Launching a custom Magento e-commerce website is a large undertaking with multiple parties involved. Before you “flip the switch” and start watching your conversion rate climb – you must travel a long road paved with challenges. The key to overcoming challenges and launching a successful Magento website is an in-depth “evidence gathering” stage. As a Magento Project Manager for Groove Commerce, I want to take a few minutes to focus on evidence gathering and how to make sure you know exactly what a client wants in the end results.

1. Learn Your Lessons

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana, 1924

The requirements gathering for a project should begin before you even engage with a new client. A great agency will keep a record of all projects; the intricacies, the details, and the customizations all included. The purpose is to document each project in it’s entirety so that it may be leveraged as a guide for future projects. It sounds simple, but learn what worked well and more importantly, what didn’t work well. Document everything and use it to your benefit for future projects.

Did a certain Magento extension work well? Which site settings improved site performance and which caused problems? What communication strategies should you continue to use moving forward and what do you need to change?

While etailers may redesign their website every few years, a well-established web development agency does this full time, and can usually find a related example which they can build off of when solving specific needs, which will hopefully decrease the timeline and investment of the project. Agencies with more live Magento stores, will have the ability to avoid “reinventing the wheel”.

2. Account for the “known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns”

“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know. ”

—Donald Rumsfeld, 2002

With Magento ecommerce website development, you need to determine everything that will factor into developing a project plan and the overall project process. If you’re adequately prepared, you will limit the unknown unknowns for a project. This starts from the very beginning of a project in the proposal, SOW, and project kickoff and continues throughout the life of a project. An agency with a consultative sales process, like Groove, will dive into the gray areas and help point out common issues in the early stages of proposal building. It is vital to make sure this knowledge is successfully transferred from the sales team to the project team. Once the project is successfully transferred, as a Project Manager, you will continue to gain information from every conversation or exchange you have and it is your responsibility to take that information and use it. Keeping open communication throughout the project will also certainly limit the unknown unknowns from creeping into a project and causing a delay. Communication will also help both parties remain calm and flexible when unknown unknowns pop up.

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions & Record Responses

“It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”

– Bill Clinton 1997

This quote speaks to the importance of communication and documentation within a project. At Groove we work with clients from all over the country in variety of industries. What seems straightforward or intuitive to the client might be completely foreign to our team and vise versa. So it behooves everyone to ask a lot of questions and then record the responses.

In order to achieve the best results, be sure to include open-ended questions in any questionnaires or uncovery documents. Make sure you give clients an opportunity to fully explain things that can lead to much-needed follow up discussions. Open-ended questions also allow you to hear more from the client as they must spend more time contemplating their response instead of just giving a disconnected yes or no response.

Finally, maybe the biggest benefit of open-ended questions is that it eliminates the possibility for miscommunications and misinterpretations. Having explanations and answers written out by the client allows the agency to maintain an exact understanding of each element of the project. And don’t stop there! Ask follow up questions and always get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes, a client may believe they know the cause of an existing issue or the best way to approach a custom element, but some well-formulated follow up questions will help uncover the true root and uncover a new approach.

It is usually going to be easier to have discussions over the phone or in person when the conversation is technical or strategic in nature. You’ll have more opportunity to engage in a back and forth conversation, and you’ll even get a better feel for the clients attitude by listening for inflections and mood in their voice. While the benefits of a live conversation are clear – there are also shortcomings. For one, you have no physical record of what was said over the phone, except for maybe some notes you scrawled into your notebook. Thats why you should always make sure you follow up each call with an email summarizing everything discussed. As website projects can last months or even years, it becomes extremely difficult to recall details if not in writing and can cause issues and delays trying to determine what is in scope. This will also hold all stakeholders accountable and cause everyone to pay close attention to what’s being signed off on.

I am excited to bring my strong project management background to the Groove Commerce team. In between working with our great clients, I hope to continue to provide tips (and quotes) that will give potential clients insight into the project management process of an award-winning Magento web development agency. If you are interested in learning more about how we work with clients, please contact us!

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