Managing uncertainty

With digital trends and technologies evolving at a staggering rate, predicting which opportunities your organisation should be focusing on – and investing in – is always going to prove a challenging prospect. The uncertainty surrounding these question has been compounded in recent weeks and months, however, following events such as the EU referendum and the subsequent move towards ‘Brexit’.

When faced with conditions such as these, it’s vital that you’re squeezing the greatest possible value out of your budgets. A great way to do this is by making marginal gains – an established principle that has been used effectively in all areas of life, from transforming the British Cycling team and pushing the boundaries in Formula 1 through to the well-established principle of iterative refinement in software development. In planning your programme of marginal gains, it also helps to identify ‘quick wins’; discrete projects that can be implemented quickly and easily, and which will deliver a measurable impact on your chosen key performance indicators or success criteria.

However, with even these relatively small activities it’s important that you think carefully about how you’ll approach them, to ensure they remain focused on the areas and outcomes that matter most to your business, and lay the foundations for the on-going, iterative improvement of your digital products and services.

What is ‘better’?

The key to any refinement activity is value, and understanding where the value lies is the starting point of all quick wins. Here at Box UK, for example, organisations often come to us with the request that we make their product/service/system ‘better’. And while we’re more than happy to help, we first need to understand exactly what this means, as the desired outcomes of a digital project can vary substantially depending on a whole host of factors, from its underlying triggers through to the team driving the change.

This is especially true for those projects focused on immediate improvement, which are often centred around a very specific set of results that need to be achieved, or a particular problem to be solved. For, you this may be increasing customer satisfaction and therefore conversion rates, raising efficiency and productivity, or perhaps improving software performance by reducing errors and downtime.

Whatever your vision, it’s important that you define it clearly at the outset, before going on to gather data that will help you further narrow your focus. Where you look for this data will likely also depend on the goals you’ve identified – for example, projects aimed at the end-user may require information from analytics tools such as Google Analytics and Hotjar, while internal optimisation initiatives could benefit from a review of your development backlog, system performance reports, and/or team feedback.

Taking action

Although the above may sounds like a lot of overhead, conducting this groundwork will prove invaluable in helping you maximise return on investment, as you’ll be able to direct your budget where it will deliver the greatest results most quickly and avoid wasting time and effort in unproductive areas.

In fact, if your approach is targeted enough you can reap significant rewards in just a few days, through activities such as an expert usability review. Focusing on key journeys across your website, application or internal system, this provides you with the practical recommendations you need to start enhancing the user-friendliness of your services – and make a big difference to your bottom line as a result.

(And at Box UK we have first-hand experience of delivering these kind of results, for clients such as luxury wine and spirits retailer AWC. Just two weeks after implementing our user experience consultants’ recommendations they saw orders go up 13%, average order value grow by 46%, and user registrations increase by 21%.)

Alternative solutions

While an expert usability review has been proven to deliver immediate improvements to the digital experience you deliver, there are a number of alternative solutions available that will help you optimise other areas of your business too.

A code review, for example, gives your underlying technology stack a similar health-check, providing you with recommendations to improve scalability, security and performance as well as addressing any areas of dangerous technical debt. Additionally, if you’re suffering from skills gaps you may want to consider services such as Agile coaching, to equip your team with the tools and techniques they need to work more collaboratively and responsively.

Each of these activities serves a different need and helps drive different outcomes, but the common thread running through them all is that they’re small, iterative and self-contained – making it much easier to keep control of budgets, and providing you with plenty of opportunities to review and adjust your approach based on what is and isn’t working.

Embracing constraint

Many organisations have found themselves in a seemingly contradictory situation, where they need more than ever to drive measurable results from their investment, but are being asked to do so with a budget that’s increasingly constrained and open to question. It’s this very constraint, however, that could prove key to achieving these objectives. When forced to operate within a smaller scope, you’re better able to focus on those areas that have the greatest potential for improvement, and build as you go – for an overarching programme of work that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

If you want to know more about any of the services mentioned above, check out our Agile Coaching, Code Review and Expert Usability Review service pages, where you can also request a product sheet.

And for first-hand insight into how a global electronics distributor defined and implemented an effective solution to safeguard on-going growth and efficiencies without jeopardising existing success, be sure to check out our webinar “Keeping the lights on: how RS Components tackled the challenge of legacy code”.