The importance of discipline in delivering great digital products

For the fourth of five articles looking at how technology is moving businesses forward, we take a look at the power of process.

The most common questions asked at the beginning of any digital product journey are likely to be can it be done, by when and how much will it cost?

The answer to those questions will likely be more questions, but they have to be the right ones. Gathering information to provide clarity on capability, timelines and budget requires technical expertise, relevant experience and one other key attribute - discipline. 

George Washington is believed to have said: “Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.”

While an army might seem like overkill to build an app, the sentiment rings true. Discipline must be at the heart of any project from the very beginning, through every delivery hiccough to the final product.

“What we bring is structure and control to define a client’s vision but bring it to life,” explains Apadmi’s Operations Director Greg Robinson. “Most clients have an idea of what they want to do - but not a project yet, so that’s where we can help.

“It’s about assessing an objective, a business requirement, a customer need, shaping that into a solution and then using our skills and processes to deliver it. We take a team of talented deliverers, designers and developers, set them a clear challenge, then create a disciplined framework which allows them to deliver.”

We like to think that we bring an energetic and disruptive approach to our partnerships; complementing their existing team structure but bringing the capabilities to drive the project harder and faster than they would have internally or with their other big IT suppliers.

Failure is rife

The process has to be non-negotiable, most notably because the high failure rate for projects is a stark warning of how easily things can go wrong. Although this CHAOS report by the Standish Group uses data from 2015, it suggests only 29% of projects measured are successful.

“A real challenge is that the focus inevitably becomes the end goal and people don’t consider the project itself,” continues Robinson. “The number of projects which fail to meet their absolute requirements is frighteningly high.”

Putting the right steps in place, tried and tested through a wealth of experience, is the best way of building a platform for success. The confusion and questions at the beginning can be countered by breaking things down.

That means making sure everybody knows what the requirements are, what product is being created and then ensure it’s mapped out in terms of goals, milestones, success criteria, who the end user is and what their experience will be.

Don’t dance around the disco

Robinson continues: “You have to take everyone on a journey, that includes clients and project teams, and you have to do it in definable chunks of work as it needs to be delivered, not necessarily as it is in their minds.

“The idea should be sliced up into manageable blocks during discovery - and we absolutely insist on Discovery - taking it down into its component parts. What does it mean for the consumer, for the business and what are the benefits for both? It’s about taking it from an idea to inception, build and then support.”

The goal for any discovery process has to balance exploring the possible, while also keeping things tangible. The clue is in the name - teams are attempting to successfully discover requirements and provide visibility of the task ahead.

Keeping risk at bay

The output could be a scope, a product strategy or even a proof of concept. The point is it must deliver value for the client by exploring what needs to be built, by when and in what order. What is going to provide the most value in the safest and fastest way?

“Deliverables could include a sitemap, wireframes, a development plan, data outputs,” says Robinson. “Or it could be about timings and a sprint plan - what is the cadence, what happens in each sprint, what is needed from the client.

“Essentially the more disciplined we can be about the information which is gathered, the more we’re able to manage risk. Some risks are unavoidable, some too great and there’s no way of mitigating them, but visibility means you’re able to make informed decisions about project direction.”

Going as fast as you can

Time pressures on projects are inevitable. There’s an expectation that the world of MVPs and MLPs (minimum loveable rather than just viable products) means teams should be able to move faster, but getting the pace right is crucial.

“Projects can be very much like a three-legged race,” says Robinson. “When you’re going at maximum speed, things are rushed, frantic and you’re more likely to make mistakes.

“There’s an expression which comes from the US Navy Seals which is: slow is smooth and smooth is quick. The point being that slowing things down actually helps you to go faster, because things are more considered and co-ordinated and you have to be in control to manage that.”

So back to military references and discipline again. George Washington would approve.

If you need help or support with any of the above, we’d love to hear from you. Alternatively, you can find out more about the work we do here.

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