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Seven tips for managing digital projects

  • By 3chillies

Good project management is critical for the delivery of digital projects. Want a great website, app or CMS upgrade? Then you’ll need to have a robust approach to project management. As a digital agency, we always need to ensure we are delivering for our clients on time, on budget and at the agreed scope, and project management plays an essential role in making that happen. 

Project management involves using methodologies, following processes and leveraging different tools. It’s also about strong communication, good decision-making and having the right mindset.  Here are seven tips we’ve found that have contributed to the success of digital projects that we’ve carried out here at 3Chillies.

1. Spend money on discovery and scoping

The best digital projects invariably involve a discovery and scoping phase. Discovery and scoping usually means gathering and reviewing a range of data to help define a project – including any requirements and user research – and then scoping out the detail of what the development might be, as well as its feasibility and cost. If the scoping is detailed, it can even cross over with Proof of Concept work.

But scoping and discovery takes time, involves investigation and requires judgement. When it is done properly it helps to:

  • Plan the stages and structure of your project.
  • Provide the opportunity for more precise costs and timelines.
  • Uncover issues, risk and critical dependencies.
  • Identify any early decisions that need to be made.
  • Establish realistic expectations.
  • Set you up for project success from early on.

Always allocate budget to ensure that discovery and scoping is done properly. We sometimes find it can be useful to run scoping as a separate project in its own right, with a dedicated Statement of Work. This ensures scoping is given the priority it really needs. 

2. Provide clarity on Acceptance Criteria

The output of a digital project often hinges on small details and while it’s critical that everyone is working from the same page, some misunderstandings are inevitable and should be expected. One of the jobs for a PM is to try and eliminate the risk and impact of any of these, ideally teasing any potential misunderstandings out early so they can be ironed out to provide the best way forward.

We’ve consistently found that Acceptance Criteria are a great way to ensure everybody has a common understanding of what is going to be delivered and what the expected behavoiur relating to a piece of functionality will be. 

The best approach is when Acceptance Criteria are worked in collaboration between development design and client teams, with everything clearly documented and everyone fully understanding what specific AC actually mean. This may involve not only spending adequate time on them, but also having review sessions with everybody on board to explain what an AC means to different stakeholders. 

There is room for confusion. If marketing teams are defining the AC, it can mean that developers don’t always fully understand what is actually meant. If IT professionals are defining the AC, then the marketing team may equally be scratching their heads. 

Having one or even two review sessions, seeking clarification on any questions and making necessary amends on the AC is an excellent way to take a thorough, process-lead and non-confrontational approach to defining exactly what is expected, and marrying what realistic development with customer expectations. 

3. Take a joined-up approach with your design and developers

Managing digital projects can be complex when you have multiple agencies working on a project, and often there is a lot of connecting the dots and establishing smooth routes for communication. It is critical that there is a joined-up approach between your design team and your developers, both frontend and backend. Here there are opportunities for disconnection:

  • Designs that are derived without alignment with what is possible in the CMS or which require significant customization that may not be necessary.
  • Designs that imply functionality but lack more detail.
  • Functionality and coding that doesn’t actually match the intended design.
  • Missing designs or missing details, such as specific pixelation and colour palette information
  • And more!

At 3Chillies we don’t have our own design team but work with different partners with whom we are used to working with.  Our PMs always try to make sure that there is frequent and early contact between designers and developers to ensure a unified and joined-up approach. 

4. Have regular check-ins in the diary even if you don’t need them

In a blog article from November 2022, 3Chillies CEO Paul Spearman outlined the importance of good communication for successful relationships and delivery, particularly for projects involving multiple parties. 

Having regular, diarised check-ins as part of a project is always useful and allows good communication to take place. Even if there is nothing to report and a catch-up gets cancelled because it doesn’t need to take place, or the check-in is just a short ten-minute stand-up, at least there is always time set aside in people’s diaries to discuss any issues that arise.  People get very busy and can be hard to get hold of; that’s when communication can tend to break down and lead to misunderstandings. Regular catch-ups circumvent this and puts communication at the heart of the project. 

5. Provide warning signs early

Another related aspect of good communication is to highlight any risks, issues or challenges as early as possible. It’s part of a PM’s role to do this, and sometimes it involves saying things that people don’t necessarily want to hear. However, it’s always best to say things early and upfront before a small issue or risk that can easily be mitigated for becomes a significantly larger and more serious issue. 

As we know, project don’t always run smoothly and can change course along the way. Early sight of this, impact analysis and communication to project stakeholder is key to delivering a successful project.

6. Put your video cameras on if you can

These days most project meetings – particularly if they involve members of more than one agency – are likely to be done online. If you are a remote team, we have found having video cameras on can help support better communication and foster trust, with a greater sense of transparency. Sometimes, there may be good reasons for people not to want to put cameras on, but overall, we’ve always found projects run more smoothly and communication flows better when people can see each other. 

7. Never forget projects are about people

Yes, project management is about processes, methodologies and systems, but more than anything it’s about people. When there are many moving parts, deadlines approaching and pressure to deliver, it can be easy to forget that we’re all human.  

All projects run into problems and issues, and it’s a PM’s job to try to prevent and resolve them. Having empathy for project members, trying to understand things from an individual’s perspective, being able to listen and having strong communication are all elements that can help make a project go smoothly. And that all starts with the premise that projects are about people.

Project management is key for digital success

Good project management is a pre-requisite for digital success. We hope you’ve found some of these tips useful. If you’d like to discuss how to manage your digital projects, or keep on having digital projects that don’t go as smoothly as they should do, then get in touch.

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