Tips for managing e-commerce projects

Yogi Schulz put it succinctly at the recent Project Management 2000 conference in Toronto: e-commerce projects are driven, ultimately, by the desire to entice visitors to spend money.

The president of Calgary-based Corvelle Management Consultants outlined a variety of issues that affect e-commerce projects, including new ones specific to this new mode of business.

For the majority of e-commerce sites, the goal is to get the customer to spend money on products. This is especially true of e-tailer-only sites, where the customer is supposed to click on the shopping cart icon, pass on credit card information and wait.

For brick and mortar companies, sites play more of an advertising roll by also trying to create customer interest and brand awareness.

Schulz cites, which acts as a portal for kids to access games and activities, as a good example of creating a site designed to fulfil the important interest and awareness niche. Sponsored by Lifesavers, visitors can enter contests, play games and get inundated with various candy logos. Research suggests that when these kids go to buy candy, the images burned in their brains by repeated visits to will effect their purchasing choices. Hardly surprising, since after all it works on adults.

setting clear goals

Directly responding to the issue of positioning your company against the competition, Schulz warned, “There is no point chasing the leader in your vertical marketplace. If you don’t figure out a different angle, don’t bother.”

For Schulz, this falls under one of his three categories of project management issues that remain unchanged in the e-commerce world. Setting a clear goal, nurturing active project sponsorship and management expectations are the three constants in modern e-commerce project management.

Schulz addressed the issue of setting a clear goal. He said often a problem arises because people are vague and fuzzy, with no specific goals set before them. “[Vague and fuzzy] were bad in the past, they are bad today,” he said. Many higher-ups want to get out on to the Web ASAP and essentially copy what the competition is doing, but Schulz said getting into a “me too” type project will get you no where.

“What you want to do is reach wider audiences…you may think the whole world knows you, but they don’t.” Schulz said setting clear goals on how you can reach new audiences, generate brand awareness and automate business processes is extremely important for an e-commerce project to succeed.

Nurturing active project sponsorship is no different today than it was in years gone by. Schulz said one key point is to continually reinforcing the need for quick and small wins. The Web moves too fast to carry out dragged-out projects, he said.

Management expectations are as dreamy today as ever. There is a trend for management to figure a $10,000 to $20,000 investment in the Web is somehow going to return millions in revenue. Not going to happen, Schulz said.

A project manager also has to learn to be the voice of reason. Schulz gave this example: if others suggest additions to a project, the implementations should be put in the next release. Since they occur so frequently on the Web (Schulz suggests every 90 days) there is no need to get off track by always implementing suggested modifications.

new project management issues

There are also new project management issues brought about by the rise of e-commerce.

He divided those into four categories: accelerating delivery, creating a memorable experience, implementing impenetrable security, and smooth settlement and fulfilment.

Since Schulz suggests that e-commerce projects should be re-released every 90 days, there is a great need to accelerate delivery.

He told audience participants to remember, “you will never do a project that has only one release.” He added that new Web-oriented development tools can help speed processes. “Drag and drop really enhances programmer productivity,” he said. He added that it is often necessary to re-use objects and use shareware and licensed items pulled from the Web to help increase construction speed.

Creating a memorable experience, Schulz jokingly noted, is truly a new mandate for project managers. Though the bottom line is quite simple, “waiting is bad,” he said. Slow pages burdened with graphics will lose customers in a flash.

“We need content to keep people interested and we need good organization and navigation so that people can find [what they are looking for].”

Schulz also said this is not the time to skimp on infrastructure. “[Have] sufficient infrastructure on your side, so you don’t become the bottleneck.” Like it or not, when access is slow visitors blame the site, not the myriad of other potential slow downs. Schulz reiterated the need to ensure your site is never the cause of bottlenecks.