It happens to the best companies – a web development project starts going off the rails. 25% of web projects fail, according to New Bamboo (now Thoughtbot) research cited by ZD Net.

When it starts happening to your company’s digital commerce project, there are inevitably questions about what to do. Here are some of the things to look for.

Have they created a plan and stuck to it?

Agile methodology allows for some twists and turns, but each sprint should bring you closer to the goal of having a functioning web site. From proposal to sprint planning, there should be agreement on what’s expected, what the costs will be, and even how deviations from the plan will be handled. Allowing for some give and take on this, there should be a shared, consistent vision of the site’s objectives and progress.

If the agency you’re working with is constantly surprising you, and not in a good way, about budget and consistent progress, it may be time to make a change.

When problems arise, can they explain what’s going on?

All projects hit bumps in the road. If you are expressing dissatisfaction, it’s a good sign if they can quickly articulate the problem as well as you can as the product owner, and/or help you define the problem. If they can’t, it may be time to start looking.

Obscure explanations are often a bad sign. Keep asking questions until you’re either clear on the issue or it’s clear that they don’t know themselves. Sometimes this takes a little research on your part to understand the explanations; it can be well worth it to evaluate whether they make sense.

When there are challenges, can they quickly set milestones toward a resolution?

A key part of the agile process is that complex issues should be broken down into bite-size, understandable tickets as they approach completion. When unexpected problems come up, a similar approach should prevail. For example, if a developer quits during a sprint, there may be no way to make up the shortfall for that 2 week sprint, but the project manager should inform you promptly, discuss your highest priorities to work on, and have a plan for getting the team back up to full strength by the next sprint or two.

Can you agree with them on what “done” means?

This sounds like a pretty simple question, but when you work with an agency on various project issues, you should be satisfied that there is alignment on what it means to have an issue closed. There may not be an easy, instant answer, but an honest, detailed discussion on what it means to have an issue resolved will force both parties to critically evaluate the answer and come to a common understanding. If you can’t reach alignment on that, you need to start looking.

Are they stuck on technical objectives?

Magento is hard. That’s why we specialize in it, and why we take pride in being a Magento Professional Solutions Partner. Agencies that do a great job with WordPress and other platforms sometimes find that Magento builds are just beyond their capabilities, especially when custom features must be added or built from scratch.

How can we avoid starting all over?

This is often the toughest question of all. You can see that things aren’t going well, but the idea of losing all the work you’ve done so far is pretty hard to think about.

It may not be as bad as it seems. Often the design work can be salvaged (provided you like the design and UX work that’s been done), and even the Magento core installation is often fine. Jamersan has done a number of project rescue interventions, and with some creative thinking we’ve been able to make the most of the work that’s been done already, build on it, and make your site the commerce machine it needs to be.

If you’ve got a project that needs to be rescued, contact us – the sooner you change course, the sooner you’ll be where you want to be.

Thanks to our Senior Project Manager, Shane Rodgers, for key ideas for this post.