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Project on Hold? Six Strategies to Move It Forward

By Teresa Meile Bailey

In part 1, we discussed how to uncover the project’s underlying problems. Now, we’ll share six specific strategies to give projects more momentum. These strategies can be led by people in product, user experience, development, marketing, sales, or other influential roles. You can also proactively use these six strategies to keep projects from stalling out in the first place:

  1. Find champions and build grassroots awareness.
  2. Prove the magnitude of a problem.
  3. Address both user happiness and unhappiness.
  4. Find advocates in senior leadership.
  5. Align with the goals of the company and CEO.
  6. Find more staff bandwidth and reduce scope to advance it more quickly.

1: Find more champions by building grassroots awareness

Increasing awareness about a project can help you find more people to champion the idea on your behalf. This can help build momentum for an exciting or useful project and can give you more people to turn to when problem-solving.

Demo the project at a lunch and learn or another large gathering. Tip: Call it a “snack and learn” if you don’t have a big budget. These demos also work well virtually.

Promote it with internal communications, such as a company newsletter or intranet post.

Continually solicit feedback and improve it. Small changes can help smooth out bumps and make the project more successful overall.

Create a “UX Most Wanted” poster to help focus attention on useful projects that have lost traction.

Jesse Braver and Emiliya Trakhtenberg from our user experience team created a “UX Most Wanted” poster to raise company awareness around six projects we wanted to support for customers and internal users. Staff upvoted individual projects. The campaign’s success helped all the projects make it on the roadmap.

2: Prove the magnitude of a problem

It’s important to prove the impact of a given problem on your company. Even if everyone already agrees the problem exists, proving its impact will carry more weight.

● Deeply ingrained problems may be dismissed or overlooked entirely.

● Simple, everyday problems may be overlooked in favor of more marketable problems.

● Complex problems may seem too overwhelming to fit into a roadmap.

Based on UX best practices and anecdotal evidence, our UX team recently recognized that a particular project would be invaluable to customers and staff, but we had no hard proof. As a result, I conducted a survey, and the findings confirmed our beliefs. We finally had evidence about the scope of the problems, who was impacted, and how they were impacted. Simply documenting the scale of these problems was transformative, and my findings convinced stakeholders to move the proposed project forward.

3: Address both user happiness and unhappiness

● Everyone knows that new, useful tools and features make customers happy and can be exciting for sales.

● Happiness may be dulled if you don’t also fix current, known problems that are making customers unhappy. Fixing frequent, long-term, or substantive problems will always be appreciated, especially by customers.

In the survey mentioned above, my analysis showed that most of the identified problems could be solved by building our proposed project. In other words, the new project would not only add new and useful features, it would solve existing issues as well. By finding new ways to make customers happy, and ensuring we addressed old problems that frustrated them, our efforts packed a double punch, and our customers will feel more appreciated.

4: Find advocates in senior leadership

● Senior leaders have access to other budget streams or resources to help ensure a project is properly funded.

● Senior leaders often have deeper, business-level insights into why a project has stalled, will stall, or how it can be revived that you might not be aware of.

● Senior leaders have more power to insist that a project moves forward, even if it stalled with other stakeholders.

Senior leaders are very busy, so find specific, practical ways they can help you. For example, can they connect you with an assistant, another leader, or an outside colleague? Can they review your survey, plan, or deck to ensure it will resonate with other leaders? Can they increase your project budget or staffing?

5: Align with the goals of the company and CEO

Familiarize yourself with the business goals of your CEO and the overall company. Typically, these are updated annually and are related to high-level plans for success from the Board or senior leadership team. Showing alignment between the company’s objectives and your project is a powerful way to demonstrate value.

Does the stalled project align with the stated company goals? Would moving it forward positively contribute towards one or more goals? If so, make those connections explicit whenever you discuss the project with stakeholders or other leaders.

If the project doesn’t yet align with those goals, is there a way to amend the project so it does? Projects that align with the main goals and plans of the company are most likely to get budget, attention, and resources.

6: Find more staff bandwidth and reduce scope to advance it more quickly

Often projects stall because of two complementary problems that block up the pipeline: limited staff and the scope is too big. Solving for both at once can really help you free up that pipeline in a significant way that gives you much more momentum than if you solve just one of these problems.

Remember, having a simple MVP of your project is better than having a stalled-out version of a larger project.

● Find another person, team, or outside contractor who has similar skills.

● Use a hackathon to involve staff or find bandwidth you wouldn’t normally have access to.

● Pare down the scope and get people excited about what you can build.

● Build the project in phases or use a third-party tool for some of the features.

When a project is stalled, consider the original reasons for doing the project. Are they still important and valid?

● If not, it’s okay for the project to remain stalled. Accept it and move on.

● If the original reasons are still important and valid, use the ideas in Part 1 to help uncover and solve certain underlying problems. Then, use these six strategies to help you gain more momentum overall.

Have you tried the ideas and strategies in these articles? Let us know what worked for you and moved your project forward!

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