Digital Projects: All You Need to Know
Welcome to the Ultimate Guide to Digital Projects! Here you will find everything you need to kickstart your new digital project. From purpose, pitching, and setup to work methods, reporting, and common mistakes to avoid.
What Is a Digital Project?
Whenever your organization decides to start, change, improve, or scrap a product, service, or function, chances are that you will start a project. And as our administrative tools today are wholly run on computers, chances are that your project will be digital.
But what are the best practices of managing a digital project? How should you prepare yourself and your team? What is the step by step process on which to lead a digital project to success?
These and many more questions will be answered in this ultimate guide to digital projects!
So, let’s start at the beginning, with a definition. This assures that we are all on the same page and are discussing the same thing. Without ambiguous, confusing, or unclear use of terms.
Definition of a digital project
A digital project is a human undertaking planned to achieve an aim in introducing, transforming, or managing computer based strategies and operations.
Limitations of this guide
Even though this is an ultimate guide, it cannot cover everything. There are hundreds of books on project management. As this is not a book, we simply aim to cover the essentials of digital projects, i.e. what you really need to know in order to get started.
The Purpose of a Digital Project
The goal of a digital project should align with the broader purpose of your organization. There’s nothing worse to perform actions aimlessly, to wander around every day without any kind of goal or purpose.
This lack of sense will demotivate you and your coworkers, making you feel you’re doing pointless activities, or doing nothing at all. The result will be worse performance, apathy, and those red numbers.
So, not just for the sake of your organization’s bottom line, but for your own sanity, you should identify or originate a sound purpose for your project. It might be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:
- What are we trying to achieve with our organization?
- What am I trying to achieve within my organization?
- Why are we doing it?
- How will we go about in general to achieve our goals?
- How will we go about achieving a specific goal?
- What are we doing now, and can anything be done better?
- What specific aim will this particular project have?
Having a purpose is essential. Not just for your organization, but first and foremost for yourself. You should know what you want, why you want it, what you should do, and how you should do it. It makes you that much happier, goal driven, ambitious, and efficient.
Start with identifying or building a purpose. Without it you are lost.
Different Kinds of Digital Projects
There are more than one kind of digital project. Just like every industry, organization, and coworker is unique, so is the related digital project.
Factors Determining Project Type
Many factors play a role in determining what kind of digital project you are facing. Project management solution Sinnaps mentions the following factors:
The reach, scale, and impact of a project, specifying the work details, number of people, and factors for success. Accordingly, projects can be big or small.
Description of a project and even project parts from initiation to completion or result evaluation. The timeframe determines whether the project or its parts will be short or long, continuous or finite.
An essential part of project planning, organizing refers to how tasks and activities are organized and prioritized. Organizing is also an important factor in classifying the type of project.
A project can be relatively cheap or very expensive, depending on the scope, timeframe, and organizing. The cost sums up these factors nicely and can help you clarify your classification further.
How you and your coworkers communicate (face to face, video call, chat, email) can help determine the following: Is the project within a single department, across different departments, across different organizations, or across different geographies?
The number of involved stakeholders can greatly shape the scope of a project. The larger the project is in terms of cost and resources, the more stakeholders are likely to be involved.
The type of project is also impacted by how different tasks and activities are assigned to team members. Is the responsibility individually or collectively defined? In most cases, a project manager is responsible for the overall assignments and progress.
Examples of Wide Projects
Digital transformation is an example of large, continuous digital projects many industries and businesses face in the present day. Andrew Annacone, Managing Partner at TechNexus Venture Collaborative, mentions four types of digital transformation projects:
Modern technology, like analytics, APIs, and machine learning, have enabled organizations to reinvent their business processes. This lowers cost, reduces cycle times, and increases quality.
Business Model Transformation
Digital technologies can also transform the entire business model itself. This is the fundamental building blocks of how value is generated in the industry. Creating value in new ways, like Uber did for the taxi business and Airbnb did for the hotel industry, is a comprehensive project involving many stakeholders and business units.
Expanding into another industry, whether established or entirely new due to digital transformation, is another example of a large-scale project. An example is the once online bookstore Amazon launching the successful cloud computing/infrastructure service AWS.
In order to stay alive in today’s environment, with shifting consumer behavior, the most visionary organizations embrace a culture of innovation. A full, long term digital transformation requires other mindsets, processes, and skills than yesterday. This can lead to projects which aim to shift to agile workflows, testing and learning, decentralized decision making, and so forth.
Examples of More Narrow Projects
In your role as a digital manager, you will most likely face several smaller projects in your organization, whether finite or continuous. Project planning vendor TeamGantt lists the following examples:
Software and Mobile App Development
Developing an application can be a fairly straightforward process or a more advanced one, depending on the complexity of the proposed product. In any case, the goal is fairly clear and the project team works toward the release of the given software.
Website Design and Development
This kind of project is somewhat similar to software and app development, but with some differences in product attributes. A noteworthy aspect is the introduction of progressive web apps, which merge the traditionally separate website and mobile app. Upgrading your CMS is another example of web development.
Digital Marketing Campaigns
The release of a new product or service, a new report, a change in the organization, or the attempt to raise awareness of any given issue. They all call for a digital marketing campaign. Such campaigns can consist of a large number of assets, events, and involved people, thereby requiring the firm hand of a project manager.
Creating great user experience and user interfaces is an ongoing struggle. This of course calls for projects aimed at improving such matters for end users and other stakeholders.
Crafting a content strategy in line with the broader organizational strategy is another example of a project. It may involve the CEO, CMO, marketing managers, and other stakeholders.
Improving search engine optimization and search engine marketing involves a process of identifying market trends, keywords, pain points, tool acquisition, work setup, and so on. Which again leads to another kind of project than the ones mentioned above.
Rather than fragmenting the following guide with bits and pieces relevant for different kinds of digital projects, we will go through points relevant for all types. Which will be based on their common denominators.
These denominators are implicit in the structure of the guide, like pitching, setup, asset retrieval, the actual work, improving, and reporting.
Pitching a Digital Project
Regardless of the size and scope of the digital project, you need to plan ahead and at least pitch the digital project in one way or another. The best way to do this is to build a business case, understand your stakeholders, and to get a proof of concept up and running.
Build a Business Case
A business case is a short, essential, and purposeful document showcasing how your proposed project can support your business needs. The business case should include advantages and disadvantages, and capture both quantifiable and non quantifiable characteristics of the project.
An essential structure of a business case can look like this:
Provide an essential overview of the issues you want to address, what goal you want to reach, what benefits your organization can expect, and what specific actions will be performed.
Describe your current context, what challenges and opportunities it creates, and what impact this has on your organization.
Benefits and Limitations
Present both financial and non financial benefits of the proposal for your organization, as well as any potential and actual limitations.
Identify potential solutions, like CMSs or digital experience platforms, to your challenges. Provide substantial details for your stakeholders with a range of possible options.
List what stakeholders and processes will be impacted by the solution, as well as detailing side-effects.
Document the implementation approach, timeline, and required resources. All in logical stages.
Consider political, economic, sociological, technological, and legal factors in your industry, in order to demonstrate a thorough understanding of your key market.
Clarify project ownership, project leadership and management, as well as budget, oversight process, and reporting.
Outline the forecasted costs and benefits, both total and spend profile over time. Also outline the ROI and NPV.
A more in depth consideration of risks and limitations, where you can summarize all significant risks and opportunities, and how they will be managed.
Understand Your Stakeholders
Your stakeholders can be anyone from the C suite and legal department to business units and marketing. Here are four common stakeholder groups in relation to digital projects, and what problems they may be thinking about.
The management of your organization can take on various forms, but common to them all is a requirement to see business benefits with your digital project. Your business owner wants a scalable project. It needs to be flexible enough to change in accordance with the industry trends. Your project also needs to be predictable. This means that you must have thoroughly investigated both potential advantages and disadvantages. Finally, the business owner is always assessing the project’s time to market. How long does it take from being a theory or under production to an actual, working product?
The IT department, including the CIO and the developers, would most often prefer access to resources and/or vendors on the chosen technology. IT also likes to know the total cost of ownership, the scalability of the product, as well as its resilience, operations requirements, and security.
Content editors have other requirements than IT, naturally. Editors in general want flexibility, usability, access control, workflow support, and analytics integrations in their digital solutions of choice.
Marketing can be yet another group whose requirements you have to bear in mind when building a business case for your digital project. They often would like to see features like campaign support, segmentation support, analytics, and CRM integration in the digital solution.
Bonus: Enable a Quick PoC
If your leadership, seniors, stakeholders, or all of them appear to be lukewarm toward a proposed solution, you should try to create a proof of concept (PoC) in order to quickly show potential value. A PoC demonstrates an idea’s feasibility or practical potential, is usually small, and may not be complete.
Most vendors on your shortlist will be happy to oblige to deliver a PoC. With a PoC you can collaborate closely with the vendor and an eventual solution partner, and build a custom solution for your exact needs.
In this way, a PoC is more valuable than a demo. You can really get into the nitty gritty details on the implementation process, the collaboration with the different actors, and how well the product can actually solve your tasks. This should give your stakeholders a strong basis for greenlighting or turning down your project proposal.
Setting up a Digital Project
Your proposal has been approved and the digital project is moving forward. Now it’s time to set up the formalities.
Agree on Purpose and KPIs
As mentioned above, having a purpose is so important for your digital project that you can’t really start without it. Involve the relevant people from top to bottom, and create an explicit document where the purpose of the project is stated.
The second part of this stage is to state your KPIs (key performance indicators). A KPI is a type of performance measurement, and can help you evaluate the success of the project. ClearPoint Strategy offers a list of common KPIs, like:
- Customer lifetime value (CLV)
- Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
- Net promoter score (NPS)
- Cash flow from financing activities
- Average annual expenses to serve one customer
- EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization)
- Innovation spending
There can be many other KPIs. It all depends on the specific needs of your project and your organization. Choose the ones that make most sense in the limited scope of your project.
Enable a Prime Mover
Every organization and project needs a prime mover to inspire other coworkers and to get things done. You should work towards finding and enabling a skilled person of conviction, who has the ability to perform decisions in your project or organization as a whole.
If you don't have such a person onboard, the results might become what many people dread in any project attempting to be effective: Red tape and watered down democracy. Where everyone gets a say in the direction, processes are slow, and actions lead nowhere.
To achieve success in your projects, you need a person in a good architectural role, able to make decisions in functionality and in the technical realm. Great product management skills is also a highly desired bonus.
Set Up Documentation and a Quality System
Before embarking on an exciting project journey it’s easy to ignore the “boring” stuff in the form of documentation. However, a well executed and thorough documentation is of vital importance for your project, your coworkers, audits, learning points, and future gains.
A great documentation practice can help you do the following:
- See what was done, by whom, and when
- Learn why specific measures were taken, and others not
- See the source code/material/recipe of a solution
- Control partner actions in regard to invoicing
- Understand learning points
- Review progress
- Estimate future cost
In relation to great documentation comes a quality system. This is a specific implementation of quality concepts, standards, methodologies, and tools. The purpose? To achieve quality related goals, like maintaining verifiable documentation.
A quality management system ensures that an organization, product, or service is consistent. It usually has four main components: quality planning, quality assurance, quality control, and quality improvement. Quality management is thus focused not only on product and service quality, but also on the means to achieve it.
The purpose of this is to ensure that no actions or legal requirements are missed in the course of a project, and that you keep a consistent quality of your work.
Set Up Timeline and Process
It is hardly a secret to know that good planning is key to a successful endeavor. If you want your digital project to succeed, the best solution is to plan in advance by setting up a timeline and process outline.
What is expected to happen when? What are the different milestones? What actions will be recurring, and what actions will represent single incidents? A timeline may look like this hypothetical example:
Investigation and research
Review and decision
Review and decision
A process may look like this:
Take photos of staff
Need another reflector.
Build news article template
Encountered a CSS problem.
Write blog post
In the stage of setting up a timeline and process, you can go by essentials or go as detailed as needed. The idea is that the timeline and process outline should act as helpful tools for you and your team in the weeks to come. Invite your coworkers to a session where you go through the points, and decide whether or not it is clear and actionable.
Don’t Forget Scaling
Scalability is the ability to grow or downsize an enterprise in accordance with changing circumstances. If, for instance, you are implementing a new reporting system in your corporation, you can start small in just one department.
If the project turns out to be a success, you can then scale it up to impact more departments. But this presupposes that your project is built to scale from the beginning.
What scaling means is that you have a modular core in your project with the option to add or remove more assets and/or manpower. The core drives the project with a purpose, timeline, and processes. It can also receive or remove additional functions seamlessly as the circumstances dictate. Like additional coding power, legal assessment, or simply more money.
So, make sure you craft a project that can scale easily. Both up and down.
Finding the Right People
An important part of the project preparation and ongoing maintenance is to find and keep the right people to do the right tasks at any given time.
Internal vs. External
Depending on the size and scope of your project, you most likely need to involve other people. In a very small and limited project it may suffice to involve only yourself and a few other coworkers.
In large-scale projects, however, you may need to hire additional resources, outsource certain functions, or even cooperate with external companies like agencies and systems integrators.
Of course, you will know your own situation best. But some questions may be helpful:
- Do we have the necessary skills inhouse?
- Do we need to hire talents or should we collaborate with an agency?
- What is the cost-benefit relation between hiring and outsourcing?
- For how long do we need the specified skill set?
- Is the project ongoing or a single event?
Regardless of whether you will include inhouse coworkers, outsource, or hire/collaborate with one or more solutions partners or agencies, you still need certain skills in regard to your digital project.
The most common skills you need for a digital project are:
A project manager will oversee the entire project. They’re responsible for deadlines, KPIs, and reporting, as well as arranging follow-ups with each project member.
With overall responsibility for an eventual digital solution you’re implementing, this team member will need specific digital skills, a knowledge of UX, and the experience to consult on final solutions and business strategy.
UX designers have to create product and service design that takes into consideration both the brand profile and the user experience. They should also be able to deliver HTML and CSS to the developers.
Web developers are able to implement designs using templating and popular UI frameworks. It’s important that they’re trained and certified on a given solution.
Back-end development involves more heavy lifting, including the ability to integrate the work the front-end developers do into the back-end system. A developer will need to be trained and certified on your eventual new solution.
To ensure your project runs as smoothly as possible, vendor expertise can be helpful. A vendor will advise on best practice to speed up the project and improve the experience of the people working on the solution on a day to day basis.
Note that it’s not always possible to get the help of a vendor as they have limited resources, but grab one if you can.
Developers don’t just need to write code. They need to deploy it on a server too. Look for developers with skills in continuous deployment, including automated testing for code.
Content Production/Web Editing
If the digital project requires it, you will need team members with the ability to produce the actual content for your customers and users. This includes copywriters, web editors, and graphic designers. As well as being able to create content, they should all be trained in your given solution.
To make sure your solution is experienced by as many people as possible, accessibility and SEO may be an important consideration. Look for an expert who’s well-versed in the WCAG standard, as well as SEO best practices.
Testing expertise will help make sure the final solution is secure, accessible, and fulfills all of its functional requirements. As well as being free of any bugs before launch.
Even if your digital project is finished, you’ll need someone to operate and maintain the servers and offerings. This could be your IT department, your solution partners, or the vendor if they offer such services.
Finding the Right Tools
Without tools, we humans would be left scraping the dirt off the ground with our bare hands. Luckily, through our rational human mind we have thought and crafted countless tools to use in countless situations.
How to Choose Digital Tools
Before embarking on a quest to find the right tools, keep in mind two rules of thumb:
- Don’t go with the first and the best
- The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
While researching tools, the first one you happen to stumble upon may seem great and exciting in fulfilling your tasks.
But if you haven’t researched any other tools you don’t necessarily know what you have missed in terms of functionality, learning curve, surrounding community, and so forth. Most research processes end up with at least two alternatives where you can compare pros and cons.
Also, you may already have a tool you are not entirely satisfied with. Just remember that even though another tool may seem fresher or simply different, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will make you more efficient.
In this situation, you will do best if you research several tools and compare them against each other and your initial tool with the requirements you have for solving your tasks efficiently.
One of the most important digital tools you will be working with is your digital platform. This creature goes by many names due to its multifaceted nature, but the ones most common are: content management system (CMS), digital experience platform (DXP), and web experience management (WEM).
The CMS is the engine behind your organization’s digital experiences. In a world where an increasing amount of businesses expect their revenues to be dominated by digital, having a future proof digital platform will keep you ahead of your competition.
A digital platform will be a costly, but fundamental tool your organization will have to work with for at least the next 5–10 years. Selecting the right one is therefore not a matter to be treated lightly.
Depending on the size and scope of your organization and digital experiences, here is a suggested process to find and choose the right CMS:
- Public forum with relevant agencies and vendors
- Issuing a tender
- Creating a longlist
- Researching all candidates on the longlist and comparing with your requirements
- Specifications checklist
- Creating a shortlist
- Inviting shortlist candidates to perform a PoC
- Final assessment and verdict
Marketing Enhancement Tools
By its nature, a CMS/digital platform should be lightweight and flexible. Why? So you can choose exactly the marketing tools you love to integrate with it.
Of course, many vendors offer a full marketing suite natively with their product, which may seem easy or reassuring. But this is not everyone’s preferred cup of tea.
Combining your CMS with powerful marketing tools is a great way of building a seamless digital experience for your customers. Look for a digital platform that features ready made integrations with analytics tools, marketing automation tools, SEO tools, A/B testing tools, and more.
A good CMS knows it’s limitations and rather than building their own tools for all of these functions, it provides integrations with best of breed tools that are easily accessible.
A technical issue you may consider with the architecture of your digital platform and the modularity of best of -breed marketing tools, is microservices.
These are a collection of separate services in an application that are highly maintainable and testable, loosely coupled, independently deployed, and organized around business capabilities.
Examples of microservices can be an insurance calculator, an API for an order, components of a website (like a box for showing a form), or server side functionality (like a scheduled task).
Microservices fit into modern cloud infrastructure, with many smaller components running that are easier to test, deploy, and maintain for DevOps.
As they consist of smaller pieces, microservices allow your coworkers to be more autonomous, in that they can make changes easier without interfering with other parts of your digital project.
Add to this a modular nature, no single points of failure, that your developers can start building solutions faster, and scaling at will, and microservices may look irresistible.
However, be mindful of possible caveats. These can include poor architecture construction, a more fragmentary nature, and possibly more difficult testing.
Like all tools, you should carefully consider whether or not microservices fit your organization.
Doing the Work
After doing so much preparation, it’s finally time to do the actual work! This is the most important step in a digital project. Here you will do all the heavy lifting: you will build that new website, develop a new app, implement the new intranet, or get that new service up and running.
So, let’s roll up the sleeves and get down to business.
Any given digital project may be divided into phases, and the content of these may vary wildly according to what you’re trying to achieve, project scope, the nature of your industry, and so on.
However, here are three common phases and what you can expect from them.
Early Project Phase
This early phase usually includes planning meetings, familiarizing sessions, technology setup, training, and the initiation of coding, writing, and other productive endeavors.
This is the main phase, where the basics have been set up, where your coworkers develop, write, test, or analyze the various tasks given to them. At the same time, managers continuously monitor and control results. This phase can take everything from a few days to several months, or even years.
Late Project Phase
Towards the end of the digital project, there are more results and finished products. This leads to more reviews, testing, quality assessments, and re-iterations. Here you and your team wrap it all up, making ready to launch, publish, or deliver the end product.
Approaches to Digital Projects
While most digital projects have a beginning, a middle, and an end, the approach to how work is done within this framework can take many different forms. Enterprise Architect Mohamed Sami lists the following types:
The waterfall model is a breakdown of project activities into linear sequential phases, where each phase depends on the deliverables of the previous one and corresponds to a specialization of tasks.
As an extension of the waterfall model, the V-shaped model bends the process steps upwards after the coding phase, to form a V shape.
The model demonstrates the relationships between each phase of the development life cycle and its associated phase of testing.
The horizontal axis represents time or project completeness (left-to-right), while the vertical axis represents the level of abstraction (top-to-down).
A prototype typically simulates only a few aspects of the final product and may be completely different from it, but the project team can get valuable feedback from users early in the project.
There are several variants, including throwaway, evolutionary, incremental, and extreme.
Spiral Method (SDM)
The spiral model is risk driven and based on the unique risk patterns of a given project. It guides a team to adopt elements of one or more process models, such as incremental, waterfall, or evolutionary prototyping.
Iterative and Incremental Method
Iterative and incremental development is any combination of both iterative design or iterative method and incremental build model for development.
Built to overcome the weaknesses of the waterfall model, the iterative and incremental method starts with planning, and continues with repeated, iterative cycles. It ends with deployment.
Agile is a widespread and popular approach to digital project management. As a result, many teams around the globe employ the Agile approach when initiating a digital project.
Agile can be defined as a set of values and principles where work processes, methods, collaboration, and delivery are continuously improved and adapted to any changing context.
The main point with Agile is to do small steps and deploy continuously, as opposed to the standard waterfall method.
Agile is all about empowering individuals, building functional products, emphasizing collaboration, and responding to changing circumstances.
This is contrasted to focusing on processes and tools, providing comprehensive documentation, endlessly negotiating contracts , and sticking to the plan no matter what.
However, Agile is not a methodology, but a rule set meant to guide you in choosing the right methods and procedures for your team. These can include, but are not limited to:
- Scrum: Sprint based approach where a small team meets regularly with e.g. stand ups to discuss current tasks and obstacles
- Kanban: Visual representations of tasks, moving through predetermined stages to track progress and identify obstacles
- Adaptive project framework (APF): Work is done and evaluated in stages
- Extreme project management (XPM): Plan, budget, and final delivery can be altered to fit changing requirements at any time
Whatever approach you choose for your digital project management, be sure to assess carefully and involve your coworkers to learn about their preferences.
Nothing is set in stone, and you might end up combining principles from different approaches, if that suits your purposes.
Acquire Early Gains
Making your digital project successful depends on many factors, and acquiring early gains can be one of them. This is vital for mainly three reasons:
- Morale is important to keep people motivated to excel at their work. Something which boosts morale exquisitely is an early gain in your digital project. If you for instance launch a successful campaign at the beginning of your project tenure, you enable pride in your coworkers and organization
- Not only will an early gain kickstart your project and garner optimism, it will also spawn long term effects. A success story is something people will talk about in years to come. It will also be a handfast example you can refer to on conferences, talks, and networking events
- An early gain may serve to convince your leadership and stakeholders of the feasibility of the digital project, thus letting them greenlight the continuation of the enterprise or access to more resources
Managing a digital project and leading a digital team can be both challenging and rewarding. While you certainly will have done several of the following actions in advance of your project, it can be useful to revisit them during the various project phases in order to assess whether you need to make required changes.
And if you haven’t already done these actions, now is a good opportunity!
Focus on Innovation
Innovation is to discover new solutions to your problems and tasks. To solve them in smarter and more efficient ways than before. Innovation stimulates creativity, production, experimentation, and collaboration, and is therefore a trait sought after in digital leaders.
Communicate Clear Goals
As the project moves along, it is a good time to assess your KPIs and goals. Are they clear enough for your team and stakeholders? What are their expectations?
Once you’ve got realistic, actionable and measurable KPIs, communicate them to your team regularly. Review your results, make appropriate actions, and iterate them in the next appropriate period.
Get to Know Your Team
This an action you obviously should have done already, but it doesn’t hurt to get to know your coworkers even better as the project develops.
What people say and what people do can be completely different things. Arrange informal meetings with your coworkers to discuss their expectations before the project, their results so far, and what they expect further down the road.
Compare required skills with actual results, and suggest a further course of action—like e.g. attending a course.
Assess Your Digital Tools
This point should have been thoroughly covered in the planning process, but yet again—theory and practice don’t always line up.
Are your digital tools up for the challenge or do they need replacement? Assess each tool in order, and review whether they fulfill your tasks or deviate from the projected results.
If your digital project involves content of any kind, content operations may be an interesting option for you.
It is a set of principles for treating content seriously like software development. For creating consistent, scalable, cross channel quality content by uniting people, processes, and technology.
The option to continuously improve your digital project may depend on the type of approach, framework, and methodology you have chosen.
Here we assume that you have selected an option where continuous improvement is natural or can be added without hindrance to your project.
Continuous improvement ties especially to the Agile approach of running a digital project. Always improving in every stage of a project is essential for the project’s success.
Here are some common actions in regard to continuously improving your digital project:
- Regular feedback: Provide your coworkers with frequent feedback to point them in the right direction and to get a clearer view of the situation
- Regular iterations: Don’t stick to a monolithic product, be modular and discard, improve, or initiate new solutions on the go
- Showcase values: Engage both coworkers and stakeholders by demonstrating the values you generate, as this can send more resources your way
Third Party Collaboration
In many cases your organization will have to collaborate with external professionals, who possess skills, experience, and other assets you don’t.
For instance, you might lack the skills in implementing a marketing automation tool, and it’s therefore necessary to involve an external agency who specializes in such matters.
In addition to applying many of the mentioned digital project principles to third party collaborators, you also need to consider additional aspects:
A service level agreement (SLA) is commonly used as a commitment between a service provider and a client. Particular aspects of the service, like quality, availability, and responsibilities, are agreed between the service provider and the service user.
Such an agreement can also work perfectly well between you and a third party collaboration partner. Explicitly stating expectations of quality, timeframe, cost, communication channels, and who’s responsible for what can help you save both time and money.
Make sure both parties attend an SLA workshop, read the written agreement, and sign it as a token of mutual trust.
Not everything has to start from scratch or a completely blank page. If you need external help with a product or a service, help may be closer than you realize.
In this case you should research whether or not a vendor you are buying from has official solution partners listed on their website or another repository. These are well versed experts recommended by the vendor, and have a higher probability of delivering what you require.
Successful delivery is not automatic. Be sure to put solution partners through a thorough review—complete with an RFP and a PoC if relevant.
Reporting and Evaluation
While reporting can sound like a dull and tedious chore, you need to keep the following in mind: Reports are an invaluable tool to help you document and improve your efforts.
Knowing what was expected to happen, what actually happened (and when), and what the results were is a resource that you, your team, and your stakeholders can use to learn lessons, identify weak points, and leverage best practices.
In other words: the dusty, old reports can be used for you to work even more efficiently and create more value in the future. You only need to learn how to write them and what kinds of reports to include in your project.
What follows is a general guideline with common principles and steps, inspired by BrightWork and Asana. Not all of the steps may be relevant for your particular report, but you should pick and choose the ones who are.
How to Write a Report
Decide the Objective
Just like you need to have a goal or a purpose when starting a project, you have to be goal directed when writing a report. Having a stated objective enables you to write more clearly, and think whether you need to describe, explain, recommend, or persuade. It also helps you define the target audience.
Name Your Report
A good, descriptive name works as a shorthand for what the report is about. If the report is written in regular intervals, consider adding the date to the name as well. Examples include “2024 May – Project status” or “Project X Risk Assessment.”
Understand Your Audience
The target audience of your report should affect the tone of voice you’re adopting. Writing for senior stakeholders is for instance different than writing for your own team.
Knowing your audience, their style, and their pain points, you can tailor the content to reflect their own preferences and values, and thus make them more susceptible to your objective.
Report Format and Type
The objective and the audience of your report decides its formal appearance. Will it be written, or will it be delivered verbally? Should the language be formal or informal? Will the report address financial, technical, or factual issues—or all of them? Are there any ready-made templates available in your organization?
Indicate the Project Status
In the world of reporting, time is of the essence. You must assume that your target audience is short of time. It is therefore important to write clearly, have a descriptive name, and to quickly indicate the status of the project: Whether it is currently on track, at risk, or off track.
Adding colors—green, yellow, and red—respectively, is another helpful visual cue.
Gather the Facts and Data
A report is useless without solid references to facts and data in order to support your claims and conclusions. Use your selected tools and dashboards to inquire for data in the form of graphs, diagrams, and charts, thus underscoring the points you are making.
Structure the Report
While you are not writing a novel, a report is nonetheless an integrated work of prose. There are three key elements in this matter. The beginning, the middle, and the end:
- Introduction: Provide a context for the report and outline the main points you are going to treat.
- Main part: Present background details, analyses, discussions, and recommendations. Draw upon data and supporting graphics to support your position.
- Conclusion: Gather all the findings into one neat package, essentially repeating in fundamentals what the report has been about.
Give a Quick Summary of the Report
As a bonus to the report structure, you can add a section before all the others in the form of a quick, executive summary. This should be brief (remember those busy stakeholders!) and explain very concisely, in maximally 2–3 sentences, what the report is saying.
Pick Two to Three Key Areas or Milestones to Highlight
Although the main part of your report should be fleshed out considerably, you should also think about focus and essentials here. A digital project may be comprehensive, and it might be justified to just include 2–3 key areas or milestones to highlight.
Will you present the project elements chronologically (“we did x, y, and z”), by functionality (“the developer did x, the QA manager did y, the editor did z”), or by milestones (“we reached goal x”)?
Add a High Level Overview of Each Key Area
Even though we’re working hard to keep your report concise and visually attractive, there’s no getting around the fact that the amount of content may be overwhelming.
To help mitigate this, add a sorts of “mini executive summary” before each key area you’re treating. This can be adding a few bullet points to update your reader on the progress, accomplishments, and upcoming work in the given area. Examples can be “75% of tasks completed, 87% of tests successful, next sprint going as planned.”
Add Links to Other Documents or Tools
Due to the fact that a report should be concise, not every bit of information and factoid can be present. But some stakeholders may want to know more. In this case, you can include links to more thorough documentation or tools you have been using in the digital project.
Give Attention to Any Issues or Challenges
No project has run completely smooth all the way from start to finish. This is completely natural, due to the complexity of all the involved people, processes, and assets.
There's no use pretending that the problems aren't there. Instead you should give them attention, so both stakeholders and coworkers can take appropriate measures.
Readability and Editing
A report does not exist for its own sake, to be read by no one. Spend some time to edit and revise the content, cleaning it for unclear phrasing and making it more readable with simple formatting options and visuals. Include fellow coworkers for reviewing purposes.
Bonus: Medium Type
When you hear the word “report,” you might think of the archetypical folder containing pages upon pages. But a physical copy does not have to be the medium of your report. It can be digital in the form of a PDF, but another option can be a Wiki.
If you for instance deliver weekly reports, a Wiki can easily let you duplicate setup and also let you see earlier reports in an instant for comparing purposes. Yet another report medium can be an interactive dashboard.
Evaluating the Project
Many of the reports mentioned above are about evaluation: Evaluating risk, GDPR/privacy concerns, project status, and budget. However, it is useful for you to evaluate the project itself in order to identify whether or not the project delivered on all fronts.
Analyzing completed goals, objectives, activities, and budgetary elements can help you determine if the project was on track, deviated slightly, or is completely off course.
This will in turn enable you to learn from your mistakes and successes, as well as aid you to improve yourself and your team’s efforts in future endeavors.
What to Evaluate
Near the end of a digital project it is useful to evaluate the following aspects, according to ProjectManager:
- Schedule: Compare the actual dates of your major milestones with the scheduled dates. Assess the deviations and the impact they will have on your overall project, and rectify if necessary
- Quality: Evaluate the quality of your digital project management practices and quality system, and whether you follow the principles. Also compare your team’s results with your quality standard
- Cost: Compare your actual spending with the projected budget. Issue a forecast to predict whether you need to adjust your spending in the longer run
- Team satisfaction: Check in with your team regularly to find out what they think about the project and what you can do differently
- Performance to business case: Compare your actual project as it now is to the original business case. Were the projected benefits realistic? Does the problem the project was designed to solve still exist?
Evaluation Tools and Methods
There can be several ways of evaluating your digital project, in addition to reports. Sumac lists the following:
- Surveys: Can be utilized before and after a project to measure satisfaction of team members, stakeholders, or customers. Can be performed electronically, with pen and paper, or through a personal interview
- Observation: Can be used in e.g. UX testing before and after a change to a digital tool, a digital experience, etc., in order to evaluate differences in time or task solving
- Case studies: In-depth research on any given product, solution, or personage in relation to your digital project. A case study can provide you with both qualitative and quantitative data for evaluation
- Focus groups: Usually consists of 3–5 individuals representing a cross section of your target audience. A facilitator asks directed, open ended questions, providing you with information on how the respondents perceive and are impacted by your digital project
- Interviews: Can be 1-on-1 or 1-to-many, and are typically used to gather marketing information, assess knowledge, satisfaction, interest, etc.
According to MyMG, an evaluation plan is a document that defines and executes activities for analyzing a digital project by specific criteria. The plan aims to determine project efficiency through tracking progress on objectives, activities completion, and dates of completion:
- Step 1 – Identify outcomes: Find the KPIs which will bring you to understand the completion rate of your overall digital project goal
- Step 2 – Choose evaluation method: Choose one or more evaluation methods which cover as much impact as possible for your evaluation purposes
- Step 3 – Create evaluation report: Create an evaluation report which includes your conclusions about the digital project’s ability to produce desired change and accomplish intended goals
The End of a Digital Project
All things must come to an end, and a digital project is no exception. But there are some qualifications to this statement. The right question to ask yourself at this point is the following: Is the project continuous or a finite project?
If the project was finite, e.g. a reboot of your web operations or development of a new app, congratulations! You have now reached the finish line. Everything you have learned have now been, or are ready to be battle tested.
However, if the project is continuous, e.g. for maintenance purposes in your digital experiences or to steadily deliver digital services in your organization, you must now move back to the starting line.
But it’s not quite the same as starting from scratch. Now you already have a lot of knowledge, ready made templates, an experienced team, and many tools. You have acquired the framework to work and improve continuously in an efficient manner.
Head back to this guide to revisit recipes and best practices. This way you will always be sharp as a knife in your digital project management.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
As a bonus, we have included common mistakes to avoid in your digital project. Be on the lookout for the sign of these phenomena in order to keep your digital project healthy.
Common Fails in Your Digital Project
Not Aligning with Overall Strategy
The importance of receiving a mandate and support from the top level in your organization cannot be exaggerated.
Being aligned with the overall strategy ensures that everyone moves in the same direction and fulfills both wider organizational goals and narrower department goals.
Missing a Prime Mover
Every team needs a prime mover who inspires, leads, and gets things done. Without such a person at the helm, a digital project risks being slowed down by inefficient decision making and a lack of vision.
Before you start a new project, be sure to designate an architectural role who can make technical and design decisions.
Not Running an Agile Project
Classic waterfall processes will not work for medium to large digital projects, as it’s impossible to dictate centrally what tasks shall be done and when.
Agile, on the other hand, is a set of values and principles where work processes, methods, collaboration, and delivery continuously improve and adapt to any changing context.
Maintenance Over Innovation
Maintenance of existing, inefficient systems might seem like the easy option. But when it’s prioritized over innovation you can end up with an architecture that’s consistently slowing down your digital projects.
Allocating assets to innovation might not offer instant rewards, but is essential when it comes to creating a future proof digital architecture.
Too Much Bureaucracy
One of the biggest problems digital projects face isn’t technology, but bureaucracy. Ineffective policies, sluggish decision making, endless paperwork, and red tape can turn a simple digital project into a bureaucratic quagmire.
To remediate, use lean startup techniques designed to crack down on waste and shorten product development cycles.
Communication Problems Across Departments
Often digital projects are so complex they require the input from several departments, but this collaboration may introduce a problem in asynchronous communication.
To prevent this, establish a commonly preferred communication tool and practice. And stick to it.
Wasting Time on Small Tasks
Small tasks may at first glance seem manageable, but can derail even carefully planned digital projects when allowed to stack up.
To keep your project on track, create a priority lane for small tasks. This stops them from getting in the way of other tasks and makes it easier for your digital team to sprint through them.
Lacking the Right Skills
Lacking the right skills to perform specific tasks can result in a slow or failing digital project. This may be solved by training your team or by bringing in the experts.
You can also try to seek core competence from partners. This ensures that everyone spends more time doing what they know best.
Poor Legacy System Integration
Sometimes you have to work with legacy systems, but they don’t necessarily have to slow your digital project down.
Involve experts to build APIs for a seamless integration between your legacy systems and new digital platforms.
Underestimating Content Production
A widespread sin in digital projects—especially those involving new websites or apps.
While there are many technical, architectural, design, and UX aspects your team needs to focus on, don’t forget the content. This is what actually will populate the new website or app.
Designing without Purpose
Design is not an end in itself in digital projects. Design should support your goals, functions, and purpose, by underscoring the content.
Let your designers know the purpose of your digital project and then let them experiment with how to convey this in the best possible manner.
Lacking a Design System
A design system brings all of the visual and functional elements of an organization into one place. It ensures that every element of design, realization and development fulfills its brand principles.
On a practical level, it also helps teams focus on the bigger picture rather than waste valuable time of frequently repeated design questions.
Lacking Automated Tests
In order to prevent security breaches you need to implement automated tests. Setting up automated tests must be done in collaboration with your IT and quality assurance departments.
Remember to focus on testing the most important parts of your digital project, e.g. a secure order form for a business, or a functional user account on a social network.
Common Fails When Changing Digital Platform
Too Much Complexity
A digital platform may look promising in terms of functionality. But beware that content editors are supposed to work on the platform daily, and developers are supposed to implement it without too many tripwires.
Make sure the platform is user friendly for editors and compatible with your existing framework and skill set for developers.
Missing Core Features
A digital platform can be too complex, but the opposite is also true.
As a minimal default, a new quality digital platform should at least offer image handling, search functionality, custom content types, landing page editor, and previewing your content.
Having inadequate APIs on your digital platform means you will be “locked in.”
A modern and flexible digital platform should include the possibility for APIs that let your developers distribute content across different channels, like websites, apps, and IoT.
Too Few Resources
Before embarking on a digital project, you should make sure you have access to competent developers, marketers, and other professionals with the right skills.
Whether an internal department or an external agency, your teammates should be both skilled and available in the given time frame.
Costly Project Implementation
It’s very difficult to know the exact scope and ramifications of an entire digital project from start to finish.
In this regard, the best way to solve the problem is to go for an Agile approach in project management. This means you should start small and perform test cases, before scaling up gradually.