So you’ve invested time and money into a new website and marketing strategy only to see momentum come to a crawl just weeks or months after launch. Don’t worry, you’re not alone and it’s not your fault. Most web projects are doomed before they start because they are incomplete solutions to undefined problems.
New projects are inherently risky and full of unknowns. In this article I share why uncovering and understanding these unknowns are required for your project to be successful.
I recently watched an in-depth history of our Navy SEALs on the History Channel. In their overview of the 2005 mission in Afghanistan (named Operation Red Wings), the voiceover started to paint a picture of how terribly off course a mission (or project) can get by leaving too many unknowns in the equation. The SEALs objective was to do reconnaissance and surveillance in the Kunar Province. After receiving good intel that a high value target would be at a specific location, command rushed to get a game plan in place. Despite our SEALs being the worlds most lethal warriors, those unknowns quickly resulted in underestimated resources, an underestimated number of enemy combatants, and spotty communications; leaving our SEALs outgunned and outnumbered in the most unfriendly of places.
Our intelligence officials planned the mission making too many assumptions about the unknowns. I’m not comparing our projects to the courageous work of our armed forces. SEALs are uniquely trained to excel in this high-intensity, low-intelligence, quick response environment. Yet this type of reactive action put our tactical experts in an unwinnable situation. The risk associated with your project, albeit far less than that of our SEALs, must be mitigated at the beginning by taking a proactive approach to planning.
Proactive Planning vs. Reactive Action
Assumptions kill relationships, end careers and steer projects down the path of no return. As they relate to web projects, assumptions are often disguised as unexplored or misunderstood problems. Regardless of which experts you have crafting a beautiful new website, the project is unlikely to hit its mark if you’re solving for the wrong problem(s). This approach which I refer to as Reactive Action, stems from the belief that if you build it (the website, new marketing campaign), they (new customers, sales, engagement, etc.) will come.
Reactive action is like holding a hammer in search of nails. Projects are hungry beasts that chew up whatever resources are thrown at them. So instead of trying to control what gets spit out, be intentional about what goes in.
Discovering problems actually requires just as much creativity as discovering solutions.
New projects are most risky at the onset because of the number of things we don’t know. By uncovering those unknowns early on, the risk decreases. Isolating what we don’t know before building the solution is what I refer to as Proactive Planning; decreasing or eliminating the unknowns to better inform our decision making. It ensures our limited resources are chewed up tackling the most urgent problems. Fueling our project with solutions to the most pressing problems.
Proactive planning starts with a high-level view of your specific situation and the surrounding environment before drilling down into tactics and objectives. Reactive action jumps headfirst into a solution leaving the problem misunderstood or undefined. One sets your project up for success while the latter stacks the deck against you. By taking a proactive approach to planning at the onset, insights can properly inform decision making and increase your shot at hitting it out of the park.
Proactive planning prioritizes your resources on solving the most pressing problems. Here’s how you first identify them:
- Walk through your customer’s experience from first point of contact, through the sale to whatever post-purchase support you provide. What can improved? Removed? Optimized? How can you make that journey easier, quicker and less painful?
- Challenge the status quo. Legacy processes, outdated workflows and repetitive operations might feel familiar but the longer they go unchecked the bigger burden they become for the business. Instead of kicking the can down the road drive change by kicking the lid off.
- Dive into your analytics to uncover where you’re losing prospects. An overall low number of visitors likely means you have an awareness problem. If your average time spent on site is less than a minute, you have an interest problem. If your conversion rate is less than 20%, you have a desire or action problem. Each with their own set of remedies.
- Get first hand feedback from employees and customers. Talk to your teammates one on one, have them submit anonymous surveys and create working groups tasked with identifying problems or areas of improvement. For some humble pie try interviewing current and former customers. Their feedback is fundamental to your ability to create more value for them in the future.
- Get stakeholders together and ask the tough questions. We’ve compiled a list of over 40 questions designed to help you lead your business through Discovery – download the free resource here.
Following the above advice is the easy the part. Now that you’ve transformed your list of unknowns into well defined problems, you’re better positioned to make the business case. Which problems are mission critical? Which are urgent? And which would be “nice to have”? Don’t be alarmed to find that the list of problems far outweigh the capacity or resources you have available to get them solved. Identified problems are opportunities. Opportunities are much easier to sell to the boss.
Need helping turning mission critical problems into opportunities? Learn about how we’ll do that for you.