How to keep your digitalisation project on budget

minute read

Digitalisation is on everyone’s mind - and the past two years have only accelerated a trend that was already gathering momentum well before the latest pandemic. With the sudden spike in demand for digital services and products, many organisations found themselves struggling to make good on initiatives that, in many cases, were already underway, albeit slowly. 

Digitalisation initiatives often start out as well-scoped projects, with a clear end-goal in mind. But either before kick-off or during the implementation, organisations often find that there is much more to it than initially thought:

  • Legacy tech - or lack of any relevant tech - can often complicate the work or increase costs significantly.
  • Dependencies are often not identified correctly ahead of the work starting, and as the project progresses it is found that more needs to be done in areas originally excluded from the scope. 
  • Staffing of projects also causes budgetary pressure - teams need to grow to account for additional manpower or skill sets needed, or a new external partner needs to be contracted. 

All these are common enough challenges, but that does not make them any less stressful when they happen. 

5 key actions for better budgeting and financial planning

Few things can be as disruptive to an initiative as the lack of funding. And as project length increases from weeks to months and more resources are required than initially scoped out, securing funding can become a serious challenge. There are ways you can manage this risk, however. 

1. KPIs rule

Tie your digitalisation project to tangible, measurable KPIs from the start. This helps prevent scope creep and keeps track of costs. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) hold teams and individuals accountable, making it easier for them because they work against set targets, and instilling greater confidence in the delivery of your project at the board level. Having KPIs in place and regularly reporting against them is a great way to demonstrate responsibility to the purse string holders.

Example: An airline’s booking system (web and mobile) used KPIs around user numbers and sales conversions to monitor the success of each UI version during A/B testing. This ensured that the technical solution we ultimately implemented had strong commercial outcomes.  

2. Communication is key…

Digitalisation initiatives can impact all areas of the business, and will often require the active involvement of multiple departments within an organisation. To ensure coordination and manage expectations, it is essential that you communicate progress against KPIs clearly and frequently. We have found that it is rarely possible to over-communicate - usually teams err on the side of too little too late. 

Communication will not only help raise confidence in your project, it will also help you preempt road blocks. By responding timely and authoritatively you gain commitment and encourage further engagement from stakeholders. Monitoring feedback and questions from stakeholders can even help inform the product or service you are working on delivering; for instance, do its features address stakeholder concerns around usability or is some further work required? Working in a Scrum framework can help in these instances, as incremental changes are planned into the delivery process.

Example: Some projects require more communication than others, for instance when building a product for a company operating in a regulated industry. Designing and building a banking mobile application required close collaboration between multiple stakeholders, including legal and compliance teams, in addition to the usual technical groups. This is when agile comes into its own, as regular sprint meetings proved a great forum for troubleshooting potential legal risks.  

3. … and it needs to be facilitated

If you want to receive reliable, honest input, feedback channels need to be well established and their use encouraged. Various studies have shown that at least half, and sometimes more, employees in large organisations feel uncomfortable speaking to senior managers about concerns or suggestions for improvement. Incentivisation is a proven method for encouraging more staff to engage, and it is of utmost importance to your project that they do so. 

Consider organising bug bounty or hackathon events with prizes for the first X employees, or offer tangible rewards for UAT participants and ensure these are taken from across the organisation. People like it when their input is shown to be valuable and appreciated. Don’t we all!

Example: While working with a UK-based news organisation our team were responsible for creating a digital ideation platform to allow anyone within the organisation to suggest products and improvements. This allowed staff to feel part of the success of their digital strategy. 

4. Know the data that matters

Measuring your KPIs requires your team knows what data points to collect and analyse - and they need the right tools to do so. Keep the following in mind: 

  • Be clear about the baseline metrics against which you will measure your progress from the outset.
  • Despite digitalisation projects being heavy on figures and code, don’t dismiss qualitative data and be sure to have a process in place to gather this information. 
  • Whether numbers or comments, your data probably should not live in an Excel or Google sheet, as this is hard to scale or thoroughly analyse. Consider investing in one of the many digital tools designed for easy monitoring and reporting - it will save you time and money in the long run. 
  • Not only that, but visualisation features found in these tools will allow you to present findings in an appealing and legible manner, further helping you shore up stakeholder support. 

Example: During one client engagement our team was given access to their Power BI account, which proved a game changer: our team was able to view and understand the tangible effect their work had on business KPIs, which boosted motivation; we also used the visualisation tools to illustrate these relationships in client calls, demonstrating the progress and impact of our work. 

5. Monitor, measure and then spend

You have identified KPIs that matter, you are tracking them and reporting (i.e. communicating) on them regularly - well done! The final step is using ongoing monitoring as a basis for financial decisions. That means identifying where to place funds and where to cut losses and pivot away from, all based on data and hard facts. Being able to assess ROI at regular intervals helps you make better decisions, which will also bolster stakeholders' confidence in the project - they know money is being spent wisely. This will help you make your case for additional funding as well - further reinforcing the virtuous cycle of better data, communication and funding.

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