A Checklist to Jump-Start Your Next Digital Project
As consultants, we've have seen how a variety of organizations — from Fortune 500 and government agencies to small nonprofits — approach their digital projects. We have been fortunate to work with organizations that have done substantial preparation for their projects. We have also helped organizations define a strategy for using their digital presence to meet their organization’s objectives. It has been our experience that, for many organizations, developing a business strategy — and using digital tools to support that strategy — does not come easily.
Define Your Organizational Strategy
Your organization was formed to address a specific situation (e.g., curing cancer, changing public policy, or ensuring no one ever goes hungry). In each situation, you need to confirm that two things are crystal clear for your stakeholders:
- How does your organization measure progress and define success?
- What factors affect your organization’s ability to achieve its goal? This is sometimes called your “operating environment.” What are the funding sources and political environment in which you operate, and is the opportunity for change shrinking or growing?
In short, you need a strategy to seize the opportunity and accomplish your mission. While this may seem very basic (“Of course we have a strategy!”), what we often find is that people within different parts of the organization have disparate views on the specifics of the strategy or its implementation. Ultimately, those differing viewpoints need to be reconciled before an organization can execute a coherent, effective strategy.
Consider these questions as you get started developing and/or revising your strategy:
- What is your organization’s mission? What constitutes ultimate success?
- What are your top three organizational metrics? What percentage of your staff/colleagues can clearly state these metrics and report on the current progress against them?
- What are your unique approaches to solving the problems you’ve chosen to solve? Can you clearly measure how well these approaches are performing? How often do you evaluate the performance of these approaches?
- How are you funded? How do you get additional funding? What will help you get more funding?
- What differentiates you from similar organizations? Why would someone pay attention to your content, data, or output, or fund you versus another organization in your space?
To scale your organization’s impact, you need to learn as quickly as you can from your successes and failures. This process starts with understanding where you want to go and how you will track progress. The trick here is to have a set of measures that allow you to quickly determine if you are moving toward success. If you are not, you need to make adjustments to get back on course.
Know Whom You Need to Reach
Once you understand what you want to accomplish as an organization, the next obvious question is whom you need to engage to achieve those goals. The people who can most help you achieve your goals by taking some action (donating, voting, passing legislation, writing an article citing your work) are your target audiences. They require your focused attention.
Before you start listing all of the people you could reach, it is useful to understand what online and offline actions need to be taken to reach your organization’s goals. For example, let’s say your organization’s goal is to eliminate chronic hunger in a particular U.S. city. To reach this goal, you may need to establish more community food services, increase the numbers of people serving food, pass local legislation that reduces the burden to establishing these programs, etc. For these actions to happen, you need to reach actors: local policy makers, prospective volunteers (churches and service orgs), local restaurants, etc. It is not enough to know the audiences and tasks they need to complete. After defining who you need to reach, you need to understand what motivates them, what will draw them to your organization, how you can support their needs, and what you need to say to them to inspire them to take action.
- Who do you need to reach to make progress on your goals? What specific actions do you need them to take? What has worked in the past to reach key audiences? What has not worked and why?
- How have your most engaged audiences found your organization to date? What drew them to you? Why do they come to you rather than similar organizations?
- Who do you need to reach to get funding or revenue? What motivates them to give / purchase?
- Once someone becomes aware of your organization’s mission, what is the first action you want them to take? Is it clear that you want this, and is it easy for them to do?
Get Your Content Ready
So many digital projects start with a focus on features, functionality, and design specifications rather than what you have to offer your end audiences: your content. We begin every web project by focusing on your content first and working with you to structure it in a meaningful way. You can help jump-start this process by coming prepared to answer the following questions in your next redesign project:
- What content do you have? How much? How often do you update it?
- What different types of content do you produce: Long reports? Fact sheets? Infographics? Blog posts?
- How do we need to frame your content to inspire the actions you want your audiences to take? Framing your content is how you say something. It is how you craft raw facts into a narrative to make your issue relevant to your target audiences.
- What is your organization’s personality? Are you focused and serious, or dramatic and intense, or hopeful and inspiring? Each will drive different content decisions. What should be your organization’s tone of voice to motivate users toward the actions you want them to take? What type of images should you use to support that tone?
- Who writes your content now? Who could write your content in the future? What tools do they use to compose that content?
- Who will be loading your content into the website?
- How do your target audiences use this content? How should they navigate through it to help them complete their tasks? Is this mix of formats right for the audiences? Are you producing content in legacy formats that do not fit current audience needs?
- What will the viewer gain by engaging in a particular behavior after reading the content? What will they lose if they don’t?
- How can you tap into a viewer’s personal values to inspire action?
Once you know the answers to these questions, every piece of content on the site should reflect the answers to these questions — by painting a compelling picture of why the user needs to take action now.
Determine Your Supporting Resources
Your organization is investing a large sum of money into this digital effort and expecting that real progress will be made against your organization’s goals as a result. Important points to resolve:
- Who is the executive sponsor and are they able to lead this strategic team? Have they empowered the team to make tough decisions?
- Have you identified a product lead and given them proper authority to make tough decisions? Have you shifted their other responsibilities such that this initiative is their priority?
- Was the product lead engaged in the process of determining the metrics of success for the digital effort, and do they feel confident that they know how to measure success
- Who is on the core team? Have you clearly defined their roles and responsibilities? Have you adjusted their other responsibilities to make them available to this project?
- Who can serve as internal strategic advisors to the core team?
- Have you considered how this effort is going to affect your day-to-day operations after it is fully functional?
- Have you identified the likelihood that you will be required to change staff responsibilities and activities, and provide training to make the most of your investment? If so, have you accounted for this in your budgeting?
Embarking on a digital project is a big investment for your organization. You want to be sure you make real progress on your organization’s goals with that investment. That is why it’s critical to get executive-level buy-in during the planning stages of your project to establish clear goals, while also providing guidance to the team on the resources they have to dedicate to the project.
The questions above are meant to serve as conversation starters for your team, help you engage in a fuller discovery process, and assist you in preparing a plan to crystallize an organizational strategy with your digital team. There’s a lot of information to be distilled before you are ready to begin an implementation project. This list gets you started on the path to a well-planned digital project.