Thursday, 30 December 2010

Change on the way for Digital Project Management?

As the last posting of the year, it is traditional to step back, review the past and try to project into the future. So here we are. Is digital project management at a crossroads? Should it be? Where does it serve us and where does it fail us? Pretty strategic questions, in keeping with that backward/forward look, don't you think?

We could feel a bit complacent because we've championed Agile software development methods where traditional waterfall methods of software development were found lacking. Agile engages changes, moves iteratively in small development cycles, incorporates more feedback from the client and users and so on. Yes, it did have a few glitches like how to cost the process so that a company didn't just address the old problems without getting paid for the work. But the important thing was that the software development process changed fundamentally.

Now there is chatter about employing such software development processes wider in business processes. Imagine that. The implications are huge. The keys in the process are the faster response to perceived need and small, incremental steps. Others in business want these too. It isn't just a large percentage of IT projects that fail; many business projects fail to achieve their objectives. So business analysts have been assessing the situation and have become attracted to the concepts of agile. Various new names have emerged to define the business processes but we'll be able to recognise the origin. Neil Perkin, New Media Age 2nd December in, 'Digital could give firms the agility to change', equates the need for agile processes with a coupling for companies to accept failure in a cycle of revision where the failure is fed back quickly and remedied. This is rather like the fast release of agile code, the checking on its feasibility of use and the revision of the code accordingly. Change has to be embraced in companies in a culture of innovation and 'well structured experiments'. He quotes McKinsey (2005) about putting 75-80% of a budget into proven media but the rest into these experiments. (You need to register for the full article)

Other advocates of applying such processes to other business problems can be found at:
Maybe all this will have impact on the way we scope projects for new clients. Perhaps we'll have to educate them in which processes they might want to employ to dictate the way they want their project managed. They may need to consider what strategies their company wants to use in general business and which they want in project management as a result? Complex stuff - but what dreams used to be made of!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Sign-off: are you getting this right?

It is vital you agree who is to sign-off which stage of your project. Identifying the sign-off people is a MUST before the project begins or you will quickly be put in that equivalent of the never ending spiral of planes waiting for landing!

Actually, not getting a single point of sign-off causes so many risks that it may be the most important part to agree prior to start-up. The consequences of not having a sign-off include many people having their own opinions and wishes of what to change, delays to the project that quickly escalate at each sign-off point, the opportunity for the client to demand changes to the agreement/contract, and the higher probability of conflict between you and the client.

That doesn't paint a smooth project path. Does it?

Yes, the clients may well rile against having one sign-off at each stage. You need to counter their wish for debate and consensus, or, build this into the timescale. By explaining the consequences to them of having several sign-off people, or several rounds of agreement for each stage, you can educate them on the cost savings of a single sign-off; the time-scale savings, and the positives of getting the project out faster, gaining feedback from the true users and a second phase revamp-project based on true use rather than gut feeling. Now, I'm not against gut feeling when it is backed by experience in the market with digital media – that's informed opinion. And it is true that many clients have different perspectives on what suits their market and branding, but just like you managing your internal teams' expectations and specialisms, the client faces the same from their individuals. In the end, someone has to call the tune. So the faster you identify the person with the clout and budget responsibility the better for your project.

One way to incorporate some leeway for the client is to corral the timescale for a sign-off period. So you give the project to them and allow X days turn-around for a sign-off. Then it is up to them to reach consensus. But beware, this sounds a trite way out and has to be managed carefully. They may well get back to you with a list of change requests that they have co-ordinated between them. If you have your change-management agreement with them so that you re-evaluate the time and cost to achieve these changes, then you won't suffer unduly. They soon learn that the more changes they make the longer the project time-scale and the knock-on costs - then they learn the need to make compromises.

There are various template sign-off agreements that are available online so if you need a form to help you sign-off, Google "project sign-off form or template" and take your pick.

The UK government has various legal agreement forms for web design-support-maintenance-hosting on their Simply Docs site. It needs registration and a small payment but might be useful.

Richard Boardman's advice to lock everyone in a room until you have sign-off goes a bit far, but I have heard of worse! See: 18 ways to speed up a CRM Project 26.11.10 - in particular the speedup milestone signoffs section .

And lastly, an interesting dilemma that might get you thinking – and acting. See: Should you make clients sign-off on their bad decisions? Chip Camden, 26.11.10

Happy sign-offs and Happy Christmas

Monday, 13 December 2010

No such thing as bad publicity

The Irish playwright Brendan Behan is credited with uttering the immortal phrase there is no such thing as bad publicity, although he goes on to add except your own obituary.

This all comes to mind in the story last week of an American online peddler of eye-wear who had supposedly gained his high Google ranking as a result of the online criticism his actions attracted. A story in the New York Times on November 26th told the story of a lady in New York and her customer experience after buying some glasses from said outlet.

Can this be true? Well, apparently it was, but is no more. Two things have happened.

Firstly, Google have reacted to the situation by refining their algorithms further. They have posted about this on their company blog and it makes interesting reading. Have you ever heard of sentiment analysis? It's a new one on me but I can imagine what it is. You demote disparaging items about X while promoting positive ones. However, that doesn't work very well since genuinely controversial subjects will fall foul of such a rule, as might what Google refers to as elected officials. So they've done something else, and they're not saying what it is, except that
we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience.
Secondly, the retailer has now been arrested, as this story in the Register tells. The charges include mail and wire fraud, which the Americans take very seriously. Follow the story through to the PDF of the criminal complaint.

Not quite an obituary, but close.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Stakeholder analysis

Remember that the stakeholders in a project are any people or group of people who can influence the project. This, as we've found, can widen the common idea of stakeholders as many in our industry align stakeholders solely with the clients. The important analysis prior to the start of the project is to identify the stakeholders and agree with them how you are to communicate with them about the project and how often. We've advocated using a stakeholder analysis matrix, a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) matrix, and a communication chart. (See our book, Managing Interactive Media, Chapter 4)

So is there anything new in the field? Well, the field has expanded and there is more written about stakeholder analysis now as well as software tools specifically for stakeholder analysis. If you're under pressure from your company about stakeholders adversely influencing a project's outcome during a project's life-cycle, you might consider a tool because it offers objectivity and gravitas to your discussions with new stakeholders. We're not recommending the tools below, just drawing your attention to them as examples of what's available.
If you haven't yet experienced the fall-out from stakeholders and are not so convinced about their impact on projects you might like to read Lynda Bourne's short article, Avoiding the Successful Failure! Salient warning for those that over-zealously apply the time, cost, quality mantra in project management.

The number of training courses on stakeholder management has increased too, as well as the skill being mentioned in more job descriptions. It wasn't surprising to see more understanding and buy-in to stakeholder management in a recent project management survey of (September 2010) where stakeholder analysis was considered a key factor for project success. This was a small poll and it was for all types of projects, not just digital development such as we are interested in, but surprising all the same.

Many influences change over the course of even a short project so don't get caught out by thinking that you've done your upfront analysis so that's that! Keep re-examining the analysis and changing the results as you go through to keep right on top of your stakeholders and their influence.