Retail operational improvement projects are about changing retail operations for the better. This could be to increase sales, reduce cost, improve customer service or shift another important metric. Having the right idea is important. Being able to take that idea and turn it into a tangible change is essential. But, if you don’t land these retail operational improvement changes properly, then nothing changes. Everything will have been a waste of time, money and effort.

It’s arguably one of the toughest challenges facing retail project managers and retail operators. How to successfully land the changes.

The Challenge of Landing Retail Operational Improvements

Retail operators have to be able to take these outputs and lead, learn and live the change to processes or procedures. Meanwhile, the busy and challenging day job of running a retail operation doesn’t let up.

Meanwhile, retail project managers have to define changes that will be suitable for a wide variety of stores across the estate. They too have to ensure these changes land effectively or else risk significant impact to the business. Also, they live with the knowledge that one false move could result in a crippling impact to the business.

Landing retail operational improvement changes is tough work. But they are also critical to the future success of the business.

What Would a Bad Implementation Look Like?

There could be many failure modes here. Examples of poor execution could be:

  1. Challenges actually grind the operation to a halt. This is a very real possibility… what if there was major interruption to the supply chain or your change stops the ability to make payments. Uh oh!
  2. Inconsistent execution between stores or locations. If communication is not clear, you’ll find store implementation could vary greatly. Also, this could happen if store leadership prioritise the change in different ways.
  3. Changes land initially but is then forgotten. Energy about the change is positive early on. However, slowly but surely, the new ways of working are forgotten. The operational improvement is lost, along with any benefits it brought. This could be due to a number of factors, including human nature!
  4. The operational improvement never actually happens!
  5. Confusion and poor decision making adversely affects the future performance.

Why Retail Operational Improvement is Critical

The benefits of effectively landing operational improvements are plentiful. Particularly in this time of flux in the retail industry. Examples of the benefits include (but certainly not limited to):

  • Increasing customer focus.
  • Aligning retail operational cost base to the budget.
  • Funding future staff pay rises without crippling the bottom line.
  • Enabling more omni-channel operations.
  • Building new or enhanced customer propositions.
  • Reducing theft, damages and stock loss.
  • Enhancing the customer experience.

The list could go on and could obviously dive into more details too.  Essentially, operational changes allow the business to continue to function and to achieve the company goals and strategy.

How to Land Operational Improvement in Retail

Here are 5 tips to help make that operational improvement simpler to land.

1. Creating packages of retail operational improvement

If you try to land 10 small changes over a number of weeks, it gets confusing. Communications and training cross over. Plans get muddled. In store colleagues aren’t sure what to do. It’s likely that some, if not all, of you changes fail to land effectively.

Instead, group your change projects together into similar and connected changes. Next, land this change in a single go. Yes, it’s a bigger change to manage but it can also be easier to land one big package than multiple smaller ones. Stores also see a bigger benefit from landing multiple changes at once.

2. Limiting volume of change to the capacity

Whilst grouping smaller changes together will help, you really need to look at the capacity too. Consider how much change that your colleagues can take on at once. Avoid overwhelm by limiting the amount of the amount of change that will land at once.

If the operation is at a peak time, the capacity will be reduced or eliminated altogether. If a major change is landing, you probably won’t want to over-burden your colleagues with additional change. In addition, consider if a retail operational improvement project involves a particularly demanding training or preparation schedule. Also, consider if a change will be particularly draining from an emotional perspective.

Stop the risk of burnout by limiting the volume of change landing at one time. Use a capacity planner to assess, track and communicate the change capacity for any given day, week or month.

3. Clearly communicating what retail operational improvement is happening

Communication is an important element to change management. There are more communication channels for people to monitor and listen to. In turn, communications will be easily missed and therefore, no action takes place. In this instance, fairly obviously, the operational changes will not land.

Another failure mode here is that your communication could be read but not absorbed. Again, no action will take place and the change won’t land. Finally, communications could be misunderstood or misinterpreted. The wrong action will likely follow. Then once again, the improvement initiative will not deliver the expected and required benefits.

To combat this, make sure that you:

  • Use the right channels for communication.
  • Communicate in multiple stages to increase awareness.
  • Check that your comms messages will be correctly understood by running tests.
  • Clarify what action you expect someone to take.

4. Keeping the operational improvement alive

A trap that retail project managers can fall into is to think their project is the most important thing happening.

Obviously, as you know, retail is a fast moving industry. There is a keen focus on tracking performance to target or budget. In turn, the “all-important” change can be easily forgotten.

Instead, build a strategy to keep your retail operational improvement initiative in peoples’ minds. heads. Ways of doing this include:

  • Ongoing communications with tips and advice
  • Having someone on the ground to champion your project
  • Creating a way of visually managing the change and new process or procedure
  • Adding a competitive element. All retailers love a bit of friendly competition don’t they?

5. Using KPIs and metrics to drive the right behaviour

The focus on performance could also drive the wrong behaviour.

A close focus on the KPIs (key performance indicators) and metrics creates pressure and stress. In turn, this leads to actions and behaviours that drive a performance boost. But, not necessarily the behaviours and actions that you know are the right way to drive that performance.

Before you try to land your retail operational improvement, consider what you want to achieve. Now try and “game” the system to take short cuts to achieve that same goal.

Prompts or questions you could consider include:

  • If I was being lazy then I would…
  • To achieve the same result in half the time then instead I would…
  • If this was the only important KPI to focus on then I could…

Once you’ve considered these, you should have some ideas for how the KPIs that you’re focusing on could drive the wrong behaviour. You should then consider these risks and set up appropriate action plans to mitigate these.

Wrapping Up – Making Retail Operational Improvements

To improve your retail operations, you need more than good ideas. You need more than a fantastic ability to turn an idea into something tangible. Alongside these factors, you also need to be able to effectively land your operational change. Project benefits will not be possible without this. Plus, all of the blood, sweat and tears that went into managing the project will be wasted.

Counter this with the tips from this article to help make your next retail operational improvement a roaring success. In turn, you’ll deliver sizeable and sustainable benefits for the business.

Comment below – what challenges and barriers do you come up against when landing operational improvement projects?

Read next – Retail Project Management: What’s the Difference?

project management expert Oliver BanksAbout the Author

Oliver Banks is an expert retail project and programme manager. He’s managed and led many different retail operational improvement projects. He is an independent consultant and has worked with a number of large retailers across a variety of categories. Oliver is passionate about helping retailers to actually deliver projects to improve stores, distribution and head office operations.


project management expert Oliver Banks

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