A tale of two retailers: Boohoo.com and Bata

How internal culture can prevent a project management methodology from scaling

A short while ago I was at a roundtable with two retailers, BooHoo.com, a soon to be multinational online retailer, and Bata a global retailer with brick-and-mortar worldwide and a responsive website.

Bata was looking to expand its digital reach to become a bit more like boohoo.com in terms of its online reach, so it could depend less on real estate and more on its brand.

It was highlighted that although the stores were successful in most locations, there were regions where digital is needed to supplement stores in order to maintain sales and draw the audience in.

After some discussion it became clear that it wasn’t Bata’s technology standing in its way, but an anti-agile internal culture making omni-channel push difficult.

The representative from Boohoo.com mentioned how its organisation moves forward and grows through the “fail fast” method – try something new and if it doesn’t work try something else.

But Bata’s rep highlighted that Bata is so big that it makes change difficult, especially on a global scale. This means the failing fast tactic would not only be too risky, but would meet resistance from some members of the organisation.  

They said boohoo will have the same problem when it grows, because the weight and legacy infrastructure will eventually lead to a lumbering dinosaur company that moves at a snail’s pace.

I said not if they can make that agile nature scalable.

I’ve spoken to a lot of established organisations who have claimed still to think of themselves as startups because the internal function and feel of the workforce is the same as when it only comprised of 10 people.

Yes, it is harder to move 100 people in the same direction than it is for a smaller team, but not if you still have the agile “fail fast and try something new” nature that’s so important when adopting digital technologies.

As Spotify’s head of labs Gary Liu says, scaling culture is one of the most important challenges to get right during organisational growth, as you need to be able to pick yourself up and change fast to be truly adaptable.

To many it seems that sometimes managing an organisation’s culture can prove a bigger challenge than running its projects.