Budgeting digital projects: getting your money’s worth

Bart-Jan Verhoef
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“So how much will this website cost us?”, someone recently asked me. The first thing that came to mind was to counter with: “How much is it worth to you?”.

The budget dilemma is a given in project initiations so the question wasn’t a surprise. Nor was the response I had in mind. Knowing it would have sounded a little too clever I kept it to myself. Instead, I explained how to break down projects to establish a reasonable budget and get the most value out of it.

Estimating the unknown

Determining a budget is almost always difficult for digital projects. The size and complexity often are too large to see what all is involved.

Consequently the cost of development is difficult to predict. Even with a typical iterative approach it is unclear how much development will be needed for how long.

The less the better

In contrast, yields are difficult to predict for many digital projects. This makes it difficult to determine what it can cost. Logical that “the less the better” is the adage when afterwards it could turn out that every euro spent there was one too many.

In itself “the less the better” is not a bad premise. But without understanding proceeds we can only guess what is justifiable. And that is not only unfortunate, it is also unnecessary.

Breaking projects down

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of a large project with detailed specifications, projects can be divided into small part little projects, being developed separately.

Each of these sub-projects, sometimes called ‘pilots’, can be built quickly and tested by users. Thus, they are (in)validated before it is decided if they are to be included in the final project.

By developing in this iterative manner, it is possible to adjust as new insights emerge: Maybe some sub-projects fall off or others are a higher priorities by what emerges from the interim results.

The focus will thus be on developing only the really essential elements, which have proven to contribute to the goals of the users and the project.

Making informed decisions

Finally, for the budget this means that the results or yields that are expected from each sub-project—whether financial or otherwise—can be decided upon with much better precision. Subsequently, results per sub-project can then be weighed before the decision whether, and for which sub-projects budget is allocated.

If you are involved in a digital project then perhaps the question of how much it is worth to you has occurred at this point. If you don’t know or aren’t sure, hopefully you’ve at least got some direction on how to get your money’s worth. Good luck!

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