>£70m Black Friday sales:A record-breaking day
rise in orders
rise in unique visitors
What to do about Black Friday?
Contemplating the performance of his company's e-commerce platform during Black Friday — one of the most important shopping days in the calendar — Jeremy Fennell was frustrated.
At the time, Fennell was Multichannel Director for Dixons Carphone (today he is Managing Director of subsidiary Carphone Warehouse). He knew the company was not capturing nearly as much business as it could on such a peak day, mainly because sub-optimal online customer experiences were limiting e-commerce sales.
Analytics clearly showed that the underlying issues included site functionality not optimised for buyers' journeys, slow site performance, and poor platform scalability and resilience.
But this knowledge wasn't what was really frustrating Fennell.
Working with IndigoBlue, we achieved more in six months than in the previous two years.”
Jeremy Fennell, Managing Director, Carphone Warehouse
Dixons Carphone (Dixons) is a multinational electrical and telecommunications retailer and services company headquartered in London. Its brands across Europe include Carphone Warehouse, Curry's, PC World, Dixons Travel, Elkjøp/Gigantti/Elgiganten and Kotsovolos.
Not (just) an IT issue
Fennel's deeper frustration stemmed from the fact that although the company's commercial team knew what changes would transform the e-commerce experience for customers, the company was unable to deliver on the extensive change required.
The problem wasn't IT delivery capacity or skills. While it was true that there was a very large, wide-ranging portfolio of technology change to be achieved, Dixons had a team of around 175 developers based in Brno in the Czech Republic, all experienced in Agile delivery. But past experience had shown that despite this, the team struggled to deliver. Typical problems included:
- Extended periods of requirements re-work, resulting in compressed delivery timescales.
- Inadequate prioritisation of high-value change over low-value change.
- Insufficient time for a high enough standard of testing.
In search of a solution
Fennell got together with Jake Hazeldine, Head of Applications, to find a solution.
Recognising that the issues probably weren't confined to the development team, they sought a consulting partner that would be able to understand and analyse not just IT delivery of major change projects, but the end-to-end process involving commercial and other organisational stakeholders, their objectives and their approaches.
We were selected by Dixons for our recognised industry-leading expertise in Agile delivery (the delivery capability in the Czech Republic is Agile) allied to our broader capability in understanding upstream and downstream activity."
Jake Hazeldine, Head of Applications, Dixons Carphone
Eleven months after turning to IndigoBlue for help, Dixons had a transformed e-commerce platform in place and was ready for Black Friday. On the day, the company broke all records, achieving in excess of £70m sales from over 6,000,000 unique visitors.
The e-commerce platform remained stable and performed well under the massive increase in demand. Back-office and front-end systems and processes functioned without a hitch. Customers got their bargains, stakeholders were delighted, and Dixons reaped the revenue and PR benefits.
The UK national press recognised their success with headlines such as 'Currys break online record as Argos and Tesco websites struggle to cope with demand', and reported a 1,100% rise in unique visitors for Currys PC World and a 2,900% increase in orders compared with the same day in the previous week.
So how was this achieved?
Something more filling than an Agile sandwich
It started with a detailed five-week review by IndigoBlue of Dixons' e-commerce functions, comprising some 250 people in the UK and Czech Republic.
With a lot riding on IndigoBlue's report and Dixons' subsequent decisions and actions, the Dixons executive management team was eager to understand and challenge the nuances of IndigoBlue's findings and recommendations. The planned one-hour reporting workshop ran to five hours of productive engagement, all of which was critical to creating trust and securing senior sponsorship for the changes that had to be made.
The major overarching issue was one that IndigoBlue commonly encounters: Agile delivery is assumed to start and stop with IT.
A common symptom of this is that, while IT is working incrementally and iteratively in proper Agile fashion, requirements are delivered to them in over-large, over-complex batches.
This is because, upstream from IT, the business is still wed to traditional ways of specifying and elaborating on requirements, determined to think of everything up front and eliminate uncertainty before getting IT involved. Besides compressing delivery timescales, this dampens both the willingness and ability to respond to live analytics with appropriate change.
For Agile development to really work, especially in complex projects, you don't want an Agile sandwich, where the filler — IT — is Agile, but it sits between non-Agile pieces of bread — your upstream business functions and downstream operational functions. You need to be Agile all the way through, from end to end."
Rob Smith, Managing Director, IndigoBlue
Following the acceptance of IndigoBlue's recommendations, Dixons engaged the consultancy to help them implement the proposed changes.
IndigoBlue made a small team available to lead Dixons' organisational transformation, coach teams and individuals, and augment Dixons' project resource. The team comprised a transformation lead (who also acted as interim Portfolio Manager), two senior business analysts, an Agile coach, and two project managers.
Over the following months the IndigoBlue change management team engaged with all levels of the Dixons organisation, breaking down silos and changing fundamental approaches to e-commerce delivery processes and governance.
IndigoBlue established essential communication between commercial, user experience, technical and delivery teams for ongoing elaboration and refinement of requirements throughout the project, based on analytics and developing business priorities.
There were also daily, weekly and monthly meetings between the appropriate people — a changing cast depending on whose input was relevant — to oversee progress and make key decisions at every step from inception to delivery.
No longer did the commercial team make IT design or delivery decisions without IT, or IT make commercial decisions without commercial input.
In overturning the traditional approach to the setting of requirements, IndigoBlue business analysts coached, cajoled and supported people upstream of IT to think incrementally — rather than try to achieve a full solution from the start.
This meant that instead of overburdening the process with excessive up-front analysis — and 'overfeeding' requirements to IT — the stage was set for faster delivery of essential requirements with scope for detail to be progressively added.
As interim Portfolio Manager, the IndigoBlue team leader guided Dixons on how to prioritise requirements based on value — and to throttle the amount of work flowing through delivery to avoid overwork.
They introduced a new process for work estimation to avoid over-commitment and built contingency gaps into the process to ensure that the right people were available for each next step, even if things didn't always go to plan on the prior step.
They also introduced a wall-sized visual representation of the portfolio plan and progress made against key milestones, making it easier for everyone to understand and collaborate on the plan.
The result was not just improved focus, predictability and quality, but — counterintuitively perhaps — faster delivery.
Governance despite Uncertainty
IndigoBlue introduced lightweight but more effective governance structures to support incremental delivery and drive a steady flow of work. The key change was to enable governance gates to be passed while uncertainty remained, with the understanding that full detail would follow at the appropriate point.
Although relatively minor within the overall scope of change, IndigoBlue also sent an Agile coach to the Czech Republic to optimise the existing day-to-day Agile processes of the delivery team.
This achieved productivity gains of around 20%.
From output to value: no looking back
Through its review, analysis and change management, IndigoBlue fundamentally changed the way Dixons thought about e-commerce delivery.
Dixons had been focused on output rather than value, but with discipline — and rigorous measurement of incremental value delivered against KPIs at every stage — the company was able to change its outlook, approaches and practices to achieve resounding success.
The record-breaking Black Friday energised the business, and a new perception of IT took root: as a partner rather than an internal supplier. Success continued through the Christmas period and Boxing Day, business confidence grew further, and the changes have since been sustained — with even further improvements in speed and quality of delivery.