Insight 1: Trust and communication are more important than contracts
Buyers of IT are often unhappy with not being able to trust their vendors. What is less often mentioned is that vendors are as often unhappy with their customers not trusting them to make good judgments.
The takeaway: make communication your number one priority.
Conventional wisdom holds that the project manager serves as the sole point of contact between the buyer and the team building the website or app. Every requirement, change or request is formally passed on through this person to the team.
This is totally wrong for web and app projects.
Modern project management practices instead tell us to let team and customer interact. The benefits are many. The risk of misunderstandings is reduced as we avoid "the whisper game", we avoid writing heaps of documentation that loses relevance in a few days' time and team members feel more empowered. But it also promotes trust at a personal level.
That said, formal decisions regarding the project's execution need to be communicated to appointed members. I recommend agreeing on how these decisions are communicated and made and that its made clear that team members cannot speak on behalf of the contractor.
So if you're a buyer and the company you're considering contracting doesn't let you talk directly to its team, ask why. And show initiative by trusting them by baring your own throat and tell them what your fears are, with them, and with the project as a whole and why it's important for your company, even if its future hinges on it.
And write a contract. It's common sense and clarifies things that can lead to misunderstandings. But don't let the lawyers and the legalese replace human interaction and trust. Get to know the person you're selling to, or buying from.
Insight 2: Transparency is the foundation of trust
Buyers and sellers alike will only gain from being honest about their knowledge and capabilities. Buyers who believe in transparency will share what they know and what they hope to achieve with the project. Sellers will not be afraid to admit when they do not possess the knowledge. Being honest will support collaboration and set the standard for trust as well. If you know the company you've contracted is honest, you feel less need to check on them or act controlling.
Insight 3: The project is an investment to achieve measurable results – not a cost tied to a set of requirements
If building a website is something done as a reaction to staying comparable to competitors in customers' eyes, there will be a strong desire to view it as a cost. However if the website is viewed as a way to gain a competitive advantage, the cost-driven mindset isn't suitable at all. It will promote poor strategic decisions during the project and limit the outcome of the project from its very beginning.
Information technology is transformative and needs to be viewed as an investment. Companies that set out with a cost-driven approach to their IT projects will never be able to take full advantage of that transformative power and will keep playing catch while their competitors lead the charge.
Taking a longer view also has the advantage of needing to define the project's business goal or result. This brings immediate benefits. A clearly defined business goal can be communicated to everyone involved. It also means that focus isn't on the technology or tools used, but on the benefits, the business value and the results they bring. This helps the seller provide the best possible advice and the buyer can evaluate the different options. It will suddenly be clear that there are more paths than one.
Something project management consultants often stress is the need for good requirements. And I agree. To an extent, because more requirements aren't what we need. Fact is, requirements that lock down the project to using a specific set of technologies hinder working towards shared goals or results. Those requirements will force a project to be run as if all answers were already there. When in fact, a project is exploratory and new ways to solve problems will be discovered over the project's course. Requirements focusing on ways to do things, not end results, limit discovery. Allowing the team to discover also empowers it and makes its members feel pride in what they do. Web and app projects are about achieving results, not building something in a pre-defined and highly specific way.
Regrettably, few projects are run this way and the methods aren't well known. One to appear in the past two years is impact mapping. A method we use at Leancept to discover requirements and linking those to measurable business goals – linking requirements to the investment, and in the end – measurable results.