4 must-haves when starting a project in your business

4 must-haves when starting a project in your business

Before starting a project – before the code, before the designs and before the plans – there are four must-haves that ensure your digital transformation begins with solid foundations.

Scope creep, over allocated resources, poor communications, bad stakeholder management, unsupported project culture are some of the top reasons why projects fail. Even with the more modern Agile management approaches, one in three technology projects fail to create an outcome.

A common story about starting a project

James is the Director of Business Development within a small and growing company. He is using Client Management Software that is now 10 years old. A bespoke system that a now long gone employee built using FileMaker Pro. It has served it’s purpose well and has been integral tool for the business so far, but by today’s standards the old system is antiquated. James and his team have out grown the capacity of the system and they are now being frustrated by its limitations.

The IT Division of the business is one full time manager, Chris and a part time student, Sarah. They look after the business computers, laptops, phones and networks. They know how to install the software and keep it running, but they don’t know how to use it. That’s someone else’s job.

James says to Chris, “I want to replace our CRM”. Chris reply’s, “Sure, no problem. What do you want?”

How does James answer? I want Salesforce or Infusionsoft, or Hubspot or Zoho or perhaps one of the other 5000 plus martech products available?

James says, “I want Salesforce.” Not for any particular reason. Just that he had read on the Internet somewhere that Salesforce was the worlds number one CRM.

Chris goes ahead and sets up the subscription and says to James, “There you go.”

Now what?

James logs into Salesforce and quickly learns that the out-of-the-box set up isn’t very well set up. There are no contact or leads from his old system. James can immediately see that his team will not be able to maintain the automated Mailchimp campaigns that they depend for lead generation. He can’t see where any of the industry and customer specific data they have, will be stored.

James says to Chris, “I thought Salesforce is number one but now I’m worse off than before.”

James now has a new Client Management System that has lots of potential but is completely useless.

Chris, now has a digital transformation project that has all of the issues of scope creep, over allocated resources, poor communication, bad stakeholder management and an unsupported project culture.

Both James and Chris where unprepared. They didn’t take the time to think through the project before jumping to the solution. And now they have a whole lot of stress and frustration they didn’t have before.

Sound familiar?

It’s very easy for a digital transformation project like this to get itself into trouble. Before starting a project – before the code, before the designs and before the plans – there are four must-have answers to ensure your digital transformation begins with solid foundations.

Starting a project in a better way

Stating a project that changes your business systems requires you to be prepared. To do some thinking about what is needed and what is possible. It means developing a clear understanding of who and what is involved.

Being Agile does not mean being unprepared or working without a plan.

These four questions must be answered if you are to have any hope of keeping your digital transformation project from running into trouble.

Who will benefit?

In his famous talk, Simon Sinek said great leaders inspire action when they start with why. When it comes to digital transformation projects, you start first with who.

When starting a digital transformation project do not start with Why, instead start with Who.

Digital transformation projects that have a clear picture of who will benefit are a long way along the path of success. These special people are the ‘Beneficiaries’ of your project and they are a particular type of stakeholder.

Often, a project will set out to directly help the customers of your business. To improve for example, their customer service or online buying experience. Customers however, are not the only type of beneficiary of a digital transformation projects. In projects that involve public services and legislative requirements who benefits from the outcomes of a project can become confusing because most Government agencies don’t have customers as typically defined in the English language. Many digital transformation projects may indeed make life easier for employees without any notable impact on services provided to the customers of the business.

It may seem that distinctions between ‘customers’, ‘end-users’, ‘regulators’ or ’employees’ is pedantic. However such distinctions become massively important when it comes to the prioritization of work and resources when a digital transformation project is deep in the grind of delivery. Without such clarity, project teams become consumed over arguments about “who this is for and why”. This leads to all sorts of problems around design, features and change management.

The question “Who will benefit” predicates everything about a digital transformation project. Confusion over this will create an ineffective project if not a complete failure to deliver anything of value.

Why do they care?

Different stakeholders have different needs. Customers don’t care how much data or how many systems an employee of a business needs to manage. The Marketing Manager does not care about the regulatory requirements for data security within the finance department. That’s someone else’s job. What matters in your project – the why – depends on who you project seeks to benefit. This is why, the why comes after the who. Make sense?

In order to understand why people care you must come to understand the problems they are dealing with. Is the problem that the systems you have are too cumbersome, or are not capable of processing the data you need or producing the reports you want. Perhaps the tools you have are more than adequate for what you need and the problem is knowing how to use them effectively.

In digital transformation projects, problems are creates from across the People, Process and Platforms of your organisation. Indeed, it is my view that digital transformation project is 30% about technology and 70% about people. For your project to be successful, you need to understand the source of the problem and why your solution is the answer. When you know that it becomes a lot easier to define success and identify change, which are the other two questions to answer.

What does success look like?

Digital transformation projects always create change. They are all about improving and upgrading the systems that run your business. It is implicit that change must also occur within every process managing by that system, or person using it. The big project issues such as scope creep and the over allocation of available resources stem from a poorly described definition of success. Defining your success means describing how you will know you have been successful in your project. It sets the target you are shooting for. It is how your project will solve the problems that the people your project seeks to help care about.

Businesses invest in projects for a reason. A project should always know that reason.

Even in Agile projects where designs and features are changing and evolving all of the time it is important to define success. Digital transformation projects are not experiments in design. You are always designing something for a reason. Before you start with the processes of initiating your project, it’s essential that you take the time to describe your expectations. With out knowing your target, you have no hope of managing your project.

What changes need to occur?

The last question you need to consider about your projects are the changes that need to occur. If you are to create your success, something is going to have to change. This is the scope of your project. It is also the thing that can be the most confronting and challenges of project management. Indeed, when changes the changes of a new technology mean that an entire team will be made redundant, people tends to ignore that reality rather than manage it. However, people are usually not so easily fooled when it comes to the security of their jobs. And so begins the internal politics that often undermine digital transformation projects.

Digital transformation means change in people, process and platforms. All three must be managed by your project.

The delivery and management of the change that your project will create makes up the entirety of your work. You ability to preparing for and implementing changes across the platforms, processes and people who are impacted will determine your success. Success in projects comes from preparation.

Are You Starting a Project?

Being Agile, iterative or responsible does not mean being unprepared or working without a plan. To the contrary, being agile in business means being about to respond to new challenges and opportunities in a way that is purposed and targeted. That is why having a clear Project Vision Statement and thought through Digital Action Planning are the foundations of success in digital transformation projects.

In digital transformation it is just as Benjamin Franklin once said:

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

If you are thinking about starting a project to improve or upgrade your business systems, then an AGContext Initial Project Consultation will help you begin in the right direction.

Carl Sudholz is the founder at AGContext and specialist in the integration of information technology within organisations. He holds two degrees, is a certified Business Analyst and a Director of the Australia Chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Carl’s expertise and experience spans 15 years serving public, private and non-for-profit organisations to take control over technology.