Change and transformation is a particular focus for a number of companies right now. The retail industry is no different. In fact, all consumer facing businesses are in a similar position. Significant change is required to adjust to the market disruptions that now exist. From omnichannel operations to low cost discounters. Traditional retailers are needing to change their entire operation and all ways of working to fit into the new world of retail. The key to making all of this happen? The humble retail project manager. In this article, you’ll find out what one is and what does a retail project manager do.

The retail project manager is a person who leads and manages change to be able to deliver a better tomorrow. They’re an essential cog in driving the business forwards.

Am I a Retail Project Manager?

You don’t need to have the job title to be a retail project manager. Ultimately, if you’re managing retail projects…. Then you’re a retail project manager. Even if it’s just a part of your job.

In fact, if managing retail projects is just a part of your role, you have a greater challenge with plenty of prioritisation to do. Maybe you have an operational element to your role, with important day to day responsibilities to do.

Two types of retail PM

There are broadly two types of retail project manager.

Firstly, there are the PMs with a heavy bias towards construction and property. These are the people who are responsible for building new stores or distribution centres. They manage store refresh and refurbishment projects. It’s essential to manage these projects closely to ensure the retail estate get access to the full trading opportunity as soon as possible.

The second group are those who are running change projects. These are people who are making changes to processes, procedures, people, tools or technology. Or a combined number of these!

This article is focused on this second type and will cover:

  • How does a retail PM differ from project managers in other industries?
  • What are the key responsibilities?
  • What does a retail project manager do on a daily basis?

If you’ve got more questions, just add a comment below.

What Does a Retail Project Manager Do Differently Compared to Other PMs

Managing projects and change initiatives in the retail industry is brilliant. It’s a massive opportunity to make change to big businesses. These changes are vast in scale and can have a positive impact on thousands, or even millions of people.

Read more about what makes retail project management different.

A standard Project Manager role in any other industry is a great role. Particularly for those logical type people who love to see a plan coming together. This includes building the project business case, defining and tracking project management plans and managing and solving problems, risks and issues.

As a retail project manager, of course you’re expected to be able to manage a project from start to finish. But it’s a lot more than just a standard PM role.

5 additional elements the retail project manager role picks up

  1. You’re also going to need to be able to understand the intricacies of a retail operation and business model.
  2. You may need to analyse this further, taking a direct approach to work out what insights you can find in the data sets available.
  3. You will need to come up with new ideas by finding opportunities and by solving business challenges.
  4. Once you’ve developed the project deliverables, the focus will need to be on effective change management. Without this element, all of the hard work to get you here will be wasted and forgotten. Not only will this require tenacity and resilience, but you’ll also need to be a great (and patient) communicator too.
  5. The business will also look to the retail PM to be thinking strategically and applying commercial common sense along the way.

Let’s face it, the expectations of a retail project manager are huge. But, so too is the opportunity to make change to the whole business. Even the whole retail industry. I never said it would be easy – but there is a huge sense of satisfaction available.

These additional elements or attributes can be taught and developed. However, it’s often difficult to find a complete package in one person. This is especially true if you’re looking outside existing retail project managers.

I certainly remember when I first joined retail, the project manager role was much broader than I’d originally experienced and been trained for outside retail. Fortunately, my engineering background served me well and I was ready for elements like analysing data and trends, problem solving and finding opportunities. The rest they say is history…

Key Responsibilities

The key responsibilities for a retail project manager are, of course, going to be slightly different company to company. Even within companies, there can be difference depending on the functions and WHAT the role is about.

However, there are a set of key responsibilities for HOW to deliver the change which should remain fairly constant. Here are some examples what does a retail project manager do and their responsibilities:

  • Defining and communicating the vision and how this aligns to business strategy.
  • Managing projects within a defined methodology and lifecycle, such as DMAIC, the PRINCE2 model or simpler lifecycle models.
  • Understanding the business case and refining the project to maximise benefits and minimise costs. The retail PM will also need to be able to show that benefits have been realised and achieved.
  • Thinking innovatively and identifying new opportunities and best practice.
  • Owning the production of the project deliverables throughout the lifecycle. Whilst you may not literally be doing all of the work, you’ll still be fully accountable for it.
  • Supporting and coaching the project team to ensure deliverables are successfully produced.
  • Working cross functionally, both within the organisation and externally. This could include functions like: Finance, Operations, IT, Legal, Property, Commercial and supplier teams. Also, working with the project sponsor and reporting to governance groups to agree project deliverables and keep up to date.
  • Communication skills able to adjust for the audience – from shop floor to board room. This is for both written and verbal communication.
  • Resolving issues and minimise risk by taking corrective measures. Keeping a solution focused manner when investigating problems.

The ideal retail project manager has a drive to succeed in an ever changing, ambiguous and fast paced environment. You’ll need a can-do attitude to drive progress, even in the face of adversity and/or uncertainty.

What Does a Retail Project Manager Do on a Day to Day Basis?

A retail project manager is most likely to be office based with time out in stores or the field. You’ll find many stakeholders are also office based so it makes sense to be able to physically meet with these people.

With the advent for remote working, this opens more opportunities for being a retail project manager from home or from distance. If this is the case, make sure you allow some time to meet stakeholders face to face. Doing this will build rapport and trust, allowing you to gain support.

A successful retail project manager is not stationary. They flex their position to locate themselves in the most useful area. This gives the opportunity to understand more about the operation and real situation that exists.

A day in the life of a retail PM

A day in the life of a retail project manager is difficult to predict. The project work by definition is new work that’s never previously been done. However, you could find that it would include:

  • Running a project team meeting. (You can read more about what this looks like in our guide to project meetings).
  • Phone call with a stakeholder to update them on progress.
  • Writing or reviewing project management docs (including your plan, trackers, risk management documents).
  • Writing update papers or briefing packs for governance meetings.
  • Visiting stores to observe the operation and collect data or feedback.

Do You Know Someone Who Wants to Become a Retail Project Manager?

Who do you know that would be interested in finding out more about becoming a retail PM? They’ll need to know more about what does a retail project manager do so they can get ready for this role. So, please share this article with them now and be the person who helps a friend or colleague to find their new career or role.

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 to deliver retail improvement. He is now an independent consultant, passionate about helping retailers to deliver projects to improve stores, distribution and head office operations.


project management expert Oliver Banks

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