The competence and demeanor of our Bigger Boat team were absolutely critical to the project. They would really listen. The were never disagreeable but could tell us what would and would not work. Their process provided structure while being flexible to our changing needs. Mid-way through the project we introduced a new business development component. These new requirements were picked up with zero push back and we worked together to adjust priorities for the remaining work.
– Scot Davidson, Vice President Program Delivery, Enhabit
Projects don’t exist in a vacuum; lots of potential challenges can plague even the best of projects! Client-side project team members often come from different groups or teams within an organization, and this may be their first time working closely together. Client-side teams can shift mid-project due to staffing changes. Legacy systems can have hard deadlines when they must be shut off, so timelines can be tight.
We recently wrapped up a project with Enhabit, a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit that matches homeowners with contractors to provide energy efficiency services. This project had great org-wide adoption, end-user satisfaction, executive buy-in, and admin ownership even though it fit into every one of the challenges above!
So how did this project succeed, despite the odds stacked against it?
We established a brutally lean MVP
In this context, an “MVP” is a Minimum Viable Product. Approach every user story by asking, “Is this critical for our first release?” Before each sprint or hunk of work, make sure that the stories at the top of your backlog are actually priorities. If that legacy system were cut off today, could you get away without this feature? If you focus on the core first and let users actually use the tool/app/system for a while before adding enhancements, you’ll be able to solicit their feedback on which enhancements would really make their lives better, and ultimately be the best investments of time, effort, and money. Not being afraid to say no is also the best tactic you have to keep your project on the low end of an estimate. Learn more about MVPs and how they’re like cupcakes in this great post.
We weren’t afraid to iterate
We did demos early and frequently throughout each two-week build cycle. We solicited feedback in those demos and rapidly iterated our solution before handing off for testing. Iterations even happened during working sessions! Building so collaboratively with our client team improved the end product, increased their ownership of the solution design, and sped up testing cycles.
We deployed frequently
As soon as possible, we deployed to the client’s production environment and got them using pieces of the system. Even within the MVP, there were pieces that could stand alone for a short period of time, so we prioritized those and got them out to production early. Getting users in the system early increased adoption, streamlined training, and gave us valuable early feedback.
We had access to the right people at the right time
This team was exceptionally good at pulling the right people into conversations at the right time. More than once, when we asked a specific question in a working session, they would reply with, “Hang on a second, let me go grab ______!” And they would literally get up, disappear from the webcam for 15 seconds, and come back with the right person to answer the question. We got meaningful, accurate answers to specific questions in real time. None of the usual “I’ll make a note to ask ______ after this meeting and get back to you.”
The client team took ownership of their system
Enhabit team members rolled up their sleeves throughout the project, taking on tasks and building right alongside us. This involvement paid off by enabling their team to learn both Salesforce and their customizations. After a short post-launch period of support, the Enhabit team has been completely self-sufficient as they maintain and evolve their system.
We enjoyed working with each other
Never underestimate the power of rapport! We often took a few minutes informally at the beginning of a meeting to share something from our weekend or something exciting going on in the office. This was usually just as folks were joining the conference, so it didn’t really take any significant time away from our work, but the interpersonal connections themselves were valuable. Sometimes in the heat of a fast-paced project, it can be easy to get lost in the work and forget that you’re collaborating with other human beings. Building social capital goes a long way toward working through the tougher parts of a project with relative ease and good humor.
While this post focuses on our project with Enhabit, our most successful projects consistently share these key traits: a lean MVP, rapid iteration, frequent deployment, a connected team, client ownership, and strong rapport.