A template for starting digital projects on the same page

Bart-Jan Verhoef
Publish date

There's a saying in Dutch that says ‘een goede start is het halve werk’ (I think the English equivalent is ‘well begun is half done’), that is particularly true for digital projects: the amount of energy invested in preparing projects is a pretty good indicator of how efficient the project will be later on.

So what precisely is a good start then? I'm not sure there's a single right answer, but what I do know is that getting everyone involved to be on the same page is crucial for any project. And a solid way to start doing that is by properly framing the problem at hand, and clarifying how the project is intended to go about solving it.

There’s a variety of methods that help doing this, but whether working Agile or Lean, the basics don’t differ much: before doing anything else, get to know the problem and define what metrics will tell you if you are indeed solving it. Based on the best practices from a variety of methods, I've created the following template.

1. What’s in it for them?

The first and most obvious question to answer is what problem will you be solving. So, what opportunity will this thing offer?

Try framing the answer around existing problem instead of the context of your solution (so: 'We help people get organized' instead of 'We help people manage their todo's online')

We help people____

2. What’s in it for you?

Why is this thing relevant to you, and why are you relevant to this thing? Try to be as specific as possible; while as a business 'an opportunity to make a profit' certainly is a valid reason to initiate a project, it doesn't address why this project, and even more importantly, why you. What do you bring to the table?

We care because____

3. What does it take?

How will your thing get the job done for people, and how do you know this to be true? In listing different aspects, try to differentiate between what you know is required, assume that it could use, and think it may benefit from.

To do so:

  • Requires____, we know because____
  • Could use____, we assume because____
  • May benefit from____, we think so because____

In practice

I'll leave you with a brief example of the template in use. The thing I'll apply it to is our website, vicompany.nl. Here goes:

We help people make an informed decision about our fit as their next digital partner.

We care because We hope to attract clients who suit us or might, while politely dissmising those who don’t.

To do so

  • requires a clear description of our services, we know because customers ask for it regularly
  • Could use a magazine, we think because we've received feedback suggests it is helping to clarify our position
  • May benefit from information about our people, we think so because we believe our customers appreciate our personal approach to business

(N.B. these are just a few examples of requirements; in a real plan everything and anything that may be relevant would be listed in one of the three formats).)

Ready to go!

Now everyone involved will be able to plan their own work (user research, metrics setup, technical planning and so on) based on these shared outlines and work towards the same goals.

It’s a simple exercise, but putting this information together, and making sure everyone involved is aware of it throughout the project can make such a difference!

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