What Is Ecommerce Project Management?
1 year ago
Trying to explain to family and friends the work our team does as Ecommerce Project Managers is often a challenging conversation. “Project Management in Ecommerce web development” doesn’t exactly resonate with most people. In a nutshell, it is simply helping team members complete their work in the most efficient and concise way possible.
More specifically, we are providing and maintaining process in the face of constant change, particularly where different priorities are clashing. As the world around us continues to grow more and more digitized, it is our responsibility to help move things along with the many team members who build the sites you know and love. We respond by constantly improving process through proactively gathering feedback and learning from all of our mistakes.
Ecommerce is a relatively new but extremely fast growing area in retail. According to the Economist, Ecommerce only accounts for 8.5% of global retail. Projections put this number at more than double today’s figures by 2021, making it clear that the industry is in for phenomenal growth.
With this growth, it’s more important than ever to embrace constant change and improvement in order to ensure we are all growing in tandem with the industry. Mistakes will be made, but it is essential to learn from them. Project managers seek to provide structure for change and documentation of mistakes to facilitate improvement.
The Basic Nature of Agile Project Management
Agile Project Management is the secret to successfully responding to this environment of constant change, and it forms the basis of how we run our projects at BORN. In an Agile framework, process is king. Agile project managers follow a process that involves iterations performed over a defined period of time. The scope of the work that gets completed in that time is the variable, where resources and timing are the core constants. The goal is to deliver high quality results, which Agile has been proven to enable.
How Does Agile Project Management Differ From Waterfall Methods?
Project management is a world full of counterparts. Agile concepts, for example, sprung out of the shortcomings of more traditional methods of managing projects from beginning to end. These methods, generally called waterfall, were linear. A project comes into the door, responsibilities get assigned, and one step gets taken care of before the next. By the end of the project, an evaluation takes place that estimates success, finds potential errors, and suggests improvements for the future.
You can see the rigidity of this process. Imagine a ten-step process that goes wrong in step 2. Under the waterfall methodology, that error lingers and even gets worse, but might not be caught until the end. Valuable time is wasted, and the project may not be completed as required. And speaking of requirements: if you don’t know exactly what should be delivered, there will be no leeway in changing things as the project develops. Clear guidelines are set at the start, and stay that way throughout.
Especially in rapidly changing environments like Ecommerce, waterfall methods were simply not adequate. Enter Agile, an alternative that emphasizes flexibility over rigidity and collaboration over command-and-control. Fluid environments and industries are better served through efforts that can change and adjust alongside with them.
The 6 Components of Agile Project Management
A basic understanding of agile, of course, is only the beginning. Flexibility requires a structure that enables teams to actually practice what you preach. The exact parameters may differ from industry to industry, and even BORN adjusts its processes slightly based on what projects we work on. That said, every project manager interested in agile needs to understand the six basic concepts of the philosophy.
1) Scrums: Daily Meetings to Keep Teams on Track
It’s impossible to learn about agile and not hear about ‘scrum’, the framework many managers use to implement Agile project management. The framework takes its name from the daily meetings, also called scrums that are essential to the entire project timeline. Daily scrums happen every day, in the same location and at the same time. They’re tightly structured, and no more than 15 minutes long.
It’s an opportunity for each member of the team to answer three questions: What did you do yesterday? What will you do today? Are there any challenges preventing you from doing your work? The entire team hears these updates, and knows how that work may influence their own. Scrums, in other words, provide the direction the team needs to keep working together. They also build accountability through publicly stated goals that require follow-ups the next day.
2) Sprints: Short Iterations of Work Within the Project
When the talk is done, the work begins. Rather than isolated long-term work for each member of the team, Agile embraces short iterations of each projects, also known as sprints. The overall project, especially in Ecommerce, may be a marathon. But rather than having to run it all yourself, sprints allow you to turn that marathon into a relay that embraces short-term successes.
Depending on the project, sprints can be anywhere between one week and four weeks long. They tackle an individual part of the larger project, which can then be tested and quality-controlled before moving on. Sprints are cyclical: the end of one leads into review and potential changes, as well as the start of the next. And even within the sprint, daily scrum meetings keep everyone on track and on the same page.
3) Visual Control: Getting Teams on the Same Page
Agile is visual. That’s especially true in project management, where the developer leverages a number of visual tools to communicate with teams, find improvement possibilities, and keep track of progress. At BORN, the primary software tools we use are Atlassian and Jira, a subset of Atlassian used for ticketing, but we also engage in discovery sessions with our clients using white boards, sticky notes and other sketching tools to map out projects from an extremely high level.
4) The Testing: Quality Control on an Ongoing Basis
We’ve already discussed the importance of quality control above. That concept weaves throughout the entire Agile process. Daily scrum meetings offer a natural opportunity for feedback and improvements, but so do more structural tests to make sure that every bit of the process fits together. Rather than waiting until the end for this step, it happens continuously with everyone’s feedback and input.
For example, I love test-based approaches that build testing environments for Ecommerce projects even as we develop the live products as well. That way, we can move the testing right alongside the ‘live’ development, allowing us to find any bugs and mistakes that can be iron out before they get buried in later stages of the project. The more quality control, and the more frequently it occurs, the better.
5) The People: Collaboration vs. Top-Down Approach
At BORN, we live the collaborative approach that is so central to Agile project management. Daily scrums would be ineffective if only the team leader speaks and everyone else is quiet. Instead, the concept abandons a top-down, command and control approach in favor of a more collaborative, interactive, and empowering alternative. Every bit of feedback from anyone on the team matters, and can be made actionable. When someone speaks out, the team listens.
The project team leader in this case becomes not a boss who assigns specific tasks, but a leader that guides their team through a constantly adapting process that can change over time. Individual voices are heard and encouraged. Most importantly, and through the retrospectives mentioned below, improvement suggestions are actioned where possible to make an actual impact on future performance and success.
6) Retrospectives: The Key to Agile Project Management
Finally, the use of retrospectives is absolutely crucial to the success of an Agile project. Retrospectives are recurring meetings that happen after each iteration of the project where each of the team members involved regroup to discuss the previous project phase.
In this meeting, we are looking for four main points of feedback for the next iteration: What worked, what didn’t work, what should remain the same, and what should change. Taking this action allows the team to respond to change by updating the process every time. The end goal of retrospectives is refining the process so that each iteration is better than the previous one. In this way, feedback is welcomed, encouraged, and actioned.
I haven’t been at BORN long, but I have led a retrospective or two already. Early on, I was tasked with leading the retrospective for the discovery of a project that I was taking over for a brand in the home goods and furniture space. We were working under an extremely tight timeline and I cannot overstate how important the retrospective was for our project. In fact, I attribute much of our success to it.
First, it served as a great way to identify how different team members worked. Second, we came to a collective understanding about the challenges that we each faced. Third, thanks to the retrospective, we decided to implement more frequent internal review sessions which ultimately helped us maintain the same direction for the different parts of the site that were being designed.
Project Management Organization at BORN
What sets BORN apart from other agencies in our space is the constant search to improve process at a Project Management Organization (PMO) level. There are weekly calls to discuss the many process related-items, where all team members contribute. Most importantly, change is made as a direct result of the meetings. This is an area where most agencies fail: without a process to ensure the team is heard, frustration and stressful projects ensue. With good feedback from the members of the team, we work together to eliminate stress.
So, what is the overall purpose of a project manager? We want to allow each team member of a project to thrive at what they’re doing. We take away the ambiguity of the project so that it runs smoothly. It is our goal to adapt to changes so that you don’t have to. We aim to make it easier for all parties to adapt to whatever the Ecommerce industry throws at us. That way, we can happily embrace the direction in which it is heading and position ourselves to be an industry leader.