The Right (New) Stuff

If your business is online in whatever capacity – pure digital play, traditional business with increasing digital footprint, or somewhere in between – you will have realised by now that change is constant. There’s a never-ending stream of New Stuff to do. Some is a variation of what you’ve done before, some is scarily new to you; but it’s all New Stuff and you need to deliver it. New Stuff = Projects!

But there are SO MANY cool new things you should be doing! And you can’t do them all! How do you sort the wheat from the chaff?

After years of looking at this in various companies, I reckon there’s a fairly common-sense checklist of just four questions to ask before you commit time, money and focus to a “great idea”…

1. What’s in it for us?

You’d be amazed at how many doomed projects have got off the ground due to lack of sensible answer to this. There needs to be at least one robust benefit for the business, such as:

  • Increase sales by 20%
  • Save us £1m in overheads next year
  • Get a foothold in <Country X>

Some less fantastic but true answers I’ve seen: the chairman really wants us to do this; the software vendor has offered us a discount to upgrade; it seemed like a good idea at the time…

2. Are these benefits in line with business strategy?

A follow-on question to number 1… so there are benefits, yeah? But are they the right ones? Do they support what the business is trying to do right now?

  • If the business plan is all about growth, how will this project help us to grow?
  • If right now it’s all about the customer, how will this new thing increase customer satisfaction?
  • If the theme for this year is cost savings, how will this save us money?

Of course, if you feel really strongly about it – maybe it’s time to challenge the business’s strategy!

3. How does it fit with other projects?

A so-called “great idea” now needs to expose itself to wider scrutiny. Two basic principles are at work here: (1) you can’t do everything you want to do; and (2) almost everything can look like a good idea in isolation! So judge the ideas in relative – not absolute – terms:

  • Which projects give you the highest return on investment? Is this one of them?
  • Which ideas can be executed in phases to deliver benefits sooner? Is this one of them?
  • Which projects give a great foundation for future New Stuff? (you get the picture)

4. How will we deliver it?

Almost on the home straight now… just need to work out how to actually do the damn thing:

  • Do we have the skills?
  • Do we have the resources?
  • Do we have the funds?
  • Do we have the capacity in our workload?
  • Are all precursor projects complete?

Don’t panic: answering ‘no’ to any of these questions is not a showstopper! Think positive! For an idea that has passed questions 1-3, every effort should be made to lift any limitations:

  • Hire in subject-matter experts
  • Use contractors and/or redeploy existing staff
  • Borrow money and/or redirect agreed budgets
  • Re-prioritise your workload
  • Re-scope other projects

Chewing over this ‘deliverability’ question is a fantastically useful exercise — it makes you think about whether you really want to do this project and what sacrifices you are willing to make in order to make it happen. But the really great projects will survive this question!

In a nutshell…

Apply these four checks to your project ideas and you shall reap the rewards further down the line! But don’t stress too much about having all the answers… in the end what’s important is that you’ve thought through these points and avoided complete clangers. Sometimes you just have to take a punt!

Good luck…

Sophie Fraser