Originally Published July, 2018. Updated August, 2019.
Over the years, one of the most prevalent issues we’ve seen during many digital production projects is chaos within clients’ internal organizations.
From an agency standpoint, this is frustrating. Our goal is to assist clients in achieving their goals, but more often than not, disorganized internal political structures make that difficult.
With that in mind, I’ve identified a few tips you can utilize to create a level of internal collaboration within your own team when undertaking a web design or development project.
Assign a Point Person
This is the first thing that any project needs—a single point of contact that can drive both the project itself and the communication stream between the team and its agency. We’ve seen many projects run by committee and trust me, it never works out well. A single person needs to own the project and the day-to-day communication between internal team members and external production partners.
Assigning a single person to run things often scares people. Many teams are concerned that one person has too much power. But it isn’t about a power play—it’s more about having a reliable person to keep things moving and clear up any miscommunication or misunderstanding about project flow.
To mitigate this fear, you can always assign a point person who is one of a small team of project oversight personnel. This one person assumes the responsibility of being the lead communicator about the project, but can share decision-making abilities with other team members.
No matter how you structure it, it’s important that both your internal team and your outside agencies understand who this person is and maintain communication about the project via this individual. It’s also important to pick the right person. You need a good communicator, a person who can handle the stress of internal politics, and most importantly, someone who is well organized.
Identify Decision Makers
After assigning a point person, you need an understanding of who the actual decision-makers are for your project. As an agency principal, my goal is to work with decision-makers as much as possible, in as direct a way as possible. They generally have a better idea of overall objectives, constraints, and requirements on an organizational level, and they can make the ultimate decisions.
Not having an idea who the decision-makers are can be catastrophic, especially when you find out at the end of your process that the person doing all of the “deciding” didn’t actually have the authority or authorization to do so at all.
We see this more often than you would think. We see potential clients go through a deep procurement process and hire an agency, only to find out that there is another step to the process of approval or a decision-maker at a higher level in their organization who they only found out about at the 11th hour. On the agency side, it’s frustrating to be introduced to this person at the end of the whole process, and it creates tension within the internal team when they find all of their work thwarted after all of the effort they put in.
It is essential that both agency and internal team members identify who the real decision-makers are. If these folks are not identified quickly, you will run the risk of wasting everyone’s time, resources, and energy going through a procurement and discovery process only to have someone veto all plans and work at the end of the line.
Conduct a Needs Assessment
One of the things we do as an agency prior to any project discovery session is conduct a needs assessment. This needs assessment includes 10 to 15 questions about the project, its success and failure metrics, and other background information. This assessment helps us gain a high-level understanding of how the internal organization views the project. We can see what each individual stakeholder views as success or failure, and we can understand what their individual goals and objectives are.
Needs assessments are a helpful tool to gain team consensus. However, it is difficult to do it internally because people tend to be less than honest in filling out the true answers to the inquiries for internal consumption.
For this purpose, it is best to have an outside agency conduct this needs assessment and simply utilize the results in their discovery or architecture process.
Agree on Goals & Objectives
This is a natural step that comes after a needs assessment, and if you conduct that assessment properly, it is fairly easy to arrive at an agreement about what your organization’s goals for the project are.
Again, this conclusion may be easier to arrive at with the help of an outside agency, as they can lend a different perspective informed by years of experience working on similar projects. But you can also begin the process of agency procurement with a top-level view of what your goals may be, so there is value in knowing from the very beginning.
For example, you can enter into a project with the thinking that your goal is to increase new customer leads. This is a good, general goal. However, what you may actually need is SMART goals—things that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Identifying these may be a task you can conduct yourself, but often, an agency can be of immense help by conducting a thorough discovery process with you. You may find that the desired end result may actually be more specific than you had thought, such as increasing new lead conversions by 100% over 6 months, for example.
So, while your approach to this goal-defining task may vary—either doing it yourself or with the help of an agency—this is an important step, as you will never know the success of a project without an understanding of why you are doing it in the first place.
Identify Non-Starters Early
This is an important step that many people overlook. Most are happy to dig right into a project and not bother looking into the things they can’t do. They just focus their immediate attention on what they want to do. But the world works differently, and every company has internal requirements that must be considered when developing your project.
This can affect any number of different areas of the initiative. It could be the type of vendor you procure, the specific software you are allowed to utilize, etc. It’s imperative for your assigned point person to understand these requirements and incorporate them into the overall specification and project requirements documentation that will guide the entire initiative.
Nothing derails a project or an organization more than being halfway or more into a project, only to find out that certain aspects of the agreed-upon plan are achievable because of corporate regulations or requirements. Avoid that hassle by being prepared early.
Develop an Initial Specification
With your goals firmly in mind, you can now define what the project actually consists of. This means the actual steps, tasks, and processes that need to be completed to achieve the end result.
Again, I believe you can address this in two different ways. First, you can do this yourself. This is possible if you have experience developing such a specification. We see many clients who approach us with a “defined” specification already. However, those specifications may not always be comprehensive enough to base a budget or timeframe on.
The other way to complete a specification is via the discovery process that I referred to earlier. Many agencies will now start client engagements with a process that involves a general consulting engagement to help define the scope and a specification for the upcoming project.
Obviously, we are biased in that we recommend hiring an agency for this type of work. But it isn’t based on the fact that we are trying to sell more business. It’s simply based on the fact that agencies complete many discovery projects per year, which positions them to be more experienced at this task as opposed to internal resources who may have never done this type of work before, or if they have, just once or twice.
The goal of a specification is twofold. First, to know precisely what you are building down to a deep technical level. After all, you wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, would you? But more importantly, it’s the specification that allows internal teams, agencies, and other vendors to properly estimate costs and timeframes.
Without this level of detail, it is difficult to avoid your project becoming a quagmire.
Shortlist Potential Agencies Before Reaching out
Hiring the right agency to help you with your project is difficult. You need to find a group of potential partners, then vet them all and whittle down to a list that is manageable from a perspective of comparison.
The best way to do this is to create a list of agencies assembled from all of the stakeholders. C-level executives typically have worked with agencies before, so it’s best to ask them at the early stages and include their preferred agencies in the review process, rather than invest quality time in finding agencies, only to then have to include one at the last minute at the request of an executive.
When you have a manageable list of agencies, you can then begin reaching out and start the process of procurement based on your internal policies. (And if you’re unsure of how to go about that procurement process, we have a great ebook available on the subject.
Invest in Quality Tools
One of the nice side effects of undertaking a new digital initiative is that it is a good time to reevaluate the way you do certain things within your organization.
Take this opportunity to review the tools you use for project management, internal collaboration, and task management. These tools change often in terms of favor with the design and development community, and it always helps to have a look at what the latest and greatest options are.
The end result will be a team that is better organized, communicating regularly and sharing information in an open and accessible way. This is a great way to avoid chaos at large, not just in the context of your digital project, and many of the tools used during the initiative can carry on and stay a part of your permanent workflow.
When it comes to spearheading a web design or development project, you always want to make sure that everyone on your side is, in fact, on the same side. Disagreements, messy internal politics, and a general lack of communication can spell doom for even the most organized initiatives and vendor relationships.
Of course, the tips outlined above are by no means exhaustive, but they should give you some perspective on what to look out for both in terms of your organization’s expectations for a project and who is responsible for what. Once you have a grasp on this vital information, you can enter the next phases of your project with confidence and your goals firmly in sight.