BrainTrust Query: Can Task Management Go Too Far?

Discussion
Feb 17, 2010
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By Bill Bittner, President, BWH Consulting

Talk to anyone outside of store operations
and they will give you an ear full about poor execution at store level.
Talk to anyone in store operations and they will give you an ear full about
all the stupid requests they get from category managers, marketing, human
resources and loss prevention. The truth probably lies somewhere between
the two perspectives, but most would agree that things could stand improvement
and the latest tools to address the issue are task management applications.

Task management applications range from simple
to-do lists that can be used by individuals to set their personal priorities,
to network-based applications that help coordinate merchandising plans
across multiple locations by scheduling display preparation and other in-store
activities. The fundamental steps for task management involve: planning,
allocating, setting goals, organizing, prioritizing, scheduling, delegation,
monitoring, and analysis of time spent.

By moving these steps to the network, it
is easier for everyone dependent on store performance to see how their
activities overlap and monitor their execution. For example, maybe it makes
more sense to wait until the upcoming reset to clean the shelves. By making
requests visible to everyone and coordinating execution, the burden on
the store can be reduced.

Task management applications can help the
store achieve better results, but there could be a downside in the loss
of “ownership” by store management. Traditionally the store manager works
with department heads to plan weekly activities and set priorities. To
the extent that the task management application organizes all the demands
on the store and discourages outside departments from overloading the store,
it is a help. But if store managers no longer have the authority to set
priorities or manage the activity within their four walls, will the store
lose the hands-on fine-tuning that many organizations rely on?

Discussion Questions:
Numerous studies have shown that as people relinquish control they
become less committed to results. Could task management be “over utilized?” Could
it be implemented in such a way that the store personnel feel like
they are no longer involved in results?

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17 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Can Task Management Go Too Far?"


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Paula Rosenblum
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

In what universe does this happen? “Traditionally the store manager works with department heads to plan weekly activities and set priorities.” Really?

I’ve been in retail a long time, and I’ve never heard a store manager talk about how much control he or she has.

The reason task management is so important is it helps identify just how much work really IS being sent to the stores, and close the loop on insuring the stores have what they need to complete expected tasks–not just people, but things like signage, planograms, products, and prices. It also takes the anecdotal and age-old storyline: “stores never do what we tell them to do,” removes the emotion and quantifies it.

Task management is one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” applications…it is invaluable for those retailers who really want to understand how well their stores execute, and an important tool for raising the overall performance level across their chains.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
11 years 2 months ago

Task management affords many things; delegation, accountability, follow through, and 360 communication. As long as the processes and procedures are executed correctly, this should truly enhance the store operation and reduce the need for some supervision. Yes, it could be implemented wrongly just like anything else but the common goal and holistic approach of trying to keep everything visible to all and assuring the tasks are completed and everyone is communicated with, far outweighs any negatives.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

Store-level execution has always been a challenge. I don’t believe we can over-emphasize task management. As a guy who came from the stores originally, I can be honest in saying that too many companies are at the mercy of the capability of the individual store manager. Giving them actionable tools, techniques, and technology to execute tasks results in a better store. Period.

Sandy Miller
Guest
Sandy Miller
11 years 2 months ago

Most tasks involve and effect many people. The way we have rather successfully handled this issue is providing most all managers the current list of all managers’ “TO DO” and “GOALS.”

Ian Percy
Guest
11 years 2 months ago
So where would you prefer to get your eggs: from an egg factory where the chickens are imprisoned and immobilized in little tiny cages or from a free-range chicken farm? Sometimes I think we care more about where we get our eggs than how we treat people. Sure you could argue that the former is more “efficient” and “economical” but which one makes you feel good? Which one would you like your children to visit on a school field trip? And no, I’m not off topic. When we become stuck in thinking that only a “Mechanistic” solution is the answer to our problems, we begin to lose ‘spirit’. When you lose spirit you eventually lose everything including the ability to think “possibility.” Too often, to stick with my metaphor, if the chickens in the factory aren’t producing, we tighten up the cages (policies, rules, measurements) and thereby control. Of course, when things get really bad we all of a sudden want people to “think outside the cage.” Of course we need to have mechanistic efficiencies… Read more »
Doug Fleener
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

Great questions Bill. I don’t know if it is the tool that’s the issue, but rather the quality of the teamwork and collaboration that happens before the tool is used.

I have found that truly customer-centric retailers have the appropriate communication mechanisms to ensure that the front-line managers have a voice. But since so many retailers aren’t really customer-centric, they don’t care what the front line says.

It’s a cultural issue as much as anything.

James Tenser
Guest
11 years 2 months ago
Task management in retail–sometimes called “Store Execution Management”–but a partial step toward the goal of more effective In-Store Implementation and compliance. Users and advocates should be careful not to mistake this worthwhile tool for anything close to a comprehensive solution. Here’s why: Even when merchandising work is better organized from the top down, there remains the considerable challenge of detecting and measuring performance. Did the resets get done? On time? In which stores? By whom? At what level of accuracy? What’s the evidence? How were exceptions addressed? How is task performance related to sales performance? Which tasks are worth performing and which are not? Few can answer these questions today, but a full-circle Merchandising Performance Management discipline is essential for breaking down the barrier that now exists between merchandising and store operations. If the goal is compliance, we must measure it constantly and align the measurements with performance incentives at store level. In other words, a task management system is of very limited use until and unless the individuals performing the tasks are able to… Read more »
Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
11 years 2 months ago
Having a broad-based view of the sum of all the tasks that a store is expected to perform is a positive step. This assumes that 1) the people initiating the tasks actually look at the task load, 2) the workload is reviewed and modified in the context of the associate hours that individual store managers have available to execute these tasks, and 3) there is a set of rules and a “gatekeeper” empowered to balance the expected task load with the resources to execute. In my experience, this is very rare. In most central offices, there are multiple departments working independently to develop ideas and programs meant to drive more business. This ultimately translates into a whole series of tasks for the stores (floor moves, planogram changes, new features, etc). These tasks are then layered on top of the normal store workload of receipt flow, price changes, recovery, and maintaining store standards. In most cases these tasks are communicated to the stores independently without anyone looking at these task in total to determine how many… Read more »
Jeff Bulger
Guest
Jeff Bulger
11 years 2 months ago
I would like to echo Mr. Emerson’s comments. The question of ownership isn’t the pivotal one on the retail floor. The real questions revolve around priority. Which task gets done when and by what role? Are there enough people to do all the “priority one” tasks that must be done today? After we do all those tasks, do we still have time for customer service? Or is customer service something that we will just assume gets down while an employee is mopping a floor or changing a display? When you run out of hours, whose tasks get pushed to next week? Do all the tasks reflect the company goals and the brand message? Is the task that the district manager just handed the store manager more or less important than that marketing directive? Then come the questions around the workforce itself: Someone else mentioned the slashed hours budget. How are you going to maintain that budget without some sort of a workload planning methodology that balances that budget with everything that everyone wants to get… Read more »
David Biernbaum
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

Employees are not robots. Task management needs to take into consideration various human concerns for emotion, logic, sensitivity, security, and reward. Frankly, I see too many retailers operating on all levels with a lack of the human element in mind.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

In my experience there are two broadly defined types of managers (over simplification I know)–those who like making decisions and taking accountability for them and those who don’t. The decision maker group is far larger; isn’t that why they were promoted because they demonstrated the ability to make good judgments?

Execution software can be seen as a great tool by both groups. For the decision makers, it can free them up from having to making lots of the little decisions leaving the time to make the bigger ones. For those who don’t like making decisions, they don’t have to.

The issue is what decisions get allocated to the software and which ones don’t. There are many judgments to be made in running a retail operation, not all of which will fit the universal model used by the software. If the software takes on the role of making too many of the calls, the managers who like making decisions may decide to make one to find a new opportunity.

Bill Doran
Guest
Bill Doran
11 years 2 months ago

You have heard the adage: “What gets measured gets done.” It applies in task management in both positive and negative ways. When the home office can see whether a task is complete or not, managers who want to keep in good standing make sure it is done. And they let the tasks the home office cannot see slide. What they cannot see includes customer service, and a dozen other ‘to dos’ not measured in task management that keep the customers returning.

My anecdotal experience: great displays, nobody to help find the book I am searching for. The task check list looks great, but the P&L tanks.

Mark Burr
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

The best way to determine whether or not task management is needed in a mechanized or systematic way is to ask whether or not a manual way is already in place and working well that a system can enhance.

The next time you visit your local retail establishment in most any sector–visit their rest room. Most certainly, on the back of the door is the ‘Daily Cleaning Checklist’. It will likely be checked off with a date of last month, if that. That’s manual task management. Will a systematic approach change that? No. What it will change is systematic management of a task management system and little more.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
11 years 2 months ago

Task Management is another “silver bullet” tool for companies who are too busy saving their way to bankruptcy. These companies never pay one cent more than the market price for labor. They never instill any pride in their “bottom of the barrel” lowest-possible-price employees.

This system has been tried again and again and the proponents keep failing. You succeed by hiring the very best, training beyond their current position and expecting a partner and not an employee. If any company I invest in starts implementing “Task Management” then I sell every share. Now don’t start talking to me about the check list on the airlines–it’s not the same thing and you know it!

Keshav Shivdasani
Guest
Keshav Shivdasani
11 years 2 months ago

Do you know that Hannaford Bros. was able to reduce recall time from 5 days down to 3 hours with Task Management? Task Management is definitely a proven technology and solution. However, when built in-house using some legacy applications and rudimentary versions of Share Point, etc, where the end-users do not have a gatekeeper and a seamless 2-way feedback system, it may appear that there is no ROI in the system.

Shilpa Rao
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

More than task management, what retailers really need is a collaboration platform, with perhaps a workflow. What I mean by collaboration platform is a place where store managers, buyers, and planners could share their ideas, schedules, issues, and best practices with each other.

Today, most store managers and store personnel are computer savvy. In their personal time they have an email, they are on Facebook/social networking sites, they collaborate and communicate with the rest of the world, but when they come to work, they can’t do the same.

If those technologies are brought into the workplace, wouldn’t it make it lot easier to collaborate and communicate, rather than simple task management? Yes, task management is a great tool, but without collaboration functionality, it limits its potential success.

Tom Redd
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

Bill’s points are good–as are many of the other comments. Culture change is the #1 change that must occur first before any type of workflow solution at the store or at a retail headquarters.

With the new, fast changing shopper that all retailers are facing, their internal culture must change and support teamwork/collaboration, company pride, and be committed to serving the new shopper–no matter the channel.

Culture creates change, not software and computers.

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