If you’re an ecommerce manager, you probably have a lot of people knocking on your door all the time. Whether it’s someone from the call center, accounting team, marketing, or IT, they have a need or a problem, and you’re the person who hasn’t fixed it.
Before we get cynical about these wonderful folks, let’s keep our eye on the real problem: lack of transparency. They don’t know what you do or how you do it. Nor do they know your priorities or how your boss measures you up. Consequently, they can’t judge a good time to make a request or frame a request so that it is relevant to your goals. We’ve put together a few quick tips for a smoother process, along with some insight from J.P. McCarvel, ecommerce systems manager at YETI, a company that has grown almost 750% in the last three years. In 2009, the company did $5 million in sales. In 2015, that number was over $450 million.
While following this advice may not guarantee you those same growth rates, it will allow you to improve transparency, and in doing so, the people who need you might develop patience, understanding, and a desire for mutually beneficial action.
Prioritize What’s Important
Share and repeat your goals as often as possible and regularly set expectations for the team about what is a priority.
“We do two things here that I find help a lot. First, we have a running priority document. It’s essentially a Google Doc that has every ticket, story, and feature that’s open in the company. Everybody that’s a stakeholder to the site, whether it’s finance, customer service, marketing, or sales, all have visibility.”
In McCarvel’s document, his stakeholders can quickly see the story, name, notes, owner, requester, how many hours, how much money potential saved, when it’s going to be released, a link to the task in Workfront, and the potential impact. This document serves a tremendous purpose with stakeholders. Key decision makers can see the impact of what they’re doing vs. the impact of another stakeholder’s initiative.
JP’s second tip is to hold weekly priority meetings, which he calls office hours. If stakeholders have a question about items and their status, they can come and talk about them. A lot of time they’re just frustrated and the hours are a chance to vent.
Meetings like this are also good for stakeholders who have trouble finding time to talk to one another about the site. The meetings bring them together and allow you to moderate and let the owners decide what is a priority. Plus, if the stakeholders don’t show up, it gives you an out. “Why isn’t this priority?” Well, you didn’t show up. We needed you there. These office hours don’t take much time but they can save you from a lot of headaches.
Have a Mechanism for Sharing Information
Hallway interactions, emails, texts, phone calls, and meeting notes don’t cut it. Create a singular, proper channel and insist that actions are only taken if they go through this channel. Make sure your mechanism makes everyone feel heard.
“Personally, I try not to make any rules about proper channels. I don’t want people to feel like they can’t come to me if they see something wrong or have a pressing question. But at the end of the day, there is the expectation that if you don’t see it as a ticket, it doesn’t get worked on.”
If someone brings an item straight to you, you should listen, at the least for the sake of your relationship. However, don’t waste time on projects that people don’t care enough about to meet with you. Request a meeting for more details. If it’s important, they’ll follow up with you. Simply put, keep your ears open, but constantly reiterate, “If you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.”
Ask for More
Ask people not to just submit the required action, but what problem it solves, how it relates to the aforementioned goals, and how you are going to measure success.
“I try to coach people out of the required action. In addition to business problems and goals, I try to help them understand level of effort and more cost-effective alternatives. For example, a goal might be to allow customers to track packages. They think it’s going to relieve customer service calls by 20%. The real impact is that we can save $XX and spend time on other calls that improve customer satisfaction.”
By thinking about the impact like that, you can think of better or more cost-effective ways and measure how accurate you were about the impact.
Report on how successful you were and keep track of the types of work that were most successful. Getting people in the habit of regularly performing postmortems is tough. McCarvel has worked for three large organizations that move fast: GoPro, YETI, and Crocs. At all of these organizations, people underestimate the value of a post mortem and want to move on to the next thing. McCarvel’s idea is to leverage the team’s frustrations on an unsuccessful project.
“If it doesn’t go as they wanted, get them together, get them talking, and they will be more willing to do it again. Like the stakeholders meeting, it’s about leveraging frustration to find solutions.”
Explain your Process and Agency
If you work with an agency, make sure you take the time to present your process for submitting requests, providing feedback, and dealing with an agency. Giving people transparency into that process gives your team and other stakeholders a reasonable expectation for capabilities and turnaround time.
McCarvel devotes a lot of time to creating an internal understanding of the process. Easy things are reinforced during everyday interactions, while complicated ideas like agile are explained during special events like lunch and learns.
“We persistently share the importance of the requirement gathering process. There’s no silver bullet to doing this. Instead, you just have to continue doing it at every turn. You have to try and do it everywhere, all the time, so that people understand the process.”