27. August 2020
Sometimes you get bored just doing sensible stuff, you itch to try out some new technology or simply feel like starring as the coding wizard? There were calls to run a hackathon some years ago, but many hackathons remind us of Onan in the bible, fun and good time for sure, but no fruitful result at the end of the day. This is often what it comes down to. Hardly satisfactory in the long term. We @OTTO are a firmly grounded company and we want lasting success. We are a division comprising 300 people operating www.otto.de and the OTTO app covering everything from ideation to coding and DevOps in the cloud.
Hence, we tried to channel creative power into innovational ideas, combining the “let me do cool stuff” component with new approaches. After four years of Innodays (the name we chose for our project) we gathered for a long-term retro which produced the following results:
a) Asking people to come up with fabulously innovative ideas doesn’t necessarily result in the best ideas surfacing, some of the suggestions made were way beyond our capacities and others sounded as if they had certainly been taken up before, but with no result to see the light of day.
b) Teams were formed quickly, more or less on an “I like you” basis rather than an overall goal in mind which meant that teams had to find a sensible working mode before getting really productive. Thus, precious time was lost to teambuilding processes.
c)The approach was a competition, where ideas were thrown / hacked together and pitched in front of a high-profile jury. So everybody tried to improve their pitching skills in order to win, but most of the resulting code had to be trashed and/or refactored afterwards. The downside to this type of a few ideas made it all the way to our customer’s couch.
Emerging from our retro, perhaps somewhat disillusioned but in good spirits, it was time for a creative and forward-looking session of our orga team with managers and our division lead present. The question eventually raised was ” If there are promising ideas people have been wanting to try out for ages, can’t you just let them do it?”- “Ok, we could call our project it powersprint and try it out as an experiment. Let’s do it”, was the course agreed upon. The name was, however, changed to “Spring Break” afterwards for two reasons: It had to sound like fun and the time of year was spring, after all!
What are the rules of the new format? All of our existing functional teams (learning a) were given a two-week period “called sprint” to breathe life into a good idea. Prior to approaching the board, we asked all teams what, if anything, they had in their treasure chests to share with others (learning b), a precious idea small enough to be completed within a two-week sprint and perhaps too small for a grand portfolio approach, yet great enough to move ahead and make others curious. And, surprise surprise, nearly every team came up with a precious item. No one but the teams themselves decided on which topic to take up, anything was fine as long as the benefit / changed feature to be enjoyed by our customer on his or her couch was clear and the focus of all activities…, (learning c).
We asked Management to support the teams and cancel all time-consuming, not strictly necessary regular meetings to help them stay focused. By the end of the sprint period every team, whether successful with their idea or not, had to give a short summary, pitch the customer pain / gain and hold a retro and give feedback to the orga team. As project initiators, we wished to evaluate the experiment.
None of us saw it coming, but the corona crisis and related regulations hit us three days down the road. The picture of the kick-off event (see above) feels like another time and place altogether. We had launched all teams, which were busy with their chosen Spring Break topics, into work when all of a sudden, everybody was supposed to work from home. The fact that we already had the Office365 Teams ready and relevant applications in use for quite a while was to our advantage, no doubt. Nevertheless, it was hard to keep our schedule and we lost two days which was understandable in such a situation. So we were granted two more days. Actually, the extra time provided made sure that the ideas and concepts captured in the teams were mature and sensible enough to work with, and this paid off. In addition, the production people were incredibly efficient in their home office environments. We were all baffled and awe-struck to see that 15 out of 16 Spring Break topics made it across the finishing line! It was a sensational achievement as such, but particularly in those circumstances.
a) Outfit recommendations on homepage, theme pages and landing pages
Fashionistas do not love individual pieces of clothing, it’s styles and outfits they crave. Up to now, most online shops have opted for listing, presenting and informing about single articles in groups of similar items (pants, shirts, accessories.) Sometimes the brands link articles by attributing a tag which makes it easier for customers to match and / or mix items. As pioneers of mail-order business (followed by e-Commerce) we have always combined pieces to present a style while producing inspiring photos featuring charismatic models. This, however, is no longer enough or even very helpful in a digital world with online platforms offering shoppers a ridiculously huge selection of items impossible to go through or to select from in a quick-result manner satisfying the customer. So we had the idea of letting an algorithm do the focus-and-choose job for us and to generate outfit proposals in line with the specific context of the customer journey or in-shop location.
b) Automating and personalizing small Shop promotions on the otto.de Storefront (FT3, Tesla)
Before Spring Break, the feature “Small Shoppromotions” was placed on otto.de by one person. This person looked for interesting topics and coordinated all details with a large number of stakeholders. This process was inefficient and these Small Shoppromotions were not very successful. This is why we thought it vital to automize and personalize this feature on the otto.de storefront.
As an initial step, we expanded the content pool from 1.500 to more than 6.000 promotion elements. We then went through our content pool and showed the perfect Small Shoppromotion to each user, based on what he / she had looked at and done on otto.de in the past. Because we had a huge content pool to choose from, it was possible to show every user exactly what he/she was hoping to find.
Sounds good? The user experience is even better: We tested the new automatized and personalized feature on the storefront. The result was amazing! We could see an increase of 62% in the click rate for the Small Shoppromotions on the storefront. In addition, the increase created by the new feature after clicking on an article displayed was 4.4% – an amazing figure. But this is only the beginning. In the months to come, we aim to make our new feature even more powerful! In other words, our success story is meant to continue and it will!
1. Why was our approach successful?
First of all, everyone loves babies, but we love our own the most. Hence, we will do everything in our power to make our babies / ideas strive. Encouraged to push your ideas in the way you consider to be best, you are likely to put every effort into proving to the world that your idea is bound to make it. If you can then present your idea to the customer and get a direct response (preferably a positive one), with nobody in-between with a second-hand opinion to consider. And if the customer isn’t thrilled, you will have to rethink your approach, plain and simple. Well-matched teams performing together have developed a blind understanding of what they do and will overcome an obstacle much easier if in every respect, they themselves are the experts on the topics they have to deal with. If, based on solid knowledge of all parties involved, the items in the treasure chests have become ripe and mature, the results forecast will be quite reliable. All Management had to do was give a lot of rope and protect and support the teams.
2. When should you try a similar approach?
If you have stand-alone, vertical hence independent teams that can go all the way. If they have topics in their treasure chests that can be brought to life within a certain time frame. If these topics are at a mature stage and the ideas, when put into practice, are so powerful that they are bound to create a sense of achievement for all parties involved when successfully implemented.