Why do projects fail in the Digital Landscape?

Author avatar

Andrew Radburn

I’m going to start this post off with a bit of a knowledge bomb… here goes! Being a Project Manager can be tough. There, I said it. Obviously, that’s not to say other people’s jobs aren’t difficult (it’s not like we’re performing brain surgery here), but our roles can sometimes require a lot of juggling and problem solving.

We’re working away behind the scenes a lot of the time, trying our best to get projects across the line, so when things are working well (on time and to budget), we’re basically just doing our jobs…

In a perfect world, that’s how it would work every time. But more often than I’d like to admit, things can go wrong, and it’s our responsibility to manage these issues as best as we can.

With this in mind, here are a few things that can go wrong with digital campaigns and how to avoid them.

Scheduling

I like to think of my project plans as well-crafted pieces of art – I get a certain satisfaction knowing that I’ve planned in the right people to do the right work to the best of my ability. That being said, resource is at a premium, and if we aren’t checking for the latest availability within our squads, time will be double booked with someone else.

Working in a digital agency means there needs to be certain fluidity with our planning. A whole day spent scheduling can go out the window when more urgent work crops up, and we need to react in an agile manner.

Sometimes, urgent work can come crashing in, ruining my best laid plans. Or sometimes members of the executional team might be off sick or on holiday and we don’t have enough resource to cover the requirements, meaning the work suddenly looks like it might not be completed on time, threatening that all-important deadline.

To try and combat this, we have daily PM team catch-ups to ensure capacity issues are raised early. The system we use means that we can look for availability at a glance. Communication is also key to working and adapting our plans, so we can let people know to swap out or push back on tasks as soon as possible to avoid losing time and missing deadlines.

Planning

Planning goes hand-in-hand with the scheduling aspects of projects, but it’s subtly different. This entails forecasting requirements ahead of time.

Imagine you were baker making a cake. If you’d never made a chocolate cake before, chances are you’d know roughly what ingredients were required, but not necessarily in what order or how long certain things took. You’d look at cooking times and how much prep time you’d need. You’d review the recipe book periodically to ensure you were doing what was needed correctly as you went along – otherwise you’d end up with a chocolatey mess instead of a cake at the end.

The same principle applies to digital campaigns. All tasks throughout a project’s lifespan should be accounted for. This means including time for things like quick catch-ups, or instances where we need the client to deliver certain things. Amends and contingency can also be factored into timing plans to ensure key dates are met, allowing a little breathing room, should the unexpected happen.

Keeping clients and our teams updated with refactored timings and touch-points throughout the process enables collaboration and transparency between us all and makes for a better client relationship.

Scope creep

You’re in the final stages, nearing the end of a digital asset or campaign, only for someone to drop the bombshell and say something along the lines of ‘I like it, but wouldn’t it be great if it did x?’ or ‘Can we just change the look of this and this?’, only for it to affect the whole asset.

Sound familiar?

Depending on the seriousness or impact of the request, my answer is usually: “Yes, that’s a great idea! But unfortunately, we cannot commit to doing it this time, so let’s deploy what we have first and then tackle this as an addition or at a later date.”

This ensures that the person’s view has been taken on board, but I’m also trying to manage expectations, resource, and deadlines accordingly.

These last-minute items can quickly add up, and before you know it the final product is nothing like what was envisioned at the start. Instead of trying to please everyone all of the time, focus on delivering the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This ensures that the end product still functions and works as originally detailed, just not with all the bells and whistles that everyone is asking for in the final stages.

Before even nearing the end point of a project build, we have certain processes in place to document what each team will be doing in our briefing meetings. We use a Google Doc template to detail, capture, and refer back to as needed.

Each team member has access to this doc and can add to it as needed – this aids with collaboration and ensures all steps are clearly laid out. Review sessions occur throughout the project, so we can make sure everyone is on the same page and any issues are raised as soon as possible.

Risk management

Any project manager knows it’s vital to identify risks to their projects in advance. I’ve already touched on a few risks above, but there are other areas we need to be aware of too. Here are some of the things we need to consider for our digital campaigns:

  • Is the asset time sensitive for outreach? And if the deadline isn’t met or it’s delayed, what’s the potential outcome? (Will we lose link opportunities? Will it be no longer relevant?)
  • Has any data we’ve used in the asset been thoroughly fact checked and all sources signed off as reliable? Keeping screen grabs or pdfs as proof in case web content changes is essential here.
  • Does the asset mention brands we don’t work with? Is there a possibility of backlash from them and have we made the client aware of this?

Factoring in the impact of a potential risk, the probability of that risk occurring, and any counter-measures to prevent the risk from happening are needed to ensure a smooth transition from concept and build to release.

So, there you have it: some of my thoughts about what can go wrong with projects in the life of a digital project manager, and hopefully some potential solutions to reduce some of these issues. If you read this and have any thoughts, I’d love to hear from you!

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