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Getting digital done

Photo by Robert Anasch on  Unsplash

Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Finishing things, or even starting them, can be a challenge. When the thing is a digital project rather than the washing up, it gets harder still.

There are three things that are particular barriers to getting digital projects getting done: fear of failure, complexity and permission.

Fear of failure

Sometimes wanting things to be perfect is an excuse people hide behind when they're scared of things going wrong. This turns into an organisational culture of being risk averse. So it takes aaaaaages to get anything done.

It’s better to take an agile approach: get something that works but is imperfect out the door and iterate.

Agile as a way of working is increasingly found outside its original web and software development space. Agile methodology favours “responding to change over following a plan.” This isn’t to say that agile means no planning. It’s about planning being responsive to circumstances and trends.

Also, until you get your product tested by people who are meant to use it, you won’t know which bit of your project you need to devote additional planning time to. Sanjay Malhotra, chief technical officer of Clearbridge Mobile, says that agile can avoid perfectionism that “can cripple teams” and “get in the way of progress”.

Working towards a minimum viable product, something that works, can help get digital projects done.

Complexity

Digital projects often touch many parts of an organisation’s work. They can quickly become so complicated that making progress is really hard.

Breaking things up into smaller chunks or starting with a pilot is better than trying to do everything in one go.

I asked a colleague how he was able to get new fundraising campaigns going with clients who didn’t yet have everything in place. His answer was to keep the project to a small number of people in order to make it flexible.

“Simplify, don’t complicate,” he said.

Delivering simple changes (the delicious low-hanging fruit!) and testing ideas as soon as possible will help generate good will from colleagues.

It’s sensible to chop up a project and roll out features one by one. Launch a website that does what it really needs to do, and build more advanced functionality over time.

Breaking digital projects into smaller, simpler pieces gives more time and space to decide whether you and your users really need things, and to test individual functions such as registering, or booking a ticket for an event. And it means that projects are less likely to get stuck in a tangled mess of complexity.

Permission

Digital projects usually involve some degree of change. The best ones are about trying out new ways of doing things. And charities are especially risk averse, for good reasons and bad.

As a result, projects can get stuck waiting for laborious sign-off processes or stakeholder buy-in, or butting up against inflexible working cultures.

There are two ways to tackle this: getting permission to experiment, or going ahead and experimenting anyway.

The “ask for forgiveness, not permission” approach is tempting, and can work if you can quickly show clear progress. I'm naturally a doer so this attitude and approach really appeals to me.

But I’ve learnt that getting permission to experiment is a better approach, more likely to bring all stakeholders on board.

Describe what you’re trying to achieve, the big picture. Then show how a small, discreet project can bring the organisation closer to that goal without costing the earth or causing severe disruption. Instead of asking for sign-off for a massive, fully itemised and costed project, ask for permission to experiment on a smaller scale.

Then share results and what you’ve learned. And iterate. This way you’re much more likely to bring people along with you and you’ll be in a better position to ask for permission (and budget!) to scale things up. I know this works from my own experience. And I recently heard from a participant at my Digital Leadership Forum that this is exactly how he decided to go about getting approval for his website (and CRM) project.

If you follow these three bits of advice – on fear of failure, complexity and permission – you’re much more likely to succeed. And get digital projects done.