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Making Your List, Checking It Twice: Advice for Project Managers Launching Holiday Retail Projects

In my last blog, I touched on the five tips that Project Managers can utilize in organizing internal teams for better execution of holiday projects within an omni-channel retailer environment. But what happens next? After you have your Holiday Task Force team assembled, the priority is to start making your project documents and identifying due dates and milestones. Taking into consideration the tips that I mentioned in my prior blog, I’ll admit that it can feel a bit daunting to get this effort off the ground. Don’t fear! There’s help, and it may actually be a bit simpler that you think. Plus, it’s scalable – meaning that you don’t have to be a gigantic big-box retailer to put this into effect. This approach can work for any size of retailer, and clearly defines the priority of work to complete. If you use agencies to help manage your marketing campaigns or websites, this can be especially crucial to maintain cost-effectiveness and not waste billable hours.
My suggestion? Utilize a ‘Must-Have’ and ‘Nice-to-Have’ approach for all of your holiday tasks, and create a running master project list that can be easily accessible by ALL members of the Holiday Task Force team. This list defines and accounts for all topics related to holiday, along with milestones, accountable resources, and the status of these items. Let’s define what these terms mean, and how to reinforce within your teams:

  • ‘Must-Haves’: these are the known issues or competitive disadvantages that your company has identified need to fixed before holiday marketing and promotions are scheduled to begin. For example, a topic on the list could be “Upgrading the Servers”. Did your website have page load issues on high-traffic days? Or did the website crash on Black Friday? Consider your Must-Haves as the non-negotiable topics that resources have to work on in order to execute a successful holiday – these topics, or related tasks, should receive priority for workload and delivery. It’s important for the entire Holiday Task Force team to understand that these efforts come first, and be aligned on what these topics actually mean. A Marketing team member may not understand that if the server issues are not fixed to speed up page load time, then their increased budget of paid digital ads may have little effect in driving sales.
  • ‘Nice-to-Haves’: these items are exactly what they sound like. Approach these as either items that can be worked on if your resources have extra hours, or if other Must-Haves are being completed very efficiently and the team has bandwidth. Here’s an example: “Gee, it would be really cool if we could have a gift selector on our Homepage, based on personality types”. Sure…but, what does your customer behavior data actually show as preferred shopping? If Search accounts for 70% of your customer’s shopping behavior on your website, then I’d suggest a gift-selector is not going to be a high priority for moving the sales needle. Also, does your merchandising team already attribute your products for Personality Types, or would that require a lot of work on their part? A very slippery slope that I want to caution teams about is paralysis by analysis – just because your competitor features a specific function on their website, it does not mean that your customers will either care about it or use the functionality. This advice is very helpful determining your Nice-to-Haves, and can keep work focused on what matters most.

A blocker for many Project Managers can be getting their Holiday Task Force team members all on the same page, or even getting this master list started. I suggest scheduling a meeting with the Holiday Task Force team early in the workweek, and using a Post-It Note approach. Book a meeting room with a white board and draw a line down the middle; Must-Haves on the left and Nice-to-Haves on the right. Ask each representative on the Holiday Task Force to write down their holiday priority items on Post-It notes, with one item each per note. Then, ask the team members to go to the white board and place their Post-It notes in the section they feel best fits the task – either a Must-Have or Nice-to-Have.
The fun part comes next: once all team members have placed their Post-Its accordingly, the Project Manager goes up to the white board to read off the notes to the team. As a team, discuss each of the Post-It notes and start determining where there may be overlap or differing opinions. Even though the conversation may be a bit difficult, it will definitely help all people involved understand what a task truly involves to execute (like the gift selector example above). Once the team has aligned, the Project Manager creates an excel doc or Google Sheet that lists each task, and assigns the category of ‘Must-Have’ or ‘Nice-to-Have’ to each item. This list serves to reinforce what the holiday priorities are, is vital in estimating project hours and resources needed, and can act as a guide for leadership to understand the full scope of the holiday efforts. Even if you have project management software, the master list can provide insights for cross-functional teams as an easy checklist of accomplishment and project progress.
I want to highlight a few other helpful tips on having a productive Must-Have vs. Nice-to-Have conversation:

  • Keep it focused on your customer: Per my last blog, the customer is always right. You will be able to defend priorities and decisions made if you use the customer behavior and shopping data that you have available to you. This can include ratings and reviews, social media commentary, customer service and sales data. Magento’s 2017 Holiday Commerce Outlook report focuses on this topic, highlighting their Business Intelligence tool and insights from their community of commerce experts’ that “include using analytics to identify and engage shoppers”. This is a great report that contains valuable industry metrics, and I suggest that the Project Manager distribute this to the Holiday Task Force team prior to meeting.
  • Use Social Media as easy fixes for ‘Nice-to-Haves’: Let’s get back to the gift selector example. Instead of using precious development hours to modify your website, Facebook offers so many options that create engaging, shoppable content and ads for customers. Instagram is also growing in popularity to focus on selling specific products. If the Merchandising team has created a campaign around selecting gifts for every personality type (i.e. Golf-Loving Dad, Trendy Mom, The Wine Lover, etc), then it could become a great social media campaign with fun content, easily linked assortments or products, and a means to reach new shoppers. ‘Nice-to-Haves’ don’t have to be dismissed from the holiday project if there are known alternatives that can make them a reality.
  • Lock the Doc: As the holiday Project Manager, it may be very helpful for you to password protect the master list, or lock access to keep content safe. This means that teams aren’t able to override priorities without your permission, or without taking into account all related tasks and dependencies. Whichever project management style that your company uses, such as Agile or waterfall, the securing of aligned tasks and priorities is essential to ensuring that the project moves along efficiently. I also recommending using this document as a regular agenda for the Holiday Task Force meetings, especially to help track progress and answer questions as they arise.

Up next, I’ll be diving deeper into holiday analytics and how customer shopping behavior can help solve common questions within projects. In the meantime, create your master list and let it help you in tackling the tasks necessary to execute a great holiday season.

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