eCommerce is a notoriously difficult industry to excel in for newcomers. However, the trajectory for those businesses that break through the barriers to entry and start to grow can be rapid. As the orders start flowing in, the only way to keep the wheels from falling off is a solid project management approach.
Managing a growing eCommerce business doesn’t have to be complex, but it does need to be structured and follow repeatable, well-thought-out processes. This article aims to give you a short guide to eCommerce project management, so your foundations are well established when the chaos sets in!
As a sidenote, if you’re already well into the growth stage and need more hands on-advice on how to manage your operation, it can be well worthwhile to speak with an advisor.
Isn’t project management just for projects?
The term “project management” has become a blanket term for managing any kind of digital operation. Its roots stem from construction and, more recently, software development. But that doesn’t mean your eCommerce operation can’t benefit from the same methodologies.
There’s a handful of popular project management methodologies to choose from, but we’d recommend only sticking to one in particular.
What are project management methodologies?
There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of different project management methodologies, but the ones worth taking notice of are;
Waterfall is a linear management approach where all of the project activities are scheduled ahead of time and then undertaken one by one.
This approach is only good for eCommerce when you’re planning on launching a big product, rebuilding your store as a supercharged headless build, or building a big new feature.
Agile is more of a mantra than a super tightly defined project management methodology. It’s centered on doing the most important things first, being flexible, and adapting quickly to change.
Agile also preaches a model of iteration, which is perfect for eCommerce brands that already have their processes dialed in tightly and want to further optimize their store. By creating a cycle of changes, testing, and review, your site can incrementally become better over time in all aspects of the business.
Scrum is an extension of an agile methodology where a backlog of everything that needs to happen is maintained, and every week or two, the team gets together to figure out which tasks will be handled during the period.
The fact that the backlog is always being reviewed and the highest priority tickets are being pushed to the top is a good way to avoid wasting time on less valuable activities.
It can be a bit hard to implement Scrum in an eCommerce environment because so many of the activities are repetitive and need to happen more frequently, like label printing, product fulfillment, ordering stock, etc.
Kanban is another methodology that takes its inspiration from agile. Like Scrum, a backlog is maintained by the team, however, there is a constant stream of activities being worked on. There’s no cyclical break to stop and review.
Kanban has some other rules around it, like the “swimlanes” a task must go through before it’s considered complete. These are typically something like “Backlogged”, “In progress”, “QA” and “Complete”.
A Kanban approach can be incredibly helpful if your team is struggling with quality assurance issues, missing orders, or things generally falling through the cracks. Preventing a task from being considered complete until it’s been reviewed is a good practice to keep.
Finally, there’s a hybrid approach where you can mix and match parts of all the methodologies. This is the methodology I recommend for most eCommerce brands.
Taking this approach, your team could meet every two weeks to review the backlog of activities that need to happen; stocktake, warehouse management, legal administration, accounting, releasing new products, making changes to the website, etc. From there, you would adopt a Kanban-style approach of assigning each task to one person and have them move it through the swimlanes to completion.
This way, if your regular activities take over and blow timelines, it doesn’t ruin the Scrum timelines.
Project management activities
Now that you’ve adopted a project management approach, it’s time to start implementing it. What does it even mean? Create a GANTT chart? Sign up for a project management tool?
Here’s where we would recommend starting:
- Create a list of all the things your team do
Project management is about keeping everything running smoothly and on time. To do that, all the major tasks that your team is undertaking need to be controlled to some extent. Even if this just means they’re marked as complete every week by the person undertaking them, that can be enough.
You’ll ideally want two lists; regular activities that happen every day like processing and sending orders so customers get their products, and one-off project-based activities like rebuilding your store with Next.js, so it has the performance to compete with the industry-leading brands.
- Sign up for a project management platform
There are tons of great project management tools, and most of them work well for eCommerce operations. I would recommend StartingPoint because it offers a generous free tier and has all the features you could need.
Add all the tasks your team needs to undertake into StartingPoint, assign each task to a person, and set a deadline. This process needs to happen every day or each time a new task is identified.
Getting into a rhythm of assigning well-defined tasks is difficult, but it’s the secret to keeping your team moving in the right direction.
- Weekly reviews & retrospective
Assuming you and your team are already using Slack, Zoom, Google Meet, or some other tool to communicate, find time to jump on a weekly call and plan what activities everyone will be allocated to.
If you can squeeze one more meeting into your busy schedule, then a shorter retrospective meeting at the end of the week to assess how everyone performed during the week can be incredibly helpful. Allowing your team the opportunity to voice their opinions and offer suggestions on how processes can improve is a great way to move the needle forward.
What if I don’t have a team?
It might sound a bit crazy, but even if you don’t have a team, it’s worth implementing these processes. Even though you don’t have anyone to meet with, it’s still worthwhile allocating some time at the start of the week to plan your schedule, prioritise what needs to be done, and then put a framework around making sure it happens on time.
Similarly, spending 15 – 20 minutes at the end of the week to look over how you performed and where things went wrong is a great way to iteratively improve your processes and efficiency.
Managing a high-volume eCommerce brand requires good coordination and processes. Without sticking to a structure, there’s only so far you can scale before quality drops and you lose customers. Try implementing a hybrid project management system to keep your operation focused.
Author’s Bio: Lori Wade is a writer who is interested in a wide range of spheres from eCommerce to web development and new technologies. If you are interested in the above topics, you can find her on LinkedIn. Read and take over Lori’s useful insights!