April 27, 2017

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Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Project Story: Retail Project for Clearance Sales

Retail project for clearance salesThe story is about a project in the Retail Sector with the objective of enabling the ability to do clearance sales and promotions in more than one price zone at different times. The Retailer had expanded its operations into multiple countries and, as a result, needed to track clearance sales in each of the countries at different times to the clearance sale in the original country.

To achieve this, the Retail Management System needed to cater for multiple price zones (one zone per country). The complexity of the project was that multiple systems would be affected, requiring a huge testing effort across many functional teams and systems. In addition to that, there were only two periods within the trading calendar that allowed the implementation of such an intrusive project in either June or September.

Although the project was originally planned to take 6 months and it took 9 months, it was considered a success due to the fact that the re-negotiated time and budget was achieved and the business benefit could be immediately realised. The business was able to run clearance sales in more than one zone at different times and they could copy the original clearance to another zone.

Project Structure and Frequent Communications

The project manager, Jeremy Powdrell, ensured that the project structure was setup properly with all key stakeholders identified upfront. Due to the sheer number of stakeholders and to ensure clear project communications that would align all involved, a monthly meeting was arranged in the company’s 200 seat auditorium. At the monthly meetings various sponsors and other key stakeholders presented aspects of the project, this assisted in alignment and raised the profile of the project.

During the Test Phase, the project manager scheduled daily meetings, especially during the final weeks of testing in order to deal with defects and issues quickly.

Performance feedback was intentional by engaging with both the project resources and their managers to discuss performance. This helped to ensure that Managers could properly recognise and reward the team members through the normal channels.

The Business analysis was also done very well. Training was prepared in advance and the training contributed to the fact that people were better prepared for the change.

Scope Changes and Planning Constraints

Retail project - clearance salesAs a result of changes in senior management, the project sponsor had changed. The new sponsor then introduced scope changes to the existing project. The subsequent change control meant that the time required to implement the solution had to be extended.

The release of the new solution had to be carefully planned. A small window existed for executing the solution in production between Clearance sales. Normally it would take three months per clearance and scheduled clearance sales happened three times per year. The project timeline was also constrained due to the fact that IT composed a freeze on any IT changes during peak trading seasons, which happened twice a year.

Team Dynamics

Shortly before the solution would be put in production, during stress and performance testing, the team realised that the system’s capacity couldn’t cope with the bigger demand. Batch jobs took too long to run. The issue had to be escalated to the CIO to give support and assistance. Eventually, the issue was resolved by assigning senior people to find a solution to the problem and by re-configuration of the scripts and database to address the batch jobs.

The team dynamics was a challenge with some people having emotional breakdowns. The project manager realised that he needed to identify problems causing relationship issues much earlier so that he could have intervened and reduced the stress that team members were under.

There was no Test Manager to help coordinate the huge testing effort. This role had to be fulfilled by a Business Process Analyst. The process and templates were available, but no person with experience of executing and tracking tests and defects. It took a long time to create proper test scripts.

Where a project manager comes from a Business background, he may tend to interfere and instruct how resources need to perform work, instead of just facilitating, influencing and motivating the team.

Lessons Learnt

It’s important to formulate the project scope 100% and if the scope changes, all stakeholders need to understand it, sign-off on the change control and accept the impacts that the changes will have.

It’s also pertinent to have the Sponsor on board. The moment problems arise, it’s important to define the issues and escalate and address them timeously.

For any strategic project of this nature, you need to get knowledgeable and experienced people in at the right times.

In any project with a high test requirement, a Test Manager needs to be assigned in order to ensure coordination, escalation, defect management is taken care of; otherwise it stays the responsibility of the project manager, with the consequence that the project manager might neglect his other duties.

Knowledge Management

Knowledge management is very important. This includes ensuring project information is archived, helping people to grow, cement the learning, documenting the processes and procedures. Part of the handover to operations, is to make sure that people understand the designs and changes that were made implemented by the project. This will guarantee that the solution will be properly supported once the project is complete.

Stakeholder Management, Roles and Responsibilities

The project again taught the project manager of the importance of Stakeholder involvement and Sponsor support. He also values the clarification of roles and responsibilities and to contract that with all stakeholders involved, especially the project team.

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About Jeremy Powdrell:

Jeremy started his career as a Programmer, who became promoted into management. As a manager he was often asked to run projects. In 2002 he made his first attempt at doing project management more professionally. He left the corporate sector in 2005 to run his own Business for 7 years. This taught him much acumen for running a Business profitably which he could re-apply when he returned to the Corporate Sector to manage projects in 2012. He studied an Advanced Diploma in Business Project Management in 2015.

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