WooCommerce, skunkworks edition

Aircraft in front of Lockheed Martin hangar at dawn with skunkworks logo, pilot walking towards the aircraft

Awhile back I voluntarily moved into a role developing a customized enterprise WooCommerce platform to power a couple dozen properties. I eventually came to understand this as a Skunkworks – a project “developed by a small and loosely structured group of people who research and develop a project primarily for the sake of radical innovation”, Wikipedia.

The company did not adopt the solution. It was a categorical failure to them, yet a personal success for me to learn from.

The executives who permitted the project did so as a short-term experiment, offering no leadership directing stakeholders to be open minded. Upper management decision makers required we dumb down the new technology to match the old technology, which indicated they did not understand nor agree with the new standards. Meanwhile, consultants distracted things by steering decision makers towards expensive, supposed turnkey proprietary systems in lieu of investing in internal development. This Skunkworks was doomed from the start.

That all reminded me of two common facts – that people are naturally resistant to change, and that nobody was ever fired for recommending IBM (top-tier solutions) – neither of which favors the brave.

Despite that failure to launch (defense industry pun intended), I can trace much of my current success with WooCommerce to things I learned during the course of this Skunkworks. I bent my decade-and-a-half web development expertise and many years of WordPress framework expertise all into this fast growing and lucrative Open eCommerce sector. WooCommerce growth and market share have been surpassing my already high expectations ever since.

I made many wonderful friendships through this work and learned so much from this small group of talented personalities. They have all been doing incredible since leaving Skunkworks parent company. In hindsight I wouldn’t have done anything differently except perhaps get out of the office and attend more WooCommerce Community events.

I’ll share some useful takeaways from this WooCommerce Skunkworks:

  1. Leadership is key. Good teams tend to stick together as they move around, even exit together.
  2. Never pitch new technology or you become the blamed. Let the technology prove itself de facto.
  3. Don’t lock-step to legacy system designs. It can be a trap to keep the old systems relevant.
  4. Performance is key. Servers and support infrastructure needs to be fully managed and monitored.
  5. Do not rely non Skunkworks support staff as their loyalties may prove inadequate.
  6. Never outsource custom modules. Keep all custom design and logic within your core team even if it takes longer.
  7. Use an enterprise-grade workflow to accommodate your testing of software updates and development.
  8. Timing is everything. Even great new features can be ahead of their time or misunderstood.
  9. Alternatives are costly, but cost leadership means little if your solution isn’t credible to decision makers.
  10. Merits of Community software will win in the end. The rising tide floats all boats.

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