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Bringing Your Retail Vision to the Web

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For retail people, for many small business owners, they have a vision of the web site that they really hope to see, but have problems then translating from their vision to the details that technical folks need so that the vision can be realized.

Being able to take that vision and then turn it into wire frames or functional specifications that technical people need to make that vision a reality is a good skill to have. Many folks still do not speak geek, nor should they be required to speak geek in order to get their ideas across so that the vision that the retail store has can become reality.

First, while not truly an information security issue, anyone that walks the line between business and technology knows that there are some things that need to be done, and done well to ensure that the process is smooth, and well understood by both parties in the process.

Developing a quick project template, charter, and working with the business folks on must have, nice to have, should not have is important in bringing a project on line. This is where the technical translator or e-commerce liaison should be working with the business owners to work out exactly what they are looking for. Even down to color, systems it should talk to, and what role that web site will play in the greater role of the company. It does not matter the size of the web site, really in working with the business unit, or small storeowner, they should have a document trail to follow back on, and as the consultant, so should you. If the storeowner comes along later to move a nice to have to the must have category, you need to have a document trail that shows the initial thoughts, and then explain that this kind of change will do X Y or Z to the project, cost or timeline.

Standard project management, time lines, functional specifications, color schemas, charters, wire frames, and signed approval of all of them by the storeowner. Working with non-technical people who are requesting that what ever is designed must do things, and would be great if we could do this as well, then need to understand how the impacts to change will alter the product. Business people start thinking, and then start wanting to throw everything possible into the original 1.0 version of the web site. When really, it might be best to wait and see how the technology will be adopted down the road and then maybe waiting until V2.0 or even the V3.0 web site will incorporate that technology. Bringing the visionary to the table and explaining reality may be difficult, but showing them what others in the space are doing (follow the herd mentality) has benefits when dealing with any business owner of a project.

Readers are probably yelling at this point, yes, but what is the point?

The point is that small business owners, small retailers and even business projects within business units see something that they want, either because it is new and shiny, or because the competition is doing the same thing. The technical liaison between the geeks and the business unit needs to guide both sides into something that can be done, meets as much of the vision as is technically possible, and leave a lot of the nice to haves until later versions of the web site. That is a very important and difficult message to get across in any project, and one that is critical to the success of the project. A retailer is either not going to want to learn that they have to maintain, update, and otherwise work with the web site, or they do not have the bandwidth to do so, or the technical staff to do so. Nor are they likely to want to keep on thinking that the web site is going to continue to consume company resources that could be spent elsewhere.

A metaphor I have often used in deflating and working with this mind set is that the web site is like a car, you have to change the oil, windshield wipers, and make sure that it stays clean. A well run web site is no different, and while a car has 15,000 mile checkups, the web site is going to go through a continual evolution as the market landscape changes. The web site cannot be static anymore than the store can always sell the same goods year after year. The metaphor seems to work, even if it is simplistic, and should not be confused with the idea that the internet is a series of tubes or that anyone got the internet last Tuesday.

Retailers are not computer scientists, nor are computer scientists and programmers business folks. The bridge point liaison needs to be able to walk in both worlds, and know what is possible and what is something that should be left until later in the process. Good project managers should be able to play this point with both must haves and nice to haves ,and work with the vested parties to work out a suitable schedule. Even when dealing with very vague ideas, asking a lot of questions of the business unit, in getting them to sit down with the project manager and working out as much of the vision as possible before ever getting to a developer pays off in the longer run.

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Dan Morrill has been in the information security field for 18 years, both
civilian and military, and is currently working on his Doctor of Management.
Dan shares his insights on the important security issues of today through
his blog, Managing
Intellectual Property & IT Security
, and is an active participant in the
ITtoolbox blogging community.

Bringing Your Retail Vision to the Web
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About Dan Morrill
Dan Morrill runs Techwag, a site all about his views on social media, education, technology, and some of the more interesting things that happen on the internet. He works at CityU of Seattle as the Program Director for the Computer Science, Information Systems and Information Security educational programs. WebProNews Writer
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