In this post, I’ll focus on answering the question of what to do if the ecommerce agency or software house you’re working with doesn’t show initiative and doesn’t have a business approach.
What if the software house you are working with is not a proactive business partner?
Why Software houses are not good business partners?
Project Manager – a man of many talents from whom an unrealistic amount is expected
What are the ways for a Software house to be a proactive business partner?
How to check if a software house will be proactive?
Summary – What if the software house is not a good business partner?
Basically, you have 3 solutions.
The first one is to find an agency that is proactive, shows business initiative, engages in collaboration, and is actually a business partner. To command this, it must have the right processes in place and, most importantly, it must have the right roles assigned. More on that later.
The second solution is that you can carry out this role on your own (that means on your side). You simply accept that the software house does not have a business approach, and is not proactive, and that’s it.
The third solution is to hire an ecommerce consultant. This person should have experience in the technology on which your online store is based. This will provide a link between you and the software house. In this case, you buy the missing competencies from other place than the Software house (ecommerce agency).
So much for the simple answer to this question. If you are interested in developing this topic further, I encourage you to read on.
We often encounter a situation when companies that come to us claim that the current Software house lacks a business approach. For this reason, they are considering changing Software House and looking for alternatives on the market that can better understand their business needs.
I often hear that an agency is not proactive because it does not present its own initiatives. What does this mean? Let’s take such an example. In the new version of Magento comes Page Builder. The software house (that is, someone who works in it), knows that if they upgrade Magento to a version with Page Builder, the client’s team will be able to implement more things independently (which translates to faster and at a lower cost). In such a case, the correct expectation of an ecommerce company is that the Software house should just let them know about it.
Another problem is that Software house employees do not always understand the specifics of a company’s sales. This is especially true for B2B businesses, because B2C stores, while demanding, tend to have a less complicated sales process than B2B.
In the B2B context, we have to deal with the sales department, and the customer service department, as well as the salespeople, who often wonder whether the implementation of a B2B platform means that they will lose their jobs, or whether it is supposed to increase the efficiency of their work, or perhaps replace them altogether.
This is problematic for B2B companies that work with agencies or software houses that do not understand the specifics of B2B sales. Simply put, instead of someone to support business development, B2B companies have to educate the technology partner about what B2B sales is all about.
Another criticism of software houses is that they often mindlessly perform tasks that the finger is shown.
If we point a finger at them and say “code it,” they will do it. But with one “but” – they won’t check or verify whether what we want to implement makes any sense (business or technological). Often not even a short business analysis is prepared, processes are not written out. At the end of the day, someone implements something, and 10 other functionalities stop working. Then the software house tells its partner, the company that has an online store, that after all, it was known that it would fail (as if it could not say that before the work started?!) This situation is tragic…. Anyone who works with an ecommerce agency or software house would want the agency to take a critical look at the plans and evaluate what impact the implementation of a task or functionality will have on the project and business.
The fourth situation is one in which software houses do not understand the organization’s bigger picture and strategic goals.
The idea is that there should be a person on the technology company’s side who understands the strategy of a B2C ecommerce store or B2B platform. It can’t be that the only thought about why a B2B platform is being implemented is so that the platform generates orders. If the technology partner does not understand the strategy then how is he supposed to advise on the choice of technology to support that strategy?
Well, here we get to the main reason why Software houses are not outgoing business partners. It happens by overloading one role with unrealistic expectations and too many responsibilities.
That role is the unusual Project Manager. The project coordinator is a true Renaissance Man. Just look at what is (very often) in the scope of his duties.
First of all, he must be able to plan the entire project and separate it into tasks.
He must be familiar with project management, with such methods as Scrum and Agile. Ideally, he should have PRINCE2 certification. In short, be able to projects.
The second thing – this is a person who often has to describe and document errors. In the sense that he performs a customer service function where the client reports a bug, he describes the bug, reproduces it, and then forwards it to the development team (besides, as the client asks for an invoice, of course, the Project Coordinator is the main contact person so he is also very willing to take care of such administration).
He is also responsible for synchronization with the client, conducts weekly meetings with clients, and determines what is happening in the backlog and what is to happen in the next sprint.
He has to be able to communicate well, and he has to have negotiation skills, because sometimes there are five people on the client’s side, and he as one person from the agency has to somehow reconcile the different visions of the client’s side, and he has to be able to decide what actually and to what extent should be implemented.
Another task that falls under the project manager’s responsibility is to solve problems in the development department. After all, he is often responsible for his project team. The pipeline blew up and a new module on the back-end doesn’t work with the front-end. Quick decisions are needed here, so the Renaissance man comes into action again.
The coordinator also manages his development team, consisting of front-end, back-end, testers, UX and business analysts.
He has to participate in recruitment because if he has this team under his care, it would be useful for him to chat with the candidate at the recruitment stage.
Imagine that this is not the end of the duties!
Often he is also a tester because in many software houses in Poland, there are no good Quality Assurance processes (and thus no specialized testers). So the project manager is responsible for testing the functionality that developers hand over to him after code review (this is why often the team on the e-commerce or B2B platform side, feels like they are the technology partner’s tester).
He also often acts as a business analyst. When major new functionalities are released, it is the Project Coordinator who creates the flags and acceptance criteria. And, of course, he tries to update the documentation.
As a Project Manager who manages either Magento implementation or maintenance projects, he should, of course, be well acquainted with the technology and additionally know the client’s business. That is, he should be up to date with what is happening in the ecommerce market.
And here it is time to ask a very important question: does such a “Renaissance man” exist? Yes, but there are very few such people. In other words, such people can be counted on the fingers of one or maybe two hands. That is, we have a fairly small chance that just such a person will happen to be in our project.
Now let’s think about it, is it realistic that an agency that accumulates all the roles in one person can deliver on the promise of being a business partner that goes out on a limb?
This person often has neither the time nor the competence to perform the tasks expected of him (there is simply too much). Let alone take any initiative at all.
So what are the solutions to this problem?
First, you can hire an external ecommerce consultant with experience in the technology you are using. For example, if you are using Magento, you should choose an ecommerce consultant who specializes in this field. An ecommerce consultant can be in charge of keeping up to date with what’s going on in the Magento world, whether there’s a new version coming out, what changes there are to each version, and keep you informed.
An ecommerce consultant should also keep up to date with ecommerce-related groups and inform you if new vulnerabilities are discovered that should be reported to your software house.
It is important that the ecommerce consultant acts as an external entity, installed between you and the software house, not only to help you in your discussions with the software house but also to better manage the priorities and tasks that are outsourced to the software house.
The ecommerce consultant should also help you at regular intervals, for example, once a quarter, once a month, or once every six months – it all depends on your development pace – to update your development backlog and development roadmap.
The ecommerce director or product manager on your side, who is responsible for ecommerce development, should meet with this consultant to synchronize the backlog.
The ecommerce consultant thus performs the business part and performs the business role (which is so often sought after in Software House. The role of a project manager in a software house comes down to managing the work of the development team and the development process. On the other hand, you have an ecommerce consultant who helps you with the business aspects and provides news from the ecommerce world. If you have questions about the current state of the ecommerce market and the direction you should take, an ecommerce consultant should be the person to help you find the answers to these questions.
The second solution is to build internal competencies. Most often, if you are using Magento, you have already reached a certain scale and size that justifies the use of this open-source engine, and probably your ecommerce department already has some people.
In this case, you probably have, for example, an ecommerce director or Product Manager (responsible for the site) on your side.
It’s a good idea, for example, to complete a preparatory course and then earn the Adobe Business Practitioner Professional certification. This is a certification that proves one’s knowledge of the Adobe panel and Magento architecture. If someone has this certification, it means they have a solid knowledge of the Magento system. This person will be responsible for staying abreast of what is changing in Magento and will be tasked with creating and updating the development roadmap.
Another solution is to choose an agency that will provide you with business proactivity. In this article, I described a situation with a project manager and the amount of his daily responsibilities. The solution to this problem is simple- ideally, the agency should have several people who have different roles in the collaboration (so that everything does not accumulate on the Renss Man). If the agency is able to provide you with these different roles for your project, then you can really count on business support and proactivity.
What should these roles be? Ideally, such a company should have (in addition to a Project Manager):
You should have established (described policy) what questions go to the ecommerce consultant, and how he or she attends your weekly meetings, and it should be clearly established that such a person sits with you to update the roadmap or development backlog once every certain period of time, such as once a quarter, once a month, once a year.
Your project needs to have a separate business analyst who, in the case of more complex functionality, will be responsible for making sure that the functionality is accurately described, creating flags, and acceptance criteria, and updating all documentation. This is not a simple role.
A final role separate from the Project Manager should be the tester, who will be responsible for Quality Assurance processes. Without him, the tasks delegated to you by the software house will always contain errors and you will simply feel like an external testing department of your technology partner.
If you are planning to choose a software house agency to work with on Magento or any more advanced ecommerce engine, and you expect it to be proactive and a true business partner, you need to choose one that has separate business roles (as I described above).
If all the tasks accumulate in one person then there is no chance for a software house to be proactive and be a good business partner.
An ecommerce consultant is usually a former ecommerce director with extensive experience, often several years, in developing large ecommerce platforms. Such a person has a broad perspective and is definitely needed on any team. You need someone who understands what ecommerce strategy or B2B sales strategy is.
In summary, if you encounter the problem that the agency you are working with, or the software house, does not seem to be a good business partner, is not proactive, or does not take the initiative, then you have three options.