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Project framing: Getting alignment and clarity before you get started

Summary: Internal misalignment, competing priorities, and knowledge gaps are common issues that skew web projects. Project framing—a research and definition methodology—breaks down silos, improves communication, and results in alignment.

Embarking on a new web project brings with it a lot of emotions—anticipation of bringing forth a new solution, the value and KPIs the solution will create, the satisfaction of having made something better. We all want to keep improving our web presence, and there’s an air of excitement in imagining what that future holds. (We call this optimism bias—sort of like new love, it feels good but clouds your judgment.)

But there are also common realities lurking in the not-so-dark shadows: Internal misalignment. Competing departments and priorities. A myriad of blind spots. Sometimes we have a general sense of where we want to go, but when we shake the Magic 8 ball, it says to us: “Reply hazy, try again.”

It’s these realities that make it hard to get budget approval on large projects—misalignment and unclear goals are hard to fund. Getting to that place of having clarity on what we’re building and why is a critical first step in achieving an outcome that aligns with your business and strategic goals.

What is project framing?

Project framing is the exercise of removing uncertainty to get to the root goal of a project, and then defining exactly what that project is. Through engaging all stakeholders, utilizing active listening, and bringing subject matter experts in early, together we’re able to answer the big question: What is the problem we’re solving?

Though it can be nuanced, project framing follows this core methodology:

  1. Due diligence — First, we do our homework and conduct research to gather information relevant to the identified challenge. Using a combination of surveys, interviews, and raw data collection, we seek to understand all the elements at play.

  2. Framing workshop — Break out the sticky notes (or, in our case, the Miro board). Using the due diligence research as a springboard, this one-day framing workshop brings all stakeholders to the table for a deeper discussion that eliminates silos. When everyone is heard, we achieve better alignment. At the end of the day, we walk away with both team consensus and a project brief that outlines common understanding of goals, potential scope, and expertise to make it all happen.

  3. Scope definition and initial estimate — Here’s where we pull it all together, framing the potential scope of the project, which could include budget ranges and guidance.

The outcome is twofold:

  • A Project Framing document that clearly defines what problem we’re solving and what the investment will be. This is much easier for leadership to say yes to, and provides a more solid North Star to work from at project kickoff.

  • Shared understanding, consensus, and team alignment that’s necessary to solve the challenge together, and can have positive ripple effect far beyond the task at hand.

Let’s take a look at how this works in practice.

Framing an enterprise replatforming project

When our client initially released their RFP for a replatforming project, they received a number of responses—all different scopes, all different estimates—and recognized that misalignment was to blame. Together, we engaged in a project framing exercise that better defined what success looked like for the client: not just a new platform, but a team of empowered editors and developers who could make the best use of it. Through research, (many) demos, a framing workshop, and the process of framing, we gained much more clarity on what the effort really needs to be, and how the client can achieve success.

High-level framing in healthcare

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a healthcare client came to us needing clarity at a much higher level. In addition to the typical issues of information silos and competing priorities, there was another issue—we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Using the same methodology but with an approach that was more curious than detail-driven, we started asking questions about their pains, definition of success, and obstacles to that success. It then became clear that what they had articulated was actually a different project altogether, and thus a new phase of understanding what that will look like can begin.

Getting clarity

The two examples show that regardless of where you are in the journey of defining your next web project, project framing can get your team to a level of scope and budget clarity faster. It’s the difference between, “I need a place to live,” and “I’m looking for a 4BR / 3BA with a fireplace, office, and two-car garage in this school district.” Beyond defining what the solution is, project framing also brings to light what team resources are needed to make it a reality and maintain it once it’s launched—things that are typically not considered in a standard RFP process.

Project framing can also be useful as part of your overall digital roadmap, especially if you’re needing to better define those projects that are more innovative, or cross-disciplinary and require more detailed planning than your business-as-usual projects.

If you’ve got a project, whether it’s a nugget of an idea you have or something that’s been identified for years, project framing will accelerate your team’s consensus and help secure proper funding faster. Want to chat (or vent, or dream)? Let’s talk.