Practical Ecommerce

Mid-market Ecommerce Firms Need Clear Roles, Responsibilities

Defining and documenting clear roles and responsibilities may help mid-market online retailers move projects forward, leading to better execution.

Retail businesses have a variety of tasks that need to happen over and over. Buyers buy products. The warehouse receives, stores, and ships items. Marketers promote. The accounting team pays the bills and balances the books. These tasks have built-in roles and responsibilities that everyone clearly understands.

Cross-functional Projects

When cross-functional projects arise, the lines may become a little blurry.

Here is an example from a brick-and-click retailer. The company was about to launch a big sale. The promotion would feature tiered discounts: “Buy $100 worth of products from vendor X and save $10”; “Buy $200 and save $25”; “Spend $500 and get $100 off.”

The purchasing team had made a special deal with vendor X. The supplier was offering to cover the discount amount. So the purchasing folks engaged marketing, had the web team work on a new coupon type (to handle the discount), ordered more vendor X products for the warehouse and the stores, and had the physical stores merchandise vendor X products on end caps or in the “power” aisles.

There was a problem. The tiered discount had different tax implications from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so the web team would have to update the shopping cart so that it would treat the tiered sale like a manufacturer’s coupon if orders came from one state or as a tender if the order was from another. The web team was capable, but it would take a few extra days, so the campaign launch was postponed.

Unfortunately, no one told the physical stores. When the original launch date arrived the stores put out signs and started trying to sell vendor X products at the discount price with the scan sheets that marketing had provided.

Unfortunately, no one told the physical stores.

The purchasing team had not told the stores about the new launch date because the delay wasn’t their issue. The marketing folks had not told the stores because, in this case, purchasing had been driving the project. The web team hadn’t told the stores because they don’t talk to the stores much if ever.

No one knew whose job it was to keep other stakeholders, like the store managers, informed.

Let’s consider another example. The marketing department at a mid-market online store has just pitched a new YouTube campaign to the store’s owners for a series of how-to videos to be produced with the help of an outside agency.

The owners make a long list of staff members who should have input in each video. When the marketing department releases the first version of the video for review, four folks comment. The video is updated and released for a second review. This time two different folks, who had been too busy to watch the first draft, asked for changes, and two of the original commenters want additional changes.

Four iterations later, the how-to video is more of a how-to-buy video and it is way over budget since the outside agency charged for every change. There were simply too many cooks in the kitchen.

Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed

There are several project management methods a business could use to prevent the sorts of scenarios described in the previous section. For this article, let’s consider the RACI assignment matrix — responsible, accountable, consulted, informed.

This technique defines four specific roles for the project.

  • Responsible. Folks with this assigned role are responsible to actually do the work. If you’re responsible for the pay-per-click ad placement, you do the work of placing the PPC ads. A task or decision may have one or several responsible persons.
  • Accountable. This person owns and ultimately approves the task or decision. Only one person can be accountable for a particular task or decision.
  • Consulted. These are people who need to give some input before a task may be completed or a decision made, but these folks are not the final decision makers; that would be the accountable person.
  • Informed. Folks with this role need to know what is going on and they need to be updated as the task or decision progresses. But they don’t have a role in completing or contributing to the task or decision.

Next, the important tasks and decisions for a project are listed in a table or matrix. Typically, this is done down the left side of a spreadsheet. Then the individual stakeholders, the people in the project, are listed in the matrix too, often across the top of a spreadsheet.

For each task, roles are assigned to the folks working on the project.

TASKS Alberto Benito Carlita Daniel Ellen
Some important decision I A/R I I I
A significant task necessary for success C I R A
A somewhat challenging thing to do R R R A C
A really easy task that will be quick A/R
Some other decision I I C A R

This matrix should be developed before a project begins. All of the stakeholders should agree to the roles and responsibilities.

There are also several things to look for in this role assignment matrix.

  • Only one accountable person per task. This person should have the final decision for the task, even if he is not the most senior person working on it.
  • Try to convert as many consulted folks to informed folks. Does a person really need to be consulted or would it be enough to inform him? Too many cooks spoil the soup.
  • Leave some cells white. Not every cell in the matrix should be filled in.
  • Be willing to make changes to the matrix as it makes sense.

Mid-market ecommerce businesses have several ways to manage cross-functional projects, including using the RACI assignment matrix, which should help clarify roles, eliminate confusion, and avoid allocating too many tasks to one or two stakeholders.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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Comment ( 1 )

  1. Carlos Rivera April 6, 2017 Reply

    Interesting. Sounds a lot like how our business runs (referring to the failure on cross-functional projects). Thank you for giving me a tool to look into fixing this in the future!