Part 6 in our 8-part series on how to avoid the pitfalls of e-commerce replatforming is all about the dreaded Scope Creep.
There are a growing number of business professionals who candidly admit to suffering from “Shiny Object Syndrome”. It is a common human trait to be distracted from the task at hand to chase after something that appears to be more interesting, innovative or current. And while it is the stuff of entrepreneurs and leaders to discover the next great thing and exploit it for business profitability and advantage, there is a significant difference between being agile and being impulsive. A lack of discipline around internal initiatives can lead to project failures when shiny object syndrome is allowed to rule over forethought and careful planning.
Team members intent on including every innovation in a replatforming initiative are actually contributing to the dreaded scope creep, often a death sentence for ecommerce replatforming projects because it fosters budget over-runs, time delays and an inability to meet overall project objectives.
What can fiction teach us?
An article published in Forbes on this syndrome suggests that we can learn self-discipline from the folly of fictional characters. The author points out that heroes ruled by whim often head down a path toward disaster. Consider Romeo who impulsively drinks poison when he believes Juliet is dead (you should have completed a risk assessment Romeo); the dog in the movie “Up” who misses opportunities every time a squirrel runs by (Squirrel!!!); or Jack the Giant Slayer who trades a cow for beans because they are marketed as “magic” (Jack ultimately had to defeat an army of giants on earth as a result of his actions). Of course in fiction, we love our impulsive characters. They make the stories we read entertaining and allow us to live vicariously. In real life, and particularly in business, impulsive distractions threaten our ability to achieve our goals.
Are you a Hedgehog or a Fox?
In the business book “Good to Great”, author Jim Collins explored the reasons why some companies succeed where others fail. One of the concepts he identified was labeled “The Hedgehog Concept” which is taken from Isaiah Berlin’s essay comparing characteristic differences between hedgehogs and foxes. Berlin suggests that people can be categorized into one of the two distinct types.
“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing … Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. They are 'scattered or diffuse, moving on many levels' … never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything.” Good to Great, pp 90-91
Good to great, Walgreens vs Eckerd
The example used by Collins to demonstrate the effectiveness of a hedgehog vs fox strategy in business was to compare Walgreens to Eckerd, rival retail pharmaceutical chains. Walgreens stock and profits continued on a steady climb while Eckerd floundered. Walgreens adopted a simple formula for opening new stores, closing locations that did not completely match their ideal. Eckerd opened up clumps of stores without following a plan while expanding inventory lines with non-core products. The theory was that Eckerd confused their market while Walgreens maintained focus with consistency. Clear attention to goals helped Walgreens march steadily and profitably to plan.
Stick to theplan – use the 80/20 rule
For your e-commerce replatforming initiative, the lesson is that there will inevitably be hundreds or even thousands of potential distractions. Various stakeholders (marketing vs operations vs finance vs distribution) will all have different agendas that may at times compete. New ideas for e-commerce capabilities will spring forth, catching the attention of team members or even management who may want you to add “the next big thing” into your e-commerce effort.
Trying to do it all will inevitably lead to project failure on several levels. Remember, there are no case studies documenting stories of successful projects that continued to change scope.
Ruthless attention to detail in your project plan, categorizing functions by using the 80/20 rule (identify 20% of the features that will deliver 80% of the value) and organizing a “futures” list whereby new ideas are captured to be evaluated and managed appropriately as a subsequent follow-on project ensures that all insight is listened to but can be dealt with at an appropriate time.
While shiny object syndrome can often offer a welcome break or occasional diversion during our busy days, it cannot hold a place of power in our e-commerce replatforming projects.