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The Ultimate Guide for Project Managing an Ecommerce Re-platform

Leopold Van Lynden


So, you’ve decided to make the big leap and move to a new eCommerce platform? Congratulations! You’ve probably been promised lots of shiny new benefits by various vendors, all of which are very convincing in their guarantee to win you loads of new customers. Our first bit of advice is that a pinch of salt is always necessary when agents are trying to dazzle you with all the benefits. Our second, is to also ensure they have good processes and practices to deliver on all those lovely promises.
Once you get to the point where you’ve found the right match for your business, then it’s time to start making sure that the transition is as smooth as possible. Re-platforming can be as complex as moving home, and chances are you’ll be changing many operational processes as a result. This means touching upon lots of different aspects of the business and so it’s critical that you cover all the bases. The best resource you can invest in at this point is a tip-top project manager, one who can take responsibility for avoiding the common re-platforming pitfalls and keep you informed all the way.

It’s also useful to know what to expect from the process, and the things your project manager should be keeping a close eye on, so we’ve compiled a few tips for helping you navigate this exciting but complex process.
Who’s making the decisions here?
If you’ve worked in business long enough, you’ll know what we mean when we say please work out who needs to be making the decisions, and who wants to be making decisions. Many a great project has been derailed last minute by an exec who nixes sign off because they weren’t part of the decision-making team. This is a really horrible place to be, and one that takes tact and diplomacy to avoid.

At Tom&Co we believe it’s essential to understand who the decision-makers are for the project right from the start. Ensuring that the client’s project lead has included all stakeholders within the project from the beginning and that there is a clear path to sign off the different stages, makes for a much smoother journey for all. Also, if someone has the power to derail a project at the eleventh hour, make sure they are engaged from the start, even if it’s decided they’ll stay at arm’s length.

The discovery phase
The old adage “Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail” never rings truer than during a re-platforming project. The more thorough, in-depth, and well-organised this stage is the smoother the project will be. It’s not rocket science, but a poor or missing discovery phase can be the beginning of the end and not not in a good way..

At Tom&Co, we tend to break the “discovery” into two main areas - creative and technical.
  • Creative - this is the stage where we call on our team of designers. Getting sign-off on creatives is notoriously tricky and requires serious expertise and the ability to weave in sometimes conflicting requirements. These include:
  • Branding
  • Business aims
  • Functional aims
  • Content aims
  • And probably a fair few that are unique to your business!
  • The Project Manager generally acts as a go-between for the client and creative team, so it’s important that you’re both on the same page. Realising your ideas with a creative team can sometimes be tricky – what you want might break how the design functions. A great team will work based on priorities and compromise. Designers should have in their toolkit the best design and UX practices to help you hit all your requirements.

    We think the best way to make concepts and ideas a reality is through workshops and demos that take clients on a journey of discovery. This hands-on approach does mean a time investment but is a way more effective approach than guesswork and miscommunication! An iterative approach also means that small changes that don’t work for the client are picked up before they become embedded in the design.
  • Technical – As Jakub (Head of Operations) often says to the client after they’re buzzing from the first creative workshop, this is the slightly less fun part, but equally important. Depending on the size of the client and the project, there may be several different workshops for different work-streams and different stakeholders. A good project manager will identify the main pieces of functionality that require a deep delve into how they work. If it’s related to a third-party then they’ll also coordinate with them to get their requirements and timelines synchronised. Timelines, as we know all too well, are key. Here are some areas that are typical in an eComm re-platform:  
  • Payment Gateway integration  
  • Product data
  • Order management
  • Customer service
  • ERP integration
  • CRM integration
  • Reviews platform integration
  • ESP integration
  • Search platform integration
  • SEO
  • Getting the right people into the right meetings at the right time can be a challenge for even a seasoned project manager. Laying out everybody’s roles for the task at hand so people have clear cut goals is a must, and an important way of ensuring sign-off is easy (well, as possible!). Having a paper trail for decisions made will serve as an invaluable defence against confusion!

    The Statement of Work
    The infamous statement of work; but what exactly is it? This is most reverent of documents for any project manager. Within it is contained everything that is sacred about the project. To continue this unnecessarily ecclesiastical metaphor, there is a trinity that acts at the foundation of the statement of work:
  • Time
  • Budget
  • Scope
  • Oftentimes the statement of work is defined in the discovery phase but will likely have to flex as the project progresses. Some of the biggest compromises have to be made between these; less time might mean more budget; a bigger scope might mean more budget and more time. Your project manager will help you understand the impact of a changing statement of work. For any smaller changes a RAID sheet – RISK, ACTION, ISSUE, DECISION – will be used. It can be frustrating to have to compromise, if we could magically stretch budget or pause time we would. Sadly, we’re still waiting for those particular innovations to go mainstream...
    Ch ch changes
    Occasionally significant changes to a statement of work have to happen, which require an overhaul of the project. If these changes contradict anything in the statement of work, then those sections will be directly referenced in a separate document. This avoids creating an evolving and confusing statement of work document and keeps stakeholders fully informed of the changes to the original plan.
    The Final Countdown
    The project always tends to get a bit busier towards the end. This is why at Tom&Co we don’t leave User Acceptance Testing and delivery (UAT) to the end of the project, but rather, present finished pieces of work to the client for them to review and provide feedback as the project progresses. We think this is a much more efficient process because it means that we can have sections totally signed off and ready to go live. Consider them bite-sized chunks – much easier to digest!
    A final note: continuous communication is key!
    At Tom&Co we keep the door open and use different channels to ensure communication is fluid and easy. Covid-19 has, like for everyone else, meant we’ve had to make some significant changes to the way we work. Not only are we working remotely, but so are our clients. This presents some big benefits, however, and not limited to the ability to wear loungewear at the home office. We now make the most of chat apps and virtual collaboration tools which allows us to stay close to clients. Scheduled weekly video calls are also an opportunity for the project manager to report to the client the progress of the project. We also have a client project checklist with timings which clearly outlines what we need from the client by when. This approach means that there are no surprises for the client as they’re carried through the project from start to finish. Good project managers avoid surprises at all costs – in fact such a complex and critical role for any re-platforming project can be summed up as simply as that; giving the client what they want (or what they need) without any nasty surprises along the way.