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TYPO3 Project Management - Setting up Projects for Success (1/2)

What makes a web project run over time or budget? How can you avoid that from the start? Leaders and strategists from some of our TYPO3 partner agencies shared with us how to spot early signs, even before kick-off. They underscored how solid planning and good communications can set many website builds on the path to timely, (cost-)efficient success. 

We spoke with some of our expert TYPO3 CMS partners to investigate:

  1. What are the significant factors that make website projects run over time or budget?
  2. What can clients do to help keep costs down and timelines compact?

We were expecting to talk about technology choices, but most responses were about project management. In this article, we’ll focus on the first question to set you up for success with project management and communication.

How can you keep budgets under control? Advice from TYPO3 digital agencies.

Keeping budgets under control is as vital as ever. Companies in every part of the economy cannot afford to skimp on investing in digital marketing and software development that brings them closer to their customers. But how can I reduce the chances of my project costing more than I was told? What are the common patterns and traits of projects plagued with delays and cost overruns? What can I do to prevent waste from the start? 

  • Before you begin: Requirement gathering 
  • Define success with measurable criteria
  • Build a vision:  Stakeholder workshop
  • Clarity: Project Communication
  • Better UX: Put users first  
  • MVP: What’s the highest priority?
  • Start right, with the right partner 

Here’s what our expert partners told us ...

Before you begin: requirement gathering

Costs and expectations are determined in the planning phase. Everyone needs a clear and fair picture of what’s coming. Sebastian Thomaskutty, Chief Strategy Officer & Partner of PIT Solutions AG, strives to “ensure clear project definition and good requirement gathering. Avoiding misunderstandings from both sides.” False assumptions or incomplete estimates can lead to unpleasant and expensive surprises.

Investigate until you are sure you understand what a project will involve. “Incomplete customer briefings” can derail a project, “especially for complex systems with interfaces to various external systems,” says Daniel Waschlewski, Senior Digital Manager of Jwied Digitalagentur. Honest expectation management ahead of time is much easier than explaining exploding costs or timelines later.

Nitin Chauhan, CEO, NITSAN Technologies Pvt. Ltd explained their process to get the “maximum possible clear project specification and design” right from the start. This includes listing out risk factors which leads to conducting a “feasibility study of required features.” By looking at the feasibility of features at the start, they can determine the expected timeline. 

✅  Requirement gathering: Have a clear definition of requirements before the project begins.

Define success with measurable criteria

“Define project goals and make them measurable,” says Alexander Hornen, CEO of L.N. Schaffrath DigitalMedien GmbH. “Implementation of functions that do not or contribute to project goals” is a direct path to budget problems. Focus on what has the greatest impact, and figure out how you’re going to measure it.

Stay on track with milestones. Our partner, RedKiwi, explains (in this blog post in Dutch) the importance of the difference between Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and goals: KPIs are measurable milestones on the path to a goal. Set up KPIs to act as milestones to an ultimate goal.

Celebrate along the way. When you’ve got those KPIs figured out—how you’re going to measure success along the way—celebrate it when you achieve them. PIT Solutions AG has thought a lot about how team structure and communication contribute to software project success. Chief Strategy Officer & Partner, Sebastian Thomaskutty, encourages “tracking interim milestones is an excellent way to track a project’s progress.”

✅  Define success criteria and how you’ll measure them. Celebrate meeting milestones along the way.

Build a vision: stakeholder workshop

Build a shared vision. Many agencies offer workshops to bring everyone together to kick off their projects, or even before. Getting everyone together (in person or virtually) helps build rapport, trust, and a shared vision—all factors that help deliver success. 

“We offer customer workshops for each project to clarify conceptual, visual, and technical issues in advance. In the best case, even before the submission of a concrete offer,” says Daniel Waschlewski, Senior Digital Manager at Jwied Digitalagentur. 

Set expectations. Christoph Jochheim, Senior Digital Consultant at move:elevator GmbH, gives insight into a typical workshop plan with his clients:

  1. Commence the project with a product vision workshop together with all relevant stakeholders. 
  2. Work out a product vision board and a story map. 
  3. Document the requirements, including the estimated effort required to implement each feature. 
  4. Define an MVP version of the product based on the available budget and essential features. 
  5. During the project share a project plan, such as a Gantt chart, with all stakeholders. Keep it up-to-date and communicate potential or actual delays in regular progress meetings.

✅  Bring all stakeholders together to kick off a successful project.

Clarity: project communication

Clarity in project management and communication is essential for success. Without clarity—clear goals, clear authority, clear communication—your project is at risk.

Clear communication saves money. Without “proper communication during various stages of project implementation between different stakeholders,” it is tough to prevent budget overruns, advises Sebastian Thomaskutty, Chief Strategy Officer & Partner at PIT Solutions AG. 

Clear authority controls scope. “Ongoing scope changes and questions during the implementation phase,” can be avoided, explains Lukas Rüegg, Managing Director at RTP GmbH, “Enable a dedicated project manager to drive decisions and get all client-side stakeholders together.”

Too many cooks in the kitchen. “Keep project teams small.” Empower a project owner to make final decisions. Daniel Waschlewski, Senior Digital Manager at Jwied Digitalagentur, highlights a typical drag on delivery efficiency and quality. “Many project members means many opinions. This delays decision-making processes immensely, and deadlines cannot be kept.”

✅  Make sure lines of communication are clear.

Better UX: put users first

Focus on what your users need and want. The better the experience you offer, the more value it will return in the long run.

Good UX is worth it. Investing in delivering a great user experience can lower customer acquisition costs, reduce support requests, and even improve organic search results. One of the biggest expected changes to SEO coming in 2021 is that Google will start considering user experience as a key ranking factor. Red Kiwi offers 6 Principles - User engagement for a good user experience

Concept before design. Work with your digital agency to build a shared understanding of customer needs. Lukas Rüegg, Managing Director at RTP GmbH, advises: “Implement a concept phase before starting to 'design' a website and talk about needs and pain points and not about 'solutions.’ The service provider will find the best solution for the given needs.” 

Customers first. Client teams are sometimes “too focused on the internal view of the project,” focused solely on their own goals, explains Alexander Hornen, CEO at L.N. Schaffrath DigitalMedien GmbH. “The customer’s expectations are often underrepresented.” Help your clients focus on achieving their goals by helping them focus on their customers.

✅  Put users' needs at the center of planning and design.

MVP: What’s the highest priority?

Minimum Viable Product: deliver what’s important now. Iterate, improve, add more later.

What is this website for? When there’s “no common understanding of the mandatory feature set,” how can you decide the highest priority? Christoph Jochheim, Senior Digital Consultant at move:elevator GmbH, underscores a common issue that can cause budget overruns. “Taking the time to be clear on your website, what features are critical to delivering business value (and customer satisfaction) is time well spent. Build it with those essential features, launch it. Make it better over time.”

You can spend too much time preparing. It is human nature to want it all, but it is often unrealistic to expect to be able to have all the specifications up front. Websites are well-suited to making them better and better as you go. The arguably outdated “waterfall” project management method, where you define, design, and build everything before you launch anything, doesn’t apply to the web. Alexander Hornen, CEO of L.N. Schaffrath DigitalMedien GmbH, contends, “While writing a specification book, you could better use this time to start developing the website step-by-step. Specification books never lead to comparable offers and are mostly outdated when the development begins.” 

Working iteratively gives the project time to evolve. “Divide large projects in smaller releases,” says Lukas Rüegg, Managing Director at RTP GmbH. Set business goals for the site and new features as you add them. “Stick to a given scope and add new wishes and changes to a backlog to be released later.” Keep what delivers more value, improve what needs improving. New features may suggest themselves through experience and feedback that you can only get by launching your MVP. 

✅  Define the highest priorities and consider starting with a minimum viable product.

Start right, with the right partner

In this article, we’ve focused on best practices and how some of our partners overcome the risks associated with getting a project started. In our follow-up article, we’ll get into later project delivery phases. 

Starting right, with the right partner, can be vital in setting up your project for success. Digital agencies with specialized expertise can give you higher-quality work faster. Every project is different. We want to help you get the most out of TYPO3 and introduce you to a partner who meets your needs. 

✅  Contact us and tell us about your project.

Thank you!

Our thanks to everyone who contributed their knowledge and experience to this article.