Revolutionizing Retail Entitlements
What We Did
We researched and identified the best approach for creating a web-based tool and database to improve the entitlements process for retail rollout projects. We believe that better documentation and the sharing of lessons learned on individual projects deliver greater value and up-front knowledge to our clients. This in turn makes the entitlements process easier to predict, manage, and implement. To accomplish this, we first conducted workflow research via interviews with leaders in Gensler’s retail practice. Our goal was to better understand team dynamics, current communication and documentation methods, and any pain points or workarounds in their current processes. We then conducted user interface research to understand the opportunities available for tool development and implementation.
As project teams move from site to site, a wealth of site-specific information is collected for jurisdictional approvals. Despite common references such as the International Building Code, building and planning departments are notoriously varied in their code interpretations, documentation requirements, and processing methods. These differences often result in unwanted design modifications, project delays, and added expenses that are detrimental to our teams and to our clients. There is an opportunity to better leverage site-specific information if data is captured and shared in an easy and effective manner.
Retail rollout projects are uniquely positioned to identify and track these jurisdictional variations. Since rollout programs are designed for cost management and efficiency, the process is highly iterative, and schedules are almost always accelerated. These projects generally result in large quantities of site information on an annual basis and the variations within a rollout program tend to be the site-specific issues—exactly those issues we seek to identify and document.
We used our workflow research to understand who needs access to what information and under what circumstances. This provided us with a clear picture of who the users are and what challenges and opportunities exist to improve workflow. We identified three distinct “use cases” through which to focus our development: project architects and consultants seeking day-to-day information and data storage; project or program managers who hope to track project progress, issues, and schedules; and strategic advisors interested in high-level portfolio or data analysis.
Our parallel user-interface research led us to adopt frictionless design principles as applied to both data entry and data retrieval as we began tool development. We believe a successful platform will incentivize potential users to contribute, while minimizing tedium and discouragement. We developed lessons learned and knowledge of available technology and software alongside an understanding of the level of interactivity and experience that will be critical to satisfying potential users.
What This Means
We can improve workflow with a retail entitlements tool. Our research established a business case and guidelines for the development of a tool and database to deliver on this need. Interviews revealed a strong desire for better up-front information to inform the client decision-making process.
The right tool will lead to better communication, which will produce better information. The ability to access and add information in a consistent manner via mobile devices will allow for easier data collection and sharing. Access for consultants and/or clients also represents a significant opportunity to build a more robust database.
Better information can improve the decision-making process. The creation of a tool and database to manage, store, and share entitlements information will allow for more confident and informed decisions earlier in the rollout process. This will produce more realistic budgets and schedules, identify potential roadblocks and site-specific or jurisdiction-related challenges early on, and better manage expectations throughout the rollout process.
Aggregate information can be mined for additional insights. Analysis of the data collected on a larger scale has the potential to deliver knowledge returns and inform regionally specific development and design strategies.
We are currently developing the tool through an incremental implementation strategy to manage usability and maintain adaptability as platforms and available web and interactive tools evolve. Our development strategy is based on the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) philosophy, popularized by Eric Ries. MVP emphasizes the minimum set of features necessary for a product to be useful for a specific use case—and therefore reduces development time for unnecessary features, resulting in more immediate feedback.
Our next steps will include identifying teams and rollout projects for initial implementation. As the tool and database grow, we see significant opportunities to deliver the knowledge returns from the analysis to our clients and the industry.
Tom Milavec, Benjamin Callam, Eric McKinney, Theresa Sheils