Never Skip the Strategy
I hate the word strategy. It’s generic, vague and sounds expensive!
And I am not alone. I have worked for years as a software consultant, planning and leading the execution of large projects. Discussions around strategy have almost always been met with resistance or uncertainty. Many clients want to skip the smoke and mirrors and just start designing and coding.
It is often quoted that a high-percentage of software projects fail. Many might say “software development is hard” or attribute failure to some lack of technical or execution expertise. In my experience this is not the case! Unless you are on the bleeding edge of innovation, your business is probably not doing anything that hasn’t been done hundreds or thousands of times in software. There may even be off-the-shelf software that solves your problems perfectly.
It is unlikely that your particular problem is overly difficult to solve.
So, if solving the problem isn’t the issue at hand, what is? The answer that I’ve seen played out across multiple domains is defining the problem. In other words, making sure your execution phase solves the right problem. And this is what strategy should accomplish.
I shudder when conversations start with “We need a mobile application” or “We want to do social marketing”. If you follow that statement with “why?” there will often be a different answer from each stakeholder. How can a project be successful if each stakeholder has a different vision of success. This brings us to the first strategic objective:
Find the money
Business objectives, at their core, are basically always tied to money in some way.
I often pursue that “why” question until I really understand what it will mean for their business. Usually “we need a mobile application” becomes “we want more users more often” which means “we want to do more business” which means “we want more money.”
Now quantify that. What does the payoff look like and how does that stack against the cost of execution? One could argue that this is the client responsibility. This is false. Business owners, executives or other stakeholders rarely have the technical knowledge they need to make these decisions. That’s why they called us. I have a responsibility to help them seek a return on their investment that is appropriate for their business.
Choose the right tactics
When a client says “We need a mobile application” they have already discarded a large swath of our collective expertise. Our agency is capable of offering services including mobile and web development, digital and social marketing, videography and design. We have experts in each of these fields. Conversations that start with “We need service X” often aren’t a great fit for us or the client.
We like conversations that start with “We want to grow our revenue/users/etc”.
This opens the floor to a discussion about goals, challenges and options. Often “we need a mobile application” means users are leaving their site because of a poor mobile experience. Many of our clients do not understand the difference between a mobile application and a mobile-friendly website. It’s possible, even likely, that a responsive redesign, improved site organization or content and better analytics will have double (or more) the impact at half the price!
If it is not measurable, it mostly likely does not make sense to implement.
The business objective has been defined in a quantifiable way. Tools have been evaluated and chosen based on the goals. Stakeholders have been given the power to choose an option that makes sense for their business. Now document that success. This is a critical part of successful project management, especially when combatting scope creep. Example:
“Business X is losing customers due to a poor website experience on mobile devices. Redesigning the front-end of the website and featuring most-visited pages more prominently in the navigation should decrease the bounce-rate and improve user engagement. This additional traffic will allow the business to increase [specific goal metrics]”
Now when Joe Stakeholder says, “I have a great idea, let’s add feature Y to the project”, a good project manager can reframe that against the definition of success. “That feature is a great idea but doesn’t reinforce the core objective.” Returning to the mission keeps scope in check and helps ensure success. This is much better for Joe Stakeholder than a project that gets pulled in multiple directions due to lack of focus.
Ultimately, a great exercise to complete within your business is to define the following:
- What are your core, measurable goals?
- What tools do you have to reach them?
- Which tool offers the most appropriate return on your investment?
There may be a lot of specific deliverables to strategy such as due diligence, information architecture, empathy maps, user interviews and more. These all help prepare for the execution phase. But ultimately, strategy is about one thing – defining the problem.