs and mitigate risks.
“Plan your work, and work your plan,” Napoleon Hill once said. This might be a good way to summarize today’s blog post, because in retail, we too often see organizations rushing to work their plan before a solid plan is set. By involving the right stakeholders in conversations around the right topics, and by utilizing technology vendors who understand this process, retailers might see more gains in their projects from day one.