The Definition Phase: Why It's Necessary and What to Expect

Posted by Matt Trimmer

March 14, 2018 | 10:30 AM

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definition phase.pngWhether our team is implementing a new eCommerce platform or helping a client upgrade their current site, we always start an eCommerce project with the Define Phase. The purpose of the Define Phase is for the client to establish their project vision for our team. Sometimes, however, clients can see the Define Phase as unimportant or a waste of time. We heartily disagree with that; we think that the Define Phase is crucial to the project. Read on to learn why.

Why Have a Project Definition Phase?

For the Client Team

Some clients see the Define Phase as just rehashing what they have already expressed to our Sales Team: why they want to do the project and what they want to see happen. In practice, however, the Define Phase goes so much deeper than that. In this step all front-end design, functional, and tech requirements of the project are identified. 

We have found that when it comes to eCommerce, our clients don’t truly know what they want until everything has been talked through. What you think you need for a site may end up being different from what you actually need once you get into the details. In fact, no project we have ever done has been exactly the same from the start of the Define Phase to the implementation. We expect those changes along the way, but sometimes clients need to be persuaded.

A lot of the time, a client doesn’t know what they want until they see it. We have had clients who thought they knew exactly what they wanted their new site to look like, but upon planning realized it wasn’t quite what they had imagined. That’s ok; it’s all part of the Define Phase process. As you get more information and details of the project laid out, changes may have to be made to the original idea, and you should make those changes. There is no value in keeping things the same for the sake of keeping them the same.

We have found that working through the entire site and establishing a project vision document in the Define Phase helps our clients realize what they actually want and need out of their new implementation.

For Our Team

The Define Phase is also important because it gives our team the chance to learn more about our clients. We may be experts in eCommerce technology, but we’re not experts in our client’s business. We need to learn about our client’s business processes so that we can then apply eCommerce best practices to them. In order to get that business knowledge, we need to go through the Define Phase.

This process helps prepare our team for the upcoming iterations and designs of our client’s site. It also helps us design an experience and technical implementation that caters to both our client’s business and their customers. Before spending a lot of time and resources on creating a UI, our team can focus on the user experience and what is needed there, which can then be worked into the design in future phases. 

The Define Phase allows both our team and our client to find out what the client truly wants and needs. It gets our team acquainted with how the client’s business works, how their other technologies play in, and what they want out of the project, and it helps our client nail down what their dream site actually looks like. With all of this information squared away, both teams can confidently move forward in the project.

What to Expect from an eCommerce Project Definition Phase

We’ve covered why we have a Define Phase, but what exactly takes place during it?

During the Define Phase, our team discovers and reviews the client’s initial thoughts for the project, then discusses the more detailed information needed to help implement the best solution possible.

Brainstorming the New Site

Our team has certain goals for the Define Phase, specifically to learn how the company works, which in turn helps us make the website work. We’ve found that the best way to accomplish this is to have a big brainstorming session.

In this session, the client lays out what they want from their new site, and our team learns how the business operates and what needs to be included in the new implementation. Using our eCommerce experience, we are able to interpret their list of wants and propose the best path to take moving forward.

The goal of this brainstorming session is to determine the functionality required of our client’s new site. Figuring out how their business operates allows our team to develop solutions to their challenges within Magento. While a client might say, “we want the site to do this,” our team has to figure out the business need behind that want, then outline the correct way to implement the solution in Magento.

Sometimes, clients will request functionality simply because their competitors offer it. It’s common for clients to want to copy features from either their legacy site or competitors’ sites, and it is our team’s job to figure out how to make those features better using our Magento expertise.

Design Needs

A lot of the information that we try to gather during the Define Phase is necessary for the following Design Phase. The site design is often the most exciting part of a project for the client, as it’s the most obvious indicator of change and growth on the front end. This usually translates to the client having a lot of ideas about how they want their new site to look. 

As we’ve said before, most people don’t know what they want until they see it. For site design in the Define Phase, this typically means that a client comes to us with dozens of examples of things they like on other sites. It’s important to remember, however, that just because something works well on one site doesn’t mean it will work well on your site.

Another thing to consider when comparing your future site with those of your competitors is that a live site is already old. Any site that is currently live took months of planning and development, so by the time it went live the ideas behind it were already dated. They may even be working on changes or improvements to their site.

Instead of comparing themselves with their competitors, we ask clients to explain what they’re trying to accomplish. From there, our design team can come up with an ideal solution unique to the client’s situation.   

When it boils down to it, our team is there to make our client’s lives easier through eCommerce technology. That is our ultimate goal, and the Define Phase process helps us get there.

Are you looking to work with an experienced team for an upcoming eCommerce project? Contact us.

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Topics: eCommerce, Implementation

About Matt Trimmer

Matt is a Business Analyst at Briteskies and a Case Western Reserve University graduate. He likes baseball, movies, and the driving force that is Bruce Springsteen.

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