Is Your Digital Project on the Rocks? Use These 5 Next-Level Tips to Get Unstuck

It’s time to get real: That digital project your organization launched with such optimism just isn’t going as planned.

You started with a high level of interest across your organization, a hearty dose of executive support, and what seemed like a bulletproof plan. Now, though? Your schedule is off the rails, your budget is sunk, and you’ve got new issues popping up left and right. Meanwhile, internal stakeholders are growing increasingly restless and executive support is waning. In short, it’s a mess.

Admitting your digital project is off course may be difficult. But it’s the first necessary step toward making it right. What comes next — pinpointing your biggest obstacles and charting a path around them — is equally challenging. But with the right problem-solving approach, you can get your project back on track in record time.

Why Digital Initiatives Get Stuck

Before we dive into solutions, let’s take a step back and determine how you ended up here.

In a perfect world, digital product development is seamless. You, the product manager, have been on the product since its inception. You understand the opportunity and fit in the market, you’ve captured and prioritized every requirement, and your team has appropriately scoped and scheduled the work. Everyone on the team is rowing in the same direction and there are no surprises.

Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.

More often, digital projects have many of the right pieces in place — yet they still stumble over one of the following roadblocks:

  • Weak project management. The best project managers are much more than just order-takers or assistants. They are digitally dexterous leaders who understand every component of the project and know how to keep it moving forward. If your PM is more administrative assistant than expert guide, you may run into trouble.
  • Incomplete project requirements. This is a big one. Too often, teams don’t do the due diligence of talking to all the impacted internal and external stakeholders. As a result, they don’t gather all the requirements around which the project’s success actually hinges.
  • Requirement Bingo. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some digital project teams can’t seem to say no. They agree on a number of features at the outset, but as soon as a superior asks for another one, they agree to add it to the stack. As they continue adding new requirements along the way, the project’s scope — not to mention budget — turns into a constantly moving target.
  • Orphaned dependencies. Most digital projects include a number of dependencies that must be managed in order to complete the work. But in some cases, key dependencies — updating a legacy system, say — are never fully accounted for. A project team may work diligently to build a new feature while neglecting to assign ownership of an underlying dependency on which the feature’s success is staked.
  • Inherited messes. In some cases, new product managers are brought on board with a digital project already in the works. They can see that it didn’t get started off on the right foot, but they aren’t sure how to intervene productively. With so many unknowns and political landmines, they may feel like all they can do is rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

You may not know why your digital project is off course, but you know it when you see it. Perhaps your development team is already hard at work building a product even though it’s still not fully designed or scoped. Perhaps new team members are being onboarded in a laissez faire manner, without ensuring they understand the project’s requirements and dependencies. Or perhaps your team keeps underestimating work, sprint after sprint.

One thing you’re sure of? It’s time for a change.

5 Steps to Right Your Digital Project

Regardless of what’s ailing your digital initiative, you can correct course and take your project across the finish line. To do so, you’ll need to quickly and accurately pinpoint your biggest hurdles. Then, you’ll need to map a viable contingency plan that maximizes your available resources and puts you back on track to achieve your goals.

A quick Google search will serve up some well-known “basic blocking and tackling” tactics for getting a wayward project back on track: Find out what’s wrong, revisit your original plan, assess your resources, look for new solutions, and so on. These “entry-level” tips are useful, but in many ways they’re just common sense. What you really need are some next-level strategies and tactics with the power to get you unstuck.

1. Bring in an outside partner

When you’re knee-deep in a digital project, it’s natural for your team to develop a sort of tunnel vision. Unfortunately, this myopic perspective can make it difficult to diagnose and fix problems as they arise.

An external partner like UpTop can breathe fresh air into your organization. Because we aren’t deep in the weeds of your project, we can more clearly see the bigger picture. And because we aren’t mired in the complexities of your office politics, we can ask tough questions in a spirit of curiosity that your team wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

In many ways, an external partner can serve as a sort of therapist — one who can help your team work through existing issues and find a critical path forward.

For example, you may think you require a better dev ops team, when what you really need is to take a closer look at your user acceptance requirements. A UX audit, technical audit, or product strategy consultation can give you the wider view you need to find the best possible solution to your problems.

2. Dig deeper to uncover the “why”

When we step in to assist organizations in the throes of a precarious project, we start by helping them uncover the deeper “why” at the root of their troubles. With user research and other activities, such as discovery workshops, UX strategy sprints, and design thinking, we give teams the tools and insights they need to see their problems more clearly. What they uncover often has as much to do with how they function operationally as it does with the specifics of their current initiative.

By asking these deeper questions, we help cross-functional teams break free of institutional and cultural chains and enter a new phase of creative collaboration and innovation.

3. Leverage insights from users and competitors

It’s common for organizations like yours to look at competitors within the space and copy features or experiences in an effort to stay on par. That makes sense — but only to the extent that doing so actually serves your own organization’s business goals and users. Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be.

You may be midway through a digital project, but that doesn’t mean we won’t step back and test your underlying assumptions to find out what’s really best for your business and your users.

Not only will we conduct a competitive analysis, but we’ll also engage with your users. With both sources of information, we’ll gain new insights into what you’re already doing right and what needs improvement. We’ll use these key takeaways to drive your customer experience strategy rather than incubating ideas on unstable ground.

4. Lead up, down, and across

Proactive, visionary leadership is critical to the success of any digital initiative. As a product manager, you have the potential to be that leader. To do so, you must learn to lead up, down, and across your organization:

  • Leading up: Engaging your superiors so they understand the value of your initiative and become supportive advocates.
  • Leading down: Guiding your team to take the right steps at the right time so your digital project stays on track.
  • Leading across: Looping in your peers (and their teams) so they are prepared to do their part to keep your project moving.

We often help product managers and other executives tap into this multidirectional leadership superpower.

5. Share bad news fast

It’s natural to want to keep problems on a “need to know” basis as you work to quietly resolve them. After all, you don’t want to drag down morale or raise unnecessary questions about the viability of your project.

It may be counterintuitive, but the reverse is actually true. In order to retain your team’s trust and commitment to your project, you need to call out issues as soon as you see them — and quickly start ideating solutions. Remember, your credibility is your currency. By honestly assessing your project’s weaknesses, you can inspire your team to work together to make things better. That advice extends to its logical conclusion. If you get to the point where you doubt a project’s viability, you need to be willing to cut bait.

If your digital project is off-track, you need help — and fast. Let’s work together to quickly reorient your team and get you back on track to achieve your goals. We’re ready to get started.