The following post has been written by Libby Romfh, our Director of Customer Success & Retail Strategy.

Even with a great project plan and a fully-aligned corporate team, you can still hit every milestone and then go live in-store and get nothing. The store employees won’t use it and the whole ROI goes down the tubes.

Aside from picking the right consultant, what can retailers do promote success? There are five main areas that successful retailers focus on:

1. Keep the executive sponsor connected.

The executive sponsor’s role doesn’t end when they secure funding and sign the agreement – that’s just where the fun begins! A successful project requires the continued intervention of the executive sponsor throughout the plan. What is the sponsor doing?

During regular updates with the project manager and the consultant, an effective Executive Sponsor responds to situations that may require executive leadership to move forward.

Do these sound familiar?

• Making sure the project remains a priority with key business or IT partners who might otherwise turn their attention to “squeaky wheel” requests.
• Resolving conflicts with stakeholders who are focused on their personal needs or beliefs; or are unsure about territorial boundaries.
• Making the business case for the project with stakeholders, peers on the executive team, senior leaders in other departments, and in the field.
• Putting their face on communications describing how the project benefits the company as a whole and outlining any major policy decisions that accompany the project.
• Reviewing and approving or rejecting changes to the project scope with the consultant to keep the project on track.

A consultant can help with these by providing stakeholder analysis and a roadmap to help a sponsor navigate tricky waters.

2. Actively participating in the plan.

Bringing in a consultant because your internal team doesn’t have the expertise, the experience, or the time to manage a project makes sense. That said, your consultant can never know your company as well as you do, and the people who have to deliver results are your people.

An effective project plan includes tasks for the consultant and tasks for the retailer. For example, the consultant owns asking discovery questions, recommending configuration decisions, and explaining how data files are formatted. The retailer owns providing SMEs who can answer questions, making decisions and providing the data files.

The most successful retailers see this as a partnership, with both parties working toward a shared definition of success and doing what they can to ensure that both parties meet deadlines and keep the project moving forward.

3. Identify risks to store adoption.

Project management teams can become laser-focused on hitting milestones and that’s good, right? You want them moving forward, not getting distracted. But all that focus can prevent them from noticing risks to store adoption.

Other ways that retailers do this:

• Identifying peak sales days and overtime weeks when scheduling activities for store management.
• Managing conflicting priorities at the store level that could distract from or overshadow the project if not moved, integrated, or at least acknowledged.
• Taking advantage of existing tools, processes, programs, and systems. Projects leveraging normal store operations become infinitely easier to adopt when they hit the stores.
• Testing your project in a store or using store employees for UAT. Nothing identifies design opportunities like the reality of the front lines.
• Translating “corp-speak” to “store-speak.”

This is an area where you are the expert, but your consultant can provide questions and discussion topics to help you identify areas of focus.

4. Draw on field champions.

Some communications come best from the corporate office: a stakeholder’s strategic vision for how the project will achieve company objectives; training material; policy and project scheduling information; reference materials; recognition of participants’ success.

When you want to overcome a store manager’s resistance, that must happen at the district manager-level. And if you want store managers to believe the WIIFM (“What’s In It For Me”), they need to hear from a peer.

One of the most effective things I did when rolling out Task Management was invite my pilot store managers to drop by my trade show booth at the store manager’s conference to pick up a thank you gift. When they did, I asked if the wanted to use one of the booth’s computers to check up on task progress at their stores. As the managers logged in and commented aloud on what they saw, their peers stopped, looked over their shoulders and asked what was going on. The pilot store managers sold Task Management for me – I didn’t have to do a thing.

If this is new to you, ask your consultant to advise you on building your change champion network.

5. Approach change as an ongoing process.

There’s a classic Sidney Harris cartoon with two engineers staring at an equation on a board that seems to explain some kind of scientific process. In the middle of the equation, one step reads, “Then a miracle occurs.”

So often, the project plan ends when store implementation begins. If the very last step in your plan is, “roll out to stores” then you may as well add a step after that for, “Then a miracle occurs.” That’s like saying, “Okay, the wedding is planned and the next step is for the guests to show up at the church tomorrow; so let’s send out our invitations today.”

Successful retailers start change management when the project starts and continue it long after store implementation. While their project management teams are busy making design decisions and building out the program, their change management teams move along a parallel track to secure adoption in their stores. When the project management timeline ends, the change management timeline continues until the new behavior becomes “the way we do things here.”

That’s why we at Nextenture say, “effective retail is a journey.” Having the right guide on your expedition – someone who has taken the trip before and knows the shortcuts along the way – is essential to reaching your destination and achieving your goals.

Let Nextenture be that guide.

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