Christian von Schassen
Christian von Schassen Director Enabling Services
18. September 2018 in

Insider English

Part 1: The 10 most frequent problems and solutions in e-commerce project management

From classic to surprise guest

From known patterns and weaknesses that always arise, through to aspects that can be completely overseen by a large part of the company for ongoing project management: here are the first 5 of our 10 top project management faux pas, which not only create headaches for those involved in the project, but which could also cost a lot of money. 

Which Weaknesses can be Found in Nearly Every Company?

1. A project without vision is like poking in the fog

Put simply: These are the questions you should ask yourself before starting a project:

  • Why does this project make sense and how does it contribute to the company's success?
  • Can the project be weeded out because it does not contribute to the strategy and/or targets?

Blogpost-Fail-Vision

If your answer to the latter question is yes, then it helps immensely to tell teams about the objectives and what difference their work can make. This enables teams to make more relevant decisions: they can evaluate business value of individual features better and solve problems within the entire context of the vision.

 

Employee motivation also benefits from a clear vision. Compare: 

  1. How to drain team members:
    Take a list of dry requirements without meaningful context
  2. How to excite team members:
    Make them focus on a comprehensible objective, which is carried by all stakeholders. The icing on the cake: better work results.

By the way, the same applies to service providers. These are often left out of the equation completely. The role of the pure implementer is counterproductive though, as sharing the vision benefits service providers and internal teams alike, resulting in more knowledge and better decisions in favour of project success.

2.  Vanity-ridden make-or-buy decisions

This phenomenon is found frequently in companies with a strong IT department or a high degree of self-organization. “Let’s do this ourselves, because we do it best” often leads to the complete overestimation of the team’s capabilities. The common results: exceeded deadlines and budgets, cut features, extensive maintenance and impossible further development of the software. It is particularly “exciting” if substantially involved employees leave the company. The result can very quickly turn into an absolute and business-critical risk.
 

What to do if you have already decided and are working on your in-house software? 
The regular schooling of all team members and a very clean documentation help to anchor the knowledge. In spite of all risks and associated costs, in-house development can even pay off in certain cases. Specifically, if a company has a competent team coupled with a very specific use case that is not covered by standard software - or, if you are using a solution that can be heavily individualized, such as the Spryker Commerce OS. ;)


If the decision is not pending, you should absolutely involve business-oriented departments, in order to balance out the ambition for development with KPIs. You can often reach the best result by buying a solid basis and superimposing your own development.

3. Copy-Paste brings no added value!

Projects are often started because of the urge to implement a new strategy. However, planning the re-platforming or the re-launching of systems often starts like this “Let’s simply re-build the current processes and functionalities (for a start).” You know what they say: No one pours new wine into old wineskins. It is better to use a new barrel.

A new start gives you the possibility for reflection. What did you yourself learn from the previous system? What can be achieved with the new system? And what should you confidently leave this time?

An improvement is always possible. Focussing on the actually needed functionalities and establishing new standards gives you the opportunity to increase productivity and customer acquisition through additional channels and custom features.

4. Rigid budgeting hampers success

Most projects are calculated on the basis of a fixed-price budget or a strict ROI calculation. Particularly companies that are not family-owned pay a lot of attention to ROI. In practice, this certainly makes sense, because companies would like to know what they’re getting involved with and what the outcomes will be. Will half a million investments lead directly to a break-even after six months, or will it take longer? The downside of this approach: if you are able to achieve much better quality with just a 20-percent increase in budget, and don’t even consider taking this chance, you are risking opportunity cost.

Real strategic thinking is always accompanied by constant evaluation and optimization. What factors give an advantage in competition, reduce costs in the long-term, or drive productivity forward?

A one-time calculation before the project start will help with the first assessment; in the end, it pays off to regularly check resources and to release the budget if needed. Some projects are really never finished, like running an e-commerce platform. Instead, you need to invest constantly in order to remain close to the needs of your customers. What value does it bring to complete the perfect outcome that had been perfect for two months, but which no longer fits all the standards. My recommendation: Add start and end date only for project sections, but not for planning an entire venture.

5. Parallel projects as a guarantor for longer project durations

Projects never run completely isolated - especially in e-commerce. Dependencies have to be considered and, under certain circumstances, other processes and separate systems have to be adapted.  What should be avoided, however, is to launch a new shop and at the same time reorganize product data management, merchandise management system, fulfillment, logistics, warehousing, etc. in parallel. Since many systems and teams communicate with each other, there will be friction. Waiting times arise, transfer points may defined differently in different teams and implemented several times. If you can't find any other way, you can “ease the pain” with the help of good communication and mutually coordinated priorities. 

The "We do everything in one go" approach should be avoided if possible though. Spryker customer FOND OF did it the clever way. They started the re-launch in their smallest shop first and thus gained experience with their new system landscape. Only then they gradually rolled out the Spryker Commerce OS in their other B2C and B2B branches.

But, that’s not it by a long shot. Next week, in the second part, you’ll learn about the top 5 project management issues that companies usually overlook completely.

 


 

Newsletter Sign Up

Get all new updates straight to your inbox