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5 questions about project management to ask your digital partner

What to ask and expect from a digital partner

Project management matters for digital marketing projects. The process your web development partner follows will help define your project, give you the transparency and collaboration you need, inject flexibility when it's needed and a deliver successful conclusion. 


Understanding your future partner’s methodology and approach to digital project management will give you confidence the job is being done right. As a leader, you'll be able to set expectations for your team - both internal and external.

You will:

  • Define a clear understanding so you avoid confusion and missteps
  • Provide role definition for everyone involved
  • Know the phases, outputs and milestones
  • Create a demonstrative workflow for every day and every phase of the project
  • Encourage and benefit from documentation (today and tomorrow, after your website has launched) 
  • Keep all parties on track and engaged in their roles 
  • Empower the team and contributors to own their deliverables, resulting in a higher quality product
  • Deliver definition and clarity on progress so you can report to the C-Suite of your organization, proving you have the project under control, planned and accounted for, every step of the way

Here’s a guide to help you get started. 

5 questions about project management to ask your digital partner

Ask these questions of a potential partner before beginning any digital project. Look for this level of leadership from a potential partner before they begin telling you anything about what they think you should do.

1) Can you detail your process?

It’s not enough to have a process. Your partner should be able to define it for you. What are the stages? What happens in each of them? What are the outputs? How do you get to see progress, know what’s coming next and report back to your C-Suite? It’s all important. Your partner should be able to define their process and provide you with specific details about what it entails.

2) What is your methodology?

You must also understand how the process is managed. That is, the methodology the team and its project managers embrace to guide and complete work. For example, at Core, we use an agile approach to digital project management. The nature of agile development, which includes managing tasks within sprints, changing priorities and quickly shifting resources (and timelines!) based on the project backlog, provides a flexible framework for consistent delivery of valuable features throughout the course of a project. Our project management team works with our brand services team through stand-up meetings, assigned tasks and integrated workflows to get work done, documented and shared. It allows closer client integration with smaller milestones throughout the project, which is ideal for any technical project. Using integrated digital tools like Clubhouse and Slack helps build collaboration and transparency to keep everything moving so we meet your project’s requirements as efficiently as possible. It also aids in ongoing quality assurance and reporting as the team moves through key milestones. Process is important, but the approach to following that process is equally important.

3) How do you conduct discovery?

How a project begins directly affects its success in the end. You should expect your team to conduct discovery of your project, assets, needs, objectives, competitors, and more before they tell you what they’ll build and how much it’ll cost. It is a crucial stage of website development — and particularly true of healthcare marketing digital projects and health system websites. Often, there are multiple sites, landing pages, stakeholders, subject-matter experts and, of course, significant security concerns, including HIPAA compliance, and technological considerations (e.g., scheduling, physician and patient messaging, auto chat or chat bot functions, and even video messaging needs). You must understand how your team discovers and plans for those elements before defining and beginning a project.

4) How do you define project scope?

First, it is vital to work through the strategy process to understand your business needs and define the project requirements needed to meet them. Your partner should apply that discovery work to a Statement of Work so everyone understands the full scope of the project, including marching orders and technology needs, and you understand cost and timelines for what you are trying to achieve. Documentation of each feature and function will ensure requirements are approved and all pieces are built as expected and defined. Your project manager will use this to keep everyone on target and provide the support you need for your internal team. If there’s one rule of digital project management, it’s that change will happen. Once the project’s scope, challenges and needs are defined, the inevitability of an evolving project can be addressed as you go. You can create a backlog of tasks, address new issues in future phases or reprioritize certain features over others to stay within projected costs and avoid getting stuck in the process. Defining your digital project’s scope manages the deliverables, timeline, cost and accountability, and makes it easier to evolve the project when the need arises.

5) How do you communicate progress and report on performance?

As work is done on your website, you should be able to get status updates early and often. As you approach the conclusion of your project, you should be ready for what comes next. Websites take time and, once launched, they are certainly not a "set it and forget it" proposition. Our sprint-based agile approach allows us to define a timeline with our clients and present progress often. Your partner should work with you to set-up ongoing status meetings to receive feedback and approvals along the course of the project. In this case, an email update or a phone call on progress will not suffice. You must have project trackers and acceptance criteria put in place, updated as work is done and shared with the team so information remains transparent and accessible. Make sure your partner shows you how that is done. Such infrastructure establishes accountability, gives you confidence in quality assurance and helps you better communicate with your own internal teams. 

How we do it

At Core, we use agile methodology to approach our 5D Process: Discover, Define, Develop, Deploy, Debrief. Within each phase, we have established milestones and deliverables for our clients. For a more detailed conversation around our process and how we manage it, a simple email will do the trick (Bob@corecreative.com). Before you take that step, here’s a look at how we do what we do. 

Discovery

In the Discovery phase, we conduct all of the research needed in order to fully scope and plan an entire digital project. It should always be the first step and helps both client and agency partner get a detailed understanding of the goals. Its milestones include competitive, content, and technical audits, and analytics, data integration and SEO evaluation (including review of ranking, keywords, links and more). Outputs and deliverables for the client include a Project Charter, Digital Diagnostic and Discovery Report. 

Definition

The Definition phase captures a project’s requirements and defines the framework for the entire project, guiding all development going forward. A strategy workshop with our clients gets us started before we move into defining information architecture, content strategy (with key messaging), SEO strategies, technical requirements, user research, experience mapping and KPIs. Deliverables for the client include a presentation of the defined strategy, a Statement of Work and Creative Brief, as well as preliminary concepts for development. 

Develop

The Develop phase brings the vision and need to life for tangible execution and final deliverables. In the crucial third phase of the project, the teams get to work using the defined strategies. During this phase, visual design and content development begin alongside front-end development and back-end development, including CMS and application development and data integration. The process accounts for testing, quality assurance, content entry and proofing, the final touches as we move toward launch. 

Deploy

3, 2, 1 … launch! This is the day, the phase, the period in which implementation happens. We launch your digital project or website. It goes live, but the work isn’t — and shouldn’t be — done there. A successful website launch requires communication planning and a shift into our final, ongoing phase. 

Debrief

Digital properties are living and breathing and should evolve. The Debrief phase allows us to provide further recommendations, improvements, and additions to keep the website fresh, secure and up-to-date with modern web practices. It helps ensure implementation of analytics and ongoing insights into performance. Our partners receive reports with recommendations for ongoing enhancements and management, and vitally, the metrics and KPIs they need to prove their project is a success, and provide ongoing opportunities for optimization. 

Be an informed consumer. 

Digital projects are not the same as traditional marketing projects. No one has to convince you of that. What is important to know is how much you should expect to plan for the complexity of building a website. Doing your own research, reviewing work samples and gathering input from references is all important. But only direct engagement with a partner will help you fully understand if what they do is right for you. To be an informed consumer, we recommend starting with these questions — and building these expectations — to find a partner that can wow you every step of the way. 

Downloadable

Know your options when embarking on a healthcare website redesign project

Download our cheat sheet with 4 topics to cover with your web development partner — and the questions to ask — to ensure a successful website redesign.

Download our cheatsheet

author

Colin Deval is the Senior Communications Strategist at Core Creative.

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On July 23, 2020, we conducted a discussion with Rob Klein, founder and CEO of Klein and Partners, and our Director of Insights and Strategy, Sue Spaight. The pair covered key highlights of the third wave of Rob's national study: How the Coronavirus is Impacting Healthcare Perceptions and Behaviors. This study, fielded in June 2020, provides valuable and immediately actionable insights to help healthcare marketing and communications professionals gain the confidence of their patients, bring them back into their systems for care and understand how to support caregivers during this difficult time.
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