What are the risks of replatforming?

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An ecommerce replatforming guide

Building an ecommerce website is a complex project with inherent risk. Accepting risk is important and putting plans in place to mitigate this risk is a core part of project management. This guide outlines common replatforming risks and how you can mitigate them. It’s based on experience from working on ecommerce platform builds, from startups to enterprise multi-channel retailers like House of Fraser.

Let’s start with some key pointers to help you understand the challenges of delivering a new ecommerce platform:

  1. No partnership is perfect – expect some bumps along the way and ensure you work in partnership to resolve them so they don’t become roadblocks
  2. Contracts and SLAs are critical – once you have signed something, it’s too late to say ‘but we wanted this as well’ – ensure stakeholders with ecommerce and legal knowledge (two different people as specialised skills) have reviewed and understood the implications of the terms/SLAs
  3. Projects don’t go to plan! No matter how good your PM, complex projects encounter issues that may impact either scope, cost or timeline; accept this and work proactively with your partner to address them
  4. Compromise is important – you both want the project to be a success and it has to be commercially viable for both parties; when there are issues, think carefully about when to be rigid (e. something is business critical and can’t be compromised) vs. being flexible – the best long term partnerships are formed based upon mutual respect and collaboration, don’t start with confrontation
  5. If you change the scope, expect the project deadline to change and/or to pay more money – you have to understand the impact on your partner of changing the goalposts
  6. Don’t forget you can enhance the platform once it’s live – too often business teams get over-excited about what a platform can do and what other websites offer, and this clouds judgment and focus; it’s important to retain a focus on the core objectives of the project and not be distracted by where you could be in 18 months or what someone has just launched

With expectations set, let’s now explore common project risks.

Replatforming risks and mitigation

Use the table below to learn more about common risk types for ecommerce replatforming, with advice on how to mitigate them.

Risk factorRisk summaryMitigation
Sponsorship.Lack of commercial sponsorship can impact resource availability and compromise quality of focus.• All parties involved must have a board or Director level sponsor who will champion the project internally.
• Sponsors need to ensure the required level of resource is dedicated throughout the project lifecycle.
• Sponsors must have decision-making and budget authority.
• There should only be one sponsor on the client team; multiple sponsors can slow down decision-making and introduce politics.
Project management.Complex technical projects required close control and experienced project managers – without this you get delays and other issues like scope creep impact delivery.• Ensure there are experienced project managers (both technical and business) to ensure the project is managed to the highest possible standards.
• Your development partner should provide a qualified and experienced PM to be responsible for development and delivery.
• You need to appoint an experienced PM who can take responsibility for ensuring business commitments are met on time and to budget.
• Don’t expect your partner to do all the work for you – be in control of the project plan.
Project plan.Without a clear and detailed project plan there is no structured roadmap of activities for stakeholders to work towards and the project will lose focus and time.• The PM team prepares a detailed project plan with milestone deliverable dates.
• Project team works in an agile manner to regularly review the plan.
• Use proven PM techniques to ensure project progress is continuously mapped.
• Update the project plan to reflect the changing nature of the project.
• Follow agreed escalation processes to manage exceptions.
Contingency resource.Project plans with no contingency for issues have a greater risk of derailment because there is no capacity for responding to problems.• Ensure contingency is built into each phase of the project.
• This can be done as a block of time between planned readiness and go live, or additional time in each phase that will cover delays.
• Set aside a contingency budget (at least 10% of the build cost).
Technical blind spot.Few client teams have experienced technical ecommerce staff, which makes it hard to scrutinise the development partner’s technical plans. Not questioning technical decisions can create future pain points.• Ensure that there is someone in your team who is constantly seeking clarification on technical decisions.
• Have these explained in the context of the business strategy.
• For example, when reviewing platform architecture to support marketplace functionality, ensure this is explained in terms of how easy it is for a new seller to sign up and start trading on the platform and what set-up work and ongoing maintenance is required.
• Employ an experienced technical consultant to do independent analysis and due diligence if required.
Governance.Without governance inefficiency creeps in e.g. duplication of effort, wrong people making decisions.• Put a clear governance structure in places to define project controls, roles & responsibilities, escalation paths, reporting etc.
• PM to take responsibility for ensuring governance process is adhered to by all stakeholders, including the Sponsor.
• Document all key project outcomes in a suitable format e.g. RAID log to capture Risks, Actions, Issues and Decisions.
Project scope.Lack of detail around project scope can result in disagreement over what is included and what isn’t included in the project fee.• Agree internally which high level capabilities must be included in project scope e.g. which payment types must be supported?
• Document the high-level scope, review and sign-off.
• Communicate and explain the scope to your development partner.
• Ensure each scope item is reviewed and understood.
• Ensure the pricing proposal provides for all scope items.
• Scrutinise the pricing proposal to check the scope items have been properly understood.
MVP control.Trying to fit too much functionality into the launch version of the platform risks project delays as each additional feature adds development time, testing time and complexity.• Have a clear common vision of what your Minimum Viable Product is.
• This is your beta version that allows you to trade and ensure you have covered any legal requirements for trading
• If time pressures hit, you may decide that launching the MVP on time is better than delaying for months until you’ve got your dream platform.
• Regularly review the MVP definition based on what you learn during the project; amend if there is a business case.
Functional requirements.A lack of clarity and focus, or understanding, by the business on critical requirements (of what is in scope) risks the project delivering a sub-optimal platform.• Before any contract is signed make sure you have agreed internally what the most important requirements are to support your MVP.
• This should be done by evaluating the impact of each requirement on the business plan and success criteria and then prioritising accordingly.
• For example, legal requirements like GDPR and other compliance needs must be satisfied.
• Value-add features such as exit intent campaigns aren’t critical for trading.
• Ensure these requirements are defined in the SoW (Statement of Work).
• Ensure each high-level scope item has been exploded into constituent requirements.
• Ensure a requirement can be objectively tested to ensure it has been delivered correctly.
Contracts.Poorly negotiated contracts can be restrictive and results in a compromised solution or additional unbudgeted cost being incurred.• Ensure you have a qualified legal resource to review and advise on the contracts terms.
• Ensure an experienced ecommerce person sense checks SLAs and provision for ecommerce good practice.
• Check the contractual obligations of the business and cost implications.
• Make sure there are break clauses built into the contract.
• Ensure additional fees are clarified and rate specified e.g. day rate for each resource type.
Testing.Insufficient time for testing risks deployment of a solution with bugs that will compromise performance and results.• Ensure that the different types of testing are factored into the project plan, including unit testing, P2P (point to point testing) and UAT.
• Each type needs a clear owner.
• Ensure there is an agreed process for documenting test outputs.
• Ensure test results are reviewed and appropriate action taken.
Support & maintenance.Without a clear support model a new platform risks failure after go live, or there can be unexpected costs.• Ensure there is agreement on who will support the platform after go live – for the initial bug fixing period + ongoing support, maintenance and development.
• This should be defined by SLAs and a clear cost plan.
• Ensure it’s clear what is included in the SLA and what will incur additional billable time.
• When working with multiple providers (e.g platform vendor and SI partner), ensure the division of responsibility is clear.
Internal communication.Stakeholders need to be kept informed of project progress and understand when and how they need to input to the process.
If this isn’t managed effectively, it can result in project delays prior to launch as the business isn’t ready to use the new platform.
• Agree a process for updating each stakeholder group.
• Put regular project review meetings in the diary where the whole team is given a status update and next steps are discussed.
• Send regular project communications via agreed collaboration tools..
• Be transparent with project status and issues; don’t hide problems from people.
• Escalate issues to stakeholders’ managers if there are resource blockers.
Change ManagementMigrating to a new platform often involves business process change, as well as the use of new systems to carry out BAU (business as usual) functions like website admin. The impact needs to be understood and users given sufficient time to prepare and be ready.• Appoint a Change Manager (sometimes this is the PM).
• Identify business processes that will change and educate impacted stakeholders.
• Identify training needs for each stakeholder.
• Identify tasks stakeholders need to complete to enable the new platform to function e.g. upload content.
• Create a Change Management plan.
• Review the plan regularly and identify risks, add risks to risk log.
• Identify cost impact of change and ensure budget is allocated e.g. paying 3rd party data specialist to normalize data to input into new platform.

Creating a risk charter

Identifying risk is the starting point. You also need to document these risks and then regularly reviews to ensure you manage the impact of risk on the project.

There are many ways to do this. The most common is to include risks in a project RAID or risk register. The example below from Stakeholdermap.com is a helpful illustration.

risk-register

Top tips:

  • Make one person responsible for risk documentation and management, typically the business project manager.
  • Review the risk log at every project review meeting to determine whether there is a change in the risk impact.
  • If a new risk is flagged, review and add to the log if appropriate.
  • Escalate high risks that haven’t been mitigated to Steering for review and action.
  • Inform impacted stakeholders to ensure risks are visible and understood; set clear expectations.

Summary and take-away

  • Risk is inevitable in complex projects. Ignoring risk creates a ticking time bomb that will disrupt your project later on.
  • Smart teams accept risk as a project factor and work hard to identify the different risk types and put appropriate mitigation plans in place.
  • You can’t avoid issues but you can minimise the potential disruption to your business and project delivery.

Learn more about enterprise ecommerce replatforming by reading my other guides:

If you have any questions, please contact me using the online form, by LinkedIn or Twitter.