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What Retailers Can Learn from Target’s Technology Team

After years of adhering to traditional brick-and-mortar concepts, Target has come a long way with its technology development and e-commerce transition.

Although it faces ongoing competition from other popular e-commerce hubs, including Amazon, Target isn’t giving up its throne anytime soon. With heightened cyber security and a cutting-edge digital store front, Target is stepping up the game for other retailers.

At NRF’s Big Show 2017 in New York Monday, Target’s EVP and chief information and digital officer Mike McNamara said Target’s technology team focused on three qualities to heighten its presence: ruthless prioritization, a diverse employee fleet and continued agility.

When McNamara arrived at Target 18 months ago, he was challenged with an oversized budget.

“The problem with too many people and money is that you don’t do the stuff that matters,” McNamara said. “We were running at that time over 800 technology projects at Target.”

To refine Target’s budget and technology efforts, McNamara provided his team with a prioritizing exercise. Each team member was allocated five post-it notes. On each post-it, employees wrote down what technology goals were most important to them. After two hours, McNamara and his team were able to set Target’s technology agenda for the entire year.

Along with streamlining technology goals, Target also sought a more diverse team.

“No prioritization is any good unless you have a team with the right expertise and structure to deliver,” McNamara said.

Today, 70 percent of Target’s engineering team is in-house, compared to 18 months ago, when Target’s engineers were mostly third-party contractors. In coming years, McNamara would also like to bring more female engineers on board. Fifty-percent of engineering intake would be female, which would foster Target’s mission of workplace diversity.

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Before retail’s digital evolution, Target’s tech team was operating with old methodology, which didn’t allow concepts to surface until they were fully developed.

“Retail is changing too rapidly,” McNamara said. “We needed to change the way that we worked so we could be more agile.”

Under McNamara’s leadership, Target remodeled its technology team. To foster innovation among in-house engineers, Target remodeled its Minneapolis headquarters into a place for dedicated learning and training. Now, engineers are able to see their efforts come to life in actual stores and not just wait months for a project to transform the retail experience.

With ruthless prioritization, a diverse staff and continued agility, retailers could have similar success stories and join Target in its technology movement.

“Supply chain and technology are going to mark out the winners and losers of retail in the next decade,” McNamara said. “To win in the new retail world, you need a great engineering team.”