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Strong Project Management: Not Sexy, but Also Not Optional

strong project manager in a meeting
When you’ve waited forever for budget approval, feel pressure from store staff for new equipment and see competitors pushing the envelope with cool new technology, it can be tempting to skip some steps when it comes to a store technology deployment. After all, it’s just new server cabinets/replacement kiosks/a payment terminal upgrade.

But then the technicians arrive a day before the hardware does, or the cable is wrong, or the integration that worked so well as a one-off isn’t doing so well at scale.

While it may not be sexy, sound project management is just as important as the technology itself when it comes to making a new implementation successful. That’s why more and more retailers are outsourcing to integration partners that bring not just technical expertise, but well-honed project management methodologies to their store rollouts.

How Best Practices Got That Way

Unfortunately, not everyone applies best practices when it comes to planning and executing projects. According to a survey by the Project Management Institute, organizations are wasting an average of $97 million for every $1 billion invested, due to poor project performance.

There is a silver lining. All those negative experiences, and the costs and delays they introduce, have driven the creation of project management best practices. Retailers can benefit from the past errors of others by making sure implementation teams have a sound project management methodology, and actually use it. That same study found organizations that invest in proven project management practices waste 28 times less money because more of their strategic initiatives are completed successfully

Here are some of the best practices that fall into that “proven” category:

1. Appoint a Project Owner

Everyone has been to those meetings that feel highly productive: All the issues are identified and built into a project plan. But then things fall through the cracks because everyone thought someone else was carrying out a task. Someone needs to assign responsibilities and then hold people accountable for them through diligent tracking and reporting. With parallel planning, contingencies and multiple points of integration, today’s deployments are highly complex, requiring careful oversight.

2. Do a Pilot

Proof of concept and pilots can be tempting to skip in the rush to deploy. But these reveal critical success factors, pre-requisites and other insights that help rollouts go smoothly. As store solutions become more and more inter-dependent, this just keeps getting more important. Read this post for more about the high costs the come from skipping phases of a rollout. Never work with a solution provider that condones this approach – or worse, suggests it.

3. Write a Plan, Then Work the Plan

Executing a project plan takes a lot more discipline than writing one. That strong project leader should keep all team members focused on the plan, the status of individual tasks and the timeline. Too many retail implementations have been halted in their tracks because of sloppy management, leading to cost overruns and delayed benefits.

4. Pursue continuous service improvement

As the project reaches milestones, team members inevitably notice things that can be improved. This might be rewriting a section of documentation to be more clear, removing a redundant task, or changing the order of steps in an installation to avoid a problem. Maybe it works better to do the cabling before the cabinet switch, instead of after. The team should meet regularly to identify these improvements.

5. Documentation

Despite the best plans, unexpected surprises crop up in any rollout. Thoroughly documenting everything that was done sounds dull, but can be priceless when a support issue crops up or planning begins for a future project that touches the solution.

As retailers rush to deploy new store technologies that keep customers engaged and coming back, it’s easy to let the excitement lead to sloppy project management. But that can quickly result in delays and cost overruns that significantly extend the project, delaying or even preventing a return on investment.

Even systems integrators, who are in the business of running implementations, don’t always invest in strong project management tools and skills ― despite their ability to reduce risk and increase success rates. So there is one more best practice to remember: Make sound project management methodologies a requirement on your next systems integration RFP.

Do you have an upcoming IT project RFP that we may earn your business on? Please contact us today