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Digital Projects
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Ultimate Guide to Digital Projects

Welcome to the Ultimate Guide to Digital Projects! Here you will find everything you need to kickstart your new digital project—from purpose, pitching, and setup to work methods, reporting, and common mistakes to avoid.

Table of contents

  1. What is a digital project?
  2. The purpose of a digital project
  3. Different kinds of digital projects
  4. Pitching a digital project
  5. Setting up a digital project
  6. Finding the right people
  7. Finding the right tools
  8. Doing the work
  9. Reporting and evaluation
  10. The end of a digital project
  11. Common mistakes to avoid

Want to bring this guide with you, print it out, or download it to your local drive? Download our polished PDF version of the ultimate guide to digital projects!

What is a digital project?

Whenever your organisation decides to start, change, improve, or scrap a product, service, or function, chances are that you will commence a project. And as our administrative tools today are wholly run on computers, chances are that your project will be digital.

But what are the best practices of managing a digital project? How should you prepare yourself and your team? What is the step-by-step process on which to lead a digital project to success?

Definition of a digital project

These and many more questions will be answered in this compact, essential, and ultimate guide to digital projects.

So, let’s start at the beginning, with a definition. This assures that we are all on the same page and are discussing the same things—without ambiguous, confusing, or unclear use of terms.

Definition of a digital project

A digital project is an individual or collaborative undertaking carefully planned to achieve an aim in introducing, transforming, or managing digital strategies and operations in or with your organisation.

Limitations of this guide

Even though this is an ultimate guide, it cannot cover everything. There are hundreds of books on project management, and as this is not a book, we simply aim to cover the essentials of digital projects—i.e. what you really need to know in order to get started.

The purpose of a digital project

The purpose, i.e. the aim or goal of a digital project should align with the broader purpose of your organisation. There’s nothing worse—in this context—to perform actions aimlessly, to wander around every day without any kind of goal or purpose.

This lack of sense will demotivate you and your co-workers, making you feel you’re doing pointless activities, or doing nothing at all. The result will be worse performance, apathy, and those red numbers.

Purpose of a digital project

So, not just for the sake of your organisation’s bottom line, but for your own sake, you should identify or originate a sound purpose for your project. It might be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are we trying to achieve with our organisation?
  • What am I trying to achieve within my organisation?
  • Why are we doing it?
  • How will we go about in general to achieve our goals?
  • How will we go about achieving a specific goal?
  • What are we doing now, and can anything be done better?
  • What specific aim will this particular project have?

Having a purpose is essential. Not just for your organisation, but first and foremost for yourself—so you can know what you want, why you want it, what you should do, and how you should do it. It makes you that much happier, goal-driven, ambitious, and efficient.

Start with identifying or building a purpose—without it you are lost.

Different kinds of digital projects

There are more than one kind of digital project. Just like every industry, organisation, and co-worker is unique, so is the related digital project.

Different kinds of digital projects

Factors determining project type

Many factors play a role in determining what kind of digital project you are facing. Project management solution Sinnaps mentions the following factors:

Project scope

The reach, scale, and impact of a project, specifying the work details, number of people, and factors for success. Accordingly, projects can be big or small.

Timeframe

Description of a project and even project parts from initiation to completion, or result evaluation. The timeframe determines whether the project or its parts will be short, long, continuous, or finite.

Organisation

An essential part of project planning, organisation refers to how tasks and activities are organised and prioritised. Organisation is also an important factor in classifying the type of project.

Cost

A project can be relatively cheap or very expensive, depending on the scope, timeframe, and organisation. The cost sums up these factors nicely and can help you clarify your classification further.

Communication

How you and your co-workers communicate—face to face, video call, chat, email—can help determine whether the project is within a single department, across different departments, across different organisations, across different geographies, and so on. 

Stakeholders

The number of involved stakeholders can greatly shape the scope of a project. The larger the project is in terms of cost and resources, the more stakeholders are likely to be involved.

Task assignation

The type of project is also impacted by how different tasks and activities are assigned to team members—whether the responsibility is individually or collectively defined. In most cases, a project manager is responsible for the overall assignments and progress.

Examples of wide projects

Digital transformation is an example of large, continuous digital projects many industries and businesses face in the present day. Andrew Annacone, Managing Partner at TechNexus Venture Collaborative, mentions four types of digital transformation projects:

Process transformation

Modern technology, like analytics, APIs, and machine learning, have enabled organisations to reinvent their business processes—thereby lowering costs, reducing cycle times, or increasing quality.

Business model transformation

Digital technologies can also transform the entire business model itself—the fundamental building blocks of how value is generated in the industry. Creating value in new ways, like Uber did for the taxi business and Airbnb did for the hotel industry, is a comprehensive project involving many stakeholders and business units.

Domain transformation

Expanding into another industry, whether established or entirely new due to the digital transformation, is another example of a large-scale project undertaken by the likes of the once online bookstore Amazon launching the successful cloud computing/infrastructure service AWS.

Cultural/organisational transformation

In order to stay alive in today’s environment, with shifting consumer behaviour, the most visionary organisations embrace a culture of innovation. A full, long-term digital transformation requires other mindsets, processes, and skills than yesterday, thus starting projects which aim to shift to agile workflows, testing and learning, decentralised decision-making, and so forth.

Examples of more narrow projects

In your role as a digital manager, you will most likely face several smaller projects in your organisation, whether finite or continuous. Project planning vendor TeamGantt lists the following examples:

Software and mobile app development

Developing an application can be a fairly straightforward process or a more advanced one, depending on the complexity of the proposed product. In any case, the goal is fairly clear and the project team works toward the release of the given software.

Website design and development

This kind of project is somewhat similar to software and app development, but with some differences in product attributes. A noteworthy aspect is the introduction of progressive web apps, which merge the traditionally separate website and mobile app. Upgrading your CMS is another example of web development.

Digital marketing campaigns

The release of a new product or service, a new report, a change in the organisation, or the attempt to raise awareness of any given issue—they all call for a digital marketing campaign. Such campaigns can consist of a large number of assets, events, and involved people, thereby requiring the firm hand of a project manager.

UX/UI design

Creating great user experience and user interfaces is an ongoing struggle, which calls for projects aimed at improving such matters for end users and other stakeholders.

Content strategy

Crafting a content strategy in line with the broader organisational strategy is another example of a project, which may involve the CEO, CMO, marketing managers, and other stakeholders.

SEO/SEM

Improving search engine optimisation and search engine marketing involves a process of identifying market trends, keywords, pain points, tool acquisition, work setup, and so on, which leads to another kind of project than the ones mentioned above.

Common denominators

Rather than fragmenting the following guide with bits and pieces relevant for different kinds of digital projects, we will go through points relevant for all types—based on their common denominators.

These denominators are implicit in the structure of the guide, like pitching, setup, asset retrieval, the actual work, improving, and reporting.

Pitching a digital project

Regardless of the size and scope of the digital project, you need to plan ahead and at least pitch the digital project in one way or another. The best way to do this is to build a business case, understand your stakeholders, and to get a proof of concept up and running.

Pitching a digital project

Build a business case

A business case is a short, essential, and purposeful document showcasing how your proposed project can support your business needs. The business case should include advantages and disadvantages, and capture both quantifiable and non-quantifiable characteristics of the project.

An essential structure of a business case can look like this:

Executive summary

Provide an essential overview of the issues you want to address, what goal you want to reach, what benefits your organisation can expect, and what specific actions will be performed.

Situation

Describe your current context, what challenges and opportunities it creates, and what impact this has on your organisation.

Benefits and limitations

Present both financial and non-financial benefits of the proposal for your organisation, as well as any potential and actual limitations.

Proposed solutions

Identify potential solutions—e.g. CMSs or digital experience platforms—to your challenges, and provide substantial details for your stakeholders with a range of possible options.

Impacts

List what stakeholders and processes will be impacted by the solution, as well as detailing side-effects.

Outline plan

Document the implementation approach, timeline, and required resources—all in logical stages.

Market assessment

Consider political, economic, sociological, technological, and legal factors in your industry, in order to demonstrate a thorough understanding of your key market.

Governance

Clarify project ownership, project leadership and management, as well as budget, oversight process, and reporting.

Financial analysis

Outline the forecasted costs and benefits, both total and spend profile over time—together with ROI and NPV.

Risks assessment

A more in-depth consideration of risks and limitations, where you can summarise all significant risks and opportunities, and how they will be managed.

Understand your stakeholders

Your stakeholders can be anyone from the C suite and legal department to business units and marketing. Here are four common stakeholder groups in relation to digital projects, and what problems they may be thinking about.

Business owner

The management of your organisation can take on various forms, but common to them all is a requirement to see business benefits with your digital project. Your business owner wants a scalable project—it needs to be flexible enough to change in accordance with the industry trends. Your project also needs to be predictable—meaning you have thoroughly investigated both potential advantages and disadvantages. Finally, the business owner is always assessing the project’s time to market—how long it takes from being a theory or under production to an actual, working product.

IT

The IT department, including the CIO and the developers, would most often prefer access to resources and/or vendors on the chosen technology. IT also likes to know the total cost of ownership, the scalability of the product, as well as its resilience, operations requirements, and security.

Editors

Web or content editors have other requirements than IT, naturally. Editors in general want flexibility, usability, access control, workflow support, and analytics integrations in their digital solutions of choice.

Marketing

Marketing can be yet another group whose requirements you have to bear in mind when building a business case for your digital project. They often would like to see features like campaign support, segmentation support, analytics, and CRM integration in the digital solution.

Bonus: Enable a quick PoC

If your leadership, seniors, stakeholders, or all of them appear to be lukewarm toward a proposed solution, you should try to instigate a proof of concept (PoC) in order to quickly show potential value. A PoC demonstrates an idea’s feasibility or practical potential, is usually small, and may not be complete.

Most vendors on your shortlist will be happy to oblige to deliver a PoC. With a PoC you can collaborate closely with the vendor and an eventual solution partner, and build a custom solution for your exact needs.

In this way, a PoC is more valuable than a demo. You can really get into the nitty gritty details on the implementation process, the collaboration with the different actors, and how well the product can actually solve your tasks. This should give your stakeholders a strong basis for greenlighting or turning down your project proposal.

Setting up a digital project

Your proposal has been approved and the digital project is moving forward. Now it’s time to set up the formalities.

Setting up a digital project

Agree on purpose and KPIs

As mentioned above, having a purpose is so important for your digital project that you can’t really start without it. Involve the relevant people from top to bottom (or vice versa), and create an explicit document where the purpose of the project is stated.

The second part of this stage is to state your key performance indicators, or KPIs. A KPI is a type of performance measurement, and can help you evaluate the success of the project. ClearPoint Strategy offers a list of common KPIs, like:

  • Profit
  • Cost
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV)
  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
  • Net promoter score (NPS)
  • Cash flow from financing activities
  • Average annual expenses to serve one customer
  • EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation)
  • Innovation spending

There are many other KPIs, it all depends on the specific needs of your project and your organisation. Choose the ones that make most sense in the limited scope of your project.

Enable a prime mover

Every organisation and project needs a prime mover to inspire other co-workers and to get things done. You should work towards finding and enabling a skilled person of conviction, who has the ability to perform decisions in your project or organisation as a whole.

If you don't have such a person onboard, the results might become what many people dread in any project attempting to be effective: Red tape and watered down democracy—where everyone gets a say in the direction, processes are slow, and actions lead nowhere.

To achieve success in your projects, you need a person in a good architectural role, able to make decisions in functionality and in the technical realm. Great product management skills is also a highly sought-after bonus.

Set up documentation and a quality system

Before embarking on an exciting project journey it’s easy to ignore the “boring” stuff in the form of documentation. However, a well-executed and thorough documentation is of vital importance for your project, your co-workers, audits, learning points, and future gains.

A great documentation practice can help you do the following:

  • See what was done, by whom, and when
  • Learn why specific measures were taken, and others not
  • See the source code/material/recipe of a solution
  • Control partner actions in regard to invoicing
  • Understand learning points
  • Review progress
  • Estimate future cost

In relation to great documentation comes a quality system. This is a specific implementation of quality concepts, standards, methodologies, and tools, for the purpose of achieving quality-related goals—like maintaining verifiable documentation.

A quality management system ensures that an organisation, product or service is consistent. It usually has four main components: quality planning, quality assurance, quality control, and quality improvement. Quality management is thus focused not only on product and service quality, but also on the means to achieve it.

The purpose of this is to ensure that no actions or legal requirements are missed in the course of a project, and that you keep a consistent quality of your work.

Set up timeline and process

It is hardly a secret to know that good planning is key to a successful endeavour. If you want your digital project to succeed, the best solution is to plan in advance by setting up a timeline and process outline.

What is expected to happen when? What are the different milestones? What actions will be recurring, and what actions will represent single incidents? A timeline may look like this hypothetical example:

Time

Action

Responsible

Weeks 1–2

Investigation and research

Jill

Week 3

Review and decision

Chris

Weeks 4–5

Testing

Claire

Week 6

Review and decision

Chris

Weeks 7–10

Implementation

Jill

Week 11

Evaluation

Leon

A process may look like this:

Topic

Action

Responsible

Date

Done

Learnings

Design

Take photos of staff

Jill

2020-09-19

✔️

Need another reflector.

Template

Build news article template

Chris

2020-09-21

✔️

Encountered a CSS problem.

Content

Write blog post

Claire

2020-09-29

 

In the stage of setting up a timeline and process, you can go by essentials or go as detailed as needed—as long as the timeline and process outline acts as helpful tools for you and your team in the weeks to come. Invite your co-workers to a session where you go through the points, and decide whether or not it is clear and actionable.

Don’t forget scaling

Scalability is the ability to grow or downsize an enterprise in accordance with changing circumstances. If, for instance, you are implementing a new reporting system in your corporation, you can start small in just one department. If the project turns out to be a success, you can then scale it up to impact more departments. But this presupposes that your project is built to scale from the beginning.

What scaling means is that you have a modular core in your project with the option to add or remove more assets and/or manpower. The core drives the project with a purpose, timeline, and processes, and can receive or remove additional functions seamlessly as the circumstances dictate—like additional coding power, legal assessment, or simply more money.

So, make sure you craft a project that can scale easily—both up and down.

Finding the right people

An important part of the project preparation and ongoing maintenance is to find and keep the right people to do the right tasks at any given time.

Finding the right people

Internal vs. external

Depending on the size and scope of your project, you most likely need to involve other people. In a very small and limited project it may suffice to involve only yourself and a few other co-workers, but in large-scale projects, you may need to hire additional resources, outsource some functions, or even cooperate with external companies like agencies and systems integrators.

Of course, you will know your own situation best. But some questions may be helpful:

  • Do we have the necessary skills in-house?
  • Do we need to hire talents or should we collaborate with an agency?
  • What is the cost-benefit relation between hiring and outsourcing?
  • For how long do we need the specified skill set?
  • Is the project ongoing or a single event?

Team skills

Regardless of whether you will include in-house co-workers, outsource, or hire/collaborate with one or more solutions partners or agencies, you still need certain skills in regard to your digital project.

The most common skills you need for a digital project are:

Project management

A project manager will oversee the entire project. They’re responsible for deadlines, KPIs, and reporting, as well as arranging follow-ups with each project member.

Solution architecture

With overall responsibility for an eventual digital solution you’re implementing, this team member will need specific digital skills, a knowledge of UX, and the experience to consult on final solutions and business strategy.

UX design

UX designers have to create product and service design that takes into consideration both the brand profile and the user experience. They should also be able to deliver HTML and CSS to the developers.

Web development

Web developers are able to implement designs using templating and popular UI frameworks, so it’s important that they’re trained and certified on a given solution.

Back-end development

Back-end development involves more heavy lifting, including the ability to integrate the work the front-end developers do into the back-end system. A developer will need to be trained and certified on your eventual new solution.

Vendor expertise

To ensure your project runs as smoothly as possible, vendor expertise can be helpful. A vendor will advise on best practice to speed up the project and improve the experience of the people working on the solution on a day-to-day basis.

Note that it’s not always possible to get the help of a vendor as they have limited resources, but grab one if you can.

Continuous deployment

Developers don’t just need to write code – they need to deploy it on a server too. Look for developers with skills in continuous deployment, including automated testing for code.

Content production / web editing

If the digital project requires it, you will need team members with the ability to produce the actual content for your customers and users. This includes copywriters, web editors, and graphic designers. As well as being able to create content, they should all be trained in your given solution.

Accessibility / SEO

To make sure your solution is experienced by as many people as possible, accessibility and SEO may be an important consideration. Look for an expert who’s well-versed in the WCAG standard, as well as SEO best practices.

Testing

Testing expertise will help make sure the final solution is secure, accessible, and fulfils all of its functional requirements, as well as being free of any bugs before launch.

Operations

Even if your digital project is finished, you’ll need someone to operate and maintain the servers and offerings. This could be your IT department, your solution partners, or the vendor if they offer such services.

Finding the right tools

Without tools, we humans would be left scraping the dirt off the ground with our bare and rapidly deteriorating hands. Luckily, through our human mind we have thought and crafted countless tools to use in countless situations, but any tool cannot be used in any situation.

Finding the right tools

How to choose digital tools

Before embarking on a quest to find the right tools, keep in mind two rules of thumb:

  1. Don’t go with the first and the best
  2. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

While researching tools, the first one you happen to stumble upon may seem great and exciting in fulfilling your tasks, but if you haven’t researched any other tools you don’t necessarily know what you have missed in terms of functionality, learning curve, surrounding community, and so forth. Most research processes end up with at least two alternatives where you can compare pros and cons.

Also, if you already have a tool you are not entirely satisfied with, remember that even though other tools may seem fresher or simply different, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the tool will make you and your team more efficient. In this situation, you will do best if you research several tools and compare them against each other and your initial tool with the requirements you have for solving your tasks efficiently.

Digital platform

One of the most important digital tools you will be working with is your digital platform. This creature goes by many names due to its many-faceted nature, but the ones most common are: content management system (CMS), digital experience platform (DXP), and web experience management (WEM).

The CMS is the engine behind your organisation’s digital experiences. In a world where an increasing amount of industries and businesses expect their revenues to be more and more dominated by digital, having a future-proof and flexible digital platform will keep you ahead of your competition and away from an early business grave.

Choosing the right CMS for your organisation can help you increase your revenue, make you more efficient, and keep your customers happy. In other words, it can be the key to your long-term success.

However, a digital platform can be a costly, but fundamental tool your organisation will have to work with at least the next 5–10 years. Selecting the right one is therefore not a matter to be treated lightly. Depending on the size and scope of your organisation and digital experiences, here is a suggested process to find and choose the right CMS:

  • Public forum with relevant agencies and vendors
  • Issuing a tender
  • Creating a longlist
  • Researching all candidates on the longlist and comparing with your requirements
  • Creating a shortlist
  • Inviting shortlist candidates to perform a PoC
  • Final assessment and verdict

Marketing enhancement tools

By its nature, a CMS/digital platform should be lightweight and flexible. Why? So you can choose exactly the marketing tools you love to integrate with it. Of course, many vendors offer a full marketing suite natively with their product, which may seem easy or reassuring. But this is not everyone’s preferred cup of tea.

Combining your CMS with powerful marketing tools is a great way of building a seamless digital experience for your customers. Look for a digital platform that features ready-made integrations with analytics tools, marketing automation tools, SEO tools, A/B testing tools, and more. A good CMS knows it’s limitations and rather than building their own tools for all of these functions, it provides integrations with best-of-breed tools that are easily accessible.

Microservices

A technical issue you may consider in relation to the architecture of your digital platform and the modularity of best-of-breed marketing tools, is microservices. These are a collection of separate services in an application that are highly maintainable and testable, loosely coupled, independently deployed, and organised around business capabilities.

Examples of microservices can be an insurance calculator, an API for an order, components of a website (like a box for showing a form), or server-side functionality (like a scheduled task).

Microservices

Microservices fit into modern cloud infrastructure, with many smaller components running that are easier to test, deploy, and maintain for DevOps. As they consist of smaller pieces, microservices allow your co-workers to be more autonomous, in that they can make changes easier without interfering with other parts of your digital project.

Add to this a modular nature, no single points of failure, that your developers can start building solutions faster, and scaling at will, and microservices may look irresistible. However, be mindful of possible caveats—like poor architecture construction, a more fragmentary nature, and possibly more difficult testing.

Like all tools, you should carefully consider whether or not microservices fit your organisation.

Doing the work

After doing so much preparation, it’s finally time to do the actual work! And believe it or not—this is the most important step in a digital project. Here you will do all the heavy lifting: you will build that new website, develop a new app, implement the new intranet, or get that new service up and running.

Doing the work

So, let’s roll up the sleeves and get down to business.

Project phases

Any given digital project may be divided into phases, and the content of these may vary wildly according to what you’re trying to achieve, the scope of your project, the nature of your industry, and so on. However, here are three common phases and what you can expect from them.

Early project phase

This early phase usually includes planning meetings, get-to-know-each-other sessions, technology setup, training, and the initiation of coding, writing, and other productive endeavours.

During project

This is the main phase, where the basics have been set up, where your co-workers develop, write, test, or analyse the various tasks given to them, while managers continuously monitor and control results. This phase can take everything from a few days to several months, or even years.

Late project phase

Towards the end of the digital project, there are more results and finished products—thus leading to more reviews, testing, quality assessments, and re-iterations. Here you and your team wrap it all up, making ready to launch, publish, or deliver the end product.

Approaches to digital projects

While all digital projects must have an Aristotelian structure of a beginning, a middle, and an end, the approach to how work is done within this framework can take many different forms. Enterprise Architect Mohamed Sami lists the following types:

Waterfall model

The waterfall model is a breakdown of project activities into linear sequential phases, where each phase depends on the deliverables of the previous one and corresponds to a specialisation of tasks.

Waterfall model

V-shaped model

As an extension of the waterfall model, the V-shaped model bends the process steps upwards after the coding phase, to form a V shape. The model demonstrates the relationships between each phase of the development life cycle and its associated phase of testing. The horizontal axis represents time or project completeness (left-to-right), while the vertical axis represents the level of abstraction (top-to-down).

V shaped model

Prototyping model

A prototype typically simulates only a few aspects of the final product and may be completely different from it, but the project team can get valuable feedback from users early in the project. There are several variants, including throwaway, evolutionary, incremental, and extreme.

Spiral method (SDM)

The spiral model is risk-driven and based on the unique risk patterns of a given project. It guides a team to adopt elements of one or more process models, such as incremental, waterfall, or evolutionary prototyping.

Spiral model (SDM)

Iterative and incremental method

Iterative and incremental development is any combination of both iterative design or iterative method and incremental build model for development. Built to overcome the weaknesses of the waterfall model, the iterative and incremental method starts with planning, and continues with repeated, iterative cycles—before ending with deployment.

Iterative and incremental method

Agile

Agile is a widespread and popular approach to digital project management, and as a result, many teams around the globe employ the Agile approach when initiating a digital project.

Agile can be defined as a set of values and principles where work processes, methods, collaboration, and delivery are continuously improved and adapted to any changing context. The main point with Agile is to do small steps and deploy continuously, as opposed to the standard waterfall method, mentioned above.

Agile

Agile is all about empowering individuals, building functional products, emphasising collaboration, and responding to changing circumstances. This is contrasted to focusing on processes and tools, providing comprehensive documentation, negotiating contracts endlessly, and sticking to the plan no matter what.

However, Agile is not a methodology, but a rule set meant to guide you in choosing the right methods and procedures for your team. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Scrum: Sprint-based approach where a small team meets regularly with e.g. stand-ups to discuss current tasks and obstacles
  • Kanban: Visual representations of tasks, moving through predetermined stages to track progress and identify obstacles
  • Adaptive project framework (APF): Work is done and evaluated in stages
  • Extreme project management (XPM): Plan, budget, and final delivery can be altered to fit changing requirements at any time

 

Whatever approach you choose for your digital project management, be sure to assess carefully and involve your co-workers to learn about their preferences. Nothing is set in stone, and you might end up combining principles from different approaches, if that suits your purposes.

Acquire early gains

Making your digital project successful depends on many factors, and acquiring early gains can be one of them. This is vital for mainly three reasons:

  1. Morale is important to keep people motivated to excel at their work, and something which boosts morale exquisitely is an early gain in your digital project. If you for instance launch a successful campaign at the beginning of your project tenure, you enable pride in your co-workers and organisation
  2. Not only will an early gain kickstart your project and garner optimism, it will also spawn long term effects. A success story is something people will talk about in years to come—as well as being a handfast example you can refer to on conferences, talks, and networking events
  3. An early gain may serve to convince your leadership and stakeholders of the feasibility of the digital project, thus letting them greenlight the continuation of the enterprise or access to more resources

Project management

Managing a digital project and leading a digital team can be both challenging and rewarding. While you certainly will have done several of the following actions in advance of your project, it can be useful to revisit them during the various project phases in order to assess whether you need to make required changes. And if you haven’t already done these actions, now is a good opportunity!

Focus on innovation

Innovation is to discover new solutions to your problems and tasks—solving them in smarter and more efficient ways than before. Innovation stimulates creativity, production, experimentation, and collaboration, and is therefore a trait sought after in digital leaders.

Communicate clear goals

As the project moves along, it is a good time to assess your KPIs and goals. Are they clear enough for your team and stakeholders? What are their expectations? Once you’ve got realistic, actionable and measurable KPIs, communicate them to your team regularly. Review your results, make appropriate actions, and iterate them in the next appropriate period.

Get to know your team

This an action you obviously should have done already, but it doesn’t hurt to get to know your co-workers even better as the project develops. What people say and what people do can be completely different things, so arrange informal meetings with your co-workers to discuss their expectations before the project, their results so far, and what they expect further down the road. Compare required skills with actual results, and suggest a further course of action—like e.g. attending a course.

Assess your digital tools

This point should have been thoroughly covered in the planning process, but yet again—theory and practice don’t always line up. Are your digital tools up for the challenge or do they need replacement? Assess each tool in order, and review whether they fulfil your tasks or deviate from the projected results.

Implement ContentOps

If your digital project involves content of any kind, content operations may be an interesting option for you. It is a set of principles for treating content seriously like software development, for creating consistent, scalable, cross-channel quality content—uniting people, processes, and technology. To get ContentOps up and running, you therefore need to start with people—i.e. your digital team.

Continuous improvement

The option to continuously improve your digital project may depend on the type of approach, framework, and methodology you and your team have chosen. Here we assume that you have selected an option where continuous improvement is natural or can be added without hindrance to your project.

Continuous improvement ties especially to the Agile approach of running a digital project, where it basically is an inherent part. However, always improving in every stage of a project is essential for the project’s success.

Here are some common actions in regard to continuously improving your digital project:

  • Regular feedback: Provide your co-workers with frequent feedback to point them in the right direction and to get a clearer view of the situation
  • Regular iterations: Don’t stick to a mammoth product, be modular and discard, improve, or initiate new solutions on the go
  • Showcase values: Engage both co-workers and stakeholders by demonstrating the values you generate, as this can send more resources your way

Third-party collaboration

In many cases your organisation will have to collaborate with external professionals, who possess skills, experience, and other assets you don’t. For instance, you might lack the skills in implementing a marketing automation tool, and it’s therefore necessary to involve an external agency who specialises in such matters.

In addition to applying many of the mentioned digital project principles to third-party collaborators, you also need to consider additional aspects:

SLA

A service-level agreement (SLA) is commonly used as a commitment between a service provider and a client. Particular aspects of the service—like quality, availability, and responsibilities—are agreed between the service provider and the service user.

Such an agreement can also work perfectly well between you and a third-party collaboration partner. Explicitly stating expectations of quality, timeframe, cost, communication channels, and who’s responsible for what can help you save both time and money.

Make sure both parties attend an SLA workshop, read the written agreement, and sign it as a token of mutual trust.

Solution partners

Not everything has to start from scratch or a completely blank page. If you need external help with a product or a service, help may be closer than you realise.

In this case you should research whether or not a vendor you are buying from has official solution partners listed on their website or another repository. These are well-versed experts recommended by the vendor, and have a higher probability of delivering what you require.

Successful delivery is not automatic, however, so be sure to put solution partners through a thorough review—complete with an RFP and a PoC if relevant.

Reporting and evaluation

While reporting can sound like a dull and tedious chore, you need to keep the following in mind: Reports are an invaluable tool to help you document and improve your efforts. Knowing what was expected to happen, what actually happened (and when), and what the results were is material you, your team, and your stakeholders can use to learn lessons, identify weak points, and leverage best practices.

Reporting and evaluation

In other words: the dusty, old reports can be used to work even more efficiently and create more value in the future. You only need to learn how to write them and what kinds of reports to include in your project.

What follows is a general guideline with common principles and steps, inspired by BrightWork and Asana. Not all of the steps may be relevant for your particular report, but you should pick and choose the ones who are.

How to write a report

Decide the objective

Just like you have to have a goal or a purpose when commencing a project, you have to be goal-directed when writing a report. Having a stated objective enables you to write more clearly, and think whether you need to describe, explain, recommend, or persuade—as well as defining the target audience.

Name your report

A good, descriptive name works as a shorthand for what the report is about. If the report is written in regular intervals, consider adding the date to the name as well. Examples include “2020 May - Project status” or “Project X Risk Assessment.”

Understand your audience

The target audience of your report should affect the tone of voice you’re adopting. Writing for senior stakeholders is for instance different than writing for your own team. Knowing your audience, their style, and their pain points, you can tailor the content to reflect their own preferences and values, and thus make them more susceptible to your objective.

Report format and type

The objective and the audience of your report decides its formal appearance. Will it be written, or will it be delivered verbally? Should the language be formal or informal? Will the report address financial, technical, or factual issues—or all of them? Are there any ready-made templates available in your organisation?

Indicate the project status

In the world of reporting, time is of the essence. You must assume that your target audience is short of time, and therefore it is important to write clearly, have a descriptive name, and to quickly indicate the status of the project—whether it is currently on track, at risk, or off track. Adding colours—green, yellow, and red—respectively, is another helpful visual cue.

Gather the facts and data

A report is useless without solid references to facts and data in order to support your claims and conclusions. Use your selected tools and dashboards to inquire for data in the form of graphs, diagrams, and charts, thus underscoring the points you are making.

Structure the report

While you are not writing a novel, a report is nonetheless an integrated work of prose. As mentioned earlier, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle identified three key elements in this matter—the beginning, the middle, and the end:

  • Introduction: Provide a context for the report and outline the main points you are going to treat.
  • Main part: Present background details, analyses, discussions, and recommendations. Draw upon data and supporting graphics to support your position.
  • Conclusion: Gather all the findings into one neat package, essentially repeating in fundamentals what the report has been about.

Give a quick summary of the report

As a bonus to the report structure, you can add a section before all the others in the form of a quick, executive summary. This should be brief (remember those busy stakeholders!) and explain very concisely, in maximally 2–3 sentences, what the report is saying.

Pick two to three key areas or milestones to highlight

Although the main part of your report should be fleshed out considerably, at least compared to the other parts, you should also think about focus and essentials here. A digital project may be comprehensive, and it might be justified to just include 2–3 key areas or milestones to highlight. Will you present the project elements chronologically (“we did x, y, and z”), by functionality (“the developer did x, the QA manager did y, the editor did z”), or by milestones (“we reached goal x”)?

Add a high-level overview of each key area

Even though we’re working hard to keep your report concise, to-the-point, and visually attractive, there’s no getting around the fact that the amount of content may be overwhelming. To help mitigate this, add a sorts of “mini executive summary” before each key area you’re treating. This can be adding a few bullet points to update your reader on the progress, accomplishments, and upcoming work in the given area, like “75% of tasks completed, 87% of tests successful, next sprint going as planned.”

Add links to other documents or tools

Due to the fact that a report should be concise, not every bit of information and factoid can be present. But some stakeholders may want to know more. In this case, you can include links to more thorough documentation or tools you have been using in the digital project.

Give attention to any issues or challenges

No project has run completely smooth all the way from start to finish. This is completely natural, due to the complexity of all the involved people, processes, and assets. There's no use pretending that the problems aren't there, instead give them attention, so both stakeholders and co-workers can take appropriate measures.

Readability and editing

A report does not exist for its own sake, to be read by no one. Spend some time to edit and revise the content, cleaning it for unclear phrasing and making it more readable with simple formatting options and visuals. Include fellow co-workers for reviewing purposes.

Bonus: Medium type

When you hear the word “report,” you might think of the archetypical folder containing pages upon pages. But a physical copy does not have to be the medium of your report. It can of course be digital in the form of a PDF, but another option can be a Wiki. If you for instance deliver weekly reports, a Wiki can easily let you duplicate setup and also let you see earlier reports in an instant for comparing purposes. Yet another report medium can be an interactive dashboard.

Evaluating the project

Many of the reports mentioned above are all about evaluation—evaluating risk, GDPR/privacy concerns, project status, and budget. However, it is useful for you to evaluate the project itself in order to identify whether or not the project delivered on all fronts.

Analysing completed goals, objectives, activities, and budgetary elements can help you determine if the project was on track, deviating slightly, or completely off course. This will in turn enable you to learn from your mistakes and successes, as well as aid you to improve yourself and your team’s efforts in future endeavours.

What to evaluate

Near the end of a digital project it is useful to evaluate the following aspects, according to ProjectManager:

  • Schedule: Compare the actual dates of your major milestones with the scheduled dates. Assess the deviations and the impact they will have on your overall project, and rectify if necessary
  • Quality: Evaluate the quality of your digital project management practices and quality system, and whether you follow the principles. Also compare your team’s results with your quality standard
  • Cost: Compare your actual spending with the projected budget. Issue a forecast to predict whether you need to adjust your spending in the longer run
  • Team satisfaction: Check in with your team regularly to find out what they think about the project and what you can do differently
  • Performance to business case: Compare your actual project as it now is to the original business case. Were the projected benefits realistic? Does the problem the project was designed to solve still exist?

Evaluation tools and methods

There can be several ways of evaluating your digital project, in addition to reports. Sumac lists the following:

  • Surveys: Can be utilised before and after a project to measure satisfaction of team members, stakeholders, or customers. Can be performed electronically, with pen and paper, or through a person-to-person interview
  • Observation: Can be used in e.g. UX testing before and after a change to a digital tool, a digital experience, etc., in order to evaluate differences in time or task solving
  • Case studies: In-depth research on any given product, solution, or personage in relation to your digital project, a case study can provide you with both qualitative and quantitative data for evaluation
  • Focus groups: Usually consists of 3–5 individuals representing a cross section of your target audience. A facilitator asks directed, open-ended questions, providing you with information on how the respondents perceive and are impacted by your digital project
  • Interviews: Can be 1-on-1 or 1-to-many, and are typically used to gather marketing information, assess knowledge, satisfaction, interest, etc.

Evaluation plan

According to MyMG, an evaluation plan is a document that defines and executes activities for analysing a digital project by specific criteria. The plan aims to determine project efficiency through tracking progress on objectives, activities completion, and dates of completion:

  • Step 1 – Identify outcomes: Find the KPIs which will bring you to understand the completion rate of your overall digital project goal
  • Step 2 – Choose evaluation method: Choose one or more evaluation method which cover as much impact as possible for your evaluation purposes
  • Step 3 – Create evaluation report: Create an evaluation report which includes your conclusions about the digital project’s ability to produce desired change and accomplish intended goals

The end of a digital project

All things must come to an end, and a digital project is no exception. But there are some qualifications to this statement. The right question to ask yourself at this point is the following: Is the project continuous or a one-off project?

End of a digital project

If the project was one-off, e.g. a reboot of your web operations or development of a new app, congratulations! You have now reached the finish line. Everything you have learned—from purpose, project types, pitching, setup, people and tools retrieval, doing the actual work, and reporting and evaluation—have now been, or are ready to be battle-tested.

However, if the project is continuous, e.g. for maintenance purposes in your digital experiences or to steadily deliver digital services in your organisation, you must now move back to the starting line. But it’s not quite the same as starting from scratch. Now you already have a lot of knowledge, ready-made templates, an eager team, and many tools. You have acquired the framework to work and improve continuously in an efficient manner.

Head back to this guide to revisit recipes and best practices, in order to always keep you sharp as a knife in your digital project management.

Common mistakes to avoid

As a bonus, we have included common mistakes to avoid in the planning, execution, and maintenance of your digital project. Be on the lookout for the sign of these phenomena in order to keep your digital project healthy.

Common mistakes to avoid

Common fails in your digital project

Not aligning with overall strategy

The importance of receiving a mandate and support from the top-level within your organisation cannot be exaggerated. Being aligned with the overall strategy ensures that everyone moves in the same direction and fulfils both wider organisational goals and narrower department goals.

Missing a prime mover

Every team needs a prime mover who inspires, leads, and gets things done. Without such a person at the helm, a digital project risks being slowed down by inefficient decision making and a lack of vision. Before you start a new project, be sure to designate an architectural role who can make technical and design decisions.

Not running an Agile project

Classic waterfall processes will not work for medium to large digital projects, as it’s impossible to dictate centrally what tasks shall be done and when. Agile, on the other hand, is a set of values and principles where work processes, methods, collaboration, and delivery continuously improve and adapt to any changing context.

Maintenance over innovation

Maintenance of existing, inefficient systems might seem like the easy option, but when it’s prioritised over innovation you can end up with an architecture that’s consistently slowing down your digital projects. Allocating assets to innovation might not offer instant rewards, but is essential when it comes to creating a future-proof digital architecture.

Too much bureaucracy

One of the biggest problems digital projects face isn’t technology, but bureaucracy. Ineffective policies, sluggish decision-making, endless paperwork and red tape can turn a simple digital project into a bureaucratic quagmire. To remediate, use lean startup techniques designed to crack down on waste and shorten product development cycles.

Communication problems across departments

Often digital projects are so complex they require the input from several departments, but this collaboration may introduce a problem in asynchronous communication. To prevent this, establish a commonly preferred communication tool and practice—and stick to it.

Wasting time on small tasks

Small tasks may at first glance seem manageable, but can derail even carefully planned digital projects when allowed to stack up. To keep your project on track, create a priority lane for small tasks. This stops them from getting in the way of other tasks and makes it easier for your digital team to sprint through them.

Lacking the right skills

Lacking the right skills to perform specific tasks can result in a slow or failing digital project. This may be solved by training your team or by bringing in the experts. You can also try to seek core competence from partners—ensuring that everyone spends more time doing what they know best.

Poor legacy system integration

Sometimes you have to work with legacy systems, but they don’t necessarily have to slow your digital project down. Involve experts to build APIs for a seamless integration between your legacy systems and new digital platforms.

Underestimating content production

A widespread sin in digital projects—especially those involving new websites or apps. While there are many technical, architectural, design, and UX aspects your team needs to focus on, don’t forget the content. This is what actually will populate the new website or app.

Designing without purpose

Design is not an end in itself in digital projects. Design should support your goals, functions, and purpose, by underscoring the content. Let your designers know the purpose of your digital project and then let them experiment with how to convey this in the best possible manner.

Lacking a design system

A design system brings all of the visual and functional elements of an organisation into one place, ensuring that every element of design, realisation and development fulfils its brand principles. On a practical level, it also helps teams focus on the bigger picture rather than waste valuable time of frequently repeated design questions.

Lacking automated tests

In order to prevent security breaches you need to implement automated tests. Setting up automated tests must be done in collaboration with your IT and quality assurance departments. Remember to focus on testing the most important parts of your digital project, e.g. a secure order form for a business, or a functional user account on a social network.

Common fails when changing digital platform

Too much complexity

A digital platform may look promising in terms of functionality, but beware that content editors are supposed to work on the platform daily, and developers are supposed to implement it without too many tripwires. Make sure the platform is user-friendly for editors and compatible with your existing framework and skill set for developers.

Missing core features

A digital platform can be too complex, but the opposite is also true. As a minimal default, a new quality digital platform should at least offer image handling, search functionality, custom content types, landing page editor, and previewing your content.

Inadequate APIs

Having inadequate APIs on your digital platform means you will be “locked in.” A modern and flexible digital platform should include the possibility for APIs that let your developers distribute content across different channels, like websites, apps, and IoT.

Too few resources

Before embarking on a digital project, you should make sure you have access to competent developers, marketers, and other professionals with the right skills. Whether an internal department or an external agency, your teammates should be both skilled and available in the given time frame.

Costly project implementation

It’s very difficult to know the exact scope and ramifications of an entire digital project from start to finish. In this regard, the best way to solve the problem is to go for an Agile approach in project management. This means you should start small and perform test cases, before scaling up gradually.

Thank you for reading!

This guide is proudly delivered by Enonic and written by Vegard Hovland Ottervig.

vegard ottervig

Vegard Hovland Ottervig holds a master’s degree in film studies and has worked with journalism and marketing since 2010. He loves cycling, philosophy, gaming, and writing.

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Frequently asked questions

What is a digital project?

Undertaking aiming to introduce, transform, or manage digital strategies and operations in or with your organisation.

How to run a digital project?

Align with corporate strategy and goals, enable a project owner, gather a skilled team, enable suitable tools and tech, allocate assets, think customer-centric, showcase early gains.

What skills do you need for digital projects?

Depending on the project: project management, solution architecture, UX design, web development, back-end development, continuous deployment, web editing, SEO, and testing.