Knowledge Transfer

    If you work on transformational retail initiatives, this truth is too real. In any initiative that extends beyond 12 months, key team members will leave. Heck, even if the initiative is less than 12 months. Those key team members might be project managers, IT leads, business sponsors, external consultants or SME’s. I have had experiences where they all left.

    While those team gaps were always difficult to fill without the project taking a setback, it seems doubly so now. In our WFH environment, can vacating team members hand off work effectively?

    Why is it more difficult than before?

    1. In our employee-tight economy, positions sit empty longer between transitions. When there were more available employees, a 2 week notice could have meant 1-2 weeks of knowledge transfer. But a tight labor market means a position may sit empty for weeks before a replacement is in place. Even if the documentation was from the departing team member was excellent, it is outdated when their replacement arrives. IT projects and Retail moves too fast. Documents that are more than 60 days old are often irrelevant.
    2. Work From Home means that there is less knowledge transfer via osmosis. Once a manager could plop a replacement in the midst of a project pod. Then the daily conversations helped the new member get up to speed. Just by listening in on the conversations happening around them. That is very different with the pre-planned Zoom calls with agendas that are common today.
    3. There are less training resources available for retailers. Every retailer has had to focus their training teams to satisfy store needs. To begin with, store teams are changing even more quickly. Therefore, training resources are stretched to help the stores. So headquarters transformation project teams must cover any neccessary knowledge transfer themselves when there are voids on the team.

    What can retail leaders do?

    Consequently, subdivided transformation projects are more successful. Particularly if they are shorter than 12 months. Interim projects still need to follow normal project lifecycles. Include kickoffs, milestones, deliverables and closeouts before proceeding to the next phase. Shorter projects create natural breaks for team members to roll off/on projects without critical knowledge loss.

    Stay crisp on every phase. Dividing projects into smaller phases means that deliverables, communications and knowledge transfer can be concise. When there are gaps in those smaller phases it is easier to communicate the deliverables and expectations. Otherwise, multi-year projects have so much history that they are difficult for new team members to digest.

    Reward team members to remain on the project. Reward team members who remain on the project through the course of its natural end. Creating shorter projects with rewards, help team members postpone leaving a position until the project break. Allowing projects to run for years means that vacancies will happen at any time. Resulting in unplanned gaps and more difficulties in knowledge transfer.

    Require the business sponsor to remain with the project. Even if their change roles. When an executive champions a project but then is tapped for another role, they cannot vacate the executive sponsor position. I have never seen a seamless transfer when a business sponsor left a project. If they remain with the company, they need to continue to champion and drive the business results for their project. That accountability does not change. (Key point #4 in Keeping Retail Projects on Track.)

    Follow Project Management standards. Require projects to have a dedicated project manager. Meetings must have an agenda, notes and document key decisions. Record task delegations. Keep running parking lot issues. Store project documents in a central location. Keep document versions and revisions. Good project hygiene can seem to slow progress, but it accelerates knowledge transfer.

    Turn to outside assistance. An external implementation team can usually complete a project more quickly than an internal team. Select one that focuses on the function or solution. Create a contract and SLA’s that keep their resources in place.

    Knowledge Transfer…To sum up:

    • Keep delivery windows shorter than 12 months and very concise.
    • Reward team members who stay through the end of each phase.
    • Require executive sponsors to remain on projects – even when their role changes.
    • Follow Project Management standards.
    • Turn to outside assistance.