When I began writing this article, I quickly realised that creating a single, all-important list of guidelines when managing an enterprise level eCommerce project, is just going to result in an incredibly lengthy and not particularly helpful set of generic rules.
So, here are a few specific tips based on my own experiences of running multiple projects of this kind to hopefully help anyone who is managing their own replatforming project.
Planning an eCommerce replatforming project has become incredibly more difficult than it used to be. A typical eCommerce eco-system consists of so many components;
- eCommerce Platform
- Payment Gateway
- Shipping Software
- Inventory Management (IMS) System
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System
- Accounting Software
- Online Marketing Tools
- Channel Management Software
I could go on! Of course, this means that there are a huge number of people, teams and parties involved in the project. Effective project management becomes vital. We already know that over 70% of IT projects fail and only 37% of teams in the UK reported completing projects on time. The fact that so few projects of this nature are successful, highlights the difficulty of the task the Project Manager has on their hands. I’ve had my fair share of bumps and bruises along the way in some of the projects I have been involved in, which have certainly helped shape my own style of project management and delivery methodologies and establish how I can get the best out of my teams.
Whether you choose to use agile, scrum, Kanban, waterfall, Prince2 or any other project management methodologies on your project, there are some key things a Project Manager must do to avoid the typical mistakes we see on enterprise level eCommerce re-platforming projects:
Know the scope and avoid scope creep
I can’t recall a project in which I haven’t experienced scope creep at almost every phase of the project. In fact, an eCommerce re-platforming project without a change in scope is unlikely. We find clients nearly always want more functionality with no delays to the timeline. To avoid scope creep and keep your project on track and on budget, effectively manage these changes by:.
- Communicating the Change Management processes from the start. Whilst it’s difficult and you will get push back, you must challenge the new scope item and question its need at that stage in the project.
- Validating each change against the project objectives and if it is an unnecessary scope item taking you off the critical path, you need to stand your ground and speak up. This means saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to new requests as soon as they are raised and ensuring any ‘nice to have’ features are parked so not to side-track key deliverables.
Maintain clear and transparent communication from day one
Excellent communication skills are essential for both Project Managers and stakeholders if you want to ensure a successful project. Over 50% of all projects fail due to poor communication, regardless of which industry. The PMI (Project Management Institute) suggests a Project Manager should spend 90% of their time communicating! You must be able to articulate and share the project goals, responsibilities and expectations with the whole team whilst ensuring you get the best out of each one of them.
There is a huge advantage to gain if you can listen to the issues your team face, show some empathy and support them through each challenge. Be prepared to communicate with all stakeholders, irrespective of their level and be transparent.
- Hold regular stand ups with your team and help them clear any blockers.
- Get plenty of face time with stakeholders, a lot is to be gained when you are in person; from understanding needs to building rapport. These efforts should pay dividends during more challenging stages of the project.
- Schedule weekly project status calls with your team and agency and circulate relevant material ahead of the call. If you can video conference, then even better!
- Ensure project documentation is accessible for the whole team. There are so many online PM tools that can be used for this, such as Smartsheet, Trello, Basecamp and JIRA (to name a few).
- Author weekly status reports and circulate these with the project team and senior stakeholders, to allow visibility at all levels.
Spend time planning
Seemingly obvious, but often rushed. The planning phase is critical to ensuring a successful project, but all too often, Project Managers rush this phase, be it due to outward pressures. If you invest time into planning at the start, you are guaranteed to be in control of your project:
- Capture and record the project goals. Ensure the project team is aligned on this.
- Create a project plan and gain commitment from all parties.
- Ensure you have built in contingency and there is an owner against each item. Read more about Contingency budgets in this post.
- Build a project charter, go through it with the full team achieve sign-off.
- Define the communication plan and ensure it is understood by the project team.
- Identify the risks, be transparent and ensure accountabilities are defined against each.
- Put milestones in place to monitor the project, deadlines, scope items and budget.
- Identify your stakeholders and keep them informed.
Test, test and test some more!
A successful testing phase is critical in ensuring that business users are not only familiar with the system they will be adopting, but also to validate that a defect-free solution has been successfully delivered. Reducing the testing phase to absorb delays incurred earlier in the project, or because stakeholders don’t see the monetary value in spending adequate time in testing phase, is a recipe for disaster.
It is critical that testing teams are given enough time to be able to test to ensure the solution is doing what it should. No, I don’t mean an endless UAT phase with no pre-defined milestones or exit criteria, but I do think that often teams are put under pressure to expedite testing, rather than investing enough time up front, which could save the company additional costs if they try to resolve these bugs later.
- Create a test plan, include a defect logging guide and outline the ways of working during the test phase.
- Clearly define the severity levels for defects, so these can be prioritised accurately.
- Ensure the exit criteria for the test phase has been documented and accepted.
- Utilise tools to help manage testing and ensure all testers have been trained in advance.
- Set an issue cut-off date by when teams must have completed all testing.
Identify and over-communicate risks
I’ve worked with teams who want to hold back on calling out potential risks, so not to raise any alarm bells or disrupt the team or Management’s confidence, especially if the likelihood of the risk is low. Don’t do this. Call it out. Raise the risk, communicate it with the wider team and the stakeholders, educate everyone on the impact to the project if this risk becomes an issue. Monitor the risk, share the contingency plan and ensure there is a risk owner.
- Review the risk log with your team each week, discuss the RAG status of each risk and the progress of each mitigation action with those accountable.
Engage your senior stakeholders
Every project requires the Project Manager to spend part of their time advising senior stakeholders and making recommendations. Keep it simple and start with the bigger picture. Senior stakeholders are busy and won’t have time to understand the lower level detail of the project. Communicate in the way you will get the most out of them; if they prefer quick face-to-face sessions, don’t send an email, make sure you get face time with them and do this regularly. Raise any conflicts you may have identified and highlight potential problems. Make recommendations on how to resolve and if you need support, call in your team members to support you. You are not expected to know all the answers, but you should be able to offer solutions and guide the team and senior stakeholders.
- Author weekly status reports to circulate to senior stakeholders, stick to a single page report so key takeaways can be quickly extrapolated.
- Have regular meetings diarised in advance to ensure you get the face time you need.
- Don’t delay getting in front of your senior stakeholders urgently if you need to. They need to be aware of potential problems that require immediate escalation, along with an action plan as to how to resolve. Earlier involvement means the client can be managed better and the problem in hand is under control. Be transparent (but always be constructive). Our senior stakeholders want us to succeed. Being honest will gain you the support you need and speaks volumes for your integrity.
A successful project is defined as a project which is delivered on time, on budget and meets the project’s goals. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect not to have issues or risks that need managing, or challenges that mean a change of course is required, or problems with the team being difficult, but your ability as a Project Manager to identify and manage such situations as early as possible is what will be key to driving the project to a successful outcome.
Amul Gul is Head of Service Delivery at Greenlight Commerce and has over 10 years experience in delivering eCommerce projects.