Phil Rothwell is an ecommerce expert with more than 20 years’ experience helping retailers to sell online. He was there at the beginning of ecommerce and played a leading role in growing Actinic Software from dot com start-up to floatation on the London Stock Exchange
In my experience, ecommerce projects are difficult to deliver and rarely run smoothly.
No matter how much preparation you do, there always tasks that are either missed or forgotten and decisions that, in the light of day, turn out to be misguided.
When that happens you need to get projects back on track quickly.
Why do ecommerce projects go wrong?
Failure is often a process that goes unchecked until a point is reached where those involved can no longer ignore it.
All ecommerce website development projects run into difficulties. Even with the most careful planning, it is impossible to identify and mitigate for every potential issue. When projects fail, it is often for a combination of reasons.
The following are the most common:
- Poor programme management and project management, resulting in inadequate planning of the project
- A lack of scrutiny of the project as it progresses, because of ineffective progress reports and planning tools
- Unwillingness to raise and address issues, because of tensions about responsibility and billing
- Poor working relationships within teams and between teams
- Insufficient, unfocused or inadequately trained staff
In my experience, it is usually possible to recover projects of all sizes, and far less expensive than cancelling them and starting over.
Who is usually to blame?
The vendor normally bears responsibility for the delivery of a project, so ultimately the buck stops with them. However, there are normally at least two teams involved in any project – the vendor team and the merchant team.
Website development projects are complex and successful outcomes are only possible when both teams work well together. The vendor can only deliver a successful outcome if all involved deliver according to plan.
What do you do when things go wrong?
One of the biggest challenges is acknowledging that there is a problem. No one likes to admit failure, so it is not unusual for those working on a struggling project to either be in a state of denial, or doing their best to obfuscate the problems.
That is why continuous scrutiny is an essential aspect of project and programme management. However, be warned. You will need to do more than asking challenging questions. Where you have specific concerns, you need to demand to see evidence to support the answers that you are being given.
How do you begin to address the issues?
You need someone to appoint a dedicated person to identify the problems and propose potential solutions. They will need to communicate with everyone working on the project with the reasonable expectation that they will be told the truth.
Project trouble-shooters should have sufficient commercial experience and technical knowledge, so they can understand and identify the key issues. They also need the emotional intelligence to identify when human factors are at play and deal with individuals sensitively and positively.
Can all projects be recovered?
Small and large projects are almost always recoverable, so long as their ultimate goal remains relevant and is realistic – recovery comes at a cost; whatever the scale of the project, the decision to save or cancel it is ultimately a commercial one.
Why might you need external help?
If your project has seriously come off the rails, then it is fair to assume that those involved in it cannot lead the recovery process. If no one else is available, then involving a qualified third party can give you access to the skills you need and with an independent and impartial view point.