5 Tips to Help Your Business Manage System Process Changes
Process change is crucial to any organization's survival. That's as true for merchandise and inventory planning as any other organizational process. Yet it's difficult to accomplish.
I was reminded of this while reading Retail Systems Research's (RSR) annual industry study, Optimizing Assortments to Invigorate Retail: Benchmark Report 2012. In that report, RSR cited "cultural resistance to an integrated planning process" as the No. 1 inhibitor of forward progress.
This was the third consecutive year in which cultural resistance was tabbed as the largest roadblock to process improvement. That finding matches our experience with the planning system implementations we do at Direct Tech.
An implementation always includes three basic components:
- data integration (the "technical" side of the changeover);
- user training; and
- process change management.
Data integration and user training are both pretty straightforward. There's a fairly clear start and end point to both tasks. Process change management is a different story, however.
Without a doubt, managing process change is the most challenging task our consultants face in an implementation. Simply put, it's human nature to resist change and it's especially difficult for users to embrace a new process while simultaneously running a business.
In today's dynamic retail environment, however, the ability to embrace rapid process change is more important than ever. Merchandise and inventory planners must adapt quickly to system upgrades, evolving customer demands and multichannel marketing initiatives almost as they happen.
It's exciting, but also quite daunting. Here are a few best practice tips we've identified from our experience at Direct Tech to help your business address these inevitable process changes:
- It starts at the top. Change can only be accomplished with senior-level sponsorship and commitment. No exceptions.
- Set clearly defined objectives and timelines. State each goal firmly and hold to it. For example, "The spring 2015 season plans will be completed using the new process."
- Assign a day-to-day business owner to actively manage the project and be accountable for meeting objectives.
- Leapfrog rather than taking baby steps. Business needs are changing too fast to mess with incremental process improvements, as they'll keep you mired behind the market. Rather than trying to make an old process fit a new market need, toss it. Then start over with a totally new, market-driven process.
- Review and refine your processes annually. Conduct an annual process post-mortem and build an organization that expects and embraces change to give your business a competitive edge.
Process change doesn't have to be the end of the world for your organization; far from it, actually. The key is to recognize its essential place in growing your business, and then to manage it correctly from the top.