Agile has become a bit of a buzzword lately, jumping from software development to project management, to marketing and other fields. This has resulted in a somewhat chaotic situation where it is being used for all kinds of purposes, often missing the point completely.
For the purposes of this article, Agile will be used to denote the project management approach which borrows from Agile software development. In other words, we will investigate why you may want to launch an e-commerce website by utilizing Agile project management.
Get a Working Version Online ASAP
One of the key things in Agile software development is to create a working version of a piece of software as soon as possible. It can have a mere fraction of features and functionalities it will have as a finished product, but it will get in front of actual users sooner. This way, you can see how people actually use it, what they want, what they don’t want and how the application behaves in the real world.
This can also be beneficial for an eCommerce website for a very simple reason – you will probably not get everything right the first time anyway, so why not make mistakes quicker?
There are innumerable things that can go wrong with an e-commerce website – from jumbled, unclear categories to checkouts that don’t work; from issues with payment services to bad SEO optimization; from crashing pages to images that don’t load.
By putting your eCommerce store up live as soon as possible, you will identify all of these issues and resolve them before you wasted time and money trying to make everything perfect on the first try.
Utilizing User Feedback
Closely related to the first reason as to why Agile can work for e-commerce websites is another characteristics of this particular approach – collecting and acting upon user feedback.
Agile software development “introduced” close collaboration with customers and users (in our case, actual customers) as an alternative to volumes of requirements which plagued traditional software development and resulted in software which no one wanted to use.
Once you launch the early version of your eCommerce website (as suggested above), you should do everything in your power to learn how people use it, how they feel about it and what they would like to see added in the future.
This should go beyond merely asking for testimonials from your customers. This should entail various forms, emails, polls and anything else you can think of. Of course, there is a whole science to this and you should do well to research this more.
There is no better way to understand your e-commerce website than asking the people who use it what they think.
Inspection and Adaptation
Launching a successful e-commerce website is not a formulaic experience. There is no secret formula for getting everything right. There are simply too many factors that can influence the success of an e-commerce site.
This is what Agile does extremely well – it provides the frame of mind and the mechanisms which help you inspect your work and adapt when needed. In fact, one of the tenets of Agile Manifesto is Responding to change over following a plan.
For one, Agile entails working in small iterations (or cycles) which produce valuable increments of the product (your e-commerce website in our case). As a result, you get the chance to inspect everything you do often, identifying the mistakes and underperforming aspects of the website. Ultimately, this enables you to adapt more quickly and continuously improve your e-commerce site.
Different Agile approaches have other mechanisms that help you inspect and adapt both the results of your work and the way you and your team work itself. For example, Scrum (the most widely adopted Agile approach) has fixed sprints and various events that enable constant inspection and adaptation.
Making it sustainable and (somewhat) predictable
One of the most commonly misunderstood Agile goals is to make the work on a certain product sustainable and humane. In simplest terms, this means establishing a certain cadence of work which does not require you to work 20-hour days on end just to add another feature to your eCommerce website.
An Agile approach like Scrum provides you with recommendations on how to analyze your performance across different Sprints and how to use this to predict how much you and your team will be able to tackle in the future.
There are innumerable benefits to this, beyond actually letting you enjoy life besides launching an e-commerce store. For one, it ensures that nothing is rushed and that all of the work is done meticulously and with an eye to the future work. This dramatically reduces the need for do-overs and other unnecessary work that you can then spend on making your eCommerce store even better.
The important thing to keep in mind is that you should always inspect your predictions and only take them as guidelines. Agile is not about making plans for months in advance or trying to come up with nifty little timeboxes that you can use indiscriminately.
Building a Strong Team
Agile software development has traditionally acknowledged the fact that software is made by teams and much of it revolves around supporting those teams. In Agile, teams are usually self-organized and own their product together, as opposed as a group of individuals. They are also encouraged to be transparent about their work and to share their knowledge.
It goes without saying that this can be extremely beneficial if you are not launching your e-commerce site on your own.
If you wish to launch your e-commerce website as an Agile project, you will want to remember a few things about “managing” your team.
For one, you should never impose the Agile approach on your team. You should invite them, discuss and debate the possibility of working in such a fashion. If you find out they are willing and ready to do something like that, great.
In addition to this, you should never push work on them. Agile teams pull the work from a Product Backlog (a sort of a to-do list) according to the priority that is agreed upon by the entire team.
You should also allow them to decide on how to do what is best for the product (i.e. the website). You are working with adults who know their stuff and who probably know the best way to add value to the e-commerce website.
Of course, you will still want to keep the team synchronized by promoting communication and making an active effort to keep the to-and-fro going. Good communication is at the very core of Agile and your Agile project is no different. If you are working with a distributed team, you might also want to take advantage of tools for Agile teams.
The ultimate result will be a satisfied, motivated team that owns its work and that continues to get better as time goes by.
It is essential to point out that taking an Agile approach to launching your eCommerce website is not some sort of a magic wand that will dispel any and all problems you may encounter. It does have certain advantages over a phased approach and, if applied the smart way, it can help you launch a successful eCommerce site.
AUTHOR: Jug Babic is a marketer at VivifyScrum, a company that developed an agile project management tool of the same name.