How to Create a Digital Ecosystem Like You Grow a Garden
It may be cold out now, but before you know it, the air conditioning will be on and we’ll be trading in our winter coats for summer dresses, shorts, and flip flops. As we move into spring, I’ll be spending my free time planning out my vegetable, berry, and flower gardens. I have a lot to take into consideration, and proper prior planning is essential to making sure I have produce at the end of the summer. As an Account Manager at TBG, I also find myself prepping for several projects that are about to begin, and just like my garden, the early efforts are just as important as the work done leading up to launch day.
Get to Know the Space
While I’ve always admired my mother’s vegetable garden, it’s neither practical nor possible for me to mirror it exactly. She has acres of rural New Hampshire land to work with, and I have the creative challenge of working in a much smaller Baltimore backyard. But gardens can be successful anywhere if you take the time to study the available space.
A tape measure and a friend can help you map out the exact dimensions of your space, which will allow you to methodically plot out your structures and plants. It’s also necessary to test your soil both for contaminants and composition. This will determine if you need to do some extra work to revitalize the soil, or if your planting options will be limited.
Lastly, your plant selection will depend greatly on your climate and growing season. The plants that work in my Mid-Atlantic garden may not be suitable for my mother’s New England garden. Learning about how climate, space, and soil impact your garden before you even purchase a seed will increase your chances of success and could spare you heartache down the road.
Like gardens, not all digital landscapes are the same, and allotting time for research will both inform and improve the end product. A large project requires discovery, that is, time to dive into the client and to learn about the existing website, marketing, and business goals. Instead of measuring a plot, it’s important to take stock of a website’s architecture, content, and tools and brainstorm ways to both improve upon what already exists and to introduce new tools and concepts to meet a company’s needs. Research the climate by taking a look at the competition and industry best practices to see what can work and what doesn’t. Also take the time to conduct stakeholder interviews, comb through analytics, and understand current infrastructure, business, or marketing challenges to develop a sound digital strategy. All of this work creates a strong foundation on which to build the rest of the project.
The Importance of Timelines
Like garden plots, not all plants are alike. Some will fare better if sown inside first, while others can start outside. Some plants can survive earlier in the spring than others, and some will produce blooms or fruit later in the season. It is important to keep track of when certain plants need to start, when seedlings need to be transplanted, and when you can anticipate your harvest. Do your research and plot everything out in a chart to eliminate guess work—like a roadmap or a timeline for your digital project.
When designing and building websites, it’s also important to be organized from the start. There are many moving parts and targets, and a thorough timeline can help keep a project on track. Before each new project kicks off, a timeline should be created and vetted to aid in the transition from discovery to launch and eliminate the guesswork when shifting between project phases.
Choose Tools & Structures That Work for Your Project
I have no logical reason to use a gas-powered rototiller in my garden—it would literally require two passes to dig up the entirety of my lawn! My mother, on the other hand, needs one to turn her large garden beds every year. Similarly, multi-tier garden beds are best for my garden, as they allow me to fit more into a smaller space. They wouldn’t make much sense in her garden. It’s important to identify what tools and structures will work best for your desired outcome.
The integrations and architecture decisions that work for one website are not guaranteed to make sense for another. It is important that we all sit down and discuss what makes sense given business and marketing goals, available resources, and best practices.
Identify What You Need & Learn How to Use It
Why spend months researching plant varieties, building structures, nurturing seedlings, and weeding if you’re not going to use or enjoy the produce that comes out of the garden? Given all the work that’s necessary, it’s important to think about what you want and have a plan for how you will use your garden’s produce after harvest. Don’t plant tomatoes if you don’t like them! And if your garden unexpectedly produces more than you can eat, take the opportunity to learn how to can, bake, or pickle.
The same goes for websites. You are going to spend months working on and reviewing wireframes, designs, and content. Everything needs to be built, QA’d, and approved. But don’t forget to keep your company’s needs on the top of your mind, and let the end goals drive your decisions. Why did you start this project in the first place? Maybe your CMS wasn’t intuitive and caused more work for your team, or maybe your site’s architecture confused your customers. Whatever it was that led to your decision to take on this project, keep that close and always ask how the new website will address the issue.
Take it a step further, and plan what you are going to do once the new website launches. How will you train your employees on the new CMS? What processes will you need to put in place? How will you announce the changes to your customers? It’s important to look at this project holistically and anticipate questions and changes that will inevitably surface.
Your garden is spent for the year or your website has launched. How did it go? Take some time at the end of either project to reflect on the process. With your garden, keep a journal on what grew well, what didn’t work out, and how your timeline matched up with reality. You can do the same with your Web project by meeting with your team and talking about the strengths and weaknesses with the timeline, communication, and any roadblocks that came up during the project. Going through retrospectives will help you improve upon your project for next time, regardless of whether you’re creating an extranet or growing veggies. At TBG, we do retrospectives not only at the end of a project, but throughout a project, so we can adjust with flexibility during the course of a project, incorporating lessons learned as we go, as well as doing a comprehensive look back at the end post launch, to better inform future projects.
Careful planning from the start, and reassessing and adjusting along the way, will not only bring to bear bountiful berries, tomatoes and sunflowers from my garden, my projects will also benefit from this same thoughtful, ongoing organization and oversight, ensuring successful launches and happy clients.
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