Agile Shelf-Edge Ticketing Platform for Marks and Spencer Plc.
Meet a regulatory deadline for a change in shelf-edge ticketing, against considerable, potentially incompatible constraints
Marks and Spencer had an urgent business requirement for a new shelf edge ticketing solution, for which several previous projects had failed. It was subject to a number of severe and conflicting constraints:
- A tight deadline concerning a change of food sale regulations, coming into force right in the middle of the Y2K change freeze
- No existing development platform capable of delivering an agile solution to M&S stores, and no appetite to enable one during the freeze
- No available database accessible from the stores
- Very limited bandwidth for new solutions and data. I had to design to a limit of less than 100 kByte per store per day!
I designed a solution which met the very tight deadlines, used roughly 1% of the previous communications bandwidth, and exploited the existing Microsoft Office/Exchange infrastructure to deliver substantial functionality without any new components at the desktop. The solution reduced a key business process necessary to keep goods on sale from over 14 days to a few hours.
Over the next two years the design was substantially extended in scope, including multi-country and multilingual support. Complex business and formatting rules were moved from code to a rule database, and the system migrated to a component-based architecture.
While I acted as lead developer, I espoused and put into practice my strong belief in agile development practices, which delivered value progressively from a team with widely-varying development abilities.
Marks and Spencer cited me as co-inventor (with the key business manager) in a patent application covering several important concepts from this system, and I continued to provide consultancy for its development including the later development (in just ten days) of a working thin-client version of the system using Microsoft .NET technology.
The following image is a handout generated for some mid-term enhancements, showing a screenshot and key features:
Problems and Challenges
Tight timescales, very limited network bandwidth, no available platform and Y2K freeze conflicting with regulatory deadline
Successful initial delivery followed by progressive exploitation Improvement in performance of key business process from over 14 days to a few hours
1999 - 2002
Eventually superseded, but delivered good business value for several years
Tools and Technologies
Technologies: Microsoft Excel, Exchange, Visual Basic, SQL/Server
Tools: Visual Basic, Visual Studio
The requirement was to deliver a new capability for in-store shelf-edge ticketing, at the time of a major change freeze. Despite timescale, platform and team capability challenges I quickly delivered a new solution to meet the deadline. The solution evolved progressively over several years, delivering significant business benefit for a very low investment.