The Science of eCommerce Project Management - the 10 ingredients needed to be a great eCommerce Project Manager

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An eCommerce Replatform project is a long winding perilous road that needs to be carefully navigated. One wrong turn can spell trouble.

There are many reasons for eCommerce Replatform failure, but one of the most common is the standard of Project Management on the client side ("client-side" = the Retailer or B2B organisation).

Consider this common scenario....

  1. A business decides to replatform their eCommerce technology.
  2. They select a new eCommerce Platform and Agency.
  3. The business agrees on some form of strategy and a Phase 1 Replatform scope.
  4. The business nominates someone internally to become the Project Manager. Or, the business brings in someone (externally) to become the Project Manager.
  5. The internal nomination is commonly an eCommerce Manager or an IT Manager.

Why doesn't this approach work?

The eCommerce Manager understands eCommerce and business operations.

The IT Manager understands the technical architecture.

An external Project Manager understands the science of project management.

Simple logic would suggest any one of these individuals should be able to lead the eCommerce Project Management function to a high standard.

To understand the flaws, we need to dissect this from the perspective of each of these three individuals: a Project Manager, an IT Manager, and an eCommerce Manager.

#1. Project Manager:

eCommerce Project Management is not a function of ticking off task lists and monitoring a scope document to ensure every requirement has been fulfilled.

Any "traditional" project manager will be looking to construct a Replatform Project in a way where they can see the scope, manage teams to this scope and micro manager the execution of a long task list that comes from the scope.

For this individual, everything needs to be "black and white". Here inlies the issue.

No matter how thorough an eCommerce Replatform scope is, there are always grey areas that need to be worked through as the project commences. This is the nature of this type of project which is building a technology to interact with people.

While the final output of this project is firmly established in the scope, the micro-nuances of the treatment of an eCommerce Platform is infinite. And as a result, the eCommerce Agency has a high volume of questions that need to be answered, all of which are in scope.

#2. IT Manager or CTO:

These people are exceptional when it comes to executing ERP-like technical projects. But these are business systems which are commonly not very intuitive for employees to use. Being intuitive is of low importance when the primary focus is to meet the financial and inventory management needs of a business.

eCommerce technologies need to be designed and implemented to become a "digital salesperson": an interaction machine designed to meet the various needs of existing customers and new market segments.

How well does an IT Manager understand...

  • New and Existing Customer needs?
  • Experience Design?
  • The configuration capabilities of an eCommerce Platform to meet engagement needs of people?
  • eCommerce Best Practice?

The short answer is, they don't.

#3. eCommerce Manager:

All eCommerce Managers are exceptional at eCommerce Operations. This is the skill of managing the eCommerce channel in a day-to-day capacity and pulling all the levers necessary to drive online and instore revenue.

A crude definition of an eCommerce Manager (please forgive me) is think of a Physical Retail Store Manager: an eCommerce Manager is the digital version of the same, but they are managing the largest store in the country.

These people understand how this channel is to interact and meet needs, and they understand the shortcomings of the existing eCommerce Platform.

When it comes to defining new scope for a Replatform project, they play a key role.

However! The act of executing an eCommerce Replatform project requires a different "brain". Using the Physical Retail Store Manager example (above), consider this...

If a Retailer wanted to design a new Physical Retail experience they would consult with the Retail Manager and ask his/her opinions on store layout, how to display products, how to set up the till for transactions etc...

But once that planning has been done, you would never ask this same individual to manage the construction and build of the new Physical Retail Store: manage build teams, interior designers, painters, electricians etc...

So why are eCommerce Managers being turned into Project Managers of highly complex Replatform projects?

The 10 Ingredients of a GREAT eCommerce Project Manager:

With the above said, what are the skills and experiences needed of a highly effective eCommerce Project Manager? This can be summarised in the 10 points below...

#1. Strategic:

The eCommerce Project Manager needs to be strategic to ensure the finished project remains in full alignment of business needs.

A high volume of decisions made throughout this type of project, are strategic in nature.

#2. Knowledge of eCommerce Best Practice Customer Experience Design:

There is a need to have a deep understanding of Best Practice Customer Experience Design. Any Replatform scope will come with an Experience Design plan influencing the treatment and configuration of the new eCommerce Platform.

For example, the Experience Design plan dictates four primary treatments of the new eCommerce Platform...

  1. eCommerce front end functionality
  2. Front-end development
  3. Back-end integration to external business systems
  4. New Content creation

Not understanding Best Practice Customer Experience Design will influence the outcome of all four of these treatments.

#3. Asking the right questions, giving the right answers:

As stated above, a typical eCommerce Replatform project will stimulate literally hundreds of questions throughout the process. To maintain momentum of a project, the eCommerce Project Manager must be prepared to answer many of these questions.

This is where being strategic and knowing best practice becomes so important.

But many times, the questions that come from the eCommerce Agency are not the right questions. To uncover the real issue(s) requires the ability of asking the right questions to get to the right issue.

Again, this is where being strategic is crucial. This awareness of business strategy guides the process of uncovering the right questions.

Only then can you produce the right answer.

#4. Understanding the Cogs in the Machine:

A subset to asking the right question and giving the right answer requires the eCommerce Project Manager to have a deep understanding of the eCommerce Platform being used.

All Phase 1 Replatform projects should avoid the application of custom development as much as possible. Applying any non-standard treatment to an eCommerce Platform produces risk.

Knowing what the Platform is capable of, and asking the right questions (see point 3 above) enables decision making that will ideally leverage "out of the box" capabilities and meet business needs.

#5. Understanding the wider Ecosystem:

The eCommerce channel has the opportunity to drive overall business growth. To achieve this requires tight connectivity to multiple business systems.

Even though this will be scoped beforehand, the eCommerce Project Manager needs to have a firm grasp of all business systems that will be connected to the new eCommerce Platform so as to capture anything that has been missed in the scoping process.

This is an extension of Point 1 above: Strategy. This is where the CTO and eCommerce Project Manager work "hand in glove" with each other.

#6. Giving the Steering Committee the right information:

A Steering Committee is only as effective as the information they are provided.

All the characteristics mentioned above culminate into the function of appropriately informing a Steering Committee, and have them take part in the types of decisions that affect and influence the wider business.

If they are given the wrong information they provide the wrong answers: plain and simple.

#7. Change Management:

eCommerce Replatform projects are the catalyst for change in every business.

The eCommerce Project Manager needs to have an appreciation for the science of change and how to prepare the business for important changes.

The new eCommerce Channel is an evolution of its predecessor. If the business does not change to better support this newly evolved channel, it will not benefit from the investment.

The eCommerce Project Manager needs to coach, guide, prepare the business for what's coming. Examples of the types of change are....

  1. Evolved customer support function
  2. BAU (business as usual) processes need to change
  3. Potential business policy adjustments
  4. Improved data monitoring and business reporting requirements
  5. In store process change (for improved click and collect solutions)
  6. Adjustments in resource (employee) allocation for such things like content creation and ongoing eCommerce vendor management

#8. Speak Geek - be the translator:

The eCommerce Project Manager has constant interactions with all technical teams:

  • eCommerce Agency
  • System integration specialists
  • Third party software teams who need to be involved where the eCommerce Platform will be integrated with
  • Data mining specialists

The gifted technical brains have a weakness in their ability to speak in layman's. It becomes the job of the eCommerce Project Manager to understand everything being said by technical teams for two primary reasons...

  • Ensure no business requirement is lost in translation
  • Be the center of the truth for project transparency (see point 9 below)

#9. The Center of the Truth for Project Transparency:

The foundation to anxiety is the fear of the unknown.

To mitigate this fear is to build a high standard of transparency throughout the eCommerce project. And this transparency must be designed for multiple levels of the business...

  1. The team working directly with the eCommerce Project Manager
  2. The Steering Committee
  3. The C-Suite/Board

All three business "audiences" need different types of communication so as to understand project progress, risks, timeline updates, and verify if the project is still on budget.

And each of these three audiences require a unique narrative in order for them to benefit.

#10. Predict Future Project "Traps":

The eCommerce Project Manager needs to predict the future in a replatform project. The business needs to be warned ahead of time when potential issues are about to surface. This enables the business to forward plan and correct its course to avoid these issues.

Not being prepared for issues results in a loss in project momentum, change requests, extended timelines, and increased project costs.

The second part of predicting the future is for the eCommerce Project Manager preparing the business for upcoming tasks that will become critical later on. This also enables the integrity of project momentum.

This is not a "skill", this ability to steer businesses away from costly errors comes from experience.


eCommerce Agencies (rightly so) bombard a client-side PM with hundreds of important questions, tasks, and responsibilities throughout a replatform project. And all PM's on the client side are not equipped to deal with it.

Nor are the Steering Committees.

Reading the above 10 "Ingredients" for an effective eCommerce Project Manager may sound daunting for some, but there are people who fit the bill.

Not just anyone can lead an eCommerce Replatform project. If you are a Retailer or B2B who takes the eCommerce Channel seriously, then take the project execution of a Replatform project seriously.

If you are trying to make your largest and most profitable channel even bigger: a specialist is required.

This article was as tagged as Best Practice , Ecommerce

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