Shorter Project Phases to Focus on Key Deliverables

Web project scopes often require similar thinking to what HP is doing with their breakup plan. You have to think about how to deliver the best results from start to finish, and that means focusing key resources (time, team, money) on major priorities. A straightforward way to approach this is to create smaller, integrated task sets. […]



October 6, 2014


Web project scopes often require similar thinking to what HP is doing with their breakup plan. You have to think about how to deliver the best results from start to finish, and that means focusing key resources (time, team, money) on major priorities. A straightforward way to approach this is to create smaller, integrated task sets.

This isn’t a new idea, but it’s something that companies (especially digital-2nd) can have trouble with. What I often see is people thinking of websites as things that can be “completed” or that need to be “finished”. This thinking leads us to say, “this website has to have (insert long list here) before going live”; when the better approach is to say, “this website needs to have these (2, 3, 5) core capabilities in place for launch & then we can work on building X, Y, Z capabilities in phase 2”.

A lot of the challenge comes from the disconnect between knowledge of the end goal and the work required to get there. Guys like me know that there are a lot of pieces that have to work together and perform at a high-level independently in order for sustainable success to happen. But managers and executives may think of a website as a single entity rather than a collection of dozens of sub-systems (plus policy). Thinking about those sub-systems and supporting tasks is how you get a realistic perspective on what can be accomplished in each phase.


  • Moving to a new platform: you can do it, but it means rewriting integrations, re-training content producers and building a new team.
  • Integrating new software (e.g. CRM): you can do it, but you’ll need to copy, clean and re-map all your data for the new application. This may be something you can do in-house but it means shifting resources away from day-to-day operations.
  • Entering a new marketing channel (e.g. Video marketing): you can do it, but you’ll need to invest in good production values and commit to steady promotion before you gain traction.

I liken it to moving out of a house that you’ve lived in for years: you start digging into the back of your closet or pulling boxes out of the garage and you discover that you own a lot more stuff than you thought; all this stuff needs to be looked at, sorted, disposed of, repaired, sold or packed before you can go anywhere.

Do Less & Do it Better

We sometimes discover the underlying work too late to turn back, but lets assume you know all the things that will need to be handled. If you find yourself with a lot more work than your resources can support OR you find yourself looking for compromises rather than complete solutions then it’s time to break things up.

When I say “break things up” I’m not necessarily talking about restructuring sprints (even though that’s a good thing to look at). I’m also not saying to drop things. That’s often necessary as well, but this approach assumes that you will get to everything that’s viable. I’m talking about breaking projects into smaller distinct phases so that you can focus on doing a few things well.

Look Deeper in Your Task Hierarchy

The best way to approach this is to move down 2-3 levels in your project plan and look at the sub-tasks closely. Once you’re at that level, you can look for things that can be shifted.


  • If you are re-platforming, then decide that the key work is getting the new site up with the integrations re-built. Other things, like new content, new visuals or site architecture become part of a phases 2, 3, etc.
  • If you are bringing in a new application, then commit to a full-proof implementation of the core application with training for your administrators. Training for additional end-users, new add-ons and new processes move into a later phase.
  • If you are looking at a new marketing channel (video in this example), then focus first on market research to get a full understanding of what you need to produce, how to distribute and how to measure. Once you have the strategic and tactical details, then design, production, distribution and measurement as separate phases.

Some Ways to Think About Sub-Tasks

The tricky part is determining what the smaller phases will entail and having the discipline to stick to that scope. You end with a lot of push back and are often harangued or extorted to keep adding pieces. Assuming you have enough authority to delineate the phases the way you want, make sure to consider the following:

  • What things have objective endings: Look for things that have clear completions – e.g. data copied from old databases to new servers. If you have things where the end can be clean, then you can get sign-off and move on. Programming, installs and data migrations usually have these types of end points. Design and content can be ambiguous unless you have strong revision and approval processes.
  • Look at the system requirements: some things have to be done, built, delivered before anything else can happen – e.g. new servers or adding users to Active Directory. If you can’t work until something is done, then set those foundation/preliminary tasks apart and get the handled as a distinct phase.
  • Focus on your critical resources: look at the key people, dates and tools that can’t be stretched too thin – e.g. your UX designer or your server capacity. Spot the resource intensive aspects of the project and group things so that you don’t have too many high-demand moments at the same time.
  • Be aware of what you need versus what you want: we all love the new and shiny, but somethings don’t need to happen right way – e.g. re-organizing a low-value AdWords campaign, building all graphics for the site. These things are worth doing, but you can wait on them until you are done with the bigger initiatives.

We all want the best outcomes. Getting to them sometimes requires admitting your limitations (in the short-term). If you can do this, then you’ll find that you perform better and build a strong digital competency from the ground up.  It’s better to focus and do a few things amazingly well than to stretch yourself too thin.

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