Retail project management is a different proposition to project management in other industries. There are some key differences which can mean that normal project management techniques, approaches and tools aren’t always a good fit.

What Happens If You Use the Wrong Style of Project Management in Retail?

Managing your Retail project in the wrong way can result in one of two extremes…

Taking an informal approach and just “hoping” to deliver improvements

Taking informal project management approach leads to excessive mistakes and missed opportunities. This “cross your fingers and hope” approach can result in missed deadlines and wasted money. It can also give you inconclusive trials, a false sense of reality and, ultimately, you’ll never realise your benefits.

This can result in frustration, stress and dissatisfaction for the project manager and supporting team.

Also (and perhaps more importantly), missing the business’ expectations can lead to disaster, including:

  • Unachievable cost base
  • Sales targets that are ‘out of this world’
  • Diminishing customer experience
  • Reduced share price which will permanently put your business at risk and at a disadvantage.

Or using a PM text book approach

An excessively thorough approach to project management, filled with lots of documentation (much of which will probably never be read). This feels “alien” and inefficient to many of the stakeholders and is laborious or slow. This in turn means stakeholders get turned off and your project will lose support.

This then in turn makes it difficult to get the right support for your project in your organisation. Stakeholders will be frustrated at you. Competitors may end up taking advantage and get a step ahead of you in the marketplace.

What is it That Makes Retail Project Management Different?

You’re in a highly competitive environment

In retail, you’ll find yourself up against local, regional, national and even international competitors. As a result, this drives down margin meaning it’s essential that your project execution is creative, flexible and consistent. So, you can get ahead of your competition if you can neatly deliver your goals and realise the right benefits on time.

Retail is high profile

This is an industry that is regularly in the press and social media. Retail news, successes and bloopers are regularly in the public eye. It captures interest and attention in customers’ hearts and minds. You need to eliminate errors and mistakes throughout your project to ensure you don’t attract the wrong attention.

Your project could impact millions of people

The retail industry affects a HUGE number of people. Changes could lead to positive or negative effects on your customers, your staff, your shareholders and your suppliers. Consequently, this also affect the people around them. Therefore, the retailer’s brand is perhaps the most important asset in the company.

You need to consider this wide range of impacted parties as you manage your retail project. You’ll need to work with a broad range of affected people. You can be sure that you’ll need to balance many conflicting requirements which each side putting a compelling, data-based case forward for consideration. You will need to avoid many, many opportunities for mis-communication throughout the project. On top of this, each test, trial and deployment must be timely, practical and well-orchestrated or the situation could get out of control.

Retail project management connects you with a variety of stakeholders

You will need a varied stakeholder group as you’re affecting such a vast number of people. Your extended project management team may not have any experience of navigating through a retail improvement adventure. You’ll need to understand them and help them to help you drive through to the finish line.

Successful retail project management has a need for speed!

Your project needs to be managed at a fast-pace and you will need to think on your feet. Almost all of the changes in the market appear quickly from when news first breaks – so you need to be quick too. Plus, you will want to be right first time to avoid excessive cost, confusion and wasted time. The best way to do this is to learn to use the right skills at the right time to navigate the challenges across your project plan.

What makes Retail Project Management Different

What is a Retail Project Manager’s Role?

The role of retail project manager may or may not be your official job title. But if you’re finding yourself managing retail projects organising change and leading improvement initiatives (even if only as part of your overall job), then you are a Retail Project Manager.

And that is a GREAT role to have.

Managing changes to the retail industry is fantastic. It’s a huge opportunity to make lasting change on a big scale and bring in significant benefits by positively improving life for customers, staff and the business.

However, the expectations of managing and leading a project in the modern retail world are large. You have already read about some of the pressures of managing projects in retail. It’s not just about classic “project management”…

  • You’ll also need to be able to understand and analyse the business and operation.
  • You’re expected to be able to identify opportunities and generate ideas.
  • Along the way, you’ll of course need to manage the project and related activities.
  • And use effective change management to ensure a smooth and successful delivery.
  • Oh – and you’ll need to apply a healthy dose of business savvy throughout.

How Should You Adjust Your Retail Project Management Style?

When I first transitioned from technology project management to managing retail projects, I found out these lessons the hard way. I found classic project management techniques and I needed to change how I approached delivering retail projects. This was one of the reasons that I developed a retail project management online course – to help retailers and retail project managers to make successful changes. Alternatively, you can try by starting to work on projects and learning the lessons as you go.


project management expert Oliver BanksAbout the Author

Oliver Banks is an expert retail project and programme manager. He originally managed projects in the technology industry before moving to Tesco and starting to deliver retail improvement. Oliver is passionate about helping retailers to deliver projects to improve stores, distribution and head office operations. You can connect with Oliver Banks on LinkedIn.


project management expert Oliver Banks

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