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Code freeze in agile: What retailers need to know.

August 30, 2021 By: Alex Torres

Code freezes have long been considered a best practice before high-traffic seasons like the holidays, but are becoming increasingly challenging as the online holiday shopping season starts earlier and earlier each year.  So what does it mean to have a code freeze in agile?

Moreover, retailers are beginning to wonder how necessary code freezes are in an era of Agile development and fierce competition that requires constant, iterative improvements. The notion of two or three months in digital lockdown does not sit well with innovative leaders eager to differentiate by improving better digital products faster.

Last year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday shattered records and may do the same again as the economy slowly improves. What role should code freezes play this year?

What is a code freeze?

A code freeze refers to a period of time when developers are no longer altering the website’s core architecture or code. 

Code freezes help prevent the introduction of new browsing or checkout bugs which block conversions and kill revenue during a critical shopping time. 

What is Agile development?

Agile development is a framework that describes how developers work together to deliver code more quickly and with less waste through greater clarity, shorter cycles, and by enabling iterative and continuous delivery.

Agile benefits include:

  • Faster time-to-market
  • Improved customer satisfaction and customer retention 
  • Higher levels of satisfaction among development teams
  • More innovation 

However, the Agile philosophy, used in so many retail development teams, is in many ways at odds with the idea of code freezes. 

Waiting months to implement important changes is antithetical to the focus on the continuous development that allows Agile teams to deliver faster value with the features and products they create.

3 reasons code freezes are relics of the past.

Retailers live and die by the customer experience, and this is more true than ever during the holidays when they make the largest percentage of their revenue for the whole year. 

Retailers must constantly be iterating and adapting, even during the busiest shopping periods. 

The question of the relevance of code freezes in a modern development environment is more pressing than ever. 

Here are three reasons we think full code freezes are no longer needed for agile teams:

  1. Teams practicing Agile development have practices that have lowered the risk of changes and new features. Agile teams use practices like CI/CD, peer code reviews, pair programming, and tools designed to monitor system health. Automated testing has enabled teams to identify issues in real-time and alert teams of a problem before it becomes an issue. 
  2. Holiday shopping used to start after Thanksgiving. However, now the holiday shopping season is getting longer and longer: 40% of consumers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween. Does it really make sense to lock down all digital innovation and development for one -quarter of the year or more? 
  3. We are operating in a retail environment where it is a business imperative to connect real-time customer impact to every phase of the product lifecycle. Companies need to learn faster, agree on priorities, and deliver the products that customers want. We can’t afford to take three months off.

The Agile alternative to a code freeze: Continuous Product Design.

Retailers like code freezes because they feel safer and less risky. 

Quantum Metric introduced Continuous Product Design (CPD)  to connect real-time customer impact to every phase of the product lifecycle so that companies can learn faster, agree on priorities, and deliver the products that customers want. Retailers can’t afford to stop doing those things for three months of the year.

Continuous Product Design uses a data-driven, iterative methodology to identify technical errors that negatively impact revenue or the customer experience, as well as crucial UX design flaws that tend to go unnoticed by traditional monitoring platforms.

When retailers take a CPD and Agile approach to deliver smaller changes on a more continuous and iterative basis, they can create stability and predictability while minimizing risk. There’s just no need for a full code freeze when you have real-time and proactive insight that gives you confidence after every release.

Introducing huge changes is risky any time of year. It’s understandable that retailers are reluctant to do it before or during the critical holiday shopping season. However, with the right tools and processes in place, retailers don’t have to stop innovating and iterating at the time when small improvements could have the most impact.

Put the code freeze in its place, and don’t let it sideline your Agile, customer-centric vision. 


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