6 Ways to Ensure Web Development Project Success
Web development projects get so stressful, maybe you’ve been avoiding it. That’s totally understandable. When you start a web project, the eyes of the whole company fix on you. You’re not only put under a microscope, but no one wants to be left out–stakeholders come out of the woodwork to put in their two cents. The project’s success means your company will grow–no, thrive– in the new, connected world. Failure can mean a lot of things, none of which are good.
Not to stress you out even more, but some research pegs the number of failed web projects at 25%.1 That means if you’re standing in a room, casually chatting with three other people starting a web project, one of you will fail. Don’t be that guy.
There are concrete steps you can take to make success far more likely. If you never start, you’ll never get the benefits your web project can deliver. So start now, but keep these six tips in mind:
1. Conduct a thorough discovery and definition phase
Before you start, look at what you have. Identify what’s working and what’s not. Let the available data drive your decision making–study user records, site analytics, heat maps, etc. for insight. Be specific; identify pain points and decide what improvements and additions need to make it into this release and what can wait till the next. Use all of this information to create a formal “Feature Requirements” document, outlining exactly which features to include in the new site.
Spending the extra effort up front will save time and effort down the road. Also, a clear map of the journey sets the tone for the project, and it gives the team and stakeholders confidence that they’ll be in the right place at the end. This project is important, and it should be treated that way.
2. Identify and involve key decision makers early
As soon as you announce that you’re gathering requirements for your web project, don’t be surprised if you get flooded with input. The project is a big deal, and everyone will want to put their mark on it. Do yourself a favor and identify the key decision makers at the start of the project. Once the project starts, adding a new layer to the decision-making process can jeopardize the success of the whole project.
3. Define the project’s goal and scope
This is a big one. You’re not doing this project for fun… well, not just for fun. You’re doing it because you want some benefit at the end. That’s your goal. If you can achieve your goal in five steps, those five steps become the scope of the project. Guard the scope with great care.
Often mid-way through a project, new ideas crop up that seem great at the time. Soon, the team is off chasing these new ideas, and no one remembers why they’re building this web app anymore. This is called scope creep, and it happens when new features or functions get tagged onto a project that’s already in progress. Not only does scope creep crush morale, but it also destroys budgets and timelines. Before you make a change, review your Functional Requirements document to make sure the change aligns with your goal. Do yourself a favor–create a plan and stick to it.
4. Break the project into tasks and assign due dates
Now that you know the scope of the project, it’s time to break it down into manageable chunks. Tools like Jira and Trello allow the team to collaboratively break the work down, and maintain the status of each item. Some people like to break the project into tasks that can be completed in one day, others prefer each task to last a week. But breaking the project into tasks comes with a host of benefits: it allows you to map out when each task will be complete, track whether or not a project is advancing correctly, and to alert the team to bottlenecks and delays that need to be addressed.
Once you have the project broken down into tasks, create a project timeline, and assign due dates to each task. Due dates allow the team to catch mistakes early, and to consider the impact of any delays on the timeline and make adjustments as necessary. It also sets expectations for the project team, guiding communications and consequences. The project timeline acts as a vaccine against scope creep.
5. Set milestones
Milestones serve as markers for the project. Once the team successfully completes a set of tasks that make up a subsection of the larger project, they’ve passed that milestone. Celebrate milestones, but also use them as a chance to reflect on the health of the project. Take the opportunity to have a mid-mortem with the team to uncover what worked and improve what didn’t. Passing a milestone also provides a check-in point to determine whether any adjustments to timelines or priorities are necessary.
6. Prioritize communication
Communication–you’ll want to get this one right. The Project Management Institute found poor communication to be at fault in 30% of all project failures.2 Communication is the net that captures all aspects of the project, from discovery and deciding scope, to plotting milestones and progress.
No matter how detailed the plan, projects mutate during the process. We’re not talking about scope creep here. It’s more that, through the process, you find some of your assumptions were incorrect. To deliver the scope and achieve the goal, you’ll have to make adjustments.
No matter how necessary the change, if you don’t tell anyone, you’ll create confusion and frustration. Stakeholders and key decision makers may worry the project has gone off the rails, and your team may lose morale. Avoid these issues by weaving communication channels into the fabric of the project. Make sure everyone knows when, where, and how they will receive updates and change requests, as well as when to escalate important matters up the line.
Organizations have tried countless methods to accomplish the goal of effective and efficient communication. However, the concept of ‘development sprints’ has proved to be among the best. Simply put, a sprint puts time limits on effort. Whether the sprint lasts a week, two weeks, or a month, at the end of it, you should have a predetermined amount of work accomplished. And that’s the beauty of it: since each sprint completes a fixed number of tasks, the team and stakeholders will instantly know whether the project is ahead of schedule or falling behind, and can quickly make any necessary adjustments.
Web development projects often involve key players throughout your company, and each person has different priorities, needs, and constraints. You’ll need to manage the expectations of all these groups, as well as the day to day progress of your developers. However, these time-consuming activities place additional stress on your company’s internal technology team.
A high-profile web development project can benefit from the support of a highly-skilled, veteran team of developers and project managers. If your company is planning a web development project, contact us to learn more about how StudioLabs can help you reach your goals.
2http://www.pmi.org/-/media/pmi/documents/public/pdf/learning/thought-leadership/pulse/pulse-of-the-profession-2017.pdf (Appendix, p. 21)