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A case of leveraging agile methodologies for large digital platform builds

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By  Neeraj Arora, Senior Director- Program Management, Publicis.Sapient

While Agile methodologies have been around for around two decades, only in the last few years, the world seems to have taken notice and we see agile as a philosophy being spoken about in every business strategy discussion. Taking inspiration from the lean manufacturing techniques, propagated by the Japanese, software development was the first large-scale use case for agile. The move to agile certainly appears to be the right move as companies try to move away from a linear thinking and top down management approach, which was effective in the past, but is unlikely to deliver on the changing needs of business today.

With the large-scale adoption of new age technologies in business, such as mobile internet, cloud & Big Data, digital technology is rapidly changing the business landscape.The power equations have shifted from organizations to consumers and a new reality is staring hard at businesses.Additionally, new forces of competition are emerging from unimaginable sources! To survive and to grow, enterprises have to break-free from legacy organization structures, thought processes & ways of working.  Agile methodologies built on the foundations of nimbleness and delivering maximum customer value, present the perfect opportunity for digital transformation initiatives and are being widely adopted by the enterprises today.

As you charter your roadmap for digital transformation, it is extremely important that you think about introducing agility in your overall roadmap to ensure you have the flexibility to factor in business uncertainties and change course, if needed.While the case of adopting agile methodologies remains non-negotiable, there are scenarios when agile methodologies need to be adapted to critical business situations.  The use case of building a green field digital consumer experience platform, whether it is commerce driven or marketing driven is one such case.

Customer experience platform, Digital marketing portals, Omni channel commerce whatever you may choose to call them are the new reality.As enterprises leverage the power of digital technologies, the need for these platforms is only bound to grow.When we talk about implementing a greenfield digital platform, the following use cases stand out:

  1. Designing and building a digital platform, where none exists: This refers to building a digital platform for marketing /commerce/service for companies, which don’t have one.
  2. IT Modernization program involving significant technology/architecture changes: Companies who built large monolith digital platforms in the past, now need to redesign their platforms to provide more agility, scalability and new capabilities to meet the changing needs of the consumers.
  3. User Experience re-design to a contemporary one: Redesigning the user experience to make it more user friendly, making the site responsive, are examples under this category.

The above scenarios differ significantly from ‘RUN” and “OPTIMIZE/EVOLVE” phases of the product life cycle, where the platform already exists and needs to be enhanced/optimized based on usage patterns and user feedback.

What are these differences?

  • At the outset, the product owners (POs) need to align on an MVP vision for the new platform. The challenge lies in aligning the organization stakeholders to align on the scope of the initial platform rollout, to set the transformation in motion. While alignment to broader digital vision in extremely important, not all functionality needs to be a part of the debut rollout.
  • The timeline for the launch of these programs in most cases is fixed upfront, given the business criticality of the platforms being built or modernized
  • These programs require significant Capex investment, and business case either needs to be proven (full green-field) or are heavily dependent on assumptions around KPIs such as increased conversion and workforce productivity. As a result, there is enormous pressure to deliver the MVP phases within budget.
  • A large multidisciplinary team (internal/external ) comprising of people from varied disciplines (Consumer research, Creative design, Business analysts, Programmers, Quality engineers, 3rd party service providers-payment, logistics, digital assets management comes together, making these programs complex. Additional layer of complexity is added when these teams are geographically distributed. All this creates complex interdependencies among these teams, which must be planned and managed carefully for the overall program plan to be optimized.

Careful examination of these facts makes it obvious that a green-field digital platform setup differs significantly from a Run/Optimize program. Therefore, tailoring agile to specific needs of these programs holds the key to success.

How?

Below is a point of view based on experience of delivering several such programs for Retailers across categories like Grocery, Fashion/Apparel and Luxury Retail.

  • Establish the purpose, upfront:This is the foundation of your digital transformation and should be established ahead of any activity on the program. The purpose needs to be research/data driven and should clearly articulate the intended benefits and the success criteria of the program.
  • Lead with Customer Experience design: Designing an intuitive and compelling user experience is at the heart of any consumer experience platform.Customer journeys must be designed carefully,backed by research and should be completed ahead of development to avoid getting into a rework trap.
  • Finalize scope upfront: The MVP scope discovery should go on in parallel with creative design to enable creation of good quality functional specifications. Typically, we see enterprises keeping this process open for an extended duration, resulting in several inefficiencies in the program like missed dependencies, extensive rework and poor quality, all contributing to significant time and cost overruns.A significant benefit here is freeing up business’time that is needed during build phase for crucial quality assurance activities.
  • Establish Collaboration b/w Design and Technology teams at early stage:Technology & creative teams need to establish a framework of collaboration upfront to ensure that all domains are working towards an integrated design.Several Programs run astray due to the inability of these teams to apply connected thinking and precious resources are wasted subsequently in course correction.
  • Build, test, adapt iteratively: The multidisciplinary scrum team structure is set up as you move into development, with the development plan comprising of several sprints. Each sprint is planned with the Product owners (PO) to deliver a set of prioritized features, based on previously built designs/specifications, for early testing by Business teams.Feedback from POs is used to improve the features. This process reduces the program complexity significantly by reducing the no of moving parts at any one time, thereby making the program easier to manage.

If we look around, we see some great examples in organizations such as Uber, Amazon, and Microsoft on a global scale and Airtel, State Bank of India, Ola closer home who have leveraged agile methodologies as they scaled their business. While the agile mindset still needs to be cultivated across all teams, a cookie cutter approach of applying agile methodologies, without thought to the underlying objective is not likely to serve either causes of agility and transformation outcomes

As someone has rightly said, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. The choice is yours!


If you have an interesting article / experience / case study to share, please get in touch with us at editors@expresscomputeronline.com

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