April 26, 2022

Why most digital projects fall behind schedule, and how to avoid it

Starting a new project is where most mistakes happen. These overlooked details will metastasize and come back to bite when time is running out.

I have been in the situation a few times throughout my career to notice a pattern. It goes like this:

Everything starts with a beautiful kickoff, freshly signed contracts, and a positive attitude. The schedule is laid out beautifully on the whiteboard and the team agrees it's a tight deadline, but oh well, we have all been there before. 

Some will blame sales for trying to accommodate, some will think it is just part of how things work in this business.Teams split up and work gets started. As sprints roll by, blocker-by-blocker the design and development debt starts increasing. If the client fails to provide assets, or a teammate gets sick.Suddenly 40h turn into 60h, 80h…

Tensions grow high and clients are restless. One thing is left behind here and there and at the QA everything falls apart.  Then it is hail-mary time. All hands on deck. We all have theories. Why did this happen? Or better, why did this happen once again? Who will be the one taking the blame?

While the answer might be straightforward, the fact is that in the eagerness to close deals, most people tend to overlook simple but critical details. Let me exemplify:

The scope

Rome wasn’t built in a sprint. Stakeholders need our help to learn how to prioritize. They are not the experts, hence why they are hiring a tech company. We need to provide as much clarity as we can in order to show them that they will be okay if that feature goes into 2.0. Timing is critical and, sometimes, it is better just to get out there and then refine things. 

The team is understaffed

Sales representatives need to have an understanding of the necessary lift to put things together. And an agreement with the client needs to be favorable for both parties. Pushing developers over the edge will just push them off the wagon while the train is at full speed. And to recover from that takes time. It is better to staff correctly to watch closely and react at any possibility of things getting off the rail.

Lack of clarity

We sometimes hear at a high level what the client’s dream solution is. And we take it with a grain of salt because we understand that web, software, and app development is built brick by brick. However, we cannot forget the client does not always have this notion. So it is important to communicate as clearly as possible what can be done on the budget and timeframe. 

Project management

When it comes to software development no matter if the team is senior engineers or junior designers, they all still need leadership. A project manager can take the responsibility of being accountable for the progress. At Advanced Mankind, for example, we provide a project manager included in any projects. It is for the benefit of the client and our own benefit to make sure things are going as planned.

How to avoid these issues

Some of these are self-explanatory, but here are other strategies we can use to remediate these issues and deliver a project that is pixel perfect and on time:

Design systems

A Design System will speed up production and maintain consistency throughout the process. Changes are rare and thought through. By leveraging tools like Storybook designers and developers can work in sync, increasing efficiency and the quality of the final product.

Staff Augmentation

Adjusting the team on the go and being proactive is important. Do not feel bad about admitting that perhaps the team speed was a bit slower than expected, or if one of the developers is having trouble with a new version of a library. These things happen. Being prepared and ready to adjust will save a lot of headaches on the final days of the project. If you need to add team members on the go, do so. There’s always somebody ready to help if you only ask.

Communication

Check the team schedule. Is one of the designers taking a week off? When does that fall on the schedule? Do we need a replacement or can we just juggle things around?

Also, make sure to verify the local holidays. With offshore teams in countries like India, Mexico and Brasil it is always good making sure you account for these days off. You don’t want to miss a deadline because it's a city holiday in Sao Paulo but you also don’t want that teammate to miss out on Carnaval. Plan accordingly, discuss with your team and make the right decisions before it's the day before.

Documentation

Documentation is paramount for long-term projects. Having a well-documented project will ensure the project is team-agnostic, meaning you can start version 3.0 a year later and the team will understand where things were left.

From a design standpoint, documentation also ensures quality, consistency, and continuity, making it a solid foundation in case the project expands.

In conclusion

Delivering a digital product is not an exact science, as much as it might sound. We are dealing with people, country regulations, accents, and most importantly the client's expectations. Being as proactive and communicative from day one will ensure you can keep the client happy, deliver a solid product, and have a motivated team.

Hello! I'm
thiago
.
I am a
Head of Design
at Advanced Mankind.
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