Digital commerce transformation projects are complex and require a smart, efficient, and results-driven approach to succeed. While the Agile Manifesto has its merits, it's not always the right fit for digital commerce transformation projects. In this article, we'll explore the limitations of the Agile Manifesto values in digital commerce transformation projects and offer a more effective approach.
Relying solely on individuals and interactions while ignoring proven processes and tools is counterproductive. In digital commerce transformation projects, it's essential to draw on the wisdom of past experiences and lean on proven processes and tools to mitigate risks and optimize budgets and timelines.
User stories, often used in Agile projects as a manifestation of this value, are inadequate specifications that can lead to confusion, misalignment, and rework, leading to blowing budgets and deadlines. Acceptance criteria were later added to user stories to fix some of their shortcomings, but it's just patchwork. Instead, digital commerce transformation projects should prioritize well-documented and comprehensive specifications across UX wireframes and visual comps, functional specifications such as data flows and business rules tables, backend processes, and technical data integrations to ensure everyone is on the same page. Expectations must be clearly set across the board regarding what's included in the scope and how all the parts and components of the solution are supposed to work.
Customer collaboration is essential and must be relied on at all times, including when aligning on the scope of the engagement, but it is not a substitute for a well-defined Statement of Work (SOW) that sets clear expectations and boundaries for the project. A well-crafted SOW is essential for alignment among all stakeholders because, in the real world of digital commerce transformation projects, there are clear expectations for scope, budget, and timelines that must drive the conversations, prioritization, and the work done on the project.
The surest way to fail to achieve something is not knowing what we're trying to achieve or not having a plan to achieve it - it's the reason a large percentage of projects fail. Therefore, having a plan is crucial for success in digital commerce transformation projects. While the plan should be flexible enough to accommodate changes ("Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth" - Mike Tyson), it's important always to follow a plan that is used to set clear expectations and accountabilities across all project stakeholders.
Instead of blindly implementing the Agile Manifesto values and principles, we propose the following practical recommendations for a more effective approach to digital commerce transformation projects:
Clear alignment on the Project Scope
Use a Project Scope document that includes the high-level requirements and the associated detailed specifications (business, UX, technical, functional, and non-functional) to ensure clear alignment across all stakeholders.
A document like this is the only place where you want to store requirements and specifications; not inside tasks, not lost inside confusing meeting notes, and not solely through verbal communication. It's beneficial to store everything inside a single, living document, so there's absolutely no confusion about the scope and the specifications of how the system is supposed to work.
Whenever there is a need to understand how something works or is supposed to work, this will also avoid having to dig for information through tasks or tickets that were closed a long time ago, having to decode loose and unclear user stories, having to look at the code to reverse-engineer the specifications, or relying on people remembering how things work.
Comprehensive Project Planning
Create a Project Plan that outlines who does what, when, in which order, and at what cost for the full project scope.
It is not enough to only have a current sprint and a backlog because it's what leads to being over budget and not hitting the deadlines. Ensure instead that everything is planned out ahead of time so that everyone is held accountable to do their part within certain due dates. Even after you've launched your new eCommerce website and you continue to enhance it, don't be constrained by a rigid 2- or 3-week sprint schedule. Have instead a roadmap driven by customer value created and business impact, group multiple features driven by themes or initiatives, and roll out all those connected features in multiple releases using a custom release schedule. You might decide to have the next release in four days or in four weeks, or, if your technology stack allows for it, you might want to have multiple releases on certain days. This flexibility, nimbleness, and agility will enable you to move ahead of your competitors. But be intentional about it by planning ahead and adjusting the plan to changing circumstances.
Prioritize removing roadblocks and addressing needs and open items.
Have an easy way to track and act on roadblocks, needs, and open items. Assign owners, set due dates, and act with a mindset of urgency to address all open items before they could derail the project. It's one of the most important things you can do to keep pushing the project forward every day to ultimately launch on time and on budget.
Remove the clutter to keep the team focused.
Maintain simple repositories for other key project information, such as a Project Charter, Testing Checklists, Environments and Credentials, Release Checklists, and Client Feedback in easily accessible documents or spreadsheets to keep everyone focused on the important information needed to drive the project forward every day.
The Agile Manifesto values and principles can be limiting and inadequate for digital commerce transformation projects. By focusing on practical first-order principles like effective communication and collaboration and leveraging experience from past projects, you can create a smarter and more effective approach to these complex projects. It's time to break the Agile Manifesto chains and embrace a methodology rooted in the reality of digital commerce transformation projects and focused on driving customer value and business impact.
At Luminos, we've helped dozens of businesses over the last 13+ years navigate the complexities of their digital commerce transformation journeys. Please reach out to us to discover together if we can be of assistance.