5 Things to Know Before Starting a Tech Project

1. It will cost more than you’ve budgeted

No matter what you’ve budgeted and how tightly you control the scope of a planned technology project, you have a 99% chance of spending more money than you anticipated. You shouldn’t consider this a failing of your stakeholders, project managers, or tech team. No matter how thoroughly you plan, you will forget something. Content generation, communications plans, training, and on-going support are the things that we observe in the Most Likely to be Forgotten category. Even when you remember everything, technology projects—no matter how simple—are often complex engagements with many moving parts all of which are dependent on people not making mistakes. Things go wrong; people get sick; somebody forgets to tell your web hosting provider it’s time for the site to go live.

The good news is you can plan for this. Set aside an additional 10-15% of your budget for these overruns. If you turn out to be a One Percenter and don’t need the money during the project, you can add the funds to your monthly maintenance and content generation budgets.

2. It will take longer than you’ve planned

For all the reasons cited above, when your project inevitably costs more, it will also, inevitably, take longer to complete (and vice versa). We know you have planned a big announcement, a gala, a board presentation, an annual report. We don’t want you to miss it. And we don’t want you to make yourselves and your team crazy trying to hit what will feel like an arbitrary deadline.

Do everyone a favor and—before you do anything else—ask your team, your vendors, and three trusted colleagues how long they think your project will take. Throw out the highest and lowest times. Calculate the average of the remaining times. And then add 10 weeks. That’s probably the right amount of time to budget for your project.

3. It will not be perfect

Because nothing in life ever is. And perfect implies that you’ll reach an end point at which you will be done. No digital solution is ever complete. It needs constant care and feeding.

That’s why we recommend that you shoot for great. Settle for good. Refine your solution with feedback from stakeholders and real users. There’s no way to know how your target audiences are really going to use your mobile app or intranet until they, um, use it. Their feedback will be invaluable and help you prioritize improvements that will make your app or site truly great.

4. It needs content

“Content is king,” has long been the refrain of content providers. We agree it sounds self-serving, self-important, and even self-aggrandizing. We also agree that they are right. If your digital offering is content, then you already know this. We hope you also know that you need a content strategy with style and tone guidelines and a governance plan that includes an editorial calendar.

If your offering is a product or a service, you may not be thinking about the content that goes with your app: all those testimonials, case studies, product descriptions, customer reviews and comments. Those need to be planned as carefully as any press release, blog post, or news article.

5. It has to be maintained

This is the biggie, so we’re hoping you’re not surprised to hear it. You must budget for ongoing maintenance of your mobile app, marketing site, or intranet. The one thing you can always count on is that technology changes, and you must keep up with those changes. Even if you never update your “About Us” page, your marketing site needs the latest security patches and has to work with those browser changes and the newest OS release. Even if those tech updates are taken care of by your hosting provider, you need fresh content to keep your community engaged. Oh, and if you’re building a community, you need a community moderator or knowledge manager who reaches out to your users and asks for input on—you guessed it—what improvements they want to see next. Don’t just budget for now; budget for later too. If your app has no budget for future enhancements.

Bonus tip—incremental enhancements vs Big-Bang redesigns

Planned, prioritized, and incremental changes to an existing solution are better for your budget and for your customers than a Big-Bang redesign. You can use your monthly maintenance budget to make changes, skipping the big investment of a complete overhaul. You won’t need communications or roll-out plans. And you won’t have to worry about training or customer support calls as you fine tune your digital offering. When planned correctly, the adjustments can be invisible to your users. They should think to themselves, “This seems easier than the last time I did it,” without knowing why.

Bonus-bonus tip—fix your CSS

A lot can be accomplished with simple style sheet changes. CSS can make your web site or app responsive (i.e., viewable on mobile devices) and improve the readability, usability, and accessibility of your site. When in doubt, make everything bigger. If your customers can’t see your “Buy” button, they can’t submit it.

This post is part of a new series from Black Pepper answering commonly asked questions about technology and web user experience for not-for-profits and like-minded organizations.