Websites, apps, digital advertising – they all run our world but have some inherent flaws that arise time and time again. While there are nearly infinite variables and combinations that could contribute to something going wrong, many of them can be curbed with proper planning and attention to detail up front. As is often the case though, when a budget goes down, the first thing to go is the planning. This unfortunately is a misguided outcome as this should remain constant regardless of budget. As a matter of fact, smaller budget projects typically mean that the margin for error is much smaller so proper planning becomes even more of an issue.
To that end, here are a few tips that you should consider for every project you engage in. Demand it from your service providers (and pay them for it too mind you) and you will notice a significant decrease in tactical errors along the way.
First, set the stage properly. Make sure everyone know why this project is being done, what the primary objectives and outcomes will be, and what will determine if this is a success or not. Properly defining your customer’s ideal user experience is helpful too as it lends some business empathy to your service provider that will help them get into your head better. Understand too that your service provider, in a crazy scheme to pay their bills, has more than one client and can often times, if not always, leverage that disparate experience on your project. The more they know, the more they can help you. This exercise could take an hour, it could take a day, but it should be built in to your process 100% of the time as a mandatory starting point for any project.
Do a discovery. This also could be an hour, or it could be a month, but providing a portion of time set aside simply to gather information about a project after everyone knows why they are doing it in the first place, the requisite technologies, pitfalls of interactions between tools, competitive landscape (how high is the bar in your industry?), and generally wrapping heads around a particular problem, will dramatically improve the outcome of the project. It is impossible for you service provider to also be a doctor, a lawyer, a tree care specialist, a pharma company, a widget maker, etc. so don’t expect that every nuance of your business is immediately obvious to everyone else. Set aside a few hours and let them run around Google for a bit. It will help.
Next, understand that scope is inherently slightly organic but can become a wild forest, overgrown with weeds and bushes, if not maintained properly. You know who you are. The “I just noticed…”, the “I spoke to a friend of mine this weekend and she suggested…”, or “Bob from the warehouse chimed in and said that they could really use this tool to… I know it isn’t in scope but can we add that?”. Simply put, if Bob was such an important player, Bob should have been in the initial meeting. While yes, you can always add to scope, but often is the case that changing one thing, affects another. Sticking to your original plan ensures that Bob’s tool can be scoped for the next phase when all of the moving parts have stopped moving and dependencies and consequences can be properly assessed. Also, this keeps delivery on time, or at least closer to the intended launch. Pick a scope. Pick a date. Stick to it. Keep a list of what happens next.
Have weekly meetings about your project. Nothing derails a project faster than an absentee client. You know the type. Consider this scenario, slightly exaggerated but based on true events. “Let’s talk for an hour or so about what I have in mind. I will brain vomit everything currently on my mind. Then, I expect that you will, with 100% clarity, translate my thoughts into a website/content management system/app that is exactly what I had in my mind. This is mission-critical to the success of my project so let’s make sure to outline everything. Oh, and by the way, I will be in Aruba all next week, driving across country for two weeks after that, at a conference for a week when I get home from there, and then I will need a few days to catch up past that.”
Guess who has a failed project when they get back? Client’s and service providers alike must align their expectations that there needs to be consistent communication on both progress on the service provider’s side as well as ongoing evaluation on the client side. Going more than a week without seeing something and having a discussion about it is a recipe for mismatched perceptions when the product arrives.
Finally, have a pow wow when the project is done and talk about how it went. Unless you never plan on speaking with that person again, there is a high likelihood that Bob’s tool will eventually want to see the light of day and so both sides should exit the project with a clear understanding of what went right, what went wrong, and what the future looks like for the project. It is always more pleasant, and more productive, to provide constructive criticism at the end a project in a non-stressed environment.
While these might seem more like common sense than anything else, they are items that do take time, must thus be billed for, but should be factored in to each and every project. As our digital world gets more involved, more tools come online to allow us greater flexibility, more services come out to do X, Y, or Z, it is increasingly more necessary to have good planning skills. So grab a notebook, clear off that whiteboard, and get planning folks. Your lives will be so much easier in the end.