At RevGen, our clients demand digital solutions that provide a competitive advantage, tailored to their needs, and work with their customer or employee experience. In short, solutions that are not available “out of the box.”
When we set about developing these solutions, excitement runs high as we establish and socialize the vision, however, it can ebb as we move into planning. While it’s tempting to skip planning and jump right into designing and building, investing time into developing a solid plan and mobilizing the team is critical to ensuring a successful outcome.
Blown budgets, missed deadlines, crunch time, weekend work (aka “death marches”), and last-minute design changes — we’ve all seen these on struggling projects, and they can usually be traced back to poor planning. At RevGen, we carefully map out the scope, approach, timeline, risks, current state, and team norms while defining functional and technical requirements that guide the team as they move onto more exciting phases like designing and building.
We break planning down into four areas: Project Mobilization, Current State Understanding, Requirements Gathering, and Plan Creation.
As projects move from the excitement of creating a grand vision to planning for the “heavy lifting” of designing and building digital solutions, the team composition and focus can change. Roles and responsibilities need to be defined. The people charged with establishing the vision switch to communicating that vision. As the team grows, it needs tools and communication channels to collaborate. The visionaries need to socialize the vision to the new team members and incorporate their feedback.
Project mobilization addresses these challenges through the following steps:
Collaboration — As a new team comes together, it is important to clearly establish how they collaborate. This involves making decisions such as:
What tools will the team use to collaborate? Teams, Google, Slack, Atlassian, Trello, etc.?
What other tools will the team need? Examples include tools for creating mockups or comps, architecture diagrams, process diagrams, project plans, etc.
Communication — Communication is vital to a successful project. It is important to consider regular meetings and communication cadences that will be used to bring the team together. Examples include sprint planning, daily standups, office hours, etc.
Onboarding — When bringing on new team members, consideration needs to be given to all the tools, information, and access they will need. Planning for this in advance makes this process much smoother and allows new team members to become productive faster.
Project Kickoff — Finally, we like to conduct a project kickoff meeting to align all the stakeholders. A lot of preparation goes into making this successful, as it builds on the vision and the outputs of each step above.
Current State Understanding
Understanding the current state is critical to building a successful plan, and we always advocate that each team spends some time understanding and documenting the current state that will influence the design and implementation of the solution. Depending on the project, this may involve understanding technical or business architecture, team structures, processes, integrations, tools, or systems.
When an application is being replaced or enhanced, the team can start digging into understanding and documenting business rules, integrations, and design decisions. The team should also deep dive into architectures, integrations, APIs, and other systems that will influence the design. Anything that impacts the project should be understood to allow the team to assess risks, define requirements, and manage change.
Functional and technical requirements directly shape the digital solutions being developed and ensure that they meet the needs of the business and the users. We advocate the following steps when gathering requirements:
Identify Stakeholders — We begin by identifying all the stakeholders for the project. This should include the business, end-users, technologists, management, etc.
Elicit & Document Requirements — Using a variety of techniques (brainstorming, current documentation/solution review, focus groups, interviews, etc.), we gather requirements and document them.
Validate & Prioritize — Once the requirements are documented, it is important to review them with the stakeholders. This allows them to view their requirements in the context of all requirements gathered, which aids in prioritization. It also allows the stakeholders to correct, add, or remove any requirements. Finally, we work through a process of prioritization that allows all stakeholders to rank requirements from most to least important.
A comprehensive plan is more than a Gantt chart showing workstreams, tasks, and completion dates. If the team is following an Agile or hybrid methodology, they need to start thinking about initiatives and epics. They need to understand how the processes, architectures, designs or user experiences, and technologies fit together.
We use different tools to document each of these, but often create process models, capability models, architecture diagrams, various activity planning models, change management plans, DevSecOps approaches, environment management plans, product roadmaps, RAID logs, testing plans, mockups, and other artifacts as well as, yes, Gantt charts, to document and socialize the plan.
A word of advice: A critical part of planning success is encouraging your team to speak up.
Every stakeholder should feel their concerns are being heard, understood, and addressed before we transition to designing or building the solution. This way, all concerns and “what-abouts” are cleared up in full view of the stakeholders!
Creating a plan is not the most exciting part of building digital solutions, however, it is essential to project success. The guidance above will help your team understand what needs to be built, how it will be built, and what their role is. That understanding is the foundation and scaffolding necessary to see the vision become reality.
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