I often get asked to conduct e-commerce workshops to assist participants in developing an e-commerce or e-business project plan for their organizations. What disappoints me though is when one person gets send to this type of training and most likely the IT manager or chief technology officer of the company. I hope that more companies should realize that IT people are only playing a support role. The success and viability of an e-commerce project is not their main responsibility.
With the boom of the Internet and e-commerce, the pressure is on for companies and government to come up with a website. With presence, they can claim that they are a player in the Internet economy.
However, in a lot of cases, this is where they fail as majority of corporate websites right now are not updated, inconsistent with the company’s thrust and values, and often not reflective of what the organization really is.
The intent of this article is to give you some basic steps in the development of an e-commerce project plan.
Project team members and stakeholders should be given a hands-on training experience as to what e-commerce is all about. Giving them the feel of an e-commerce user will make them sensitive as to what is user-friendly and not. Making them knowledgeable on e-commerce merchant tools for website management, online payment management, Internet marketing, and Internet advertising is important so that the process and work involve will not be underestimated.
Afterwards, they have the pre-requisite knowledge in place to go through the e-commerce project planning process. They can brainstorm ideas to stir up creativity, discuss risks and potential, foster team spirit, and clarify each department’s participation in this endeavor.
Due diligence must be made in order to find out what your customers needs are and see if coming up with an e-commerce solution can resolve it. E-commerce is not an end-all be-all answer. It can be a component of the process change that you have to undertake, to serve customers better.
Users and Stakeholders
Your users or customers must be properly identified and profiled. How Internet-savvy are they? What values and features that are most important to them? Understanding this will help you craft the features needed by the e-commerce project, training needed, and buy-in to the project.
Align with Strategic Plan
The e-commerce project plan should be aligned and supportive of the company’s strategic plan. It does not have to be revolutionary, but great enough, to meet customer needs and take advantage of the capabilities of this new medium. At the minimum, it should serve as an additional means for departments to achieve their strategic plans.
Investments to be made on this project should be on the account of the departments who’s going to utilize and benefit from it. Affected departments should contribute and consider themselves as project co-owners or stakeholders.
List down the features that your e-commerce project shall have based on your assessment of customer needs. Each feature should be traceable to it. A feature should be detailed enough that you can have a way to validate or test it, once done.
For example, rather than saying, “The e-commerce website should have an administrator menu,” it should be stated as, “The e-commerce website should have an administrator section that can be accessed by pre-defined users in the system. They will be able to add, edit, and delete products in the catalogue.”
An e-commerce project should have its success criteria defined. This way project stakeholders will be aware of what they can possibly gain that will be worth the investment needed. The success criteria must be measurable, specific, and time-bound.
Recognition of risks must be made by all project stakeholders in order to make it visible to everyone, that failure is not far from happening. Failure possibilities can be cited, what can possibly trigger it, the consequences, and how to mitigate it should be defined.
A risk that is evident now is considered a problem. In that case, don’t put that in the project risk anymore but problems that must be addressed before or at the start of the project.
Prototype, site map, content plan are created in coming up with an e-commerce project. Make sure that each component has a stakeholder or user assigned to it. In addition, it should state content update process and commitment.
On the user-interface design side, the behavior of the site must be very clear. Categories, subcategories, search engine actions are planned out. At the end of the day, it must be able to achieve what the company wants its e-commerce site visitor to do.
If the objective is to make the person buy products, then remove all possible obstructions that will prevent the visitor from doing such.
It is also good to consult a set of target users to validate the design you’ve made. Check if it will make the customer perform the action that you want them to do or have the impression that you like to achieve. This is not an easy task and great consideration has to be made.
Privacy, copyright, and content ownership must also be tackled at this stage. Consult a lawyer when writing your disclaimers, terms and conditions, among others.
The e-commerce project technical aspect must be planned as well. What browser will you support? What plug-ins are you going to require from your users or what is commonly available to users? Do you have a standard development tool? Will this be NT based or Linux? Will you host it in-house or through a web hosting service?
Choices here should be driven by user and stakeholder needs, usability, cost-effectiveness, and your budget constraints.
Before and after launching the e-commerce project, proper testing must be undertaken. Any error, downtime or crash is already a deterrent to the achievement of your success criteria.
Functional testing must be done to ensure that each section of the site will deliver the result. If you commit that search engine results should appear in 5 seconds, make sure it does. If it doesn’t re-check the database and search scripts to find out what’s wrong with the design.
The user’s experience must be sensitively considered. A failed user registration experience may result for that visitor not to come back anymore to your site. A slow search engine will automatically make the user not to try out your system again. Load testing must also be done. How many users are you expecting to simultaneously log in to your site? Your site must be able to handle that.
Your site’s content must be proofed as well. Misspellings and grammatical errors are not acceptable. Get your marketing communications people involved to ensure that the message tone is right and friendly to the target audience.
Operational testing needs to be done especially if your site intends to deliver goods. If your site promises delivery within 7 days, make sure it meets that commitment.
Take steps to ensure that your site is secured. Before worrying about external forces, consider securing your backyard first as most security breaches are caused within the organization. Have a process established as well to follow when hacking and fraud attempts are encountered. Be familiar with law enforcement and legal procedures in order to avoid tampering with potential evidence.
The common notion that just build your e-commerce project website and they will come is not good enough today. Effort must be made to ensure that your target audience will be interested and achieve your success criteria.
Monitoring and Maintenance
Ensure that the e-commerce project performance and commitments are met through consistent monitoring. How you intend to do it shall be defined here.
The budget usually at the latter part of the plan is immediately checked upon whenever it is presented. It must cover all aspects from planning, design and development, launch, and maintenance. A full blown e-commerce website that includes a payment solution normally cost no less than five hundred thousand pesos. It is almost like opening a physical store. However, the difference is that an online presence is global.
With targets properly defined and plan consistently followed, the return on investment can be achieved soon.
Creating an e-commerce project plan usually takes 6 weeks to 6 months. If this is a comprehensive plan, it will also tackle back-end business process improvements.
To increase success of an e-commerce project, the necessary information should be transparent and realistic. Commitment and buy-in of stakeholders must be locked on for a period of no less than four years. Proper monitoring and creative feedback will get you through from start to finish.