Our partners and retailers share one common denominator, and if you’re anything like them, you know the struggle well: You wish there were more than 24 hours in a day! Unfortunately, we live and work in a world that is measured by time, and each day you must decide which actions deserve your time and which must fall off your calendar. This is most apparent within eCommerce in the monthly and growth strategy clients we support.
A website owner or eCommerce manager has many tasks to accomplish in a single day, such as:
- Managing Human Resources
- Picking orders
- Merchandising new products
- Receiving new shipments
- Invoicing B2B customers
- Picking up lunch
- Updating copy on a CMS page
- Even cleaning the bathrooms of your facility!
It is a never-ending cycle requiring extreme attention to detail and the ability to be a “doer.” However, there’s one way you can ease the pressure and stress of your business, and that is: proper planning. A proper project and task roadmap creates a lens to help you prioritize and make decisions, and to help you organize yourself (and your team) around common goals. In this blog post I will share why you need a monthly project roadmap for growth, and how you can go about creating one.
What is a Roadmap Anyway?
A project roadmap is a simple representation of initiatives and projects planned for a period of time no longer than 12 months. The purpose of a project roadmap is to quickly communicate goals and plans, “swimlanes” (which I will get into later), and easy-to-understand milestones that will drive your business forward. A roadmap should not drill down into minutiae, like what color a call to action button should be; it should list wider initiatives like “Increase customers who add to carts,” or “Remake the Product Detail Page.”
What Can a Roadmap Do for Me?
At Gauge we’ve seen it time and time again: A properly designed roadmap is critical to success and will lead to three major benefits to your company.
1. Improve Team Organization and Reduce Ambiguity
The first benefit to having a project monthly roadmap is improving overall team organization and reducing ambiguity. It’s a fact—everyone hates rework. Without a fleshed-out roadmap, your organization is open to frustration and costly wasted time.
A key part building of your roadmap is delineating “swimlanes,” which is a fancy way of saying “who does what.” A good business owner should determine which stakeholders (including employees, agency partners, and other entities) will be responsible for each initiative, communicate that to everyone involved, and then hold them accountable for performance and results.
Delegating responsibility isn’t enough here; you must delegate authority as well. For instance, say your project roadmap places a high priority on building a new website during the first half of the year. You assign this task to a project manager on your team. Meanwhile, the person responsible for your digital marketing has other projects and tasks to continue within those 6 months. If your site redesign project and your digital marketing project share resources (like team members or money), the project manager needs to have the last say in final decisions. Your roadmap makes it clear that the redesign is the priority, so its project manager must be given authority over anything that may affect launching on time and on budget.
When your team can see the plan and everyone understands that focus is key, no feet get stepped on and power struggles disappear. Getting your team aligned with organizational goals will lead to more efficient and effective work from everybody.
2. Communicate your eCommerce Vision
If you invest a lot of time in your eCommerce business (and what business owner or eCommerce manager doesn’t?), the project roadmap is the best tool you can use to distill down your thoughts and put them on paper. While a project or planning brief helps your employees understand your perspective, it doesn’t do a very good job of clarifying timelines or explaining priorities. And let’s face it, no one wants to read a 12-page yearly eCommerce brief.
Your team needs to understand the path that you, as the business owner, want to take over the next 12 months. When used the right way, your project roadmap will clearly set a unique boundary for the business and time-box certain decisions. Your vision and goals will dictate your roadmap; if your goals for Q3 include “Do more marketing,” your roadmap should focus primarily on marketing and customer retention.
Communicating your vision and mapping out your priorities really simplifies decision-making for your team. When prioritizing their own tasks, they can ask themselves, “Does the work I am doing today fulfill the quarterly goal of customer retention?” If it does, they know they’re on the right track. If it doesn’t, they know they need to stop, consider why they’re focusing on that task, and then redefine their tasks to align with the wider goal.
3. Minimize Risk
While some people look at small businesses as the ultimate risk (and small business owners as the ultimate risk-takers!), you didn’t get to where you are by leaping before you look. Even the most ruthless investors take measured risks based on return on investment (ROI), after carefully weighing the pros and cons of each decision.
Even when working with an agency like Gauge, nothing is guaranteed; there isn’t a single magic button that grows your website 20% a year. You have to budget, save money, make smart decisions, and ultimately, weigh your options for the best outcome for the business. A great way to minimize risk is to sit down with your agency, talk about the year as a whole, and pinpoint exactly where you can complete certain initiatives and where you might be tight in cash flow. Business at its core is “cash in, cash out.” Planning your major expenditures after high revenue seasons helps you avoid overspending or depleting cash reserves.
Risk Management Example using Organic Revenues:
January: Customers have spent their credit limits over the holiday season, so January is typically a slow month for eCommerce retailers. You’d want to limit cash heavy investments during this month.
February: If you sell an item that can relate to couples, then February can be a big win. Valentine’s Day has historically been a great earnings day for retailers who sell gifts and unique items.
March: With the influx of cash from Valentine’s Day, you can plan on new development initiatives that are more cash-intensive.
Business at its core is “cash in and cash out”, planning your major expenditures with higher revenue times allows you to minimize overspending or depleting cash reserves.
The Bottom Line
When we ask eCommerce retailers, “What is the biggest struggle in your business?” the most common response we get is, “We have a lack of resources in the eCommerce and marketing departments.” A roadmap for your business will ease some of that pain. By clearly and effectively communicating timelines and initiatives, properly planning for expenditures, and minimizing rework, you can make the most of the resources you do have.
We’ve seen great results for partners who use roadmaps, and I’d be very curious to learn why you don’t use one in your business. Why do you struggle to plan properly? Add a comment below and I’ll respond in turn. I’m happy to enter into dialogue to help you gain some momentum for your business.