Having read Magne Land’s good piece on the “The 7 deadly sins of software development“, it struck me that his advice is at least as relevant for the eCommerce manager, juggling a websites’ marketing features, usability, performance and the stability of its technology.
“Getting other people to lust after your products can be very profitable. But eCommerce managers often lust for perfection, which can cause major problems.”
I’ve sometimes seen organisations where the pace of changes made to the website is so frantic, in pursuit of ‘catching up’ with the features of a competitor in the market, that the tech team are forced to bolt things onto the underlying architecture in an ad hoc manner. This works for a while but ultimately the website will start to lose sales as users are caught with a growing percentage of sporadic errors and nasty problem pages. A later website load test will flag up that certain User Journeys have shockingly lower capacity than others, but it’s then a big, big project to pull the whole site back onto an even keel with a robust underpinning.
Sometimes though the eCommerce Manager can get away with it by getting a big new budget to move to a totally new web platform – if the powers that be can be persuaded that it really is time anyway to ‘upgrade to the latest cool technology’ !
“Every company and developer is aware of software bloat, but many don’t understand how bad it really is. The problem is that hardware is improving so fast that developers believe they can afford to be gluttons of CPU cycles and memory. ”
As websites get built more and more on AJAX technology with Responsive Web guidelines setting the direction to better accomodate mobile users – it is easy for the bloat to mushroom. You can be doubling the server farm every 9 months and still have the user journey monitoring show the embarassing truth that month on month that the user experience is slowing down.
“Also, if we assume that the average number of bugs per line of code is constant, then smaller is in fact better.”
If your web developers are saying that it really is time to move to a better technology framework because it will allow them to do more with less coding. Then maybe it’s time to ignore the warning above in Lust – and do it!
But do watch your website’s waistline – tell the team that they must guarantee that the User Journey user experience metrics must be at least 20% better on the new framework, or you’ll consider it a failure! And ensure that you do a mini-round of a stripped down site in both the old and new frameworks, that you can load test and prove the benefit before committing to the full project.
“Greed leads to short-term goals, which leads to technical debt and long-term slowness. The more features we hack in, the harder it becomes to maintain the whole product. Think strategically, and remember that your customers will appreciate a rock-solid product – they are rarely expecting it.”
A rock solid product – that’ll provide more ROI than too many cool features.
After all, it’s when your site is making the most sales, when it has the most traffic per hour – that it most needs to be rock solid !
Fancy features that lose you 5% of baskets during a manic sales season evening: that’s a huge cost.
Some sites in the past, notably Boden and some others, have even built their sites such that certain features can be disabled during extreme peaks: to ensure that buyers never question the rock solid user experience of the website.
Sloth in our list of eCommerce manager sins is apathy, not laziness ! Did you read that right?
A lazy eCommerce Manager can be a highly effective one – if instead of doing the work of trying to understand the nitty gritty of what and how the dev teams do what they do, they require the Dev Team to self manage, and buy in a 24/7 metric of User Journey monitoring.
They can then simply task the dev team that never from one code release to the next must the Journeys show anything slowing down, or increasing in errors. Putting the Wallboard from the live User Journeys up on a big screen publicly in the office will replace the effort of untold meetings between the business and the developers!
But an apathetic eCommerce manager doesn’t want to do the work of understanding the reality that consistently good user experience on line depends entirely in consistently well built technology. They will actively not follow up problems where technology is the root cause, will allow ROI to slide during peak sale seasons as error percentages rise.
There is a percentage of software developers who display a passive aggressive personality. They may get something working, but knowingly not flag up a usability issue that the business Team’s spec had overlooked and would be in the company’s interests to have discussed.
Whereas eCommerce managers are more prone to anger when the pressure from above is on and the deadlines are closing in.
Wrath can really damage the ongoing effectiveness of an eCommerce operation, if it shows itself as anger directed at the dev team: anger because they are late; anger because they didn’t realise that it was ‘obvious’ that the Business requirement document ‘of course’ also meant X and Y even thought that was not explicitly stated; anger that features seem to take so long to get delivered; Anger that the dev team want to take time out now and again to have a Bug Blitz.
No, not this kind of manager-inspired Blitz
It’s impossible for the eCommerce manager not to compare with competition, after all Business School 101 teaches the Industry benchmark approach.
But when envy becomes a copycat mentality – that can lead a company’s whole eCommerce down the wrong Maturity curve.
A great website is not the result of shaking together a bag full of individually cool features.
Copying a list of cool features from other sites and joining them up will produce a scarecrow figure with no item of clothing matching another. Every feature you add on top somehow has nowhere that it fits naturally, so the scarecrow seems to grow extra fingers, arms and heads over time.
If the Apple story tells us anything, it is that ‘simple’ is good. That a product in it’s final completed state must be ‘intuitive and easy to use’, must ‘just work.
So stop being feature envious, and be ready to argue your case with the Powers that be when they come done and want you to copy some competitor or other.
And ban ‘Feature lists’ as a means of measuring site quality!
It’s good when an eCommerce manager is proud of his team: proud of the Marketing campaigns, proud of the development team, proud of the joined up integration with the in-house company warehouse systems and etc.
But excessive pride can lead to A “just trust me” behaviour that adds risk to the system.
When that pride closes the ears to new ways of measuring User Experience 24/7 using realistic dynamic Journeys. When the pride means that the good new things happening out in the fast moving eCommerce ecoSystem are ignored.