Projects that fail are as common in retail as three letter acronyms.  Here’s the top culprits for projects not succeeding.  You can argue about the ranking but here’s the top 5 according to Business Bitch — (a monicker I REALLY wish I had thought of!)

    1. Incomplete requirements – Translate this into retail terms and it nearly always connotes a single function creating a project to improve an outcome without realizing the requirements from other divisions to succeed.  Think of Segmented Assortment strategies by merchants who don’t consider the implications on supply chain, store operations or space management.  Or think of Mobile Marketing applications that roll out to internet users without thinking of how to communicate promotions and practices to store associates who get questions from customers.

    2. Lack of User Involvement – While it is easy to see how this translates into failure for an IT project, the same can happen with a process improvement project when tangental processes are not documented and “break” during test implementations.  Another very common retail practice is to narrow a project to the easy-to-support businesses like dry grocery, hardlines and housewares and ignore difficult businesses like perishables or fashion which creates a de facto failure.

    3. Lack of resources – This happens constantly.  A project requires the involvement of “the business” and someone gets the dreaded assignment of being the business SME for 10-25% of their time.  That nearly always translates as a job on top of their everyday job. Guaranteed the fire drills of their “40 hour a week” job will expand to take all available attention and the project will get barely more than ceremonial oversight leading to poor decisions, no business adoption and project failure.

    4. Unrealistic expectations – Read that as the project will NEVER deliver the business ROI that was sold to the executive steering committee.  The project leaders knows it, the IT team knows it, the business knows it…everyone knows it except the CFO who will blow a gasket once he starts to see the cost of the project and its deliverable — quashing every project like it in the future.

    5. (Wait for it….) Insufficient Executive Support – Like we didn’t see that coming.  Truly revolutionary projects take a tremendous amount of time to create and then adopt into business as usual.  Take any project and add about 2x its original duration to have it fully adopted and optimally delivering its business case.  Take a one year long technology implementation, for example — which is a fairly mundane project – and it will take about another 2 years until every aspect of the business is operating under the new conditions and getting past apprentice stage with the changes into a journeyman stage.  Three years in the life of a retail executive is several job changes ago.  No one has the durability to see through that kind of a project to its full value.  Executive roles change, obstacles are allowed to remain, training and ongoing change management and reinforcement is cut from the budget.

    So what is a forward-thinking retailer to do?  See my next post on overcoming project failure!