An organization or business can acquire their website in many ways and it’s likely that some aspect of the site, whether it’s frontend or backend functionality, could be improved upon, added to or changed. This may be especially important when the organization or business wants to scale efficiently and streamline their operations by adopting new software into their commerce architecture and automating now-manual workflows. But how do you go about making that change? Maybe you have the skill in-house or a capable third-party agency to do this, but if not, you’ll have to search out a web development agency, such as Acro Media, to get it done.
Self-promotion aside, here’s how a project with a new client typically unfolds. I’m writing this not to sell you on our services, but to give you an idea of how you might go about getting your site functioning exactly the way you want it to. For many established online businesses, a relationship with a development agency like ours is ongoing as both your team and ours collaborate to continuously improve the commerce architecture that runs your business.
Finding a development partner
Backing up a bit. Let’s first look at how you might actually find your development partner. Let’s say your organization is not in a position to put out an RFP and have companies bid on the work. Instead, you’re on the hunt for a capable team to help you.
If your site is custom built from the ground up then you may have a bit more trouble than if it’s built on a platform or framework. Honestly, I’m not sure where you might look for service providers other than through a Google search, but if you know the coding language behind your site then that will make it easier.
For those of you using a platform or framework, often you’ll find a marketplace or partner list on the platforms own website. This is a great place to start because you can usually narrow down the results to just the companies that do the type of work you’re after. Here’s a look at the current Drupal.org marketplace, filtered to show companies specializing in ecommerce. Drupal is a popular open source CMS, but SaaS platforms such as BigCommerce will have a service provider list, too.
Drupal.org marketplace showing companies specialized in ecommerce
View the websites of these companies and I would strongly recommend contacting some of them to have a quick chat. You can gain a lot of insight in a 15 minute call as they will most likely have more questions for you then you will for them. But ask your questions too about their expertise, processes, and how they will meet or exceed your expectations. Companies performing at a high level should have deployment strategies and quality control standards in-place that will ensure your project is done well and with as little interruption to your day-to-day business as possible. Ask about these things.
Setting project requirements
Alright, you’ve found your development partner. Great! Now the fun begins as you can now get started with your project. From this point on, I’ll talk more about how things typically work at Acro Media since that is what I know, but I imagine there will be many similarities between our process and others.
First off, it’s vitally important that before development begins everyone gets on the same page with the same expectations of outcomes. The only way to get clear development goals and cost estimation is through some sort of information gathering and planning phase. At Acro Media, we call this Discovery & Strategy and it makes up the beginning of most of our projects. This low-cost exercise is critical in that it uncovers all of the details and requirements of the project used to chart a detailed roadmap for completing the work on time and on budget. Much of the work we do is solving complex ecommerce problems and building integrations, and Discovery & Strategy is our way to minimize wasted time and resources that drive up implementation costs for our clients. You can read more about this on our website.
Visualizing the UI/UX
Before any actual development happens, sometimes it’s worthwhile to map out the feature in a low-fidelity visualization or prototype. We do this when it’s important to get the user interface and user experience figured out when a complex or unique workflow is required. It’s a quick, collaborative, back-and-forth process that ensures the user experience and any edge cases are figured out before any expensive development happens.
Why is this important? Well, let’s use buying a mobile phone online as an example. Buying a mobile phone online can be a very complex process when you’re getting it through your telecom provider. Not only do you need to pick your phone with any customization to it, but you might also need to pick or modify your service plan to go along with it. Your service plan options may include offers and promotions that are specific to you because of your status, whether you’re a new customer or have been a customer for X number of years. On top of this, you may also be on a family plan with more than one person in your account that shares data or minutes. You may receive additional services by your provider, such as a TV package, that have nothing to do with your phone. As you can see, buying a mobile phone might not be so simple, but the user experience for both the custom are the administrators needs to be. A visualization is the step that makes it happen.
Developing your feature
Now that we’re all satisfied with the project requirements, have a plan in place to create it, have signed off on costs, etc., we’re ready to start building! A project manager, a team of developers and any other support they need works in sprints to complete the work.
The project manager acts as a liaison between your team and ours. This person is always available to you for questions, comments or concerns regarding your project. Our internal DevOps process makes use of GitLab for assigning tasks, tracking progress, completing internal QA, and deploying code. Through this tool, a project manager can see the entire picture of your project at a glance to let you know exactly what’s going on at any given time.
Aside from writing code, the development team is also expected to provide updates for each task being worked on. This is done through GitLab and during a daily “stand up” with the team lead. The stand up get’s everyone together to discuss the project and any potential issues. If at any point the project manager or team lead finds that the developer requires additional support, measures are taken immediately.
Once the development of a task (or multiple tasks) is completed, the team lead performs an internal review. For UI/UX related tasks, an additional review is also completed by a UX expert. Once all reviewers are satisfied, the task is queued for deployment onto a user acceptance testing (UAT) server and you are notified that the feature is ready for your review. Any special instructions to assist in your review are also given at this time.
User acceptance testing (UAT)
User acceptance testing typically happens on a staging site. This staging site is a mirror image of your live, production website, but it’s protected from any outside eyes or search bots. Only you and Acro Media have access to view it.
The code for your new feature along with any site configuration changes are deployed to this site for your review. If the code release is a major one or requires various steps, a release note will also be provided to you explaining the feature and how to test it. During your testing, if you require any clarifications, have some changes to implement, found a bug, etc. this is communicated to us and the development team and a plan of action is decided. Once all of your concerns are addressed and you’re happy with the result, your feature gets launched at an agreed upon date and time.
Taking your new feature live
After deciding when is the best time to launch your new feature to minimize any downtime or impacts to your business, your feature goes live. Launching a feature typically takes 30 minutes to an hour. One round of testing will always be done to ensure that everything is working as it should. Assuming everything looks good, your new feature is now ready to use. Hurray!
And there you have it, a quick overview of what you should expect when getting a new feature or integration built for your ecommerce business. Of course, our process at Acro Media will have some differences compared to other development agencies out there, but I suspect there will be a lot of similarities, too.
What I hope you gain out of this article is a few things:
- Most importantly is that your website functionality can be changed for the better. If you want to automate workflows, create a better customer experience, integrate into your website a new platform or service that you use (even legacy systems), it can be done. Start with changes that will have big impacts on your bottom line and go from there. Here’s a real world case study if you want to read more about this.
- Next, do your due diligence when searching for a development partner and use this article to help. For most businesses, a lot of trust must be placed in your development partner because, let’s face it, programming is a foreign language to most people. The right partner will be able to do the work you want and help you to understand the technical aspects that might confuse you now.
- Nothing is permanent. The age of the monolithic platform is over. The beautiful thing about today’s ecommerce is that you can choose the best-of-breed software that works for your business. Integrations allow each platform to talk to one another and share information. This is key for business scalability and automation, strengthening your bottom line and increasing customer satisfaction to give you an edge.