Tales from the PM Trails - a Day 100 approach to changing retail tech from Jennifer Diamond

Tales of the Trails Edited Interview

Interviewer: Andrea (Van Horn) Spencer

Interview with: Jennifer Diamond

Date of interview: 10-29-20

Watch on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/pN9Wu7-BUKU

Andrea: My name is Andrea Spencer and let's get started with Jennifer Diamond and her Tale from the Trails. Why don't you tell us of who you are and a little bit about the project that you're going to be talking about?

Jennifer: Absolutely. Thank you. So I started out as a cost accountant way back when and then decided to get into technology, projects, consulting, and organizational management all at the same time. And so I did a bunch of work first and then went and got the extra degrees and certs, and that's why my letters are in the order that they're in: Masters of Organizational Management, then PMP, then Risk Management Professional because I'm just a scaredy cat and try to keep track of everything, and then I got curious later after this project into New Product Development and I have my New Product Development Professional Certification through PDMA.

Along the way I got the chance to be hired into a company that makes a beverage that we all probably all consume on a regular basis, rolling out a change to systems that are right next to you and me at the point of ordering our favorite cup of coffee.

So this Mega IT project that was changing how the entire company did business from ordering product to making payroll - coming to a coffee shop near you one story at a time. So that was the project, how to implement change at the store level for a technology project that are soo many degrees of remove from where the actual impact is to the end customer, that it was a real change management conversation.

Andrea: That's great! So, tell us a little bit about what happened.

Jennifer: Well, I got lucky to be brought onto this project, they had a dedicated change management work stream and that's pretty uncommon. I really still point to Starbucks as being the home of the most developed organizational change impact emphasis that I've ever had a chance to be a part of, in my career, which has spent a lot of time in technology, so it was interesting to see the retail point of view really looking at the impacted end user.

We had about 10,000 stores we needed to roll this out to and figure out how to do that. And through this change management approach of asking the most impacted stakeholders, we were able to say, “All right, what's the impact look like for you?” and that led us to a piloting process, one pilot district, before rolling out to larger groups one at a time and taking change management really seriously from top to bottom.

Andrea: Great! So did you have a “Wow” or an “Aha” moment with that?

Jennifer: Yeah. Definitely. There were so many because I had come from technology implementations where frankly if it works, you're 90% of the way there. What we're discovering is that it can work just fine- if people didn't understand the why of it in addition to the how of it, it was going nowhere. So, you know the Table Stakes on it was getting representation from the people who are going to live with it every single day. So this is where they literally brought in district managers and high-performing store partners in the technology implementation team for more than a year, some of whom it was their first corporate role, to be a part of designing what this impact was going to be, and making sure that we had all of our decision-making criteria defined way up front. So there's no surprises when it came time to have a decision. We've been talking about ‘what mattered’ for months before it came time to really put pen to paper. So that “Ah Ha” was something that I don't know people think about, when we roll out projects were like, “We got to get to stabilization, what's end user support look like, we got to set up all these special people to help everybody along” and what I learned was that's exactly the wrong way to go. Because that's creating yet another change, you have to change out of.

Andrea: [laughs]

Jennifer: [laughs] So not only do you have day one, but now you have day 10 that's different. And then you have day 20 that’s... no no no. Make day one as close to day 100 as you possibly can for the most impacted people. Because that means, you can do the fancy dancing behind the scenes if that 1-800 Help Me Now number works day 100 and day one. Maybe what's behind the scenes on where that number goes changes, but from the end user perspective it's still 1-800 Help Me and that's always going to be the same. So that kind of thing was really really important.

And then when it comes to speaking for your project as a PM and as a Project Team, Shut up - get your end-users to tell the tale of how it went. Get the customers to say “I liked it!” rather than, “You know they liked it.” I don't know they liked it, let me hear from them. Ah, they say so too.

Andrea: That's great! So you kind of went through a little bit of the Table Stakes, but what is one thing every PM should know?

Jennifer: I think that, you know, part of the conversation here is getting out of your own way and just don't try to be a Knower in this situation, go in be a Learner. You can't know everyone else's experiences in a project like this where there are so, so many people: 10,000 stores at least five people per store that are directly impacted by your project, that's fifty thousands people. You can't empathize personally with every single one of them.

So, instead make sure your project always pulls information in and you're always perceived as open so that those channels of “Hey, this isn't going the way I expected” are wide open and you don't have to go find someone and say, “How did that go for you?” to get some critical corrective information.

Andrea: Yeah.

Jennifer: Be open. Get out of the way.

Andrea: Yeah. I like that.

Jennifer: So, that was that project. I think it's one of those things of being humble got us to the point where we had store rollouts that happened at two o'clock in the morning, because we were checking orders ahead of time from when East Coast stores were opening. So my job as a PM, I got really good at making pancakes in the dark. Because I couldn't help with data validation, I couldn't help with processing orders, but what I could do is be there before those team members who had to show up. So that when they got there, they weren't turning on the lights in a dark office; they could already smell breakfast. And that at least I could give them. So, find ways to help in ways that maybe are humbling given the preparation and technical expertise you have that don't apply to this project.

Andrea: Yeah. I'm sure that helped more than you know. I mean coming into pancakes, I would love that!

Jennifer: Yeah, some real good friendships were made on that project, too.

Andrea: Oh, that's even better! That's even better than anything else you could have helped them with, in my opinion. So what about the Special Sauce? What is one thing that the best PM's know how to do?

Jennifer: It really is that conversation around, getting out of your own head and what you think the project ought to be doing, and being really responsive to what your team members need. You know, I have a haiku that I wrote for one of our team members just because I thought that's what she needed that day, and that haiku went around. But it was like, it's the silliest things but really double down on being human.

You have your technical skills. You have your PM skills. Those are - that is the Table Stakes. Going to the place of creating a human experience for all of your team members, that's the up level in my opinion.

Andrea: Great! And I know that you already said your words of wisdom to get out of your own way and listened with humility, but [are] there any other Words of Wisdom or advice that you would give to anybody as a new PM, or anybody that's struggling? Just any advice at all.

Jennifer: I really do... I spent so much time in my early career during a time when we were really supposed to be technical knowers in the PM field, feeling like a poser. Feeling like a fake. Because I didn't know it all but we didn't have the vocabulary built into our discipline the way we do now, to ask questions and become professional question askers rather than answer givers. That, to me is just you know, be humble in what you know, be humble in what you're prepared to do, and do the hard work and show that you are. People are going to be soo gracious along the way when you keep that learner mindset. That's my big Aha.

Andrea: Yeah, that's amazing! I think that's great advice all around; I think everybody can take something away from that. So, thank you again for your time and doing this - our very first Tales of the Trails. I appreciate it.

Jennifer: Thank you, and we'll be recording more.

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