Successful eBusiness Project Management
by Michael Curry

Nothing is more perilous than shepherding a technology project to completion. The journey is a never-ending adventure where each day brings unforeseen challenges that threaten to derail the timeline, bloat the budget or divert the focus of your lead engineer. The fact that most technology projects do not end up delivering what they promised, are over budget or late should be motivation enough for any small business to carefully consider how the project will be managed before committing their hard-earned cash. 

"The secret to successful project management at any level of business is building 'windows' early, and then continually peering into these windows to check the progress and look for problems."

Business owners who assume they have no stake in the project other than writing the checks are inviting trouble. The technology requested, designed and delivered is never exactly what is needed in the end. Therefore, those needs are either identified early in a project, when they are cheaper to incorporate, or later in a project, when they are more expensive. 

The secret to successful project management at any level of business is building “windows” early, and then continually peering into these windows to check the progress and look for problems. How detailed a “window” you use as your vantage point to evaluate the progress of a project depends on your comfort level with the technology, and how close you are to the eBusiness team.

The best way to monitor the progress of an eBusiness system under development is by interacting with it the way the final end-users should. For example, suppose you are deploying a new website portal for customers to login, place orders, view their account and track shipments. The project should begin by identifying typical scenarios that would happen using this website. One might involve a customer buying several items; another might be checking on the shipment progress; and another might be looking at past order history. If you are paying for this eBusiness system or are going to be the person stuck supporting it once fielded, you have a duty to validate that the scenarios important to your business are incorporated in the system. 

From these scenarios, which the business should identify to the technical team, the individual requirements of a system are defined. The best way to thoroughly test for completeness once the project is under development is to place an order, track a shipment and see for yourself whether it works the way you expect. I try to always walk the stakeholders and a sampling of end-users through common usage scenarios early in the project to look for surprises.

Once underway, new requirements often spring up like weeds along the path to completion. In our example website portal, let’s say you saw the first test version of the website and demonstrated it to a key customer. He remarked that having to create an account before being able to use the site was confusing, and it could be better to wait and create the account after making the purchase.  Great idea!  But avoid adding this newly discovered feature to the project just yet. This is called scope creep, and it is a chief contributor to project failure.

The better way to handle new requirements is to identify them and keep a “wish list” for later in the project. My clients often break their projects up into different phases, and as new requirements come up we design Phase Two, Three and so on. Software is very fluid, and, unlike a house, if you forget something in the foundation, you do not have to tear the entire thing apart to add a new feature later on. Instead, it is often easier for the team to add new features after they finish the original project. 

In summary, in managing an eBusiness project, realize each person has vantage points that may differ from others. Ideally, the business owner should work with the system hands-on to see if it performs as expected.  Other important considerations are as follows: 
  1. Identify the primary eBusiness system requirements through common-usage scenarios;
  2. Agree on a budget, responsibilities and a timeline with your eBusiness team;
  3. Verify the eBusiness system satisfies the usage scenarios at specific milestones along the project;
  4. Avoid scope creep! Identify additional needs and save them for successive phases.

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