Functionality of a B2B eCommerce site -- How to Approach Your Project

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One of the keys to understanding how the development process works is studying an example of how a real project worked in practical terms. As a representative example, B2B eCommerce & Integrations offer the following analysis of one of its projects where skilled team members worked on a project that involved customizing Clarity's eCommerce development platform for the United Methodist Communications Phase 1 Project. A collaborative project approach is critical when developing these project processes:

  • Lifestyles and Milestones
  • Documents
  • Roles and Role Assignments
  • Communications
  • Management Monitoring, Supervision and Change Authorizations

Putting the right team in place and using techniques from the agile project management approach can speed development, foster greater collaborations between team members, represent the vested interests of company stakeholders and enable using greater outside resources that easily integrate into the effort. The agile approach offers many benefits for developing software and managing projects, but B2B eCommerce development differs in some particulars due to an increased number of stakeholders and fewer chances for incremental developments. B2B sites require extensive planning to map all the connections between features and customizations, so the planning templates, wireframes, workflows and design mockups need to be finished before building actually begins. However, once everything is designed, companies can use full browser prototyping to get key capabilities online as quickly as they are built and tested. As in agile project management, iterative development and testing occur during the construction phase.

It's critical to see proof that an eCommerce developer can deliver on promises, collaborate with multiple stakeholders, do the work and develop an integrated and comprehensive website. To that end, B2B eCommerce & Integrations offers this example of how its staff managed the process for United Methodist Communications.

 

1. Project Lifecycle and Milestones

During development, the project employed many agile project features, iterations, regular communications and testing. In larger development projects, some phases of B2B development can be divided into subcategories that follow their own lifecycles. Development efforts that require a continuous process can use full agile methodology. The slightly altered semi-agile process used for the United Methodist Communications Project followed this lifecycle:


Inception of the Project

1. Project Proposal Document

The preliminary planning phase consisted of creating a summary document and reviewing it with agile methods that allow each stakeholder to comment on the process, suggest revisions and reach a group consensus.

2. The Project Handoff Meeting

During the handoff meeting, different parts of the development are handed off to team specialists. Frequent handoffs can cause delays, so best practices include involving people in areas other than their specialties. Working in different areas of the project helps each stakeholder better understand the process by learning a little about each area of development.


The Initiation Process

In the United Methodist Communications Project, four areas were covered during the initiation process: preparing more detailed Project Summary and Scope of Work and Project Approach documents and hosting a Project Kickoff Meeting with the client and one with the Clarity development team.


Ongoing Analysis

1. Discovery Meetings, Group Activities and Exercises

As the project progresses, daily meetings, group meetings, creation of design mockups, stakeholder interviews, preparing inventories of features, mapping connections and other analyses were common. The agile process includes meetings where each group discusses its progress, answers questions and defines how its work relates to other aspects of the project.

2. Project Requirements Document

Ongoing preparation of an updated Project Requirements Document keeps everyone informed about the project's current status so that no stakeholder is surprised or blindsided. On large projects, one team can easily lose track of what others are doing, and this agile technique keeps everyone continuously updated.


Design Phase

During the design phase, teams map everything that's needed on the site, show how pages will connect and produce wireframes or blueprints that show functionality in detail. After those are approved, the following documents and design features are prepared:

  • Technical Approach Document
    The design process includes writing a preliminary document, getting it reviewed by the group and incorporating needed changes. Technical approach covers the coding and technical details of the development process.
  • Functional Design Document
    This record follows the same process as above but concentrates on development functionality and design features in the finished construction.
  • Technical Design Document
    This document is prepared when feasible, but not every project includes this effort for various reasons such as security concerns, protected information and other contraindications.


Constructing Platform Changes

The construction process is where B2B eCommerce & Integrations works with development teams to build the eCommerce platform or needed customizations to an existing platform. Throughout the agile process, the following three activities, if applicable, occur simultaneously:

  • QA Test Plans
    Each completed function is tested exhaustively during the build, and iterative refinements are made.
  • Software
    Software applications, integrations and performance issues are also subject to testing, code refinements, troubleshooting and performance on the many devices that customers use when accessing the Internet.
  • Administrator and User Documentation
    These are usually focused on keeping administrators informed and follow the same iterative development and QA testing used concurrently in preparing documents. However, this deliverable is not always available for every project.


Testing and Quality Insurance

Testing and quality assurance efforts continue until the final testing. One session involves the development staff, and separate testing session is arranged for the client and executive decision-makers who sign off on the development.


Implementation Strategy

During the implementation phase, as anyone involved with development knows, unexpected trouble spots arise in most projects. That's why B2B eCommerce & Integrations offers an extraordinary level of service at this stage to train staff, validate the project and deliver documentation and source code. The process includes the following steps:

  • Setting up hosting
  • Offering staff and stakeholder training in using the features
  • Installing the build
  • Performing final validation checks
  • Providing source code and project documentation through all stages of development

2. Project Documents

Project documents are critical aspects of the development process in agile projects, and the documents that were prepared for the United Methodist Communications Project included:

  • Project Proposal This document defines estimates of the work involved for all proposed activities and features.
  • Project Summary and Scope of Work The document file covers project goals, planned solutions, work activities and features that the project will deliver. The paper introduces EP Task IDs for each work story that can be compared with development progress at later stages.
  • Project Approach The Project Approach Record defines all work processes, how work will be divided, technical details and assignments of project roles and user stories.
  • Project Requirements This document covers the deliverables that development will generate including software capabilities, documentation, testing plans, special features and other functions.
  • Technical Approach The technical aspects of the project are covered in this document that includes the tools, technologies, third-party resources, open source code and other details of how the software will be built.
  • Functional Design This document includes a detailed schematic, mockup or prototype of every relevant website function, design element details and connective functionality, and real-world business users often review this source document. The record serves as the blueprint for the build and is used by developers, documentation writers, staff, marketing people and quality assurance analysts.
  • Technical Design This record covers technical designs from an engineering overview and is offered in larger development projects that involve more complex developments and integrations. Smaller projects normally use Functional Design and Technical Approach documents to cover the necessary overview of their developments.
  • Test Plans This documentation covers how developments will be tested by Quality Assurance staff throughout the development process.
  • Project Re-Estimates Updates to projects, changes, cost overruns and even unexpected economies and faster progress can result in changes to project completion times, costs and other design parameters. Re-estimates are provided periodically throughout development.

3. Project Roles and Assignments for the United Methodist Communications Project

Project roles ensure that every stakeholder literally has a seat at the table, takes part in the development process, argues on behalf of vested interests and constituents that he or she represents and can review and comment on each iterative development through enhanced communications, collaboration, reviews and regularly scheduled group meetings. In some projects, more than one role might be served by the same person. The roles included the following real-world assignments in the United Methodist Communications Project:

  • Development Project Manager (Clarity -- Craig Zmarzly)
  • Customer Manager (Client Representative)
  • Team Architect (Tim Heimsoth)
  • Technical Manager (Chris Reddick)
  • Business Analyst (Craig Bauer)
  • Back-End Developer (Chris Reddick, Tim Heimsoth, James Gray and others as needed)
  • Front-End Developer (Matt Tate, Eric Adam and others)
  • Documentation Writer (TBD)
  • QA Analyst (Raeanne Harshfield)
  • Training Coordinator (Craig Bauer)
  • Specialist in Operations and Accounts Receivable (Kristin Wagner)
  • Graphic Specialist (Will Swain)

4. Project Communication Methods

Communications are keys to success in any agile development project, and with a company called United Methodist Communications, it's easy to see that communications would play a critical role. In this project, the following lines of communication were used:

  • A Basecamp was established to serve as a central repository for messages, communications and sharing documents.
  • Emails were only used under certain circumstances because development communications should be subject to security concerns. Another reason why emails aren't used is that people often ignore emails when they're occupied or unavailable.
  • JIRA Is used for tracking issues that need to be fixed that are discovered in testing or after the development begins construction or goes live. Using this technology ensures that bugs are tracked until resolved.
  • GoToMeeting enables screen-sharing among participants when conferencing on the phone or their computers. The technology enables users to record the meetings for later review.
  • Phone calls were used in critical situations, but these don't leave a record of what was discussed, so their use is only recommended for quick clarifications and one-to-one conversations about ancillary issues.

5. Change Management Monitoring and Implementation

Changes in projects are inevitable during the course of development. Best practices are to record those changes in a group repository like Basecamp for smaller adjustments and fixes. Larger changes should be documented in the latest version of the appropriate documents. Throughout the process, it's easy to track every important decision, change, adjustment, process and feature for full development transparency, which is the gold standard for any eCommerce development project.

Choosing Your Team Based on eCommerce Goals and Business Model

Visitors to the B2B eCommerce & Integrations can examine the company's portfolio to view recent work by its development team to get a picture of development best practices for different types of B2B customers. Most of the eCommerce companies that the website serves need a customizable and robust eCommerce platform to manage business-to-business sales, showcase products, provide sales leads, heighten customer experiences, manage real-time inventory updates, offer services, locate dealers, distributors and manufacturers and enable better third-party integrations with distributors, vendors, shipping carriers and other services. However, other types of B2B websites include the following business models:

Vertical B2B Portals
These sites provide industries and researchers with detailed information about products, services, listings and other information for particular industries.

Broker Sites for B2B eCommerce
These B2B sites act as intermediaries that bring together buyers and suppliers from various industries.

Infomediary Sites
These sites broker information about companies within a given industry and often serve as clearinghouses for industry standards and best practices and trade standards for niche markets.

E-Procurement Websites
These websites function as sites where purchasing agents can manage requests for proposals, submit product bids and eventually buy products after negotiating the contract. These sites usually specialize in fulfilling orders for niche markets or specialized industries.

Retail Operations with a B2B Sales Arm

Many B2B eCommerce sales also have wholesale and B2B operations. These eCommerce websites generate multiple development demands and integrations for skillfully managing both types or operations.

Most B2B operations fall into one of these categories, but customizations call help each one to achieve its goals, craft personalized customer experiences, connect with customers and resources, manage operations and build a world-class platform.

Tips from B2B eCommerce & Integrations About Managing Your Project

We understand the concerns of stakeholders at B2B eCommerce & Integrations, but we offer an astonishing level of transparency such as this overview of a real-world project that our development team handled for Clarity and United Methodist Communications. At B2B eCommerce & Integrations, we handle projects of varying complexity from major eCommerce platform integrations to delivering your desired upgrades. We use the agile approach for faster development because the method is superior for involving multiple stakeholders, fostering communications, matching development to many B2B models and customizing sites to perform efficiently and provide high-quality user experiences for each user. Our work serves many needs and is always completed in the most professional way while involving others deeply in the development process. Call or contact us today to request a quote, consultation or answers to your questions about our project approach.