Opening a Pop-Up Store Using Software Development’s Agile Project Management Principles

Jug Babic
Jug Babic
Guest Contributor

As popularized by the software industry, Agile Project Management (APM) is an iterative approach to planning and guiding project processes, and its guiding principles lend themselves perfectly to almost any complex retail project.

Thanks to their marketing, customer engagement and experimental potential, pop-up stores have become a popular practice in the retail world. That being said, not every pop-up store is a success, with many potential reasons that can make the whole experience underwhelming for their organizers.

A great deal of those reasons have to do with the fact that pop-up project management teams are often met by imprecise and ever-changing requirements for success, as well as unforeseeable risks.

Fortunately, there is an approach to managing projects and processes that was devised precisely for situations involving such dynamic requirements and unforeseeable risks – Agile.

Agile in a Nutshell

The Agile approach to developing products and managing projects has been around far longer than most people realize, in one form or another, under one moniker or another. Unfortunately, however, we don’t have the time to get into it today (this is a nice place to start if you’re interested).

For the purposes of this article, I will simplify things a bit (some would probably say a lot) and focus on Agile as popularized by the software development industry and the two most popular and translatable approaches to Agile – Scrum and Kanban.

Scrum is a framework for developing complex products within which teams can easily adapt to newly discovered problems and deliver as much value as possible. It entails timeboxed iterations (Sprints) within which teams deliver working increments of the product (in our case a successful pop-up store).

Kanban is a method with roots in lean manufacturing. It focuses on visualizing the workflow of the team, limiting the amount of work that is in progress at any given moment, and continuous improvement of the process.

While the two approaches differ in many ways, the underlying ideas and goals are the same (and easily translatable to setting up a successful pop-up store):

  • Self-organized, self-managed teams
  • Emphasis on communication and collaboration (internal and external)
  • Knowledge transfer and sharing
  • Inspection and adaptation
  • Continuous improvement
  • Continuous delivery of business value

Now that we have covered the very basics, we can move on to the actual application of Agile to opening a pop-up store.

Put the Team Together

Putting together the right team is essential for an Agile pop-up store experience, as is the way you assemble it. Namely, Agile should never be pushed on anyone, as this completely negates the point of Agile.

Instead, you should educate the people in your company about Agile and find out who would be interested to undertake this journey with you. This way, you will have a motivated team made up of people who are really ready to go the extra mile to make the experience successful and who will not hinder the entire process.

Agile promotes cross-functional teams, meaning it would be best if your team as a unit could handle every aspect of setting up a store without having to rely on outside specialists – marketers, merchandisers, store operations, etc.

Define the Process

Once the team has a feel for Agile and you have discussed your pop-up store project at hand, it is time to define the process and decide on the approach you will take. For example, as a team, you will decide on whether you will work in Scrum and work in Sprints or whether you will work in Kanban for a less structured process.

If you decide on Scrum, it is a good idea to stick to the defined roles, events and artifacts which work together to support the team and help it achieve its goals. You will also have to choose who will assume the roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner (you can read more on these roles here). While Kanban is generally considered a lighter, less structured method, there are still some basics you should stick to.

Build the Product Backlog

The Product Backlog is, in essence, a to-do list on steroids. It is a prioritized list of everything your team will do to set up a pop-up store – tasks, research work, improvements and anything else you can think of.

You will want to start with high-level Product Backlog items (to use Scrum terminology) such as:

  • Finding the right venue
  • Laying out and merchandising the store
  • Staffing the store
  • Marketing the store to build awareness and drive shopper traffic

These items will then be broken down into smaller, prioritized tasks that have to be clearly defined and described. This breaking down and description of tasks is done just-in-time. This means you will not try and plan out every single, tiny task weeks in advance, so as to reduce the risks and make the entire process more adaptable to new circumstances.

For example, with a non-Agile approach, you might plan out the entire layout of your pop-up store and order all kinds of promotional material that would fit this ideal store. Then, once it turns out the venue you rented cannot be organized in this ideal way, you are left with banners and features you have nowhere to place, wasting huge amounts of money in the process.

If the team chooses to work in Scrum, the team will choose items from the Product Backlog (suggested by the Product Owner) that it will work on in the upcoming Sprint, building a Sprint Backlog.

This brings us to an essential feature of the Agile approach – the tasks are not assigned to individual team members. Instead, they pull a task or tasks themselves, taking into consideration what other team members are working on, their personal skills and the priority of individual tasks.

Set up a Board

The vast majority of Agile teams use a board to organize their workflow. The board can be either a physical or a digital one and it is divided into columns that represent different stages through which the tasks move towards completion.

The most basic board will feature three columns – To Do – In Progress – Done. However, most teams decide on more comprehensive boards that better reflect their process. It is important to strike a balance between representing your process faithfully and not making it too complex.

Your board will provide your team with the transparency into how the work is progressing, helping you identify any bottlenecks and situations in which your team might want to “swarm” to solve the issue.

Facilitate Meetings

Agile puts great emphasis on constant communication and collaboration, but even the most communicative teams will have the need for a structured meeting every now and then.

Scrum, for example, prescribes a number of meetings that all serve their specific purposes – from keeping the team synched to ensuring external stakeholder feedback; from making sure tasks are transparent and well-defined to analyzing how the team operates as a unit.

Even if you decide on Kanban as your method of choice, you would do well to learn more about these meetings as they can help your work be transparent at all times, give your team the chance to inspect its work and to discuss ways to adapt to newly discovered facts and situations.

Instead of a Closing Word

There is (much, much) more to Agile and its application to pop-up stores and retail in general and we barely scratched the surface today. Even when you have the majority of facts straight, it can take a while to really get things going.

In the end, this is the whole point of Agile – not trying to plan for perfection, doing your best, learning and adapting and becoming better.

About the writer: Jug Babic is a marketer at VivifyScrum. He has been writing about the intersection of tech and business for the better part of the decade, lately focusing on Agile. You can find him on Twitter @BabicJug.

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