We’re already well aware that days of development projects being owned solely by the IT department are long gone. Gartner reports that today 38% of total IT spending is done outside of the department – a figure set to rise to over 50% by 2017 – and, according to Forbes, digital marketing spend is expected to grow by 14.7% next year. As Gartner puts it:
“There is a shift of demand and control toward digital business units closer to the customer.”
With digital so deeply embedded into organisations, development projects now often have more stakeholders than ever before. While each of these stakeholders will naturally have a slightly different take on the project’s requirements and objectives, a shared understanding of its overarching vision and strategic direction is vital to safeguard success. Here, I’ll look at some ways to foster this shared understanding, so that you can move forward with everyone on side.
It’s natural for different groups of stakeholders to take an interest in digital projects – from the head of department who’s ultimately responsible for its success, to the CEO concerned with the business benefits it will deliver, to the team members that will actually be using the system. Having these different viewpoints present is by no means a bad thing, of course. It can even be a desirable situation, particularly as the drive towards digital transformation has seen technology reach across an ever-greater range of roles and departments.
It is important, though, that these viewpoints be underpinned by a single, shared understanding, as when a project’s direction isn’t agreed at the outset you may find yourself facing issues further down the line. For example, without a clear brief it’s easier to become distracted from your ultimate goal, instead focusing on the latest shiny technology or the loudest voice in the room. And when stakeholders don’t properly understand the value a project will deliver, it’s more difficult to get them to buy into it – leading to more questions when securing budget, and greater delays when signing off project deliverables.
It’s even been found that teams have greater difficulty establishing requirements when working on IT projects that are eventually abandoned than when working on those that make it through to completion, according to research from Oxford University and Simon Fraser University. So don’t skimp on the crucial early phases of your project, as doing so may be an indicator of future failure.
In order to build a shared understanding of project requirements, you first need to capture those requirements from the various departments and stakeholders across your business. User stories can prove useful here – typically taking the form “As [user], I want to [task], so that [motivation]”, these offer a consistent template for expressing requirements so that you can compare, discuss and prioritise on a level playing field. Not only this, they also provide built-in acceptance criteria by which you can objectively measure progress throughout the course of development.
Whatever method you use to capture requirements though, it should result in a clear, agreed set of business objectives and user needs against which your digital solution needs to deliver. Armed with this insight, you can then define the features and functionality that should be implemented as a priority – in other words, those that will enable you to meet your goals most effectively and efficiently. This approach works particularly well if you’re following an Agile development methodology, as core elements of your solution can be delivered early on as part of a minimum viable product, to be enhanced and extended during subsequent periods of work.
Taking this time at the start of a project to capture requirements has another key benefit – it provides you with a central store of information that can be made accessible to all stakeholders, and which can be referenced when making any strategic decisions to ensure that the overarching project vision is upheld. You can make sure that people are made aware of this information when joining the project, too – not only will this help them get up to speed more quickly, but it can help minimise confusion and risk by providing clear direction on the established project goals.
However, while this information can play a crucial role in maintaining a shared understanding of requirements, it’s important to keep stakeholders involved too. New technological innovations, changing market conditions and on-going user feedback all have the potential to impact the direction of a project. When these situations arise, being able to respond quickly can make all the difference – and you’ll have to rapidly gather input from stakeholders to make sure everyone remains in agreement and your project remains on track. Here, too, Agile techniques can provide value, by encouraging regular communication and reviews that will help you spot when things may be veering off course, and take any necessary corrective actions.
Today’s digital projects often have to address diverse needs – but by taking the time at the outset to build a shared understanding of requirements, you can make sure that everybody’s happy. With key goals and objectives outlined, questions and conflicts that may hinder development are avoided, and you can be confident that the solution that’s delivered will truly support your business and your users.
For further guidance on preventing problems arising in your digital and software projects, why not take a look at our white paper “Five Indicators Of A Failing Project (And What You Can Do)”?