Optimizing time to value

As businesses grapple with rapidly changing customer expectations and market dynamics, reducing time to value is essential for gaining a competitive edge. This guide outlines key strategic steps to minimize time to value, providing businesses with a structured way to estimate, prioritize, and plan work for their projects to see benefits more quickly.

Why time to value matters

Time to value should not be mistaken for time to market, which is the period between product development and its market launch. Ideally, the time to value is shorter than the time to market, particularly for larger projects.

A short time to value allows commerce businesses to adjust to market changes, implement new features, and address immediate customer or business needs. This adaptability provides a competitive advantage and increases the likelihood of project success.

Conversely, a long time to value can introduce several issues:

  • Diminished stakeholder confidence: if stakeholders have to wait too long to see results, they might question the project's effectiveness or its leadership. This uncertainty can lead to decreased internal support and resources.
  • Increased costs: the longer it takes to realize value, the higher the total cost of the project. This is because resources (such as labor, software, and hardware) continue to be invested over a longer period without generating the expected returns.
  • Decreased morale: if project team members do not see the outcome of their work within a reasonable timeframe, their motivation can decrease. This can affect productivity and lead to higher employee attrition rates.
  • Missed market opportunities: in business, especially in dynamic industries like technology, timing is crucial. A longer time to value can mean missed chances as competitors advance.
  • Project failure: in extreme cases, when time to value is too long, it can cause the project to fail. If the investment continues without the expected benefits, organizations might decide to stop the project.
  • Damage to reputation: if a project fails to deliver value within the expected timeframe, it can damage the organization's reputation. Future initiatives might then struggle to gain trust or secure resources.

Recognizing and ensuring a short time to value is essential for digital commerce initiatives to remain relevant, cost-effective, and aligned with market demands.

Identify what is valuable

To better understand how best to deliver value in a short period, we must first define value. What do key stakeholders and project sponsors perceive as valuable and why?

For decision-makers in digital commerce, value extends beyond just immediate financial returns. It also reflects how a project supports the company's broader vision, goals, and market position. This includes:

  • Return on investment (ROI): achieving a short time to value means that the product starts providing benefits early, improving the overall return on investment. Combining this quick value realization with reduced risks makes the investments more efficient.
  • Progress and speed: in a dynamic domain such as commerce, the speed of development and releases can make a significant difference. Stakeholders value fast progress to benefit from market opportunities and meet customer requirements.
  • Planning and reliability: robust planning provides a predictable roadmap for project execution and resource allocation, reducing uncertainty and financial risk. In addition, reliable planning enables stakeholders to make informed decisions and builds trust within the investment community and the broader organization.
  • Feedback-driven insights: regular feedback cycles not only support iterative development but also generate valuable insights. These insights, derived from real-world usage patterns, help in refining the product and ensuring it meets market demands.
  • Knowledge and expertise: stakeholders value teams with deep domain knowledge and expertise, as it indicates a higher likelihood of project success. A well-informed team can anticipate market shifts and derive solutions that align with their customers's needs.
  • Structure and transparency: a well-structured project, coupled with transparent communication, allows stakeholders to monitor progress. This ensures alignment with strategic goals and provides assurance and confidence that the project is on track.

In summary, value is not always seen in monetary terms. Value can also come in the form of saved time, gained knowledge, or reduced risks.

Optimizing time to value

When planning your project with commercetools, the priority should be to reduce the time it takes to deliver value to customers or the business. How can this be accomplished? Here are seven ideas to optimize value delivery in your project.

Think incremental

Agile project management is everywhere today. Agile methodologies address project complexity and scale by breaking down large tasks and projects into smaller, more manageable pieces. The development time is split into fixed predefined periods during which a team focuses on completing specific goals or features. By the end of each period, a functioning product increment is available for stakeholders and customers to evaluate. With this incremental approach, Agile teams and projects have the advantage of continuously delivering real, usable pieces of functionality or value with each of these iterations.


In software development, an increment is a portion of the complete product's functionality added during a single iteration, especially in Agile methodologies. An increment brings value, as it represents a tangible or usable piece of the software.

It is common to group a series of related increments that collectively contribute to a larger aspect of the project. These grouped increments mark significant events or stages in the development timeline, known as milestones. Milestones act as checkpoints to monitor the project's progress, indicating when a particular set of objectives have been achieved.


A milestone is a significant point or event in a project. It represents a stage where a specific goal or set of goals has been achieved, serving as a checkpoint to track the project's progress.

The trick is to construct the increments and milestones in such a way that they generate a continuous value stream. Each increment, and especially each milestone, should provide tangible advantages to customers and stakeholders.

Iterations, milestones, and time to value

Working incrementally can significantly reduce time to value in several ways, such as:

  • Faster feedback loops: by releasing smaller chunks of functionality, you get feedback from customers or stakeholders earlier. This feedback facilitates quick adjustments and ensures that the development is on the right track, accelerating the delivery of value.
  • Early release of critical features: with incremental development, typically the most crucial and valuable features are released first. This means that customers can start benefiting from the product almost immediately, even if it's not yet feature-complete.
  • Reduced risk of failure: smaller increments are easier to manage, test, and debug, reducing the risk of project delays due to unforeseen complications. This contributes to a more predictable and efficient project timeline, ultimately reducing time to value.
  • Resource optimization: working incrementally allows for a more efficient resource allocation, as you can adjust development efforts based on the received feedback and observed customer behavior. This focus ensures that the team is always working on what's most valuable, reducing the time spent on less important features.
  • Adaptability: markets and technology evolve rapidly. An incremental approach enables adaptability, ensuring the product's value and relevance, thus reducing time to value.
  • Cost control: by frequently assessing the project's progress and value delivery, stakeholders can make more informed decisions about further investments and resource allocation.
  • Stakeholder engagement: incremental development keeps stakeholders engaged with regular updates and tangible results, which can speed up decision-making processes and remove potential obstacles, further reducing time to value.

Set clear milestones, but leave room for adjustments. Projects rarely go exactly as planned, and the flexibility of commercetools allows you to pivot easily. You can add or remove features without the need for significant architectural changes. By focusing on high-value, high-risk items first and staying flexible, you'll not only reduce time to value but also mitigate issues that could derail your project.

Determine each feature's value

When you start planning the project, make a list of all features or requirements. Rank them based on the immediate value they offer to the customers and the organization. For instance, prioritize customer personalization features, payment integrations, or inventory tracking. Begin your project by focusing on these high-value items. This way, even if you go live with the minimum viable product, it is one that delivers significant value.

Estimating the value of features in your project is essential. Maintain a consistent system throughout the project, one that is clear to all stakeholders. Whether you use a simple point system or a detailed evaluation matrix, the goal is to grasp the precise value each feature or requirement offers to the organization and its customers.

Consider these common methods for evaluating the value of features:

  • Business value points: measures the business value of a feature quantitatively, often compared to the cost of developing it.
  • Kano model: categorizes features by their potential to increase customer satisfaction. This can help understand the value of a feature in the context of the entire product.
  • Cost-benefit analysis: compares anticipated revenue or savings against the predicted cost of feature development.
  • The MoSCoW method: prioritizes features as "must-haves," "should-haves," "could-haves," or "won't-haves."
  • ROI calculation: evaluates the anticipated return on investment for each feature to estimate its profitability.

Often, a combination of these methods provides the most complete picture of the value of a feature or requirement. Regularly updating estimates and evaluations throughout the project is important, especially when market conditions or customer requirements evolve.

Identify business risks

Another important aspect of large commerce projects is business risk. These risks can take many forms: contract deadlines, unfamiliar technologies, or a general lack of knowledge and experience. As such, it is best to address higher-risk items early on. Alternatively, adopting strategies such as working with proof of concepts (POCs) can mitigate these risks.

Beyond estimating the value of each feature, it's also important to evaluate associated risks. Several methodologies and frameworks work well for this purpose:

  • SWOT analysis: evaluates strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to provide a broad overview of potential risks and advantages.
  • Risk matrix: categorizes risks based on their likelihood and impact. It aids in determining which risks require immediate attention or which can be accepted.
  • Failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA): evaluates the potential failure modes and their impact on the system.
  • Cost-benefit analysis: quantifies the financial aspects of risk by weighing the potential costs of a risk occurring against the benefits of taking that risk.
  • ISO 31000: an international standard for risk management that provides principles and guidelines for the systematic assessment and management of risks.
  • COSO framework: an enterprise risk management (ERM) framework, which can be adapted for various kinds of projects, including digital commerce.
  • Balanced scorecard: performance metrics used in strategic management that can also be adapted to include risk metrics.
  • Expert judgment: some risks, especially those that are highly specialized or novel, might be best assessed by consulting domain experts.

You can use a combination of these tools and methodologies to evaluate the business risks specific to your project. Importantly, risk assessment is an ongoing process that needs regular updates as the project progresses and the business environment evolves.

Estimate but don’t over-research

After understanding the potential business risks and value of each item on our list, the next step is to determine the effort needed to implement them. It can make sense to prioritize low-effort items, sometimes referred to as low-hanging fruit, as they can deliver value quickly.

It's important to strike a balance between the time spent on estimation and actual implementation. Estimates, by their nature, are approximations and not definitive. Their accuracy declines with increased uncertainty. While research can enhance the precision of estimates, it's worth noting that the time dedicated to research is time not spent on actual development.

Excessive research can lead to analysis paralysis, where teams become so engrossed in evaluating options that decision-making stalls. For commerce entities, evading this paralysis is vital for maintaining a short time to value.

Therefore, we recommend researching just enough to achieve roughly 80% confidence in time estimates. Over-researching can hinder progress, especially for decisions that can be easily and inexpensively revised later.

Focus your efforts

The success of a commerce project fundamentally depends on the effective prioritization of tasks and features. It may seem attractive to address simpler or more familiar tasks initially, but doing so might delay more critical features that deliver significant benefits to your customers and business. Identifying and concentrating on the most valuable and risky elements first allows for quick wins and earlier detection of challenges.

Prioritization enables effective resource allocation. Rather than distributing your teams' efforts across numerous tasks, it's more productive to concentrate their skills on the most impactful work first.

Use your knowledge of value, risk, and effort to organize the tasks in the right order. Place the most important features and requirements at the top of your list, with less important items toward the bottom. For a shorter time to value, prioritize tasks that are high in value, low in effort, and pose notable risks.

Construct the project plan

After the prioritization process, you'll have a comprehensive list of requirements and features. Use this list to structure your project plan, determine the order of increments and milestones, and distribute the work among the different teams and departments.

Following agile methodologies, keep detailed plans for immediate tasks and broader outlines for longer-term items. It's vital to maintain flexibility, acknowledging that large-scale projects often encounter unforeseen challenges. Thus, adaptability should be built into your planning, allowing for changes as necessary.

With this preparation in place, your project plan is now structured to consistently deliver value to both the business and the customer. This, in turn, will improve the project's likelihood of success and stakeholder acceptance.

Celebrate your achievements

Acknowledging and celebrating milestones not only shows appreciation for your team's dedication but also boosts morale and fosters a sense of ownership among members. As you reflect on completed tasks, understanding the progress and value achieved becomes clearer, offering a chance to realign and focus on upcoming challenges.

Furthermore, celebrating successes contributes to a positive organizational culture and promotes continuous improvement. It creates a more engaged and motivated team, which is essential for the long-term success of any project.


Achieving a quick time to value is a delicate balance of effective prioritization—guided by value, effort, and risks—while maintaining focus and flexibility. More than just a series of steps, it's a journey that values the combined efforts of a team dedicated to delivering exceptional digital commerce solutions. By adopting these ideas, businesses can not only optimize their project timelines but also create genuine, lasting value for their customers and stakeholders. After all, a successful digital commerce project goes beyond just meeting deadlines—it's about celebrating every milestone and recognizing the value each one brings.