Be Agile! Your eCommerce Business Process Improved
by Art Bales, on September 23, 2016
Our team at eComEngine uses agile methodology each day to provide you with best-in-class software. We thought our merchant customers would appreciate learning about this approach and explore how it could make sense for their eCommerce businesses.
Running a business can sometimes feel like a game of whack-a-mole. You run from one emergency to the next, filling orders, handling feedback, fixing problems, calling customers and suppliers, juggling personal life all the while. Sure, the successes are exhilarating, but the difficulties can also be draining.
Is there a systematic approach that can be applied to your business to help you manage things more effectively? Yes! It's the Agile approach.
What Is Agile?
If you haven’t heard of the Agile approach to software development, you might learn some valuable tips that you can apply to your eCommerce business. Agile is a methodology that allows teams to develop a product, service, or process with the most flexible approach. When business priorities change, the development plan changes along with it. But even though the short-term plan may change, the overall goal doesn’t. How does it work?
Teams work in short “sprints” of two or three week intervals. They plan their work on the first day of the sprint, agreeing to take on a finite amount of work items from the “backlog.” The backlog is a list of items that need to be done. They are prioritized but also may be given a weighted value based on how difficult or easy they will be to work. The work items are tracked on a visible board with workflow columns such as: Not Started, Work In Progress, Testing, Done.
As the sprint unfolds, the work items are moved through the phases of the visible board so that the whole team can see the current progress and what remains to be accomplished. Also, metrics are employed, such as burn down charts, which provide the team and outside observers a quick view of the team’s progress. This gives the team a constant reminder of the sprint goals, and how they are doing empirically with achieving those goals. If they fall behind it will be quite obvious – there is very little guesswork involved.
When the sprint is over, after two or three weeks, the team hosts a demonstration of the work that was accomplished. If it was a new page for a website, then the functionality of that page is demonstrated. This promotes a unified ethos – everyone is driving towards a goal and that goal is crystal clear. It’s also clear whether or not it worked!
Lastly, the team has a retrospective where they share honest feedback about how the process is working. What went well? What needs more attention or improvement? This is where you will discover the true pain points of your process. But you WANT to know this because if you know what the biggest problems are then you can fix them. You can put metrics around your problem areas and make informed decisions.
Don’t “do” agile: “be” agile – “think” agile. Don’t adopt the process for the sake of the process. Adopt the Agile process to be agile; that’s where the strength of the methodology lies. Be methodical in your approach, but not rigid. Make a plan, execute the plan, look back and make adjustments. Then do that again, and again, and again.
If you can do this with your eCommerce business, you will be able to set your large goals. The Agile method allows you to progress towards those goals with a process that is efficient, clear, repeatable, and just more fun. Your large goals won’t get lost in the process because your backlog documents what you want to achieve. You will have metrics to show how far you’ve come and how far you have to go. And because you will be able to quickly extrapolate previous successes into future ones, you’ll be able to chart a much better future timeline of progress.
Some of the most obvious benefits of an agile approach to planning are: clear and systematic goals definition, focused progress, meaningful metrics and the ability to change as needed. Agile is used extensively in software development, but it can be applied to any kind of business. If you understand the basic concepts it can be used effectively in almost any planning situation, even a personal scenario.
Example – Planning Your Beach Vacation
If you’ve planned a beach vacation you know it takes a lot of planning, and can be challenging! So we want to succeed, but we also want to keep our sanity and ultimately enjoy the experience. This is a great place to use an agile approach.
Backlog, in priority order:
Reserve a cottage (1)
Get a tune up for the car (2)
Reschedule doctor and dentist appointments (3)
Buy swimsuits (4)
Pack the car (5)
Schedule a dog kennel for Scruffy (6)
Ask the neighbor to bring in the mail (7)
Mom - Reserve a cottage
Dad - Get a tune up for the car
Mom - Reschedule doctor and dentist appointments
Dad – Buy swimsuits
Son – Pack the car
Daughter 1 - Schedule a dog kennel for Scruffy
Daughter 2 – Ask the neighbor to bring in the mail
In the example above the progress is clearly visible. Imagine if this was posted on the family refrigerator. Anyone can see the progress at any time. Dad needs to get started on item #4. Son can’t get started on item #5 until the day before the trip, but it’s clear that this is planned and won’t go unnoticed until the last minute. Mom has already finished #3. Daughter 2 has finished her task but some testing needs to occur (Dad may call the neighbor to verify).
Agility in Business
Translate this highly effective methodology to your business and enjoy the benefits. Make a backlog of items that you want to achieve. You will have long-term goals in that backlog (develop a better customer feedback approach), and day-to-day goals (follow up with Diane about the marketing plans). Start working in two or three week sprints. Prioritize your backlog items and take some into your first sprint. You may take in too little or too much – don’t worry about it. After a few sprints you will get into a groove and become more attuned to how much you should take on. It will become more natural.
Finally, keep short-term and long-term metrics. You will learn valuable things about your business: what you are doing well, and not so well. With that information you will be able to make positive changes, and plan effectively. This will help you grow your business, and enjoy doing it.
Employing the Agile approach at eComEngine helps our team provide the features and capabilities that you need to run a successful eCommerce business. We're constantly working to provide you with time-saving solutions and intuitive functionality. Now that you know a little more about our process, we'd love to hear from you!
What changes would you like to see in our platform?