Last week we experienced our first ever client project week, and after taking on the role of project lead, I decided to record a couple of reflections. It was rather daunting preparing to lead a project having no idea what to expect. But having made it out the other side, here are some thoughts that might help us out going forward into more client project weeks…
1. Understand the brief and ask lots of questions
It goes without saying that to deliver a successful client project, it is crucial to firstly understand the client’s requirements. A critical part of this is asking lots of questions. Of course, it is important to understand the data well – its elements, their definitions, and how it should be used. So ask a lot of questions about the data, make sure you understand how it all fits together, because this will set you up in a good direction. But more importantly, ensure you continually ask the why questions, both of yourselves and the client. Take some time to understand the context and business model, and how your final product will be used. And once you’ve established these answers, make sure you keep coming back to them.
This helped us out when making decisions throughout the week, whether it be about the dashboard design and layout, or which columns of data to prioritise displaying. Ask yourself, what are the key objectives? Why does this dashboard need to be made? How would the client use and access this information in the long term? Knowing these things, how best should the data be displayed? Continually asking these questions helps to ensure you stay focused throughout the week and do not stray from the original brief.
Keep asking the why questions, so you can create a targeted and effective final product.
2. Keep thorough records
Make sure you keep good records (which is an important practice with any meeting anyway). But in addition to meeting notes, it may be helpful to also create a summary of major tasks as early as possible (while the information is still fresh in your minds after the Monday briefing). Write down what the objectives and purposes are, and a checklist of all the required functions and features for each dashboard. Even if this is just a short list of dot points, you now have a reference to keep coming back to. It’s a tangible indicator of your progress, rather than trying to recall and mentally tick off everything mentioned at the briefing.
Thorough records are not only a good habit, but will help you stay focused and accountable.
3. Form primary project questions, and divide the work into streams accordingly
On the point of staying focused, an excellent piece of advice I received from Craig was to have three overarching project questions or objectives. This really helped me as project lead to have a clear idea of how everyone’s work fit together. It meant we also then had three streams of team members who would work more closely together. An added bonus of doing this was that planning the final presentation became relatively simple, since there was already a story and structure within these questions.
Keep in mind three overarching questions your project will answer, and work within them.
4. Communicate efficiently
Standups were an important part of the day for everyone to understand how the project was tracking. Since we struggled initially to keep ours efficient, here are a few takeaway pointers:
i. Setting is important. Make sure you are actually all standing, away from computers and other distractions.
Ii. Keep it short. Set a time limit, and try to keep each person’s update to 1-2 minutes maximum. It is the role of the facilitator to make sure everyone participates, and that the meeting keeps moving.
Iii. Keep it focused. Everyone does not need to know every detail of what you’re doing. This is a time to bring up problems and set up subsequent meetings, it is not the time to solve all problems.
Communication is important between streams, but keep it efficient and focused.
5. Pace yourselves throughout the week, and remember to leave time for practice!
Since it is a week long project, work at it consistently, and make sure you account for time to practice and compile your work towards the end. A key piece of advice we kept hearing was to enforce a dry run on Thursday afternoon regardless of progress. This is an opportunity to ensure there are no significant overlaps we have overlooked, and that everything flows and is consistent. It is also a crucial time for feedback, and then making sure there is enough time to make changes before the final presentation.
Absolutely prioritise these practices (ideally Thursday afternoon!). It really makes a world of difference in how smoothly your final presentation and handover goes.
As you can probably see, there was much to be learnt from just one client project week. So I look forward to the many still to come, and watching us improve and grow together as a team!