Sunken costs: Moving on from failed development projects | Acro Media
Mike Hubbard


Mike Hubbard

, Front End Lead, Developer

Posted in Digital Commerce, Software & Development

February 11, 2019

Sunken costs: Moving on from failed development projects

What would you do if you've spent u$100,000 on an ecommerce development project, have nothing to show and no go-live date in sight? Unfortunately, this is a reality for some, and we've had more than one client come to us in this very predicament.

These clients have either fired their initial agency or are looking for an outside opinion on how to reach the goal post. When we're reviewing these projects, they're often a long way away from a minimum viable product for one reason or another. That's a hard pill to swallow. Businesses look to us as consultants for structured advice and action plans on moving forward and going live.

If you were in this situation, what would you do? Would you be inclined to push forward with the project in its current state since so much time and money has already been spent? Or, would you be able to stomach starting fresh, reinvesting in a new approach if this was the outcome of an audit? This is a tough decision to make, but maybe we can help make the necessary evaluations easier.

Get an outside opinion from a qualified source

One of the best actions you can take initially is to seek to understand your situation from a technical standpoint. Is the state of your project actually where you think it is? How close are you to having a completed project that's ready to use? These are important questions to know. You want to know exactly where your investment stands and a timeframe of when it will start paying you back.

Getting information-backed objective opinions from one or more outside sources is possibly the best option you can exercise to gain a true understanding of your project. If you don't have the expertise at your disposal to dig in and understand the project, you're relying on your development provider to keep you in the know.

If communication breaks down or you feel like you're not getting the results you expect, this is the time to briefly pause your development cycles and seek help.

A qualified ecommerce consultant should be able to audit your project and extract the details for you, complete with the hard evidence needed for you to make any other decisions. Your consultant needs to take a macro view of the build to award you an overall score.

The main categories that should be examined are as follow:

  • security
  • performance
  • build
  • development methods
  • server setup & deployment

By moving through the project and code using this systematic approach, your consultant can provide a specific overview of code health and distance to completion. Your consultants should also provide you with baseline code standards against which your project is compared. These standards should be shared and fully transparent for you to "fact check" against.

Audit findings should be presented by the technical lead in non-technical language so all stakeholders can understand it, with links or further detail to provide technical examples and proof, and allow for proper Q&A time to dig into areas of concern.

Each category examined should be marked with a pass/fail grade. A failing grade in a category should be discussed in detail from a launch-stopping perspective, such as security, which is typically viewed as a no-go for moving a site live.

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Moving onward

Once you have all of the information from an audit in front of you and all of the technical questions have answers, you'll be in a much better place to make the big decisions needed to move forward confidently. Chances are, you'll be in one of three positions:

  • Continue on with your development provider
  • Continue on with a new development provider
  • Pivot directions and start fresh

Continue on with your development provider

Your best-case scenario is that you're actually in good shape, and maybe it's only the communication between you and your development provider that has broken down. You can mitigate any problem areas found in the audit as needed. In that case, you can comfortably move on with your provider knowing that you're still in good hands.

Knowing this to be true, backed by hard data, will give you ease of mind. You may even come out of it with some additional tips that can make your project more performant, more secure, and generally better overall.

Continue on with a new development provider

If you're lucky enough to be able to salvage the project and only have to switch development providers, that's not too bad of an outcome. Unfortunately, things didn't work out, but at least you're not throwing away a whole bunch of wasted work.

If this is your outcome, take time to research the companies that you might work with and be sure to check for their specialties. You'll want a provider fluent in ecommerce, but also make sure you're dealing with a provider fluent in the software that makes up your overall commerce architecture.

For example, a WordPress development house trying to jump into a different platform probably won't be in your best interest. Neither will a provider who can't build custom integrations from your platform to another service in your ecosystem of operational tools. After all, once you're live, the next step to ecommerce success is to make your operations more efficient and scalable. Using the knowledge gained from your audit, find experts who will understand your project your ecommerce business and help you grow beyond the initial project.

Pivot directions and start fresh

This is the dreaded outcome that no one wants to hear, especially when it's a large, expensive development project at stake. There are many reasons why a project can get to this point; poor communication, mismanagement, unclear objectives, changing scope, improper planning, lack of experience, etc. A combination of these factors can ultimately lead to a failed project.

While it's hard for a third-party objector to break this news, it's not all bad. Sure, financially, it's a waste. But, at the same time, it's an opportunity to accept that it wasn't done right the first time, and this time it will be. Like I mentioned in the "continuing with a new development provider" section above, you can step back and take more time to select the right provider for your project goals.

What do I mean by doing it right and selecting the right provider? A successful ecommerce project involves getting stakeholders and ecommerce experts to work together towards a clearly defined end goal. It means making sure that the development provider IS an expert in not only ecommerce systems but commerce architecture, too. It means following a transparent method of development, starting with planning and discovery through to launch. It means making sure the business operations affect the choice of platform and any integrations that are needed. It means making sure that the outcome results in a commerce architecture that is built on scale, not growth, and that falling into a replatforming cycle will be avoided down the road. The bottom line, it means that the provider understands your unique business is the primary driver of all decisions.

Final word of advice

It’s OK to move on from a failed development project. Instead of thinking “I’ve already invested X into this project, I can’t stop now.”, change your thought process to “Instead of continuing to invest X into this failed project, let’s reinvest in a better solution. Then, go out and make that happen.

Let us be one of your outside consultants. Acro Media is a digital commerce consulting company specializing in open source architecture that develops tailored commerce infrastructure for effective operations and scalable growth. Our solutions empower retailers with a continuous integration framework allowing them to adopt or create innovative technology that gives them the freedom to build ideal customer experiences and streamlined backend operations.

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