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Does your company clearly understand its technology plan for next year? Technology projects can run the gamut from large (or even super large) system development projects to a series of small enhancements, basic maintenance, or bug fixes. Companies often find that their technology needs are driven by what their users want. And that can become an excuse for thinking reactively.

What kind of company are you trying to become? And how does technology factor into your objectives? There is an old saying: If you aren’t growing, you are dying. Is your company proactively thinking about your user needs and how that impacts your growth plans? Or, are you content to let your users jostle your deck? Said differently, do you want to be the captain of your ship or a passenger?

I’m currently working with some companies that use my software developer for technology development. We’re experimenting with the idea of creating an individual project to manage the work that each client wants to achieve in a specified time frame – in most cases – the first half of the year. We’re trying to improve our project management efforts. Everyone seems to understand that we want to improve, but I’m not sure we all understand what’s involved. Here are five important lessons that will instantly help companies starting technology projects.

Some years back, my husband and I were renovating a new house and our painter highly recommended that I engage a decorator. The stars seemed aligned when his recommendation turned out to be a woman I had read about in the paper and already contacted. Soon, a great friendship began. We work well together because she understands us. I remember the first time I met her.

Lynne told me this story.

Suzanne, let me tell you about the last customer I saw. I arrived at a large house in a lovely neighborhood and we began talking. She started off talking about the sofa she wanted to recover, the color of the rooms she wanted to repaint, the wallpaper she wanted in the front hall, and the style of the window treatments she was thinking about for the living room and the bedroom.

I had to stop her dead in her tracks. Yes, those were important things for me to know, but I needed to start at the beginning. I asked her what her budget was. She hadn’t thought about that question. I asked her what her objectives were. She had no idea. She didn’t really even understand the question.

So, I said: Do you want a house that looks like a museum – where children don’t sit on the sofa, but where visiting CEO’s will be quite comfortable? How will your children live in the house? Will they be confined to certain spaces or be able to go anywhere? Do you want a house that looks really lived in, with books piled high and surfaces looking a bit cluttered? Do you want a historic home look with expensive antiques, white walls and Williamsburg blue trim? Do you like crisp whites and neutrals with modern furniture? Or, do you like bright colors with funky art? How often do you want or need to change the look? How much time do you want to spend trying to maintain the look? What’s your budget? What does that budget need to cover?

There are some parallels between the way Lynne and I started and the way I’m trying to get started on some technology projects.

Children and CEO’s – Your Users

Who are your users and how do you anticipate they will use the site? Are you a small company, using your site to lure in new customers? Do you really know who your target customers are and what kind of site will appeal to them? If you are a school, will your teachers want to have their own pages? How much creative license are you prepared to offer your teachers in the creation of their own pages? Will your parents want to be able to download calendar appointments? If you are a retail shop, do your customers represent a website user? Or, is the site purely internal?

Lesson #1 – The more users with different needs you have, the more important it is to really understand your users.

Museum and Williamsburg blue trim – Your Style

Is your site supposed to feel modern and high tech? Do you want something more traditional? Technology website trends tend to evolve pretty quickly, and a modern, high tech site won’t feel that way in three years. Are you prepared to re-do the entire site every three years?

Lesson #2 – Align your branding and website style.

Household maintenance – Site maintenance

Just as houses need maintenance, sites need maintenance. Who is going to do the maintenance? If you want to build a low maintenance site, consider restricting programming information that changes frequently to just a few (or one) pages on your site. Otherwise, you’ll be updating every page, every week.

Lesson #3 – Understand maintenance requirements and allow time and money for them.

Changes – Wants versus needs

If you have children living at home, you understand that they can take a toll on your home. You may need to re-do spaces or furniture before you really want to. The same is true with technology. The pace of change is intense. Users are catching on and want things that they didn’t want several years ago. Mobile technology has changed everything, and continues to do so.

Lesson #4 – Distinguish between your wants and needs. Needs come first.

Budget – How much can you spend and what do you want for your money?

As an entrepreneur, I understand well the phenomenon of not being sure about my budget. Since I never really know what my “must haves” are going to cost, it’s hard to forecast how much is left for the “nice to haves.” And, technology projects are often just a series of small client requested improvements or “fixes” that may or may not be funded by your clients. Develop a budget range and determine the scope that the budget covers. Identify scope exclusions as well.

Lesson #5 – Knowing your budget and scope inclusions and exclusions can help prevent scope creep.

There is nothing wrong with talking about the sofa you want to recover, the color of the rooms you want to repaint, the wallpaper you want in the front hall, and the style of the window treatments you are thinking about for the living room and the bedroom. And there is nothing wrong with talking about the technological enhancements that you want to build. But don’t start there.

Technology work is expensive. Starting technology projects smartly will save you money in the end.

Technology work is expensive. Starting technology projects smartly will save you money in the end. Click To Tweet

Understand what you want to spend and what that needs to cover. Understand what you want, versus what you need. Understand the particular style that you want for your site and what parts require more maintenance. Understand your users and what they want.

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Photo credit: French Fishing Vessel ‘Alf’ in the Irish Sea; by Defence Images; CC by 2.0 License;