What Warehousing CIOs Can Learn from Agile and Scrum

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Posted Oct 11, 2017 7:00:00 AM by Eric Baez & filed under enterprise mobility solutions

If you’re operating your warehouse on legacy systems, you might want to rethink your strategy soon.

Chances are that when your legacy systems were built, things were vastly different in the IT world. Those projects probably involved months of planning up front, many more months of development, a few more months of QA testing and fixes… and all this before any significant implementation (or results).

Recalling that effort, it’s no wonder most retail CIOs are reluctant to replace their inventory systems. Think of all the headaches. Think of the disruptions.

Except software development is much different now than it was back then. Thanks in part to Agile methodologies, those headaches aren’t nearly what they used to be. In fact, with Agile development tools and processes, you can have a rudimentary inventory system up and running in a matter of months.

Suddenly, all those gains promised by modern inventory control systems? They don’t seem quite so far away.

The Core Concepts of Agile Development

The term “agile” first became relevant to the software industry in 2001, when a consortium of software practitioners gathered to create the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. This manifesto represented a philosophical shift in the development process, with key values of:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Agile software would be built in a manner that emphasized the bolded text on the left. Most legacy systems, however, were built around the “retired” values on the right.

For CIOs, Agile development meant that software projects could get started quicker, reach the market quicker, and generate results quicker. And that’s going to be incredibly important when you look at replacing your legacy warehouse systems.

Scrum Maximizes the Skills of Your Developers

Scrum is a project management style that puts the Agile development principles on steroids. Designed to deliver on Agile’s promises, Scrum does all that and more.

Scrum projects are facilitated, rather than “led,” by a Scrum Master. The job of the Scrum Master is to support the development team, not to manage it. This fundamental change from traditional project management empowers the team and allows skilled professionals to make the decisions they are most qualified to make. Some examples of this are: enabling engineers to determine how they will program a feature, and estimating themselves how many work hours it will take.

Product Owners represent the business side of the company and are just as integral to the team as the engineers. A Product Owner maintains the development team’s list of requested features, called a product backlog. More importantly, the Product Owner works with business stakeholders to prioritize that list every two to four weeks.

These two to four week cycles are called production sprints. What sets Scrum apart from previous development frameworks is that every production sprint is designed to result in a shippable product feature. This means that, at the end of each sprint, you’ll have a new, fully tested, production-ready component of your software.

Flexibility Means a Better Product

What Scrum and Agile provided that traditional software development lacked was true flexibility. With old school project management, your entire scope and task lists were set from the start. You weren’t “done” until you were actually “done.” Often, customers wouldn’t even see the software until that final version came rolling out.

With Scrum, you’re reprioritizing your task list before every production sprint. This accomplishes three things that serve to transform your entire development process:

  1. It allows you to react and respond quickly and easily to new requirements, competitive forces, and strategic initiatives.
  2. It enables you to launch a targeted subset of your software much sooner, so that you can gather real market intelligence and build your product out based on that feedback.
  3. It ensures that no matter what’s gone before, you’re always working on whatever the business deems is most important at that time.

If you’re always working on what’s most important, you’re never working on unnecessary features. Anyone who’s been involved in rolling out a new system under traditional methods knows how much time is typically wasted on features that turn out to be unnecessary or irrelevant.

Replacing Your Inventory Systems the Agile Way

One of the challenges of designing a legacy system is creating the architecture surrounding and supporting it. That goes away with cloud-based systems, where the platform is provided. All you need to do is select (or build) the right tools and develop the right software. And for that, you’re going to need Agile.

Cloud-based systems are uniquely qualified for Agile development. Mobile capabilities and technologies change so fast that clunky, proprietary architectures simply can’t keep up. Stable yet constantly evolving cloud-based platforms are increasingly the foundations of choice for tomorrow’s software.

Whether you choose the cloud or not, however, Agile paves the path to replace your legacy warehouse systems far more readily than most retailers imagine. At DecisionPoint, we’ve used Agile methods along with 25 years of retail solutions experience to create ground-breaking Warehouse Management Systems. For more details on how you can replace your legacy warehouse systems with more accurate, more flexible, and more efficient technologies, contact us today.


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