Avoid These 10 Mistakes in Your Next Digital Project

Published on March 1, 2019

In today’s fast-paced business environment, more and more projects are going digital. While digital platforms offer advantages in many areas, people sometimes believe that digital media are incredibly easy to create and change. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Numerous pitfalls can derail what should be a fun and exciting way to produce a project.

I’ve been involved in technology for many years and have both witnessed and personally made each of the following mistakes at some time. I hope that this list of key learnings will help others successfully create a digital project. Here are 10 things to avoid:

Starting Without a Plan Because of a Tight Timeline

While planning is key to any project, it’s even more important to a digital project. You must specify the purpose of the project, define your target audience, and perform a needs assessment. A few hours of planning can save you several times that during development. As a rule, you should allocate 5%-15% of total budget and 10%-30% of project time to planning and communication.

Underestimating Necessary Time, Energy, and Expertise 

You never want to find yourself halfway through a project and suddenly realize that you’re in over your head. Take time to research the project needs, and don’t be too proud to hire experts if your team doesn’t have the time or expertise to complete the job well. This may seem costly up front but will save time and money in the long run.

Saying Yes to Something Before Understanding the Full Impact on the Project

No one wants to disappoint a client, which can make it difficult to deny a request in the moment. However, a seemingly simple change can unexpectedly affect multiple aspects of a project later. Discuss the request and its potential impacts with your team of experts before confirming the change with the client. Will you have to rework a user interface or update the database structure? If so, how will this affect the testing and quality assurance phases? Asking questions like these is always beneficial.

Not Setting Expectations for Speed and Risk

You must assess and communicate potential risks before beginning any type of project to guide you, your team, and your stakeholders toward the most efficient way to produce the framework. The 2 ends of the risk/reward spectrum tend to be quick and nimble or measured and thoughtful.

Quick and Nimble

This method begins with a request that sounds something like, “Just get started because we don’t have much time.” This usually happens with a smaller project or when the client needs a short-term answer to a specialized challenge that is unlikely to be revised later. Ensure that stakeholders understand that this method breeds plentiful opportunities for misperception, misinterpretation, and miscommunication.

If you choose this route:

  • Know and communicate the risks :
    – False assumptions and communication shortages
    – Trivial back-and-forth exchanges
    – Backtracks and reworks
    – Confusion and frustration
    – Sidetracks and scope creeps
  • Be flexible and adaptable
  • Stick to the plan and iterate as necessary
  • Keep detailed documentation, even if you think you will never see the project again. This also helps facilitate effective project debriefs
  • Build in ideas and processes to future-proof your project, even if your stakeholders agree that they will never need to change, reuse, or expand it. Think through a framework that can be altered. For example, is there a chance that you’ll ever need multilanguage support in the future?

Measured and Thoughtful

In general, this is the more long-term and economic approach to larger projects. The planning stage may deceive you into thinking that this method will take too long, but its characteristic efficient communication and known expectations tend to streamline projects. Done correctly, it offers a great platform on which to build in the future.

If you choose this route:

  • Know and communicate the risks:
    • Timeline stall
      This is particularly important to consider during planning or review periods when the project might change direction, scope, or timeline. Clearly communicate internal and external roles and deadlines
    • Timeline compression
      Let’s face it: Most people work better against a looming deadline; therefore, long timelines can lead to nonurgency at the outset. Check in with team members to avoid procrastination and break longer tasks into shorter sprints
    • Scope creep
      Long-term projects are more inclined toward scope creep because the what-if discussions can be more numerous and drawn out. These discussions can be valuable, but all new ideas must be measured against the original scope and budget to ensure that they are realistic and adhere to stakeholder expectations

Waiting Too Long to Obtain Client Buy-in and Approval

Changes in a project become more frustrating, expensive, and time consuming as the timeline advances, and if you drift too far off course without checking in with the client, corrective action may be nearly impossible. Aim for client approval before each project phase, especially during planning and content development. When building a house, it’s easier and cheaper to change blueprints than the actual building, and the same concept applies to digital projects.

Neglecting Quality Design

Don’t underestimate the value of quality design and attention to detail. Good design is a bridge from your information to your audience’s brains. Plan every menu, option, and pixel placement. When clients are in a hurry, they may consider it a waste of time, but poor or rushed design will end up being more expensive and frustrating. User adoption is driven by good design. No matter how good the solution, users will be annoyed by too many clicks, a non-intuitive operation, or messy layout and may dismiss your project altogether. Some consider design to be unnecessary icing on an otherwise delicious cake. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been tempted to eat an unfrosted cake.

Focusing on Technology Over Content

It’s easy to get excited by fun new technology, but when it comes to digital projects, remember that content is king. Content creators generate marketing and learning objectives, and designers interpret and present the objectives with appropriate layout, navigation, and interactivity hierarchy. Both technology and design should be the vehicles that effectively deliver content to users.

Assuming That Everything Will Go as Planned

Digital technology changes by the minute, introducing bugs and incompatibilities and requiring constant maintenance. Also remember that, while you can plan for events such as holidays and vacations, project review dates can also be affected by unexpected illness, power outages, water main breaks, and fire and tornado drills. Remember—I’m speaking from experience. You can’t plan for everything, but, if possible, build cushions into your timelines to account for these unexpected potholes.

Disregarding the Future

When creating budgets and timelines, don’t forget to account for testing and maintenance, and be sure to discuss these issues with the client before the project begins. Digital projects require extensive testing to resolve technical issues before the project goes live; dedicate 10%-25% of the budget to yearly maintenance to account for bug fixes and updates.

Overriding Expert Opinion in Favor of Personal Preference

This tip is geared toward the client but is important to note. I once had a client tell me at the beginning of a project, “You guys are the experts. That’s why I’m hiring you.” Two weeks later, during an initial design presentation, he turned down our concept, explaining that it violated his sense of aesthetics. Choose the best experts, and then trust your experts. Listen to them, especially when you hear strong recommendations based on overall trends and use patterns. You have the right to make the final decision, but remember that you hired your experts for a reason: They know what they’re doing, and they can (hopefully) do it better than you.

I made each of these mistakes, but I learned from them, and I hope you can glean wisdom from my experiences in digital projects and avoid uncomfortable situations, save time and money, and increase satisfaction with your team and stakeholders.


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