Digital projects are a lot like skyscrapers. They take a long time to build and are full of unexpected hurdles. Architectural terms have crept into the dialogue of digital development, because getting to the end of a project can feel like a creating a huge building, one brick at a time.
Not all projects are like building skyscrapers. Some are predictable, because they’re easy to scope and repeatable. Writing a blog post or creating a wordpress site are relatively ‘easy’ projects. It’s the bigger, more ambitious, more varied projects that cause problems in our industry.
Blocks arise in large scale projects due a variety of factors. We’ve seen most of them, which is why we think there are clever ways of avoiding interruptions. For every problem, there’s an important solution to be aware of before you start.
1 Don’t try to predict the unpredictable.
There will always be uncertainty in large digital projects. Whether you’re building a bespoke product, platform, app, or website functionality, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can predict everything.
Every project relies on three things: quality, time and cost. If a client wants to prioritise one, then the others will suffer. In longer projects, where outcomes become harder to determine, things change daily. Systems change. Staffing changes. Circumstances change.
Sometimes all you can do as a project owner is to balance between the demands you’re facing. Which is most important? Quality? Time? Cost? Don’t try to achieve everything, and instead focus on achieving the best likely outcome with the tools that you have. Read about how we achieved this with Gaydar:
Businesses vary, so invest in what matters to your project. Instead of trying to determine everything and fix every deadline, say to yourself at the start, ‘I am going to focus on X’ and keep that in mind. As things change, you have your single priority, but you’re not holding yourself to unrealistic, unachievable standards. Apply quality where it matters, cut costs where it’s possible and spend time on things that have impact.
2. Project manage the right goals for you.
Some teams want speed on large projects, we’ve seen this countless times. In fact, many projects focus on just speed, even if they’re delivering the wrong thing. We’ve been brought in on projects before, midway through, to discover the team are hurtling towards a deadline with a product that won’t work. What’s the lesson here? Don’t deliver the wrong thing. Are you building something that isn’t useful, but don’t want to slow down? Project managers often focus on deadlines and stakeholders, instead of doing what’s right.
What is right, then? Well, what’s right is having the right team size. Having a clear view on what success means for your project. What does your project really need to achieve? Because the deadline might be an artificial one. Instead of pushing your team at breakneck speed towards an artificial date, take a step back. The job of a project manager is to follow the right goal. To have a clear vision on what the thing you’re building needs to do, and do that.
Remember this: success isn’t punctuality.
3. Own the solution.
If you want to avoid project stall, then product ownership and team dynamic are vital. Too often the product owner, i.e the person responsible for the project, doesn’t have enough autonomy to determine what the product actually looks like. We often see a client, or an internal team that are hamstrung by a lack of authority to do what needs to be done.
Oversight of product owners often causes projects to slow. By having to run decisions up the chain, then back down again, we slow decision-making to a stall. Why not empower the person you gave the project to? Give them the ability to say yes, or say no.
Being able to say, ‘We’re not going to do this, because it’s not important’ is rare. It’s rare to meet a product owner that doesn’t have to consult the boss. But, if given autonomy to get the job done, focus on the goal and forget weekly updates on features, something magical happens. Read our blog about working agile as a team here [link]
Team autonomy comes from ownership. If your project is slowing down, or you think ‘my team is too slow’ it might be that you’re not giving them enough problems to solve, and enough autonomy to solve them. Instead of micro-managing, leaders should present teams with problems and step out of the way.
In digital product development, I’ve seen great teams work when leadership is dispersed through managers and within teams. This compounds everyone’s ability to solve problems.
Are you experiencing project stall? If you’re waiting on delivery of an overdue digital product, we might be able to help. Get in touch today.