Great technology is a must. Solid project planning is critical. But perhaps the most important key to the success or failure of a retail store technology deployment is one that many overlook: proactive communications. According to the Project Management Institute, 30% of project failures occur primarily because of inadequate or poor communication.
Imagine you’re starting a fairly straightforward printer upgrade project. Your project team creates an implementation plan that has the integrator’s techs systematically working through a list of stores every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to do the installs. But then you get pressure from above to speed things up, so you ask your IT integrator to add Tuesdays to the plan.
The teams arrive at their assigned stores that first Tuesday, but some of them quickly encounter an obstacle: half of those stores take inventory on Tuesday mornings and need the printers to operate. So the teams in those stores end up going into overtime every Tuesday while they wait for equipment to free up. The same pattern repeats for weeks until word gets back to your project managers. Costs are mounting.
Now back up and start again using an integrator that believes in proactive communications. The first techs to arrive at a store that first Tuesday would see your project deviating from plan. They would follow the communication protocols agreed to at the outset of the project and immediately report the issue. Your project team would instantly have the information they need to revise the plan, heading off cost overruns and keeping the project on track to meet the accelerated deadline.
Let’s Talk About It
In the life of any store IT project, issues will crop up and changes will be needed, some small, some significant. But even a small change can have a dramatic impact if not communicated effectively. Unfortunately, while most every retail IT project team tackles essentials such as project goals, success factors and a step-by-step plan, many lack key steps such as assigning responsibility for each task to a specific owner (via a RACI matrix), and even fewer of them include a pro-active communication plan. Both are critical success factors.
Proactive communication includes frequent, regularly scheduled project updates (even daily), consistent reports, clear lines of communication and defined escalation paths to quickly convey information to the right people when issues emerge.
Here’s what proactive communications can do:
Minimize Impacts: Communicating about issues quickly and clearly to everyone affected is the best way to minimize negative impacts such as delays, conflicts and cost overruns. Every time one group makes assumptions rather than directly communicating with the project team, the potential for negative impact quickly magnifies.
Instill Accountability: Proactive communication includes regularly reviewing progress as a team on each part of the plan. When individuals or teams are named as owners of specific tasks, they become active participants in teamwide discussions of project status and can quickly spot potential issues as they hear other teams make their reports. This prevents a lot of waste and headaches.
Offer Perspective: Never underestimate the importance of positivity to the success of a project. If your part of the work is the one affected by an issue, it can appear that the whole thing is derailing when in fact, it’s just a small portion. Bad news travels fast, rumors emerge, and participants’ commitment to stay on track wanes.
One best practice for proactive communication is regular team-wide communications where the project leaders review the timeline and progress toward the goal. This makes everyone aware of overall progress and reinforces the need to work to the plan.
Proactive Communications Rare in Retail IT
Unfortunately, many systems integrators overlook the importance of formalized, proactive communications. These integrators will be unable to produce a sample communications plan or RACI index on request. Instead, they will point to a project manager to assure a prospective customer that they are in good hands. But no project manager, no matter how talented, can be everywhere at once, monitoring every development. Proactive communications plans are designed to catch and track emerging issues before they mushroom into bigger problems.
When proactive communication is done correctly, the only thing that can stop a store technology rollout is not having the technology. With good communication, anything else can be overcome.