The Big Bang Vs. Incremental Change Debate
By Bill Bittner, President, BWH Consulting
It is a constant debate among IT and business managers. Does it make more sense to implement major change all at once (aka Big Bang) or do it incrementally?
Big bang advocates say there is no other way to introduce major change to an organization. When a fundamental modification to the foundation of the IT environment such as its operating platform or network connection is required, there really is no choice but to bite the bullet. Only by conducting a coordinated switch will the job get done properly.
Incremental change in this situation, say big bangers, is akin to “cutting a dog’s tail off one inch at a time.”
Advocates of the incremental approach say large-scale change is too risky. By dividing a project into many separate, easily verifiable phases, the project management can be confident that things are moving forward. This is also a big benefit for the user area because it allows time for the training required for the new solution.
The challenge, however, is that the technology itself probably represents the fastest changing piece of the puzzle. If you lay down the technical environment today for an incremental set of application changes over the next five years, it is possible and even likely the environment will become obsolete before you finish. Of course, this may also prove true in a big bang approach if it takes a great deal of time to implement.
Retail IT projects tend to have much larger training and personnel issues than other businesses. For store applications in particular, the sheer number of people and the geographic areas where they are dispersed makes training, which is an absolute necessity, a challenge.
Training is critical because, if not done adequately, a company can quickly lose the expected benefits associated with the change. When it comes to service personnel, there is probably adequate training in place because stores have to deal with ongoing turnover in those positions. Problems, if they crop up, may be in store and department management that are focused on what is deemed more immediately pressing areas. If all levels of store management are not brought into the training process, then they may, in essence, impede progress, preferring to do things as they had been done before.
Moderator’s Comment: Does the big bang or incremental approach make more sense for retail applications based on your experience? What do you believe
are the keys to successfully creating change within retail organizations?
I personally believe both approaches have their time and place, but I am naturally afraid of projects that are expected to take more than a year or require
change in processes within more than three departments. If the project meets either of those criteria, I immediately want to consider ways to introduce it incrementally.
There is one very simple approach to retail applications that I think can ease implementation. The real money saving applications are those that yield some
benefit at store level, whether reducing cost or increasing gross profit dollars. The leverage on these applications is huge because the benefits are multiplied by the improvement
at hundreds or even thousands of locations. So the way to introduce these applications is by location, source, and category.
Software vendors should design their applications with this phasing in mind. This allows the retailer to choose the stores, vendors, and categories they
first want to implement and then roll out the solution as they gain experience. If it is truly an “ERP” solution that is meant to manage the whole cash to cash cycle, then it
can do it a single DSD vendor. Implementation problems will be limited to the one area and the role out can continue when all the initial problems have been addressed. This also
reduces the scope of the change because, by starting with DSD, the issues with self-distribution are postponed until the items sourced from the distribution center are addressed.
Bill Bittner – Moderator