The eCommerce industry is growing as fast as 30% a year and the predictions are saying that the industry will reach $1.6 trillion in sales this year (source: eMarketer). This means that new eCommerce solutions are delivered by the thousands to merchants around the globe and as with any fast-growing industry, the quality of eCommerce sites and competition is getting stronger by the day. It’s obvious that as a merchant you want to make sure your business will be ahead of the game right after going live with a new eCommerce site. One of the ways of achieving this however, is making sure that your eCommerce project is headed up by a great project manager - the one responsible for ‘steering the ship home’.
At Vaimo, we have a total of 17 in-house Project Managers (PM) working in different offices all over the world. This has been a gradual increase and over the years we have learned that having a great team of project managers is vital for our success as a company. Through their experiences as the faces of Vaimo, we have gained some helpful insights into how successful project management can drive all the moving pieces of an eCommerce project towards a successful outcome.
“Experience isn't worth a lot if there isn't great communication. Communication itself doesn't matter much if you don't know what you’re doing. The key here is the ability to calibrate the expectations of all stakeholders in order to deliver a solution that satisfies all.”
- Dan Max, Chief Project Manager at Vaimo
Having a single point of contact improves results
What we have found is that project management in eCommerce really comes down to the successful communication and partnership between a client and the supplier.
The project manager is constantly looking to drive results, adapting and prioritising accordingly. However, to do so effectively all the relevant information needs to be shared quickly and easily. Ideally, everything from scheduling meetings, moving deadlines, approving work, giving feedback, increasing the feature scope, ordering maintenance - should come from one person and should be received by one person.
Even though there can always be a steering committee with lots of stakeholders from both sides leading the project on a macro level, there should be direct ‘hotline’ between PM-s as well. We have seen that when both sides dedicate people to their end of the project and sharing information is easy made and direct, the process of decision making and driving results becomes streamlined. This is what ultimately determines the success of the project.
“My goal is to make the whole delivery process as simple and transparent for the client as possible. I feel it’s clearest when I have one counterpart with whom I can move through all the stages of the project. This way we are both on the same page and just a phone call away if we have any concerns.”
- Märt Aab, Project Manager at Vaimo
When the alarm bells ring, communicate!
Sometimes development takes longer than anticipated, or certain integrations are more complicated than originally envisaged. There’s nothing you can do about it - except to inform, adapt and keep going.
Some projects seem to go by without major issues, some might suffer from quite many problems and yes, some can become quite a nightmare for a PM. However, in any of these cases a PM can only try to move forward and try to fix the situation from a project management point of view. Sadly you can’t just wave a magic wand and fix problematic code, however wonderful an idea that might be!
In these situations there is no point in hiding your head under the sand. Though it may be a cliche, it just makes bad situations worse. The key here is to inform the client of the situation as soon as you become aware of it - provide relevant information on what is happening and what is being done to fix the issue and make sure the client can make educated decisions. Doing it this way means they can adapt their timeline and other activities in order to minimise the impact of such impediments.
“Sometimes a minor issue in a delivery project could mean a big problem for a live site. However, to “fail fast” and to learn when to “pivot” should always be the positive trade-off of any project issue. Whether you succeed or not doesn’t matter much in the long run unless you get some validated learning in the process. To retrospect, to learn and to adapt are the principles of any cutting-edge digital product.”
- Enric Durany, Project Manager at Vaimo
Adding value is vital
Most merchants don’t come to eCommerce suppliers just to find someone to install an eCommerce platform and code up a web-store. Those days are way past us!
Today an eCommerce solution provider should aim to always deliver high value for a client. It’s just the business we’re in - our PM’s simply have to be at the top of their game. A great eCommerce project manager is able to educate the client and offer the best possible, tailored, eCommerce strategy for the client's business.
For a PM this means having to live and breathe all things eCommerce - being passionate and constantly wanting to learn more. To be able to deliver a successful eCommerce project and add value to your client’s vision, it’s vital to understand the business they are in. The client’s KPI’s should come first when suggesting solutions depending on budget, scope, goals or business processes.
“The project manager is the face of the company and the delivery team - that’s a lot of pressure but extremely rewarding at the same time!”
- Dan Max, Chief Project Manager at Vaimo
Facilitate learning inside your company
In eCommerce, having relevant experience is priceless. Over the years, Vaimo has delivered more than 400 eCommerce solutions on the Magento platform. However, a smart company makes an effort to continuously build their experience base and makes sure that it doesn't just leave the company when people go on holidays, parental leave or decide to pursue other interests somewhere else.
A PM at Vaimo needs to know about:
- Ecommerce industry in general
- Statistics and strategies
- The product
- Magento platform and Vaimo’s own modules built on Magento platform. At Vaimo we also expect our PM-s to become Magento certified solution specialists
- How to apply the best eCommerce strategy that is relevant to the client's KPI-s. How to report the progress via Google Analytics and Magento built in statistics.
- Manage the delivery team and resources. Making sure the team isn't under or over worked.
All of this is no small feat, so making sure the PM’s get internal support when they need it, is vital. At Vaimo, we have understood that facilitating learning within the company is something that benefits us and our clients in the long run. The more people share their knowledge, experiences and solutions on how to overcome certain issues, the better our service level gets. This kind of knowledge sharing can be achieved by encouraging people to learning from each other as a part of company’s culture but also by coordinating organised learning events or programs.
“I see our work as a competitive risk spotting. The more I can see - the earlier, the better the final outcome will be. Therefore, to invest one afternoon worth of time with another PM to learn about previously experienced pitfalls is really peanuts compared to the relative gains you stand to make in your own future project. “
- Mikael Åberg, Project Manager at Vaimo
Successful eCommerce project management is about making sure that everyone is on the same page and working with the same end goals in mind - essentially communication is the key! For Vaimo it means giving our clients a great experience of working with us and we believe that the only way to stand out in this regard is to build trust. Being passionate about eCommerce, sharing knowledge and really taking the responsibility to guide clients in online business strategy as well as eCommerce software and logistics. In the end, the only way to build trust and create strong partnerships is to make sure you really have the knowledge and communication skills to take with you to the meeting room.