Four tips and a cliche for a successful development project

Allison Baxter provides four tips that will keep your customer firmly at the centre of your development project.

Four tips and a cliche for a successful development project. Image by FlamingoImages, iStockphoto.com

Keeping a development project on track is a tricky business. Just getting it completed within budget can often feel like a Sisyphean task without adding the optimistic hope of it actually being a success. At ieDigital, our Customer Success Team works with our clients to try to ensure just this.

Here are four tips from our team to keep you on track, and a well worn (but true) cliche to help you get things done with style.

Know your end users – the persona workshop

When I ask,Who are you creating this service for?, I can hear the audible sighs, as it seems the answer is so obviously, Our customers, of course!. However, as the weeks and months progress and project planning starts to dig down into the weeds of compliance, server end points and requirements, the centrality of the end user so often gets pushed to one side and their needs become diluted down as technical considerations, financial squeeze, and deadlines start fighting for dominance. This is why it’s so important to start right.

At ieDigital, we recommend spending time doing the user research and collecting data that allows you to create realistic personas. These personas contain goals that should become the starting point for the key user journeys and functionality required. By keeping these key representations of your end users central to your planning and design, and maintaining their centrality throughout the development process, you can prioritise the road map of work and what should (or could) be done against the key requirements of these users.

Solve real problems – the user journeys

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

Albert Einstein

In the early stages of any engagement with our clients, we spend a lot of time asking questions. We’re not seeking in these meetings to present solutions, but rather to understand the problems and pain points our clients are facing.

We need to delve into our clients’ requirements at several levels to understand their business goals, the needs and issues of their customers, their current technical solution, what the back-office solution is capable of, and what the wider ecosystem of technology looks like. Through these discussions and workshops, we often uncover issues or questions our clients hadn’t originally identified, and we find current customer user journeys that have been so twisted to suit the technology, that they’ve become fundamentally unfit for purpose. It’s only once everything has been ‘revealed’ that any form of effective problem solving can really happen.

Following on from our persona workshop, we carry out a high-level user journey session that takes the user goals and expands these out into key journeys; essentially the things the user needs to do on the digital platform. We will often start looking at these journeys from a point that includes offline activities, and identify where the journeys are disjointed or difficult. Alongside this, we also map high-level functionality requirements, and note where calls to the back-office will be made. By doing this at an early stage in the engagement process, we can begin to flesh out what the key requirements really are and what problems need to be solved.

Know how you will measure success – the analytics and metrics

For ieDigital, it’s crucial that we build a long-lasting and mutually beneficial partnership with our clients. It requires trust to create a proper partnership, and this has to come out of our clients seeing real business value in what we agree to deliver. Therefore, one of the important things we work with our clients to identify is how we/they can measure the success of a project.

Setting measurable objectives for a project normally comes from a combination of business goals and the identified user objectives or pain points. One such goal might be to reduce call centre costs by £x (business goals) by allowing users to change their personal details online (user goal). Using our MI data and analytics from Google Tag Manager, we can track the number of users who edit their personal details online and cross-reference this with any drop in call centre activity of users requesting personal details changes across the same timeframe.

To measure success, we need to understand the business goals and accurately track progress before and after changes are made on the digital platform. Our analytics experts work with our clients to clarify realistic and measurable business goals, and then we tailor our business intelligence portal and analytics funnels to ensure the correct data is being gathered. This ongoing data is a precious commodity in helping to shape and guide the future road map of work for the digital experience.

Avoid ‘scope creep’ – the role of the product owner

Once a project is underway, we often find that people from other parts of the business get excited about what can be achieved via the digital platform, and things start to get added on to the project scope. The other way scope creep can happen is when we lose sight of the clear end user goals set through the personas, and team members start to have lots of good ideas about what else a user might want to do or could do. This kind of project bloat is great in one way, as it shows we have an engaged internal team that’s seeing the potential in this new venture. However, it can quickly go off the rails as it comes up against the finite budget and time constraints that exists in every project. This is where the project road map and an agile approach to development comes into its own.

If we are constantly assessing any new ideas or functionality against the core requirements highlighted via the user testing and persona goals, we can place any ‘nice-to-haves’ firmly at the bottom of the backlog, where they can remain to be picked up if and when there’s time or money left in the budget. If the new or amended functionality is deemed important, it can be fitted into the plan and other less important requirements can be moved further down the backlog.

It’s important to have a product owner who can work with the business to set that priority, and explain the consequences of any scope change to the budget and expected release dates. At ieDigital, we like to work closely with the client product owner to ensure there’s clear communication between both parties. This helps to avoid scope creep and ensures the project is running smoothly for everyone involved.

Rome wasn’t built in a day – the cliche

This old proverb, attributed to the English playwright John Heywood (or the Count of Flanders 300 years before) is one to remember, as is the rest of the quote that’s sometimes forgotten: “But they were laying bricks every hour.”

Plan to have a road map. In years past, projects tended to have a clear start and finish, with a waterfall approach to delivery and everything being released all at once. The delivery company and the client then parted ways until the next big project was deemed necessary. In between, there was no scope for amending or tweaking user journeys based on customer feedback, as all the money in the budget had been blown in the one Big Bang project (which, on reflection, often didn’t quite match the intended goals).

The agile work model was introduced to prevent this from happening. It’s an approach to projects where the understanding is that we build on a more continuous cycle following a roadmap of features that are decided and prioritised by clear metrics and user testing. The design follows an outside-in approach, where user needs are paramount. Shaun Weston wrote about this in his article Utility companies should collaborate to innovate.

So, if you can follow these four tips, keeping the end user firmly at the centre of your project and ensuring that any functionality is aimed at meeting their needs with well-thought-out user journeys, you should be able to use this focus to avoid the scope creep that plagues so many projects.

By having clearly identified business goals and agreed measurements of success in place, you can then plan your next steps to evolving a digital experience that delivers value to the business and a quality user experience to the customer.


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