Upcoming Seattle Agile Events

Check out these two upcoming Seattle Agile Events

plane propeller bw - mark asthoff - unsplashSeptember 1st – BeyondAgile at the Museum of Flight 5-9pm

Plaster Group is sponsoring the event: “Networks of High-Performing Teams Using Known, Stable Interfaces of Human Interaction. Dr. Low from the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital, as well as several other speakers, will be presenting. Read more about BeyondAgile’s event and RSVP here.

Schedule:

  • 5:00 Free admission to the Museum of Flight
  • 5:30 South View Lounge Opens
  • 6:30 Food and Social Time
  • 7:00 Main Program
  • 8:25 Retrospective
  • 9:00 Museum of Flight closes

 

Cocktail - Patrick schlopfin - unsplashSeptember 8th – Agile Mixer at Triple Door 4-6pm

The Agile Mixer is a Seattle-based gathering created to provide an informal setting for networking and information sharing between existing or aspiring Agilists. Whether your passion is Scrum, Kanban, Lean, or XP – come share your experiences and benefit from hearing about the experiences of others. We will trade war stories and revel in tales of success. We had a such a great time last month that we will be returning to the Musicquarium Lounge at the Triple door. Join our open group on LinkedIn here – we hope to see you there!

Book Club: Mindset

by Shama Bole, Sr. Agile Consultant and Client Service Director

Our most recent company-wide read was Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. This book is written by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck on the subject of success and learning to fulfill our potential across parenting, business, school and relationships. Dweck stresses that it is not our abilities or talents that gurantee our successes, but our mindsets in approaching our goals.  

One of Plaster Group’s consultants, Shama Bole, weighs in on this read: 

I’ll start out by admitting that I have a knee-jerk wariness about books that take the corporate world by storm. They tend to lack nuance and have a certain snake oil charm and a silver bullet promise: ‘follow these six rules and your business will boom’ sort of thing.  However Mindset was genuinely an Aha book to me. Epiphany is a powerful word, but this book did provide a few revelations. The distinction between possessing a “fixed” mindset v a “growth” one is one that I had never before had brought to my attention. And I realize that I have, all my life, been an unwavering proponent of the fixed mindset. (To get a true idea of what these terms mean, do read the book).

mindset I grew up with a sibling who is an effortless and brilliant high-performer. My parents assumed the same genes would kick in and make them proud. Long story short, they were bitterly disappointed. This review isn’t a saga of my woes, but it is uncanny how many phenomena the author illustrates that strike a chord and make me wonder how different life would’ve been had someone invested effort into my development rather than expect some sort of chia pet that faithfully followed my parents’ genetic markers and accomplishments. The author talks about negative labelling. Again, an extremely powerful  social artifact and a gift that keeps on giving, in that you hear it externally and then you echo it in your heart forever. Something else that was an “Ah”a discourse was the section on how men tend to verbally abuse each other almost reflexively and then let it roll off their backs – a big gender difference. Very character building, presumably. It may have vastly heartening qualities in the long run, but verbal abuse isn’t part of my DNA. Friends may disagree. But what’s interesting about that thought is that it made me wonder if sending one’s daughter to a girl’s school builds her up more constructively than letting her be exposed to stereotypes and negative labels in a co-ed school.

Some negatives about the book: one, too many sports analogies. I can see the temptation (John McEnroe was born to be the poster child for this book) but I tired of it. But I don’t deify sports so this may find more fertile ground in others. Second, the author seemed to make the assumption that growth mindset people’s goal is to learn. My thought is that the goal is always success in one’s endeavours, and growth-mindset people are a lot more open to hurdles in getting there. Third, there was a paucity of material on how to move from fixed to growth mindset. The part about putting the two diagrams on one’s mirror struck me as, well, inane. And finally, one recurring concern I felt was that the author was using a construct or assumption to explain behavior – always tricky – and it came dangerously close to circular reasoning. “Subject A succeeded because A has a growth mindset” . I assume there are fairly robust and accepted measures for gauging mindset characteristics and differences.

There are books and events that shake one’s world. Is this one a life-changer? I’m not sure, but it made me think pretty deeply. Change is born from this kind of self-reflection and that, in my book, is definitely a game-changer.

Implementing eCommerce Solutions

by Brian Decker, Supply Chain Practice Director

What are the top supply chain considerations when implementing an eCommerce solution?

You have a new product, now what? You want to sell online, but there are a lot of marketplaces: eBay, Amazon, Jet, BestBuy, Walmart, etc. Creating a selling account and manually listing all of your products for sale on each site separately could consume you for days. And when the orders come rolling in, how do you consolidate them efficiently across various portals for fulfillment and tracking?? How do you handle same day shipping?

Entering the eCommerce world can easily overwhelm your business. It is a challenge to provide customers with the service level they expect while maintaining acceptable operational costs. Customers want to order goods at a competitive price. The goods must be available to ship the same day or next day. Tracking information should be emailed or texted as soon as the goods are shipped. And finally, goods must arrive on time and as ordered.

If all of the above tasks were handled manually, a seller could easily spend 20-30 minutes completing each order. And if problems arise – an issue with inventory, a delay in delivery, or a return requested – the cost of managing this could quickly erase any small profit.

There are supply chain solutions to meet your needs. Whether you want to integrate your consumer orders into your existing enterprise supply chain solution or run the business as a separate entity, here are the key supply chain considerations to consider when selling products online:

  1. Inventory Availability
  2. Product Master Data
  3. Order Management
  4. Third Party Logistics (3PL) Integration
  5. Returns

Inventory Availability

Managing inventory to fulfill retailer orders with large quantities of each SKU is quite different from managing inventory for consumer orders of one unit each. The characteristics of the ordering and fulfillment processes and the lead-time expectations vary greatly even though it may be the same exact SKU being shipped out.

There are several solutions that allow fulfillment of orders with single SKU quantities between 1 and 5,000 without disruption. The key is to find a way to siphon off available inventory into your eCommerce channels without affecting your high volume customers. Strategies include:

  • Creating a new SKU number for the eCommerce channel sales that has a one to one relationship with the main SKU number. The physical product would also be assigned to the new SKU and sellable inventory quantity is based on the total SKU quantity only.
  • Selling the same SKU but up to a predetermined quantity based on a channel forecasting process.. The sellable inventory quantity would be based on a SKU / Forecasted Available combination. Orders placed within the forecasted time bucket would reduce the available quantity for sale in the specific channel.
  • Selling inventory only from a specific physical location where the SKU could exist in multiple locations. In this case, the sellable inventory quantity is based on a SKU / Location combination.

Each of these solutions can be tricky to implement but a careful analysis of the product, inventory and distribution strategies can lead to the right solution for the business.

Product Master Data

Managing the attributes of your products is difficult enough on a single sales portal. Imagine launching a new product to ten marketplaces. While your core attribute list can be assembled quickly, it is time consuming to plug those attributes into the right fields in the marketplace product portals in order for product landing pages to present correctly.

There are several solutions to this challenge. On the less costly side (with heavy lifting upfront) is mapping all marketplaces product attributes to columns in Excel. Then as you add your data, you can mass upload or easily update with cut and paste. Alternatively, there are software solutions such as Channel Advisor with marketplace integrations already in place. You can enter your attributes into this software and choose which marketplaces to list your product and at what price. There is some implementation work to establish the connection with each of your marketplaces, but the time savings in the long run is well worth it.

Do not underestimate the importance of this step. An investment in this area to get the product information correct will improve your seller rating, increase sales, and reduce product queries and returns.

Order Management

It requires a lot of time to manually take actions on orders like changing addresses or quantities, substituting SKUs, reducing prices, and completing refunds. Finding and resolving any discrepancies in orders can become a full time job quickly. It is important to have an order management software that integrates with marketplaces either directly or indirectly via product management / marketing software such as Sellercloud . This technology allows you to view, report, and alter customer orders in a single location with automatic updates to the marketplaces and customers.

Establishing this centralized management system has additional advantages too. A common set of processes for fulfilling, delivering and returning goods can simplify the financial management of the channels. Although many marketplaces operate differently, the reporting of financial data from a single source can remove many of the challenges organizations fear when implementing an eCommerce sales channel.

Third Party Logistics Integration

The initial implementation of an eCommerce channel can typically be very manual. Orders are gathered manually and an operator emails order data to the warehouse for fulfillment. It is easily conceivable that any delay in this work could, for example, miss the 2pm cutoff for same day shipments. So a potentially expensive decision needs to be made: Do shipments get expedited so the delivery is still on time? Do orders get refunded if the delivery will not occur as expected? What about those customers that paid extra for overnight delivery? Nobody wants to pay an extra $30 to get overnight delivery if the seller sits on the order for several days. How do you ensure customer satisfaction while maintaining profit?

The current customer expectation is that orders are shipped on the same or next day and that shipping information will be received once the order is placed. Often, companies inexperienced in this business do not process the tracking information emails fast enough. It is embarrassing when shipment tracking emails are received after the goods are delivered! The solution is complex and requires thoughtful consideration for how customers should experience the supply chain. Integration with fulfillment and logistics partners can establish a foundation for near real-time transaction communications both within the supply chain and concurrently with the customer. Building on this foundation with a clear supply chain marketing plan can enable automated processes to deliver and communicate according to customer expectations.

Returns

Returns can be tricky. Once you’ve established your return policy, you should put in place a set of standardized processes to quickly resolve negative customer experiences. When a customer requests a return, a lack of process and customer attention can result in a tidal wave of negative publicity. This is a quick way to reduce your seller ratings and lose credibility with both existing and potential customers. Reversing the impact of this negativity can be a long and expensive process.

Developing a physical returns process that quickly evaluates and dispositions your inventory will help you close issues with unhappy customers quickly. Mapping out the various causes for returns and standardizing the product evaluation process to confirm the status of the goods is one of the fundamental steps for setting up a returns program. Enhancing the program by integrating the physical returns process with a systematic, event management solution offers many advantages, such as automated status communications and timely refunds to the customers. This is the most effective way to turn a negative customer experience into a positive one.

Additionally, dispositioning of the inventory can be simplified and automated This enables the quick conversion of scrap and refurbished inventory into cash that can be invested in more profitable ways. Allowing that rejected inventory to age can have a crippling effect on an operation in the long run.

 

In summary, there are a myriad of detailed activities that need to be executed to successfully sell your products online. There are many solution elements to consider when designing an eCommerce strategy. Your supply chain needs to be nimble and the transaction data needs to be as automated as possible.

 Looking to improve your supply chain capabilities? Plaster Group offers Supply Chain Consulting to help implement solutions to complex problems. Our consultants bring years of real supply chain experience to assist you in finding the best solution for your situation.

Book Club: The People’s Scrum

 

We asked our Senior Consultant and Director of Agile Solutions, Grant Beck what was the last book he read. Grant’s last read was The People’s Scrum: Agile Ideas for Revolutionary Transformation by Tobias Mayer. Interested in Agile and want a quick read? Pick this one up.

 Three Reasons Why You Should Read This Book

1. Easily Consumable: 

It’s not often I find extended periods of time to read – I can sometimes find close to an hour before bed, steal a few minutes between meetings or during lunch, and catch some uninterrupted time bouncing back and forth on my bus commute. Coming in at just under 150 pages, The People’s Scrum isn’t back-breaking in its scope, and is comprised of a collection of essays. Each essay makes up one chapter, and is no longer than several pages. It’s not necessary to progress through the material from front to back, as each chapter can stand on its own. This facilitates finishing any chapter and then taking a pause to consider, contemplate, and reflect in-depth about that particular subject without a fear of losing continuity.


2. Emphasis on People:

The first value listed in the Agile Manifesto is ‘people and interactions over processes and tools.’ However, many books I have read about Scrum devote a majority of their material to framework mechanics, processes, and techniques.  Mayer addresses the critics who trivialize and dismiss Agile approaches as “touchy-feely” and “soft’ as ultimately avoiding the truly challenging job of human engagement.  Simply stated, acknowledging and engaging people with active listening, healthy dialog, trust and respect while promoting self-organization and conflict resolution to deliver a complex project takes a tremendous amount of courage.  This is the hard stuff!  Many of the chapters in this book maintain a focus on people, and as an Agile coach, I appreciate this emphasis.

3. Slap in the Face:

Finally, if a book challenges the status quo, testing not only my assumptions but also my beliefs, it certainly gets my attention.  The People’ Scrum definitely aims to provoke, and the author admittedly strives to offer ideas to inspire disagreement.  Undeniably there were a few unsettling moments of cognitive dissonance – whether it was the assertion that a team is better served by committing to a sprint backlog on gut feeling rather than on data points, or that distributed teams are not teams – I found myself pleasantly uncomfortable assimilating some of the arguments.  I find this “shaking of the foundations” a healthy process to stay curious and keep myself from becoming complacent in either my practice or understanding of Agile.

The People's Scrum

Interested in discussing some of the essays in this book? Come to the next Plaster Group-hosted Agile Mixer. The Agile Mixer is a Seattle-based gathering created to provide an informal setting for networking and information sharing between existing or aspiring Agilists.

Agile Projects: Scrum vs. Kanban

by Aki Namioka, Sr. Agile Consultant 

When an organization is deciding how to manage the work of an Agile team, two common paradigms are often considered:  Scrum and Kanban.  This article will discuss each paradigm at a high level, cover the advantages of each, and explain why a team might select one or the other.

Introduction to Scrum

Scrum’s history comes from software development.  It has been around, in some form or another, since 1986 and is the most common Agile paradigm in software development.  The current definition of Scrum was presented in 1995 by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. It is described as “a flexible, holistic product development strategy where a development team works as a unit to reach a common goal.”

At Scrum’s core is the idea of working in iterations or “Sprints”, where a cross-functional delivery team works together to meet a set of goals that are defined by a Product Owner, i.e. somebody who can represent the business interest.  A Sprint is a time box, e.g. 2 weeks.   At the end of each Sprint, the delivery team demonstrates incremental business value to the Product Owner. Continue reading “Agile Projects: Scrum vs. Kanban”