5 critical signs that your digital project is headed for failure
- The project was started too quickly (predictive measure)
- There wasn't a single detailed source of truth regarding the project scope (predictive measure)
- Project bugs that were reported are not fixed on review (symptomatic measure)
- The agency doesn’t know how much longer development will take (symptomatic measure)
- Your agency goes radio silent (symptomatic measure)
- Predictive measure represents issues that you can avoid so long as you follow standard industry practice.
- Symptomatic-measure are alarm bells that you need to be watching for. These are problems where you will to need to step in and urgently make corrective actions in order to put your project back in its tracks.
1. You started the project too quicklyMore than 50% of the companies that come to us would like a solution 'yesterday'. This is understandable, business is a fast moving animal and to be slow is to risk losing out to your competitor. With the pressure on, the intuitive response is to demand action as quickly as possible. Where you can ideally see something tangible produced to gain comfort that progress is being made.However, starting quickly has the following consequences.
- Important details may not be properly considered.
- The project is not properly costed out. Leading to an insufficient budget for the project.
- The process is skipped in order to start quickly.
- External dependencies are not factored into planning.
- Risk management is not considered.
Process adds time and cost to projects, but decreases long-term cost, conflict, and project risk.Starting a project too quickly is a root cause of many if not most project failures. The better the planning for a project, the smoother the project will be.I believe that the slower the project starts, the faster the project will end. In the absence of proper planning, you push your problem solving into the body of the project, slowing its velocity at a time when you want to it be coasting along.Things to consider:
- Resist the temptation to push your development project into active production quickly. Consider your timeline, what is driving these demands?
- Consider whether you are pushing the agency to show something(potentially fake progress) over real project progress?
- Ask your agency - have you been given a best case or a realistic schedule? Are there contingencies factored into the project schedule?
- Is it clear who has responsibility for all components of the solution? (common issues, content entry, integration, vendor coordination)
- A staged approach
- Talk to your project owners about their key priorities, and eliminate anything not critical. Be brutal
- A tease campaign release/campaign, like a landing page with database capture.
- If it's an industry event, you could demo designs or a prototype, use the future release as an opportunity to create a reason to capture their details and follow them up)
2. You have no single source of truth for scopeA single definition of project scope is a critical success factor for any digital project. During the conception of a project, there will be lots of conversations, meetings, phone calls, and emails. If these are not brought together in a comprehensive scope of works (or functional specification) you leave yourself open to something being missed.What happens if you don't have a strong scope? You end up getting to a point in the project where you ask where the thing you wanted is, only for the agency to say that it is not in scope. You then fall back on your recollection of conversations in meetings, early-stage proposal documents, and old emails to assist in deciding what is, and is not in scope. This is a bad position to be in, and results in at least one party not being happy.You may be able to push the argument if your agency has weak processes. But an organised agency will make sure it is very clear that the scope is detailed, and the work to be completed is as what is documented. They may also say that while the request was raised, it was removed from scope due to cost or time pressures.The difficulty with scope definition is that unless you have deep experience in digital project management, you may not know what a good project scope definition looks like. Good agencies will place as much detail and clarity in their statement of works as possible.In our experience, we have found in spite of the work we put into documents to make scope clear, some clients do not properly take the time to read through the documentation. We do recommend that you take the time to review your project documentation and to ask questions if something is not clear.What you can do
|Potential Issue||How to prevent|
|You may have discussed an important feature within a meeting.||Schedule time to review scoping documents from the client. It may be useful to sit down with the agency to work through this line by line.|
|You assumed that something would be managed by the agency, or they assumed you would be doing something||If you have prepared a brief, and you are signing off on a statement of works. Print out a copy of your brief and tick off each element you need are included in the final document. The agency will have the position that if it's not in the scope, it won't be done.|
|It can be difficult to identify what is not included in a list of items than to identify what should not.||Take notes from your scoping meetings, and email any key points back to the agency. Identifying correct and incorrect inclusions is easy, what you want to do is identify commissions.|
3. The reported project bugs are not fixed on reviewThis is a profound issue that demonstrates a serious issue with the agency’s quality control mechanisms. There is no practical way to prevent this, other than to ask your agency what their quality control measures are at the start of the engagement. But still, talking the talk is easier than walking the talk.The complexity with digital is that it is heavily interconnected. Fixing a problem in one place can create a problem somewhere else. This happens, but you don't want to be playing whack-a-mole.Should this problem repeatedly happen, this is indicating a worst case scenario for your project - in order to make sure that you receive a properly constructed system you are going to have to perform a complete system test on every single release of the website. This is a profoundly time-consuming activity, and I hope you don't have anything better to do.What you can do:
- Suggest your agency get an independent staff member to check the work
- Ensure there is a consolidated centrally managed list of bugs, email is the worst place to be managing bug lists
4. Your agency goes quietThere is a period of time when your agency won't have much to say to you because they have stuff going on internally with your project. Such as when primary development starts, everything has been set up and now things need to get done.But if you are near the end of the project, and you have already had a few rounds of testing and communication has slowed to a trickle, this is a huge warning sign.This usually means the agency is in trouble. Either the project is over budget internally, or they have no idea how much longer the project will take. The agency potentially may have put your project on hold in order to get through other work for cash flow. Working on a large over-budget project in a smaller agency can be suicide. Once a project goes over budget at an agency, this starts to crash the rest of their production and cash flow.The worst thing about this situation is that you have no idea what is going on. And have no capacity to manage the situation. This also means you are about to spend a whole lot more time managing the agency and vetting what they are producing.How to correct this situation:
- Push your agency to provide some kind of timeline for completion, a realistic one. If it looks like they aren't going to hit the timeline, make sure they tell you as soon as that looks like a possibility.
- Suggest your agency provide periodic updates, regardless of perceived progression.
5. The agency doesn't know how much longer development will takeAny agency with any degree of experience knows how to scope, quantity and map out the effort required to complete a project.So, if your queries of timeline are met with a shrug, this is a black flag and requires an immediate intervention as your agency has lost control of their ability to manage the project.What you can do You will need to get your agency to stop and take stock of everything that is yet to be complete, with an estimate on how much longer these tasks will take. They will need to be encouraged to be as realistic as possible about their estimates. There will be a tendency to try and play down the problem, rather than having the extremely awkward conversation about how bad things actually are.
Bottom line - Be careful who you chooseThese are problems that I have seen in my time, but there’s no guarantee this will happen to you. Choosing an agency with a proven history of delivery can eliminate a lot of the risk of dealing with toxic projects.It can be a profoundly stressful situation to be caught in a bad project that inevitably can make you look bad, even if you are not at fault. Use our advice to try and make sure you get your project off on the right foot, and if you see the warning signs, be sure to act promptly.
About Lamb AgencyLamb Agency is an industry-leading provider of digital solutions. We have worked on many complicated digital projects for companies like Lite n Easy, Virgin Australia, National Storage, and Dominos Pizza.
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