~ By Venkatesh KV
Although you may be tempted to manage the e-commerce project yourself and to use the consulting firm's developers as extensions of your own staff, try to resist the urge. Your consultant's estimates and timelines are only valid if they are allowed to manage the Internet store project to your specifications. They should provide a project manager, who will likely be your main point of contact, to be responsible for managing resources and timelines on the project. Having someone on the consultant's team also may help to keep the scope of the project under control.
Ideally, you should not add any features or functionality to your project after it has started. Because of the cruel reality of business, however, you will probably change your project specification several times during its course. Having a project manager on the consulting team is one good way to help manage scope creep. The project manager should help review what the desired changes will do to your timeline and will revise his or her company's estimates and timelines in light of these changes.
Never believe a consultant who says that changes can be fit in to the original schedule and estimate. If they are right, then the original estimate was flawed. More than likely, they are wrong. Equipped with a new timeline and estimate, you can decide whether to accept the necessary revisions to the project timeline and budget, or put the change on a wait list to be completed sometime after the current committed project is finished.
Hopefully, the time will come when you and your company are ready to rely more on your internal technical staff and less on your outside vendor. If you have been honest with your vendor about your long term plans for their involvement, this time will come as no surprise to them. In fact, if you have been careful in selecting your vendor, they should stand ready to help you make the transition.
The process of transferring knowledge about the site's inner workings is no less important or complex than the original site design. Plan the transition process carefully, sit down with your vendor and your internal technical staff and outline the process, and make sure everyone agrees that the strategy will work. Select a specific, small project to begin the transfer process to get your internal staff and outside vendor to work together. If you are still in the process of hiring your internal staff, ask your vendor to lend their technical expertise to the hiring process.
You should decide when to begin the knowledge transfer process when the web development project begins, not when it is over. Make the transition part of your basic project timeline, and make sure that your technical staff is ready to begin the transfer process when the time finally rolls around. Deciding where the transfer fits into the project plan can largely depend on how your company plans to use consulting services.
If the consultants are responsible for the major portion of the e-commerce site's initial development, then is recommended that you let them finish the development before you begin bringing your internal staff into the main stream of the e-business project. If your plan is to somehow divide the work between the consultants and your internal staff, then the knowledge transfer process should occur throughout the project. The following are some common Internet store project scenarios and give you some recommendations for where to implement knowledge transfer.
Most e-commerce companies that decide to make use of consultants have them complete the vast majority of the sites' initial design and development phases. Internal staff may be used for small, specific pieces of the site, but the consultants are generally the stars of the show.
In these projects, wait until the consultants reach the end of the development process before bringing your own staff into play. Consultants make their estimates and timelines with only their own resources in mind; bringing another developer into the middle of the project would only throw these estimates and timelines off and possibly delay the completion of the initial development phase.
Instead, wait until the project has reached completion and the marketing site goes live. Then bring your internal staff into the next phase of development, and have them work side-by-side with the consultants. This allows your staff to learn by working on the actual site's code. Make sure that initial projects in the second phase of web development represent a variety of the site's functionality, including search, sales, checkout, catalogue, navigation, customer service, and so forth. This way, your developers are exposed to these portions of the site while the consultants are still available to explain how things were done in the first phase of development.
After your developers have completed a few projects alongside the consultants, you can begin scaling the consultants back to a few days a week, then to specific major projects, and then eventually you can begin to rely completely on your own internal technical staff.
You may have chosen to use consultants not because you lacked internal staff, but because your internal staff lacked sufficient knowledge or experience to complete the e-commerce site's development on their own. If this is the case, your staff should have been working on projects with the consultants from the start. The consultants should not only develop portions of the site, but also mentor your internal developers during the development process to bring their skills and experience up to the level required by the e-business project.
When you are certain that all the major portions of the site have been completed and deployed to production, scale back on your use of the consultants and begin relying more on your internal developers. You may still need the consultants on an occasional basis to play a developer or mentor role in special projects in order to help immediately bring your own staff up to speed on the technologies.
If you to plan to run your project this way, try to find a consulting partner who is familiar with training and mentoring because their consultants will slip into the role more comfortably than consultants who are accustomed to working strictly as developers.
Hence, it is imperative to entrust the required duties on individuals who fit in suitably with the profile of the project. Generally, project managers possess sufficient knowledge that is required to control various operative activities of procuring, development, maintaining and utilising the internal as well as the external staff in order that the objective and interests for which a company is established are attained as effectively and economically as possible. It is also important that the e-commerce web designing projects' responsibility should not be switched anywhere in between, until the completion of the project.