In the realm of IT projects, it is safe to say that command and control project management is dead. Or at least it should be. The concept of unilateral decision-making should lie dead and buried in the early 1990s. As numerous technology verticals have discovered, innovation can spring from anywhere, and a rigid system only serves to stifle the cultivation of new ideas, which are one of the most cherished resources for product development today.
But command and control is only one antiquated example of how to properly manage projects in the digital space. Even the traditional project management method – now commonly referred to as waterfall – has glaring flaws for modern digital products. To be clear, the waterfall method of project management involves:
- Gathering requirements
- Designing a product
- Building the product
For the goal of developing a product with users specifically, the waterfall methodology has several constraints that limit productivity. First, the sequential method of completing parts of the project makes mid-course correction nearly impossible. The work is done in silos and flows downward to other departments once it’s finished. No one tests to make sure the very concept, much less the execution, of the project, is still valid. Instead, everyone focuses specifically on completing their part of the project and then moves on.
So if a sequential methodology doesn’t work well for digital projects, what does?
An effective approach for digital project managers involves a combination of Lean and Agile methodologies. Agile for the optimal completion of a project, and Lean to avoid the too common occurrence of exceeding the project budget. Many of the most innovative, and most successful, companies in the digital space employ a combination of these two methods, so much so that the lines between the two are beginning to blur.
The Agile method involves building a minimum viable product (MVP) and then testing that product with users to receive feedback and iterate as quickly as possible. In this way, the Agile method consistently tests the requirements set forth at the beginning of the project and adjusts accordingly. In contrast to the Traditional method, Agile encourages constant testing and even constant change. Consequently, time isn’t wasted on work that either has obvious flaws or is no longer necessary.
Managing digital projects means preparing for constant change — in some cases even searching for it — in pursuit of shaping your project to the standards of your audience. For example, in digital marketing, it’s no longer enough to simply produce content and publish it. You need to be testing the effectiveness of each piece of content you produce, and adjusting your editorial calendar — which itself should be viewed as an ongoing project rather than a static list — throughout the process, and make changes accordingly.
Due to the reach of their medium, digital projects should nearly always have access to user data, so test the different aspects of your project as often as possible.
Agile also speeds time to market, which is a huge metric for technology projects. This methodology encourages the use of cross-functional teams that can work on different aspects of the project. For managing digital projects, this means you should create a team that strikes a balance between specialists and team members with a more eclectic skill set. This ensures that if some departments complete their work more quickly, they can still bring value to other aspects of the project.
Returning to digital marketing, it behooves you to have a front-end developer who also can optimize for conversions as well as for search engines, rather than a developer who’s limited to one area.
Lean and Agile methodologies overlap a great deal, but at its core, Lean seeks to maximize customer value while minimizing resource waste. The insights you gain from your testing will not only identify areas to improve your market fit but will also show you where to cut unnecessary spending.
Digital projects can evolve quickly, and Lean methodology admonishes you to interpret test data as resources for improving your project’s value as well as identifying sinkholes that are costing you money. If you’re only using existing resources to complete your digital project –otherwise known as bootstrapping — applying a Lean mentality is paramount.
And if your testing reveals that something significant in the project isn’t working out — perhaps your competitors beat your app to market, or users can’t stand the primary function of your new web page — it’s time to pivot. Popularized in concert with Lean and Agile methodologies, pivoting entails quickly realigning your strategy once you’ve identified a significant flaw in your project.
Pivoting has become crucial to digital projects due to the rate of change in the industry. To do it right, you have to avoid falling prey to the Concord Fallacy, which describes the need to continue in a particular direction because you have already invested “X” amount of time, money, etc. That’s not a good strategy for digital projects. Change is a constant, and you need to accept that failure is a learning experience.
It’s at a scale where Lean methodology has an advantage over an Agile approach. Lean methods demand that project work is organized into value streams that draw from specific resources only as demanded. If your organization is running multiple projects in a lean system, each project will only tap different departments as required. One department won’t constantly stay tied to a project if the workload doesn’t demand it, saving valuable resources and distributing them more efficiently.
For developing a new web application, Lean methodology entails not calling on different aspects of your content team until they’re needed. Let your writer’s stay focus on other projects, and only bring them in to write copy once the wire-frame and development concepts are done.
Applying Lean and Agile principles to projects is quickly becoming standard for managers in the digital space. However, it’s important to remember that tools are important, so implementing a top project management software should be a priority. By breaking down many of the old barriers of sequential work and over-utilization of resources, digital project managers continue to complete more with fewer resources.