Cornerstones of a successful digital project

Developing digital solutions is often seen first and foremost as a pile of technical issues that need to be resolved. I believe there are four components that are crucial for a successful digital project: Technical core competencies, process knowhow, leadership and business mindset. Here I explain each thoroughly.

What makes a good digital development project? There are as many viewpoints and opinions as there are people. As we have been following the digital development of companies all the way from startups to large-scale corporations, there is one stubborn theme that seems to stick around: Developing digital solutions is seen first and foremost as a pile of technical issues that need to be resolved. And of course, to resolve technical problems, all we need are technically competent people, right?

Oftentimes, as tech experts are onboarded into a project team they are simply seen as technical resources. “That is their job”, you might say. But here is where we go wrong time and time again. The world of digital development doesn’t work that way, no matter how to twist it.

It is time to change the perspective. When we look into any digital development project, we believe there are four components that are crucial for its success and each and every tech team should have skills and know-how on all of them to be successful.

Let me break it down for you.

Core competences

Okay, let’s face it -- this is really a no-brainer. The technical core competencies are the foundation of all development projects, no matter whether we are talking about programming, UX design or anything in between. For any team aiming to create a technical masterpiece, the technical bits and pieces need to be in place and in pristine condition.

Any experienced developer can program great software and design outstanding UX but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. One of the often hidden talents of a top-notch developer is in guiding their client to understanding how the technical quality affects the lifetime cost of a digital product. A few real-life examples here: cutting corners in user testing can come with a hefty price tag later on in the development stage. Alternatively, having technical debt is always a part of every project, but not understanding and managing it well can lead to problems when the solution needs to be upscaled. The key to success is to make informed choices in every stage of the solution’s lifecycle. This brings us to the next point.

Process knowhow

The question is not what, but how we do it. If we haven’t figured out how we should do things we are likely to hit a brick wall sooner or later.

No two companies are alike, and for that reason, the capability to adapt the way of doing things to each company and its current state can really make or break a project. If this goes wrong, the results in many cases can be seen as higher maintenance costs and a slowing-down of development. This is something that no one wants to see in a digital project that has eaten up a great amount of both time and money. Team leadership

In modern software development, where self-reliance is a virtue, great leadership skills come into play. In fact, a tech team-leader should be most importantly considered as a coach with a responsibility to make sure that each member of the team has understood their role and responsibilities in the development process. This also means giving them a solid foundation on which they can thrive without having to micro-manage. A great coach is also capable of bringing the right people around the same table and making them speak the same language. Not an easy task, that’s for sure.

As the seniority level of the team rises, so does the need for a great coach to point everyone’s focus in the right direction. The most important task for a coach-minded leader is to ensure that all team member’s time and effort is put into the right things and to create an atmosphere that boosts productivity and positive momentum. The importance of great leadership and coaching skills is ever more crucial in the current, highly competitive talent market; without a good leadership culture, attracting and retaining the most sought-after IT professionals is a tough challenge.

Business mindset

The last, but by no means least component to success is making the development team and business come together in a joined mission. This is hands-down the hardest piece of the puzzle to master. We have all, way too often witnessed development projects in which aligning the goals of the business and development team and working towards a common goal has somehow failed. Typically this comes down to the digital team not having a clear vision of the business goal their technical solution is meant to achieve.

I challenge you to think about the last time you have gone through the business model canvas of your product with the development team. How about an ROI calculation or risk analysis for things that are left undone? These are questions that all of your developers should be painfully aware of through every stage of the development process.

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