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Getting your ducks in a row: Lootok’s one-of-a-kind project management methods

What is the best way to win?

Ducks in a row The “on time, on budget, and as promised” motto that dominates our industry is a cliché. It’s the stock answer when asked how to evaluate a project’s success. You may achieve one or maybe two of these measures, but satisfying all three is no easy feat. While project plans can help, you need much more. At Lootok, we deliver projects through two proprietary means: ODWR® and 5Ds®. Having spent my entire professional career in consulting (almost 20 years), I have lead hundreds of projects and enjoyed magnificent successes and epic failures. Here’s something I can say for sure: the future is unknown and relationships are complex. We can try to predict and control outcomes, but life has a way of throwing us curve balls. We can better understand the challenges that projects face by unpacking the way people think and behave. Here are a few examples:

  1. Planning fallacy: Our plans represent the most optimistic possibility.
  2. Positive illusion: We believe we can do more than we actually can; overconfidence is rewarded.
  3. Egocentric thinking: It is someone else’s fault. We all play the blame game.
  4. Memory is malleable: Memory is fickle, and our mind changes as we learn on the project.

You may think that these examples paint a grim future for projects, but quite the contrary. We first need to understand them better, and then focus on what we can control and what we can’t. Projects will go “off-the-rails.” People do “go rogue.” We will misunderstand each other. There will be surprises. But, this doesn’t mean we are powerless.

Lootok ODWR®

To better manage relationships and projects, Lootok has created the objectives, deliverables, work plan, and resources (ODWR®) model, or as we call it ODWR. ODWR is a framework to facilitates dialogue, manages relationships, and continually evaluates assumptions, expectations, and progress. It assists us in properly scoping projects and laying the path to success.  Here’s how it works.

ODWR

  • Objectives: Objectives set the direction, purpose, and intent of the project. An objective is not a single statement. You will need to explore your objectives from multiple perspectives, answering such questions as: What problems are we hoping to solve? What is the desired end state? What are the success and failure factors? What decisions do we hope to make? What level of granularity or complexity are we hoping to get at?
  • Deliverables: Deliverables are the tangible and measurable artifacts that must to be produced to reach your objectives. As we well know, contracts are hyper-focused on deliverables because they are easily recognizable and measurable. It is important, however, not to be deliverables obsessed. They are, after all, a means to an end. Never lose sight of your objective and what you must do to get there.
  • Work plan: Deliverables are organized into a work plan, with accompanying tasks and milestones. A work plan is your standard project plan. Be sure to build into the work plan acceptable / unacceptable risk. Lootok uses pre-mortems—an exercise pioneered by Gary Klein—to assist with the process. Pre-mortems are the mirror of post-mortems, and challenge project owners to analyze failure before something happens, instead of after the fact when it is too late to salvage the project. Pre-mortems should: 1) Identify and agree upon project risks 2) Document known issues and possible changes 3) Identify thresholds, triggers, and inflection points.
  • Resources: Then comes the task of staffing the project with the right resources. The work plan defines which resources that need to be allocated and when.

ODWR® defines the core pillars of a project, however a deeper dive is needed to manage large, complex endeavors. There is a saying that the devil is in the details. For projects, the devil is in the work plan. Building off of our ODWR®, we created the 5Ds® model. The 5Ds are the details in the ‘O’ and ‘W’ of our ODWR® model.

5Ds® model

Rather than go out the gate with big plans and big budgets, we recommend incremental and a steps towards your ultimate goal. The 5Ds address the fact that no one can grasp all facets of a project at the onset. A project’s complexity unfolds as you dig into the details. With this reality in mind, we divide our projects into phases—and in many cases scope and bill phases separately. Every phase has clear milestones that must be completed before moving to the next. At the end of each phase, an assessment is performed to determine whether that phase’s objectives were successfully met and whether the next phase should commence.

This five-phased process builds shared expectations throughout the course of the project, reduces scope creep and false promises, and follows proper design protocols. It has wonderful checks and balances built into the process to prevent a project going off track.

The phases are:

Lootok 5Ds

  1. Discovery: The discovery phase marks the beginning of the project and lays the foundation for all subsequent phases. Business, contextual, organizational, and aesthetic strategies are explored with the goal of restructuring and maximizing the project goals. Artifacts may include: 1) Interview questions 2) Raw interview data 3) High-level interview findings 4) Objectives 5) Success metrics / measurement plan 6) Audience definition 7) Competitive analysis 8) Creative brief 9) Content strategy 10) Features list
  2. Design: The design phase builds on the decisions forged in the discovery phase and focuses on the refinement and finalization of those requirements, as well as the design of the project itself.  At the end of the design phase, the most granular aspects of a project are agreed upon between Lootok and our clients. Artifacts may include: 1) Scope document 2) Detailed requirements 3) User scenarios / flows 4) Interface structure and designs 5) Copy deck 6) Approved designs 7) Test plan
  3. Development: The development phase is the culmination of the discovery and design phases; wherein, “planning” ends and “doing” begins. Remember that you must remain pliable during this phase, because this is where unforeseen issues can emerge. That said, we work closely with our clients to face the issues that challenge a project’s scope and the timeline. We use our discovery objectives as a divining rod to recalibrate our activities and meet our goals. Artifacts may include: 1) Detailed project plan 2) Completed user interface design 3) Integration points 4) Finalized style guide and designs 5) Project/code reviews
  4. Demonstration: During the demonstration phase, we show progress and provide a feedback loop to our clients. This ensures that there are no surprises at the close of the project. It also allows us to revisit any changes in scope that we encountered during the development phase. The phase lays the groundwork for a seamless final delivery. Artifacts may include: 1) Feedback loops 2) Test scripts and cases 3) Outstanding issues 4) Go/no-go decision
  5. Delivery: The delivery phase marks the close of the project and provides client will the confidence and evidence that their goals have been met. Artifacts may include: 1) Project sign off 2) Training 3) List of issues 4) List of enhancement 5) Launch of technology 6) Post-mortem

Clients may approach the 5Ds® in flexible ways. When they have a specific budget, we typically price out just the cost of discovery. At the close of discovery, we evaluate the remaining budget alongside the project goals to determine the right course forward. For some clients, Lootok participates in all phases. In other cases, we hand off subsequent phases to clients to complete.  Intent defines the project design, as well as the players in the project phases.

The 5Ds can be used in a waterfall or agile manner. Waterfall projects move through each phase once, where as agile project complete phase 1 once and then repeat recursively steps 2 through 5 until the project is finished. The approach really depends on the structure of the client organization. Some companies are organized to support agile processes; others are not.

Have questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out. We look to geek out on this stuff.

Sean