8 checkpoints to create success for your digital projects
Keep your head above water with these tips on how to maintain your skills, run digital projects, and enforce success formulas.
Written by Vegard Ottervig on
Running successful digital projects is no plain sailing, even if you are an experienced project manager or advisor. It is useful to periodically evaluate what you are doing, and read some productive tips on best practices and latest trends.
Here are specific methods, strategies, and tactics you can employ in order to create success for your digital project.
A football team performs best when every teammate collaborates to bring forth each player's strength and mitigate weaknesses. The same principle goes for any organization—a deviation from any coworker or department can cause you a relative amount of friction and potential loss, to the degree the deviation amounts to.
Deviations from a set direction and goal must of course be avoided in your project as well. A carefully planned and thought-out alignment with corporate strategy and goals is therefore a vital first step in any of your project undertakings.
Ask yourself some basic questions: What am I trying to accomplish with my project? What is my organization trying to accomplish? Map out common traits and rule out elements that are not in line, before continuing with realizing the project. For instance, if your organization only sells professional services to a B2B segment, it makes no sense to run a project trying to cut costs with methods tailored for a B2C segment.
Also, it is useful to keep in mind that research by Gartner found that alignment to company strategy and goals is one of the most commonly used metrics to evaluate the success of projects by project management office leaders ("Top Metrics for Evaluation Project Success," Gartner 2009).
According to Aristotle, the "prime mover" was the primary cause for all the motion in the universe. In a similar way, every organization needs a prime mover to inspire other coworkers and to get things done.
Steve Jobs is an example of a prime mover. The late CEO of Apple drove his company to astronomical heights, never settled for mediocrity, and had an exceptional philosophy of life:
"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle."
With this vigor and outlook, Jobs embarked upon life and business, and the results are for the history books. You should prioritize to find a skilled person of conviction and enable him or her with the ability to perform decisions in your project or organization as a whole.
The person doesn't have to be a Steve Jobs, an Elon Musk, or an Andrew Carnegie, but should embody the same state of mind. If you don't have access to such a prime mover, the results might become what many people dread in any organization attempting to be effective: Red tape and watered down democracy, where everyone gets a piece of the pie no matter what, where processes are slow and actions lead nowhere.
To achieve success in your projects, you need a person in a seminal architectural role, able to make decisions in functionality and in the technical realm. Great product management skills is also a highly sought-after bonus.
A piece of machinery will not work properly if some of the bearings, axles, splines, gears, or linkages are missing or don't fit. Your organization and team aren't stronger than your weakest link, so you should make sure that your coworker dynamic elevates everyone—or that your "weakest link" fulfils a minimum skill level.
Digital leaders and CIOs often rely on technical specialists. However, they should instead focus on people able to envision how new technologies can be applied to create new and stable business models in a disruptive digital environment.
However, digital projects require several skills that bypasses the traditional business landscape, and knowing what you need or how to consider new roles may not be obvious.
You should gather coworkers from across the enterprise for your digital project team, and they should embody a mixture of skills within business leadership and technology leadership. Also, look inside your organization for talents, whether hidden or in plain sight, who possess relevant knowledge and skills.
As for the composition of your team, you should increase the number of people with both deep skills and a wide scope of roles in order to drive experimentation, innovation, and wide communication.
Finally, you should periodically map your project team's achievements to your top-level business objectives, and fetch new teammates as required to meet the goals in a shifting market.
A great team needs principles and guidelines to work as efficiently as possible. Old waterfall methods—where every step in the process is predefined and preplanned, and must come in strict sequence, have proven both slow and suboptimal.
This is why Agile has been making grounds in many organizations the last couple of decades. Agile is a set of values and principles where work processes, methods, collaboration, and delivery are continuously improved and adapted by your team to any changing context.
Agile emphasizes individuals, interactions, working products, collaboration, and responding to change. It is supposed to be a guidance to help you find a working framework for your team—be it well-known approaches like Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming, or something else.
By introducing Agile processes, you can build a robust foundation for your teamwork, which then is flexible enough to quickly respond to changes in today's digital world.
As a side note to efficient processes, it might also be worthwhile to investigate content operations, a principled method for treating the production of content in your organization in the same way as developing code.
With the purpose, strategy, prime mover, the right team, and agile work processes in place, you now need the right tools and technologies to unlock the full skills and potential of your teammates. To achieve this, you must ensure that you have a flexible platform with the right kinds of technologies that motivate rather than frustrate them.
Most likely you already have a platform, and in this case you need to evaluate whether it is right for your current and future projects. If the platform is unfulfilling, you should of course consider a new platform.
In a new platform you should look for modern technology, flexibility, scalability, functionality, support for modern development methods, agility, and the possibility for continuous deployment.
Having the right platform and tools are paramount for making your coworkers both happy and effective. For instance, you wouldn't want your developers to consider their own effectivity rate to be just 10–40%, but this is exactly what happens if they cannot use their preferred devices and software, are subject to rigid processes and bureaucracy, and are dependent on the constant thumbs up from other people in their organization.
Enable agile tools that your teammates love and remove obstacles from their work day, and you have come far on the road to create success for your digital project.
The classical dichotomy of maintenance vs. innovation will most likely present itself to your projects, no matter what you do or the degree of your organization's digital maturity. Maintenance vs. innovation pertains to the balance between maintaining your current platforms, systems, and tools, as opposed to using resources to innovate and find new and more effective solutions in the same field.
One thing is clear, however: If you don't adapt to the changes brought on by digital transformation, your brand and organization will lag behind and may ultimately disappear from the market. Think of Kodak—once the preeminent photography brand, or Nokia—once the undisputed king of mobile phones. Because these and similar businesses couldn't keep up with new trends and solutions, they were either went bankrupt or were reduced to a shell of their former selves.
A method to combat business stagnation is precisely digital projects, and you should fight hard to convince your leaders to allocate the necessary assets to new projects and innovation. The exact details aren't important here—first you must know that this is what you need to do to start climbing the path to success.
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While running projects and attempting to meet deadlines and KPIs, it's easy to forget that the project is there for a reason. The bottom line is of course cost avoidance and increased revenue and ROI, but another parallel bottom line is the purpose, why your organization is in business in the first place. The purpose is of course to build and deliver products or services aiming to solve a problem and to please a customer.
Always being customer centric in all your endeavors, especially in running digital projects, will make sure that you never forget your purpose or the directions on the road that lies ahead. Ask yourself this: What tasks do you need to solve for the customer? How can we keep a close dialogue with the customer at all times?
Every customer seeks as smooth and painless a process as possible, and if you have this in mind in every project undertaking, your end results will be more customer centric and quality minded, leading to increased revenue.
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Morale is important to keep people motivated to excel at work, and something which boosts morale exquisitely is an early gain in your digital project. For instance, if you launch a successful campaign at the beginning of your project tenure, you enable pride and enthusiasm in your coworkers and organization.
Not only will an early gain kickstart your project and garner optimism, it will also sport long term effects. A success story is something people will talk about in years to come—as well as being a tangible example you can refer to on conferences, talks, and networking events.
An organization and an organism share many similarities—they both have to perform certain actions to maintain themselves, and both have to be purposeful. Just like a lion, has to retrieve, stalk, hunt, catch, kill, and eat its prey, an organization has to run projects to discover customer needs, research viable products and services, market said products, sell said products, and keep an amiable relationship to customers and partners.
Even when one given project is done and successful, you have to continue the process to develop your organization, products, and services. Creating lasting success, not only for your initial project, but in the long run for your organization as a whole, is a continuous and neverending endeavor.
First published 1 April 2019, updated 8 July 2020.
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