Quality Assurance: How It Works and Why It’s Important

The National Institute of Standards and Technology reports that software bugs cost the US economy an estimated $59.5 billion annually.  No one wants defects in their software, but inevitably they always seem to come up, resulting in customer disappointment, negative reputation impact, and revenue risks. This makes quality assurance one of the most important pieces of any software development process.

Quality assurance (usually referred to as QA) is more than a single step of the process; it takes place at every level of the software development life cycle. Testing and quality control help ensure that the development team delivers a high-quality product. Rigorous and systematic testing identifies problems early on in the development process, isolating project risks and maximizing ROI for you and your company.

What Is Quality?

Any software product is created to help its users improve their life experience, satisfy needs, or solve problems, so quality is the ability of a product to meet those objectives. Stakeholders and product owners see quality in an application when it meets their expectations, is delivered on time and within budget, and is maintainable. A software team defines quality as the degree to which the product meets the business requirements.

What Is the Role of the Quality Assurance Team?

The cost of errors in software grows exponentially as they sneak into later phases of the life cycle. To be the most beneficial and identify problems early on throughout product development, QA activities should be part of the development process from the very beginning, even during the planning and analysis stages. This will help reduce risks of creating incomplete or ambiguous requirements, or acceptance criteria that may be unclear on unable to be tested.

Quality assurance focuses not only on finding bugs, but also on preventing software issues, conducting root cause analysis, and educating the team about quality. QA improves the whole software development process, making it more efficient. By evaluating measures and metrics, testing constantly provides very important information about the state of the product. Critical business decisions are made on the basis of that information.

In Agile, which is one of the most widely used and efficient software development methodologies, testing and quality control go hand in hand with code creation. Constant testing allows software teams to find and fix defects in the same phase of the life cycle in which they were introduced, which reduces the risk of producing new defects and shortens product delivery time.

Why Are There Bugs?

Software is created by humans, and human error is inevitable. Defects happen when code is rushed or too complex, but even without these factors, bugs can still appear. While it’s easy to blame the developers, 20% of bugs are created at the requirements level and another 25% at the design level. No one can reduce risks to zero, but quality assurance eliminates critical defects, improves the system, and certifies that the product meets business and industry standards. Along with exit criteria, budget, and timeline, QA testing results factor greatly in any business decisions about a product’s readiness to go live.

Even when a product is released to the public, the job of the quality assurance team is not over. To stay competitive in the market, software should be a constantly changing product that stays highly adaptive to users’ feedback and quickly evolves to keep up with industry standards. Any adjustments or interference with code could potentially bring new issues, and it is always better if they are found by testers than by users.

Our Thoughts…

Building software is a human project, so there will be mistakes along the way, but the quality assurance team gives any project a safety net. The goal of developers is to make sure the product works. The quality assurance team is there to make sure the product works as well as it possibly can.

A high-quality product takes blood, sweat, and tears from every member of the team. A measured approach and a detailed test strategy will ensure a clear understanding of the final result by the customer. QA helps achieve these keys to any product’s success.

PeakActivity has a huge knowledge base in software building, including quality assurance. The right strategy is key to a successful product, and we can help at every step of the way.

Adobe Experience Manager: 5 Ways Your Company Could Benefit  

Your company’s online presence is arguably one of its most important sources of marketing revenue. Having a great online presence requires great content, and great content requires a great content management system.

Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) is one of the fastest growing content management system options for enterprises, used by major corporations like Motel 6 and Chipotle.

One reason AEM has become so popular is that it simplifies the management and delivery of website content while also reducing the complexity of delivering individual online experiences to individual customers.

What is AEM?

Adobe Experience Manager is a content management system that provides one place to create, manage, and deliver websites, mobile sites, or any other kind of application you might need (from kiosks to eCommerce apps). AEM gives you the functionality to personalize the online experience you want and extend it to the tools you need.

What Are the Benefits of AEM?

1) Multiple Sites Managed in One Place

Having everything in one place is one of the greatest benefits of AEM. In the same platform, you can build and deliver web applications for desktop, phone, and tablet, along with any other screens you can think of. Marketing campaigns can be easily launched onto all platforms at the same time. Even if your site has to be in multiple languages and regions, all can be easily managed from the same place.

2) User-Friendly Content Management

Along with having everything available in one place, most sites can be simply created and maintained through easy-to-use templates. Even with limited AEM experience, you can build your own pages and content from the user-friendly dashboard.

3) Adobe Analytics Easily Integrated

Adobe Experience Manager can easily be integrated with Adobe Analytics, one of the best tools to track your website. Reporting visits and measuring page views isn’t enough anymore. Adobe Analytics can measure customer pathing, traffic sources, content effectiveness, and even video engagement. All of this information gives you real data about who is coming to your site and helps you simplify your marketing goals.

4) Specific User Experiences for Specific Users

Along with the data you’ve gathered from analytics, AEM also provides you with multi-site management capabilities. By using Targeting Mode in AEM, you can create a library of user experiences for each page on each platform, a personalization solution that makes it easy to identify and deliver your best content for each user.

See our A/B Testing Article for more information.

5) Adobe Community

The Adobe support community is one of the best for monitoring your site 24/7 and making sure it’s properly supported. If you have your site available in different countries, the support community can even tell you how it’s doing and why. Depending on the size of your company and your support needs, Adobe can even provide you with a dedicated team to make sure that your site is as well maintained as you’d like.

Our Thoughts

Adobe Experience Manager is the clear choice for web content management for many of today’s top companies. With thousands of content management solutions, Adobe Experience Manager has simplified the process by bringing the most important options together in one place. Unlike other CMS options, it can simplify your life by integrating all the important functions of digital marketing and content management onto one single platform.

WordPress vs. Headless Content Management

WordPress vs. Headless Content Management: Choosing Simplicity or Functionality

Reader Takeaways:

  • A content management system (CMS) is a system that stores and displays your company’s content onto a website, mobile app, or another platform.
  • WordPress is great if you’re looking for a simple marketing website you can build without a development team.
  • Headless CMS might be for you if you’re a larger corporation with a team to build custom applications for multiple platforms.

Managing content correctly can make or break your company’s website functionality. With so many new types of content management systems (CMS), it can be hard to decide. In this article, we’ll break down two popular types of content management systems so you can make the right decision.

What Is a Content Management System?

All of the content you’ve created for your website has to be stored somewhere so you can add, remove, and edit when needed. The system can contain a front end, where the content is displayed on a website (or app, game, kiosk, etc.), and a back end, where the data is stored and edited.

WordPress

WordPress is the simplest, most popular way to create your own website. WordPress is a content management system that is free to use, encompassing both the front end and the back end of your website. That is to say, you add the words and images, pick a theme, and choose some features, and boom… you have a website.

WordPress sites are great all-in-one solutions you can build yourself with preloaded themes and plugins. So WordPress is nice if you have a small website, but it was meant for blogging, so it works best on a site with only information or marketing content.

WordPress has its downsides when it comes to scalability and performance. As soon as you try to add more functionality, like maybe an eCommerce site or a forum for your customers to chat with each other, you’re going to have to create a lot of custom code that could slow down the site.

WordPress might be for you if:

  • You’re looking for an enterprise-level website you can build without a development team.  
  • You need a simple marketing website.
  • You don’t require a lot of functionality or availability on digital devices and platforms.

Headless CMS

While WordPress is your all-in-one solution, a headless CMS has only one focus: the back end. In short, a headless CMS stores your content and leaves the front end display up to you. While that might sound counterproductive, the headless approach can put your content into any technology you can think of, from iOS apps to kiosks to smartwatches and even inside virtual reality headsets.

Using a headless CMS is a powerful option for companies with mobile and web developers. With the right vision, a headless CMS can use any front end tool they want to present content in meaningful and interactive ways.

While a headless CMS can be free to use, just like WordPress, it requires a development team to plan, create, and maintain. And since you’re not working from a template, the user experience can also sometimes suffer. Many growing companies looking for more functionality are choosing headless CMS.

Headless CMS might be for you if:

  • You’re a larger corporation, with a team to build custom applications.
  • You need to publish content on multiple platforms, all at once.
  • A traditional website isn’t doing it for you, and you need more functionality.

What We Recommend

WordPress makes creating a great website quick and easy, and it’s a terrific option for most companies. But as your company is growing, consider making the move to a headless CMS part of your long-term vision; you will be more flexible, prepared for new devices, and have no worries to scale for high traffic. Understanding your options in content management can help you deliver the experience you want, and the one your customers expect.

PeakActivity can help bring your company to the next level by considering all your options in content management. By working with those in the know and using the right tools, you can instantly access new tools to help your website thrive.

ADA Compliance and Your eCommerce Site

Using the internet with disabilities is no easy feat, and the law agrees. Just this year, hundreds of eCommerce companies have been hit with lawsuits claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because people with impairments were unable to access or effectively use sites across the internet.

In fact, more than 10,000 ADA compliance website lawsuits affected companies large and small over a wide range of industries in 2018. With so many different people using your website with a variety of browsers and devices, being accessible and compliant isn’t just the nice thing to do for your users; it’s the right, and the legal thing to do.

What is ADA compliance?

When you think of ADA compliance, you probably think of making sure your building is wheelchair accessible, or other structural changes like lifts and cut curbs. But in 2010, ADA Standards for Accessible Design was published, requiring that websites be accessible to everyone, including people who are visually impaired, hearing impaired, illiterate, or have a learning disability. With the additions to the ADA, new requirements were put in place for how to cater to all customers who visit your site, including requiring sites to be accessible by screen readers.

Many people with visual impairments use a screen reader to use the internet. Screen readers interact with a website by conveying to the user the contents of your site through text-to-speech and sound icons. The keyboard is used to navigate the site rather than a mouse, which requires visual cues. If your eCommerce site can’t be read by these devices, you’re losing out on potential customers, and you’re in violation of the ADA.

Read more about screen readers here.

Why does my eCommerce website need to be ADA compliant?

When a person with a disability arrives at your eCommerce site, they should be able to navigate easily enough to browse the site, contact you, or maybe even buy something. eCommerce sites require tons of interaction, with buttons to click, things to read, and information to enter, even more than an informative website would.

Beyond just avoiding lawsuits, if a person can’t navigate your site easily, they’ll probably just move on to your competitors. 19% of the population has a disability, so making your site ADA compliant may help your reputation, as well as helping you access thousands of new customers.

How can you ensure your website is ADA compliant?

When a visually impaired person tries to access a site that is not ADA compliant, they will probably run into trouble as soon as their screen reader tries to read the pictures on the site. If your images don’t have any captions or code behind them to explain what’s in the picture, called alt-text, your site is not ADA compliant.

The first step in becoming ADA compliant is to figure out all the aspects of the law and how they apply to your site. While lack of alt-text is one of the most common problems cited in lawsuits, making sure your site is accessible requires fixing all the issues people with disabilities may come across. For example, certain disabilities require the site to have full keyboard accessibility, so your site can be read by people who cannot use a mouse. Other violations of the ADA involve color contrast, so that colorblind people can see all parts of the site. The ADA even includes provisions banning flashing lights on your site, so as not to trigger someone with epilepsy.

Knowledge is the logical first step in creating an ADA-compliant site. ADA compliance training can ensure that all members of your team are knowledgeable on all the requirements involved with website ADA compliance, so things don’t go unnoticed. By identifying what needs to be done on your site and working with knowledgeable people, you can easily find the right tools to develop new code that is compliant.

Don’t let a lawsuit be the catalyst to make your site ADA compliant. By working with those in the know and using the right tools, you can instantly access new customers who may have otherwise looked to your competitors. Being accessible and compliant isn’t just a common courtesy for your users; it’s required by law, but more than that, it’s just the right thing to do.

A/B Testing: Taking the guesswork out of eCommerce

Reader Takeaways:

  • An A/B test is the process of sending users to different versions of your eCommerce website to test the performance of each version.
  • By continually running A/B tests on different parts of the site, you can continue to learn more about your customers and how best to cater to their needs, with the goal of finding new ways to convert browsers into customers
  • The process of A/B testing requires creating goals and testing the highest priority areas of the site first.  Changing just one variable at a time ensures that you know what had an impact on your customer’s responses.
  • While the benefits of A/B testing are endless. The best part is the ability to create an eCommerce site that has been proven to be successful.

A/B testing is the easiest and most effective way to convert casual eCommerce visitors

into loyal customers. Running an A/B test requires sending your users to multiple separate versions of the site to determine which they prefer. In an A/B test, you can actually talk to users and watch them interact with a product, uncovering and solving problems that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. With this valuable data, you can quickly see how small things can make a huge difference to your customers. Every site can be improved, and A/B testing can reveal weaknesses and successes in your marketing strategy that you can utilize to make data-driven improvements, taking the guesswork out of your eCommerce site.

A/B Testing Basics

A/B testing is the process of splitting your eCommerce site traffic between multiple versions of the site to see which experience has a better result based on a certain goal metric. In other words, it will show you which of the sites produced more leads, engaging customers, or purchasers depending on the needs of the site. By continually running A/B tests on different parts of the site, you can continue to learn more about your customers and how best to cater to their needs, with the goal of finding new ways to convert browsers into customers.

The solutions that A/B testing can provide are endless. Every part of every site can be tested to ensure that your eCommerce marketing strategy is working. For instance, you might begin A/B tests where you notice your conversion rate falling off. Rather than replacing the page entirely or relying on a gut decision on how to fix the problem, A/B testing allows you to effectively troubleshoot. Will incorporating different verbs or adjectives into your wording or simply changing a font improve your results? An A/B test can give you an exact outline of the problem with a data-driven solution. Keeping up with the constantly changing needs of your customers requires constant A/B testing.

Process of A/B Testing

Our team has established a repeatable method that outlines where to begin and how to proceed at each stage of the A/B testing process. Since it’s easy to get carried away when running A/B tests, it is helpful to keep your scope in mind. Beginning with the highest-priority part of the site, establish the goals you have for your conversion rates. Use research, including data from previous A/B tests if they apply, to form a hypothesis which you can prove right or wrong with your test. Stick to one variable and find out why you’re not meeting your goal on that page.

Once you design and create your test, an A/B test runs until you have enough data to make a solid decision. Once you have enough data, you can quickly determine which of the two solutions is better to meet the goal you set out. Then, repeat the process with a different variable. Changing just one variable at a time ensures that you know what had an impact on your customer’s responses.

Benefits of A/B Testing

A/B tests can be run at any time to create customer-centric designs for your eCommerce site, increasing your conversion rates. The benefits of A/B testing are endless, but the best part is the ability to create an eCommerce site that has been proven to be successful. By creating a culture of data-driven decisions on your site, the results can create higher customer lifetime values.

By being able to test strategies that may be considered risky, such as aggressive marketing tactics, A/B testing can reduce the risk of higher bounce rates. As your business grows and evolves, so do your customers, which is why assuming that your site is great isn’t always the best strategy. A/B testing is an ever-evolving process that can ultimately make a huge difference in your marketing return on investment.

A/B testing is a way to change your eCommerce site for the better using data-driven analytics. By asking your customers what they want out of your site, you’ll ensure that your site is as effective as it can possibly be. Running A/B tests is a way to identify problems or things you might want to change, without assuming the effects of the solution for your customers. eCommerce can be a tricky business, so invest in A/B testing to allow the data to drive your eCommerce strategy.

User Experience Design (UX): Promoting Usability by Making the Complex Feel Simple

Reader Takeaways:

User Experience Design, commonly referred to as UX, is the process of designing intuitive systems built around the user’s needs. By simplifying the user experience of the operator, the system will allow for more efficient sales to drive increases in revenue.

  • By implementing solid UX strategies, enterprises can empathize with their users to find and solve their frustrations, creating a system that allows for intuitive usability.
  • UX has the goal is to build a system so intuitive to the user that training for use would be unnecessary.
  • By collecting feedback data on the pain points from both users and management, UX can easily incorporate both the user’s needs and the company goals.
  • Using initial customer data, stakeholder interviews, and business goals, UX can grow a product in phases, giving enterprises greater accountability while promoting growth.

 

Understanding how customer needs converge with business goals can carry substantial weight in the process of designing effective retail client platforms. User experience design, commonly referred to as UX, is the process that works to build eCommerce platforms intuitive processes in mind by using data to create a user experience that makes the complex feel simple.

 

By solving for complexity, UX design utilizes intuitive task performance to drive increases in revenue. Replacing less efficient operations with UX design allows introspective simplicity, giving enterprises greater accountability while promoting businesses’ growth. An easy to use eCommerce platform will allow for more efficient sales to drive increases in revenue.

 

Leveraging Empathy to Solve for Inefficiency

In terms of design, user experience is based on empathy. By implementing solid UX design strategies, enterprises can effectively improve how they are engaging with customers, driving their behavior toward revenue growth. User experience research is essentially feeling customers’ pain through feedback. By listening to your customers and finding pain points, you can evaluate how the business goals can converge with the needs of the user. If the user is easily able to complete retail purchases, your revenue increases instantly.

 

When creating a user experience analysis for a national retail chain, it is helpful to begin by gathering data from users through surveys, forums, and competitive analysis. The goals include learning the whole process by going to stores, speaking to associates and managers, and finding how the associates use their tools rather than trusting the way they should be used. In researching for the UX best practices empathize with users to guide the design process.

 

Bridging the Gap Between Job and Tool

After reviewing the user’s needs, a UX team will incorporate the enterprise goals for the design into their analysis. By evaluating everything the enterprise needs in the platform and leveraging all of the data that had been collected, the goal is to build a system so intuitive to the associated user that training for use would be unnecessary.

 

By incorporating both the user’s need to have an intuitive experience and the company goals of creating a high-performance application, UX teams can work to bridge the gap between management and users. While blending complicated internal reporting with the efficiency of maximum intuition, the UX design team can create a prototype built around the user experience with the goals of the company in mind.

 

Building the Future With Phases of Feedback

Using initial customer data, stakeholder interviews, and business goals, the best practice in UX design requires building the product in phases. Once an initial prototype is built, the system can utilize further user experience testing to quickly modify. With user feedback, the user experience team creates the modifications, ensuring many versions of the final product with a focus on maximum user benefit.

 

In the case of the national retail chain, PeakActivity used this type of user experience design research to move an outdated paper-based system into a user-centered prototype for a national retail chain. The prototype has been a great success in pilot stores, promoting positive user experiences and driving sales with increased efficiency.

 

While elevating the user experience, UX design can convert inefficient processes into revenue-building task performance. The UX design mindset works to better connect customer intentions and business growth through forward-thinking progression. Investing in UX is the next step in balancing goals with design. Don’t make assumptions about what your customers want; invest in UX to deliver balanced usability with proven results.

Break Through: Implement a 3-Step Methodology to Accelerate Innovation

Reader Takeaways:

  • Real innovation is difficult and often painstakingly slow or nonexistent in many enterprises.
  • Processes that allow teams to incrementally achieve success with clear communication through documentation will help innovation establish a toehold in your organization.
  • Implement a methodology that enables teams to understand and adapt design thinking processes to encourage accelerated innovation with reduced investment.
  • Simplify your innovation methodology into three steps: research & document your current state, visualize your future and develop a clear roadmap for execution.

Building a strategy for real innovation is a daunting task that leaves many companies stuck in the middle between saving cost and implementing technology solutions or process improvements. We at PeakActivity have been experimenting with different techniques that support the simplify and speed up the innovation process. Through our experimentation, we have established a methodology that governs the innovation we bring to our customers, and we’ve decided to share our learnings here. Our methodology has been applied in many different environments, industries, and company growth stages, with the intent of breaking the logjam that holds back real enterprise growth. We firmly believe that enterprises that intelligently accelerate such initiatives will be poised to win in the new business world.

Your methodology at its core should adapt and extend design thinking principles. Design thinking principles have successfully taught teams and individuals to think creatively, an important step in the process of innovation. Read more about design thinking from Google here.

We have distilled the myriad of design thinking “thinking” into a 3-step methodology for applied innovation. The three major steps of the process are:

  • Research & Document Your Current State
  • Map Your Future
  • Develop a Clear Strategy for Execution

Research & Document Your Current State

The first phase begins with an observation of the current environment of the business and its customers. Observing the competitive landscape with an innovation point of view allows for a deep review of the current processes, technology, and identifies any underlying issues. While conducting the current state research for a company, you find & identify key pain points for internal stakeholders & end customers. You may also find major challenges that are limiting your innovation delivery that is not easily remediated. Some areas that such great challenges exist are typically in areas such as data modeling, IT systems & security, or human resource processes. The current state research phase provides documentation of historical actions and pain points that have previously held innovation back. The deliverables at this phase allow for a wide review of how the company is operating from multiple points of views, giving innovation a strong foundation.

Visualize Your Future

Visualization of an innovative future is established through the process of reviewing, defining, and strategizing business choices. Bringing in external thought leaders to work with internal teams can significantly help accelerate this phase of the process. In this phase, it’s important to enable teams to focus on spending time reviewing the current state research, then coming up with ideas, prototypes, and ultimately hypotheses that will help the enterprise invent the future from their point of view. Once a future vision is created, teams must then take time to validate their thoughts to ensure stakeholders, customers, and business needs will be met. Visualizing your future eventually should engage multiple teams and stakeholders, all with the intent of creating transparent communication and common understanding.

Develop a Clear Roadmap for Execution

Armed with the knowledge of their current state and a visualization of their future, your team members can now create an innovation strategy roadmaps supported by budgets, resource allocation, and projected financial benefits. The process combines identifying stakeholders, their must-have features, and the key benefits to your business benefits. In addition, you will want to incorporate the resolution of any major operational issues that might prevent your initiatives from succeeding. Once you have established a clear roadmap, it’s time to lead your teams to deliver a small project establishing a framework for success.

This 3-step method focuses heavily on delivering strong business growth through managed digital service delivery. With deep expertise in strategic digital transformation, innovation, and technology delivery, it is easy to support enterprises in the innovation process. With the 3-step strategy at hand, your company can easily build a culture that fosters innovation, creating real enterprise growth

Social Commerce: Boosting eCommerce Revenue by Leveraging the Power of Social Media

With the gap between social media marketing and eCommerce rapidly narrowing, combining marketing and technology has become more important than ever to creating and maintaining visual brand awareness. Social Commerce allows targeted users and brand loyalists the opportunity to engage and purchase products as well as services within their existing social ecosystems. This creates an increase in brand loyalty while attracting new customers through targeted social media efforts. While social media used to be disconnected from direct sales, it is now a fully integrated sales attribution channel. eCommerce sites need to up their game in order to keep up with consumers on social platforms, integrating full omnichannel experiences to drive greater brand affinity and increases in sales.

Reaching New Customers

One great advantage of social commerce is it can reach a global audience, so the influence has no boundaries. Integrating a strategy of social commerce creates more than an opportunity for repeat sales, it drives customers’ trust in a brand or product. Finding new customers is simple when implementing the right strategy. Targeting potential customers who will be interested in a brand supported by real customer engagement builds great trust from new audiences. In the first few months of a targeted social media strategy, an apparel company saw an increase of more than 270% increase in Traffic Referrals. Targeting new customers on social media is one of the easiest ways to boost a marketing strategy.

Creating Brand Awareness

Social Commerce is one of the most rapidly growing commercial markets and can be a great way to showcase more than just products and features. Creating a brand culture and brand lifestyle makes a company more personable to current and potential customers. Social networks open the doors for two way communication between brands and customers. With the right strategy, PeakActivity increased the brand perception of a leading retail furniture chain driving traffic and sales by more than 50%. These continuous efforts to drive engagement through social commerce attract new customers while increasing brand loyalty. This loyalty drives repeat customers and increases the lifetime value of the customer.

Streamlining Customer Experience

Some social networks allow customers to buy directly from the platform. This means businesses can enhance customer experience with a frictionless and streamlined checkout process. This ultimately eliminates the need to fill out long forms and visit the company website to make a purchase. This type of social commerce makes it easier for customers to make purchases on the go and to compare products or consult their trusted network. This new type of eCommerce customer experience requires a specific marketing strategy related to social commerce. Once PeakActivity took over an apparel brand’s Facebook page, the last click attributed sales increased over 112% over the previous year.

Increasing Revenue

Integrating social commerce with existing channels is a proven strategy to increase sales, increase order value, increase repeat customers, and reach new customers. By creating a social commerce strategy on platforms that are already free, you can directly influence the purchase decisions of customers. By integrating a full social commerce strategy an apparel company saw an increase of time on site of over 156% and an increase in conversions by over 75%.

Social commerce is the future of eCommerce, and without it, businesses are losing out on the conversions from targeted social media demographics. Along with creating a cohesive story across all channels, PeakActivity consistently has been able to reach customers through social media and increase engagement for a wide range of clients including apparel, furniture, healthcare, and industrial businesses.

In order to keep up with consumers, any company planning on investing in eCommerce and social media must also ensure Social Commerce is added to the strategic plan as soon as possible.

The Size and Performance of Agile Teams

In discussions around Agile team sizes, conventional wisdom holds that teams should be made up of seven, plus or minus two people.

The Scrum Guide, developed by the co-creators of Scrum, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, actually advocates for a number between three and nine. Three people may seem absurdly small, but more than once, I’ve worked with high-producing scrum teams made up of exactly three people.

Here’s the guide’s take (page six, for those of you with your PDF’s handy):

Fewer than three Development Team members decrease interaction and results in smaller productivity gains. Smaller Development Teams may encounter skill constraints during the Sprint, causing the Development Team to be unable to deliver a potentially releasable Increment. Having more than nine members requires too much coordination. Large Development Teams generate too much complexity for an empirical process to manage.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos advocates for what he calls “the two pizza rule,” which asserts, simply, that you should be able to feed your team with two pizzas. I was able to eat a whole pizza in college, which could have thrown things off, but the premise makes sense.

So where do these numbers come from? Many in the Agile community will refer to Miller’s “magic number,” although this is a misapplication of Miller’s term; and, it’s not really the concept he was trying to illustrate (and in Scrum, it’s not even the same range).

In Fred Brooks’ “The Mythical Man Month” (if you haven’t read it, go read it right now), Brooks writes:

If each part of the task must be separately coordinated with each other part, the effort increases as n(n–1)/2. Three workers require three times as much pairwise intercommunication as two; four require six times as much as two.

In Brooks’ math, where n is the number of persons on a team, a team of one (let’s call her Alice) only needs to communicate with herself. This is easy for any self-actualized person (though self-actualized persons may be, in and of themselves, a rarity).

Now let’s say Alice is on a team of three. Alice now has to communicate with two other people (Brian and Chris) who each have to communicate with two people (including Alice). You can map their communication by drawing a line from each person on the team to each other person on the team. Their communications network looks like this:

Team_of_3 (2)

Three people, three lines, three possible (and necessary) vectors of communication. Simple.

Ramp it up to five. Each person has to communicate with four other people. Their new communication network looks like this:Copy of Team_of_5

If you are counting, there are now ten possible communication channels in this team’s network.

Now let’s do 8. That’s 7 connections per person. Since connections go both ways, it’s 28 lines total.Copy of Copy of Team_of_8 (1)

What happens in a team of ten? Forty-five possible lines of communication in the team’s network. To quote The Scrum Guide again:

Having more than nine members requires too much coordination. Large Development Teams generate too much complexity for an empirical process to manage.

Often, I see organizations pushing for teams larger than this. Sometimes, it’s because they don’t have sufficient budget or human capital to scale their product ownership resources to accommodate more teams. (This causes problems that we’ll address in a later article.) Other times, management assumes that more people = more productivity (which seems reasonable, on its face). Other times, it’s an innocent matter of trying to make sure good people have good projects or teams to work on, whether those teams need more people or not.

In the mid 2000s, QSM published a study, oft-cited by members of the Agile community, which examines the effects of team size on schedule and productivity. In studying nearly 500 projects, their observations feel intuitive to anyone who’s ever worked on large projects. Yet the solutions to the problems they highlight still run counter to accepted wisdom in most organizations.

Firstly, the team found that productivity per person drops as team size grows, with a sharp drop after the team crosses into the 9- to 11-person range.

From Brooks’ math, we know that a 9-person team’s communication network is significantly more complex than an 8-person team’s network (36 channels of communication vs. 28). The 9-person team assumes almost 30% more communication overhead, simply by adding one person to its roster. This scales similarly in both directions.

Further, they found that projects with teams of 9 to 11 take nearly 2.5 times the effort, as measured in person-months, than project teams of 5 to 7 (167 vs. 69 person-months, respectively). Of course, much of that effort can be parallelized; so the projects, on average, take approximately 40% longer to deliver.

In all, they found that individuals worked most efficiently on teams of 3 to 5, but teams of 5 to 7 people were able to deliver projects slightly faster. Whether the faster delivery justifies the extra headcount is highly situational.

So why are smaller teams more effective?  In addition to the problems with communication overhead that arise in larger groups, we’ll take a look at the Ringelmann effect.

Ringelmann (1913) found that having group members work together on a task (e.g., pulling a rope) actually results in significantly less effort than when individual members are acting alone. Furthermore, Ringelmann discovered that as more and more people are added to a group, the group often becomes increasingly inefficient, ultimately violating the notion that group effort and team participation reliably leads to increased effort on behalf of the members.

Maximilien Ringelmann proved that, as teams grow, individual contribution shrinks, caused by lack of motivation and loss of coordination. One possible cause of coordination loss may be accounted for by network overhead, but on a task like rope pulling, there isn’t much to communicate. Agile methods try to fix the motivation problem by involving people in the reasoning behind their work, though this could be an article unto itself. We mitigate the loss of coordination simply by limiting the number of things we need to coordinate: tasks, user stories, and in particular, people.

On paper, the corroborating evidence in support of keeping teams small seems pretty overwhelming. Yet organizations who endeavor to design the structure of their Agile teams (which may be, in and of itself, problematic for self-organization), will frequently over-staff teams, and as project importance increases, so does the probability of making such a miscalculation and often the probability of failure.

Leaders, Teams, and Agilists alike should understand the cost and benefits of scale. But for anyone who’s ever seen a small team become hyperproductive, it’s not even a discussion worth having.