Digital project management is complex. With a potentially global marketplace and workforce, it can take awhile to get all your ducks (or pixels) in a row. Whether it’s endless multitasking that takes you away from the task at hand, or constant requests from clients to jump on ‘quick calls’ — digital businesses face a number of unique challenges. Productivity, morale, and client outcome are all impacted by how projects are managed.
Thankfully the digital world also offers lots of opportunities for project work, including online tools that offer solutions to common problems. Here are five project management lessons taken from digital businesses — learn and watch your projects, and your business, grow.
Accountability: Who’s responsible?
Where does the buck stop? In start ups, a lack of hierarchy leads to accountability confusion. What seems like a utopian escape from corporate tyranny actually ends up letting companies down, because they can’t function without clear leadership and accountability structures.
As a project manager, it’s your responsibility to clarify which elements each individual, and team, are responsible for. Whether you want to use maps or organizational charts: make sure that people understand what they are liable for, and how they are being measured against core KPIs (key performance indicators).
Make sure that projects, tasks, and clients are clearly divided amongst the team so that everyone knows where they stand, and who’s in charge. Clarify roles during the initial kickoff meeting that sets out what’s ahead for a project, but don’t forget to move responsibilities around as the project matures.
Always give final responsibility for overall project delivery to someone, especially when it comes to client communication. Allocate client or project managers in a clear way to minimize confusion: a simple old-school board is often the best way to divvy up tasks.
If checking tasks is a complex and time-consuming process, implement a tiered structure where multiple rounds of edits and approvals take the pressure off gateway staff.
Be clear when setting goals who is responsible for delivery and execution. Be positive and encouraging when it comes to goals, but also be transparent about minimum targets and KPIs. Goals help prop up accountability structures, and they stop people from having endless conversations that hold projects up.
Transparency: Better collaborations
Businesses should operate transparently, with an open and collaborative workspace where team members are encouraged to share contributions with each other. Transparency about business decisions will keep teams lean and focused, but it will also help different parts of the business work better with each other.
Give different teams access to each other so that people within your organization begin to see the bigger picture. Don’t always make different departments go through intermediaries. Getting copywriters to speak directly to the developers will help both sides understand how to deliver better projects in the long-run. (Just make sure they are speaking the same language by setting out some communication expectations first).
Not sure which software development framework to use? Kanban, Scrum and Agile ways of working can all make a big difference to productivity, but implementation should be organic to ensure team buy-in.
Create a sense of togetherness by sharing team successes. Open praise and validation will help solidify team ties.
Have an open project comms tool that allows for complete project transparency: a solid communication environment will be your project savior. Choose an environment that’s easy to use and versatile.
Focus on the values behind collaboration. In our world of connected devices and IoT, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins recently reminded us that the main aim of collaboration is to ensure that “humanity’s creative minds are connected”. It’s an important reminder for digital businesses that collaboration should always put people and ideas at its heart.
R&D: How to stay ahead
Big tech companies have embraced the importance of research when it comes to staying one step ahead. Why? Because they know that if you’re solely working on what’s in front of you, you are already two years out of date. By giving teams time to think outside the box and be creative, you’re investing in your company’s future.
Google Research is a great example of how a company can embrace research at every level of the business, but research isn’t just for huge tech giants with surplus income: every business should spare time and money now to invest in what’s coming next.
Does it work? Well, some of Google’s best products like Gmail and Adsense came out of extra-curricular employee research projects. Things at Google may have changed since those days, but at what cost to innovation?
Push the boundaries of teams and get a diverse mix of people working together on flagship projects. Innovative projects will improve company culture; people love to work somewhere innovative that has a future.
Always keep part of your annual budget geared towards the next 5-10 years of the industry. Cash flow can be tricky during the early days of a business, but if you cease to invest in your future: cash will be the least of your worries.
Reward innovative thinkers, but also reign them in when you need to. Get different people thinking laterally: team days and project meetings are a great place to set out a company vision and get more introverted figures moving.
Competition: Gamify the industry
Digital businesses hire people who are influencers in their own right. This can create friction amongst team members and management who want to ensure project ‘loyalty’.
Rather than dwelling on the elements that sit outside your business, use all this knowledge to your advantage and create a competitive atmosphere of up-skilling.
Have you got some big names working for you? Celebrate that by asking them to train junior team members and host company events that capitalize on their reputation and experiences.
Give people the freedom to grow and learn: encourage side projects. These are inevitable in the digital world, and you can’t fight them. If you do, people will leave.
Use the competitive nature of the industry to your advantage by keeping tabs on how people are progressing. Regularly assigned employees new tasks and promote them when they merit it: don’t leave your best people behind; give them career progression before they find it elsewhere.
Culture: Get people excited about working for you
A big part of project delivery comes down to how people feel about working for you. Shared missions and values help staff feel more involved.
Canadian start up Shopify knew that they needed to invest in motivating their staff in order to serve their target demographic: online store owners. Because Shopify sell the dream of running your own business, Shopify have had to become experts at motivating their own staff as well, encouraging them to explore entrepreneurship by giving them freedom and independence.
This means that staff can actually relate to Shopify’s customers. The company’s commitment to entrepreneurs is also reflected in their content strategy; Shopify didn’t lose that start up mentality, even when the company grew bigger.
Team culture is influenced by where you work, but it’s something that can also be passed on through content. Working with virtual teams is a digital challenge; as a business you have to work hard to ensure that overseas team members feel supported and valued. Frequent video conferencing and project chat can help keep teams tight, even when they are oceans away. Instill a sense of respect for overseas staff in your back home staff, and encourage them to collaborate and learn from each other.
Define your own corporate culture early on: don’t think that you need to be big and fancy to have a culture. Two or three people working in a startup lab? You guys need a culture too. When you hit those first critical growth spurts, you want to have a company culture that’s ripe and ready for action.
Project manage or die may sound a * little * extreme, but managing projects should definitely be one of your business priorities. It’s important to keep refining project processes as you grow: what worked for six members of staff, won’t scale up to thirty without some adjustments.
Keep learning from your team and other founders in order to deliver awesome projects on time, and on budget. What’s your biggest project challenge right now?
This article was written by Patrick Foster:
I’m an ecommerce consultant, fascinated with all things digital and business. I often find that ecommerce companies struggle with project management and processes, so I thought I’d do my bit to help! I contribute to a variety of entrepreneurial websites, and I love to see solid people-led businesses grow and thrive, both online and offline.