How to Plan a Large eCommerce Project Part 1 – Goals & Defining the Project

So you are going to do a large web project?  As a web project manager (in the Magento ecosystem) I have found time and time again there is no book for what we do.  Yes, there are a lot of whitepapers, articles, stackoverflows about particular issues but there isn’t a comprehensive project plan out there on how to plan a large eCommerce project.  I am going to reference Magento, because that is the platform I work most often but I will try to translate things in a general terms.    This series of articles will focus on established web project management methodologies, the best way to run your meetings (yes, they can be productive), as well as small details to focus on the ensure that you stay on budget and within scope.

Goals

You’ve gotten through the sales process and you have the “unicorn signature” on a large budget 5-6 month web project, now what? The time for hypotheticals is over, now it is time to get going.  You sit down to your computer, try to formulate a plan but you still don’t know how to start.  Well take a deep breath and start to type “G-O-A-L-S”, and project goals at that.  The first step in a major web project is goals.   Put yourself in your client’s shoes (yes, they matter in this project too) and ask yourself a few questions.  “If I could get three benefits from this web project, what would they be?”

  • I want to create more revenue for my eCommerce store
  • I want to grow my brand
  • I want to get more people to come to my website.

Those are pretty typical answers that you will hear from eCommerce manager, web owners, and people with “O’s” in their title (COO, CEO, CTO).  The next question you need to ask is HOW?   The truthful meaning to this project is how you are going to accomplish these goals.  If the answer is farfetched or does not have a valid actionable, then it shouldn’t be a goal.   A few of the answers to “How” for the benefits above would be.

  • I want to create more revenue for my eCommerce store.  How?  By creating a user friendly website, with easily navigable pages, thorough search features to help my customers explore our product mix, and starting a digital marketing campaign through email marketing, cpc, and social media.

Now isn’t that WAY more actionable as a goal?  Yes, I would say so.   By asking “how?”, and making people think, you will formulate a strong game plan and write out the overarching methods to how this project will be successful.

The Client and The Customer

The next thing to do is define the client, and the customer.  Now, you might be saying to yourself “Wait, aren’t those the same thing?”.  No, heck no, but we will get into that in another segment.  The client is the person or company that is writing your check Company, LLC.  The customer however is the end-user of the website you will be creating. This is Sally from Wyoming, Clint from Michigan, and Delores from Boca Raton.   To become a successful web project manager you must consider that while the CEO of Company, LLC is writing your checks, you must stand tall on the soap box for the end user and be an advocate of their wishes.  After all, in eCommerce, no customers means no sales.

To define your client ask them a few simple starter questions. Trust me, everyone like’s to tell their own story.

  • How did the company start?   (Yes, it is such a simple question isn’t it?)
  • How did the company select the products it was going to sell?
  • What are the growth goals for the web division in year 20##?
  • What is your internal mission statement, goals, and reason for being?
  • How do you communicate internally, with your customers, and with your industry?

The answer to these questions will set the tone for how you interact with your client.  If they answer these questions with the words “fun” and “culture” chances are you are going to have a great project.  If the answers are “revenue/dollars” and “strict, rigid, line of sight” you may need to set the tone to shape the project to feel like an opportunity instead of work.

You may find yourself still struggling to put your finger on the style of project you can run and what you can, and cannot get away with.  Take the it to the next step.  Setup a meeting and name it the “Questions Meeting”.  Don’t give too many details as to why you are setting this meeting up and don’t provide a strong agenda (admittedly, this is horrible), the point is to get straightforward, honest answers to the following questions.

WHY? – are we doing this web/digital project?

WHAT? – is the goal, mission, deliverables, timeline that you would like to see?

HOW? – do you use technology to help yourself be efficient?

WHO? – is responsible for the success of this web project?

You may get the same answer from everyone, which if anything means they are consistently stuck in their ways or using their bad systems and hate change.  OR, you can get varied answers, in which you can then follow up with each stakeholder individually to be their “Knight in Shining Armour”

Sit each stakeholder down.  Look them in the eye and ask them “Name three things that if you could automate, alter, simplify, or completely remove would free you up to do more meaningful and necessary work?“.   I can almost guarantee that you don’t get the deer in the headlights look? Rather, I bet you get a look of amazement when that individual person, that may be a female box packer in fulfillment realizes you are there to help THEM.   More times than not you’ll receive an honest, easy answer i.e. “I wish there was a way to do automatic batch order processing for orders that have the same shipping type.”  Write it down, think about a solution and deliver it to them.

You are now the HERO.  Congratulations.

Take the time to go through all the stakeholders in the company, from the box packers, to customer service, to designers, to the CEO and ask them the same questions. “Name three things….”.  If you can deliver a majority of those “three things” everyone wins, you’re a hero and you will have a strongly lasting relationship with Company LLC for years to come.

Up next in How to Plan a Major eCommerce Project Series is how to On-Board a client to the project quickly, efficiently, and with a little FUN.

Product Review: Basecamp

Basecamp at its very nature is a simple, straightforward, no nonsense Project Management online software.   Basecamp is ideal for small to midsize web projects in the web design, web development, eCommerce development or other digital marketing or digital projects.   While Basecamp may be “simple” to some, it’s flexibility is unrivaled in the industry.   Here are a few things to consider.

The Beginnings: 37signals launched Basecamp Classic back in 2004. It was extremely lightweight only offering a handful of features.  However the one thing that 37signals did create was the industry of online project management. While creating Basecamp, they also released the framework they created to write it: Ruby On Rails.  37Signals’ founders (Jason Fried, Carlos Segura, Erneset Kim) also wrote bestselling books, which focus on the message “Keep things simple, stupid” (the KISS principle) and on how to run business in a sensible manner. I have read Keeping It Real about 10 times and I STRONGLY recommend you read it. It will make you think about a few internal processes that you do on a daily basis that are just plain wrong.  Buy Keeping It Real on Amazon.

The inner workings of Basecamp allow you to create projects, tasks, to-do’s, discussions and notes.  The beauty of the software is that there is only so much you can do with it.  The flexibility comes from you and your team.  If you need to place an “URGENT” message into a to-do, DO IT IN TEXT! Create a tag to signify it is important.  An example to-do would be “[URGENT] Please go to The eCommManager Facebook and like their page [1 hour scope]”.

Top Features:

Projects

You can create projects for each project type.  I typical take the billing (quickbooks) title or the estimate name and place it in the as the project.  This will allow a 1 to 1 comparison for your team and your client for work = dollars.   In this example you can use, KEEN Retail: General, KEEN Retail: Project 1, KEEN Retail: Project 2.  This will allow you to add stakeholders to one project without seeing important or sensitive data in another project.

Basecamp review - Projects

Stakeholders

It is very simple to add the proper stakeholders to your project.  You can invite your internal team to one side of the project and there is even a segmented “client” invitation so you can “hide” certain conversations from the client.   I’ve used this when the conversation might get confrontational or create a long drawn out conversation with my internal team.  The client is most likely already stressed with the project so hide things when you can (it is a simple checkout box selection) to stop the unnecessary stress.

Basecamp review - Invite people to your team

Project Messages & Discussions

The best part of about Basecamp is documentation.  You can start a thread in 2013 and continue it through the months all the way till today and still be able to search and find previous conversations.  In the world of web project management, with 20 concurrent clients or more, if it is not written down we will most likely forget about it (or the client will forget about it).   I have used the messages for many different aspects of PM.  Design reviews, internal scope conversations, billing updates, tutorials, and more.   By design messages are an empty slate.

Basecamp review - Project messages

Full Project in One Place

The holistic view of a project is a thing of beauty. The real beauty of Basecamp is the centralization as you can see in this screenshot. All discussions, information-dissemination, scheduling, task-assigning, and questions live alongside the project.  This will cut down on the ambiguity of “Where is this and that?”

Basecamp review - Full project

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Manage several projects at the same time. This really helps when you have several projects that directly influence each other.
  • Deploy resources to a project only when they are needed. This improves efficiency and effectiveness and helps reduce costs.
  • Keep all the documents and conversations you need for a project in a single place where you can easily search, tag, and share them with everybody involved.

Cons:

  • Basecamp does not provide any reporting tools, which could make analyzing your data and making informed decisions about projects a bit difficult. However, if you are just looking for a software to help you keep your tasks organized and and on track, Basecamp would make a good choice.
  • Basecamp does not support milestones (very well), and so there is no way to track these major events from within the system. Milestones can be very useful for keeping your projects on track, so if you’re looking for a software with this capability, it would probably be wise to consider other options.  While there is a calendar feature, it is very lack luster.

Price

Pricing is relatively inexpensive.  $20 will buy you 10 projects and 3GB of space (but for the most part you can use Google Drive or Dropbox for large files).   See the additionally pricing below.

Basecamp review - Price

Who can use it?

  • IT / Digital Project managers
  • Web Developers
  • App developers
  • Designers
  • Traditional static project management