September 6, 2016 | , | by

Ambiguity, Alignment and Articulation

What? $150,000 for my project!  We have a $30,000 budget.  How the @#$! did they come up with that number? Is the vendor solving their view of the project or your view of the project – and if there is a disconnect between those two – why is that?

Scoping Digital Marketing projects – or really any technology project – can be as much art as science. But understanding the most significant cost drivers, the primary causes for the divergence between client and vendor pricing expectations, and a few of the benefits realized when using project-driven teams can stack the deck in your favor. Project-driven teams are those formed to address the specific needs of your project, rather than shaping the project to fit the needs and limitations of the team you have.

Clarity of Objectives

One of the biggest variables driving project scoping challenges and the divergent quotes that we frequently see is failing to clearly articulate your objectives. When communicating with your vendors, be sure you have clearly stated:

  • What you’re trying to do from a business perspective.
  • The specific goals or metrics that you want to hit, whether defined in terms of customer acquisition, retention or conversion numbers, or some other business metrics.
  • Does the vendor have the right mix of skills to both understand and address those objectives?

Clearly define your objectives, communicate them to your team to insure internal alignment and review them with your vendors to ensure they understand what you are doing, and that they have the expertise to address these objectives.

Technical Integration Requirements

Even digital marketing projects can have significant integration needs. One of the biggest cost drivers and potential sources of scope creep is your integration requirements across back-end systems. Here are a few of the reasons for this disconnect:

  • Are you simply passing data from your website to a back-end financial system, or tightly coupling those systems? The cost and effort vary significantly.
  • Are there 3rd party integration tools that are sufficient for your needs (e.g., Zapier) or will the integration be custom developed?
  • Have you mapped out the data flow between your systems so that everyone is thinking about the same set of integration points and envisions the same level of integration between them?
  • Does the vendor have the expertise to address your technology integration needs. Sometimes those skills are outside the boundaries of traditional design or user experience-driven entities.

Technical integration can be costly and time consuming – or relatively straight forward. Defining what you mean by “connecting” these systems is very important to accurately scoping your project.

Aesthetic Considerations

Whether building a killer app or redoing a website, design is something that can be a significant, albeit important, investment – and can cause a disconnect between vendor and client expectations. Among the issues to discuss in advance of your project are:

  • Will there be any provision for usability testing, and if so, is there time and money to react to the feedback from this testing?
  • Is there internal team agreement on who owns design approval? Since design is something that most people feel comfortable weighing in on, it is important to clearly state who owns sign-off to avoid design by committee.
  • If you are creating a website, will the design be “from scratch” or will your vendor be leveraging a theme?
  • Do you have an established set of corporate style guidelines? If so, do they appropriately encompass the project that you are undertaking (for applications, many older design guidelines may not).
  • The phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is never more relevant than during design-oriented projects. Identify the designers that will be working on your project and their design aesthetic. With project-driven teams, you should review the portfolios of the specific people working on your project.

The design phase can be very interesting, but it can also turn into a major time sink if not handled correctly.

Technology Choice

WordPress, Drupal, HTML5 custom development…there are plenty of choices for websites just as there are for Digital Marketing technologies (see Scott Brinker’s famous MarTech chart). Each choice has implications. For instance, within the lower cost realm, WordPress is popular both because of its lower price point (free) and the widespread availability of themes and functional extensions to extend its base functionality. When discussing your technology choice there are many options, and really no “right” answer, but some are likely better than others given your particular requirements.

Some questions worth considering:

  • What level of technology competence does your vendor have with the chosen technology?
  • What level of technology competence does your team have with this technology? If the answer is very little, will you have a long-term, retained relationship with your chosen vendor?
  • Are there other cost implications for the recommended technology, such as licensing, maintenance, hosting, technical support…?
  • Is the advocated technology the best for your project, or the technology stack that your vendor is comfortable with? Project-driven teams have the ability to leverage the right technologies for the project, rather than defaulting to the technology that the firm typically uses.

Working with a vendor that understands what you are trying to do from a business perspective and is also familiar with a variety of the relevant technology alternatives can help you make a better technology decision while respecting your budget constraints.

Eliminate ambiguity, ensure alignment and clearly articulate what you are trying to accomplish when dealing with your vendors.  Easy to say, not quite so easy to do.  Leveraging distributed, project-driven teams can also be an extremely effective way to secure the right skills for your project and can help you to align your expectations, your budget and ultimately, the delivered project.