Picking the right PPM tool in retail

David Walton, director of Bestoutcome, which provides portfolio, programme and project management services and products to retailers, offers some guidance to retailers who may be choosing a project portfolio management tool.

Having worked in retail for a number of large clients, I have always been impressed by their ability to mobilise resources and implement projects successfully. This can be down to the ‘heroic’ nature of staff who make the extra effort to ensure projects are delivered. This is even more the case with projects being implemented in stores where the visibility of a poor implementation is obvious to store staff and, more importantly, customers.

Managing projects using a disparate set of tools like Excel, PowerPoint and MS Project has significant drawbacks when you have many a large number of projects and many stakeholders who need to update their tasks or require visibility of projects.

What is needed is a tool that is a central repository that everyone who needs to can access. These tools are called project portfolio management (PPM) tools. In recent months I have come across a number of retailers who are struggling with the tool that they have selected. Here are some guidelines in ensuring you select the right tool that is fit for purpose.

Big is not always best

Some of the retailers that I have worked with are struggling with their PPM tool because the tool they have selected is a leviathan. It can do almost anything that you would want, but the rub is that these tools are often so complex that they fall into disuse very quickly and staff resort to spreadsheets. Because of the fast pace of retail any tool that slows you down is likely to be avoided. These large PPM tools are often used for timesheet tracking and project finances but not for planning and governing. I’m not saying that all retailers should not select these big tools, but it must be understood that size often brings complexity and retail is a fast moving industry where people cannot invest huge amounts of time in learning and using a system. Also, these large tools are usually very expensive to buy and maintain. In today’s challenging retail market this is a key consideration.

A better approach is to do a MosCoW (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have) prioritisation of what you really need from a PPM tool. This helps you focus on what you really have to have and not what is nice to have.

Select a solution not just a tool

A PPM tool can have many users and maintain many projects. When you are selecting a tool ensure that you select the right partner as well. Some PPM tool vendors will do some training and then once the contract has been signed, little support is forthcoming. Some vendors have only a sales office in the UK so these companies may not have the ability to give you the support when you want it.

So if there is a marginal difference in the functionality of tools that you are considering, make sure you understand how each vendor supports you during your implementation and beyond.

Smallest is not always best!

Just as the leviathans should be carefully considered, the very small vendors may have limited resources to develop their product or support you. We worked with a FTSE retailer recently that had selected a tool which only had a new release every 18 months, no cash in the bank and had one member of full-time staff.


There is no one tool that all retailers should choose but retail is a fast moving industry with lots of change projects being implemented. To control and govern these projects, take care in selecting the tool that does not slow you down but supports you in a pragmatic way. In my opinion, this is unlikely to be one of the leviathan products.

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