How to be Successful with a No-budget Work Project
Updated: Apr 29
A useful tool and five unusual sources of funds to get your project off the poverty line.
On a professional level, people like to tell me their problems.
As a consultant who specialises in the digital enablement of businesses, their people and their customers. The problems that people share with me centre around this. The number one ‘gripe’ that people have is the lack of funds (closely followed by the volume of email).
In my younger days, I railed against the injustices of organisations refusing to invest in digital initiatives. Even with a demonstrated return on investment, a project that I viewed as a ‘no brainer’, would not get the support of the business. Without the necessary budget in-play, supporting teams take one of two approaches — the ‘Super Hero’ AKA over-worked and underpaid ‘Aid workers’ or, ‘The Defeated’ — too deflated and down-trodden to do anything of consequence.’
Failure to adequately resource digital in the business impacts staff in some way. The people who will suffer the most are either those on the business frontlines or, the teams that support the digital initiatives.
There is an alternative. By embracing constraint and taking a thoughtful, innovative approach, teams can move their projects on to success — without killing themselves.
Software Vendors want your Success — Get their Money
Call me an optimist, but there is something that software vendors value more than your money. More than licensing fees, vendors values success — specifically your success.
Vendors are on the lookout for success stories and case studies to show off their goodies (AKA new products and features). In exchange for a good story, vendors will invest marketing or research and development budgets into client’ projects.
It’s not just new products that vendors want to profile. Existing and under-performing products or features are also appealing. AI and bots have been slow to take off in the local Australian market, and vendors like Microsoft want to give their fledglings a nudge.
Open up the conversation with your software vendor. Ask what product or features they want to highlight. Ask for a quid pro quo — vendor funding in return for your story.
Focus Funding to Do What You Want
A small intranet team in a large organisation needed about $1 million to deliver their project. The team spent over a year trying to secure a sensible amount of money.
It was ‘Ground Hog Day’ for these guys, repeating messages and writing countless business cases. I wouldn’t say it was a pressure situation, but with little forward movement and results, it was at times, challenging to stay motivated and positive.
Having gained little forward momentum, the team decided to look at other options. They thought that perhaps a small budget to spend on a targeted deliverable could be secured. But how best to spend this money? To ask for a small amount of funding, say $40k, they needed to decide where to spend the dollars, and bring to life the need for senior project stakeholders.
Intranet redesigns and digital workplace projects are arguably some of the most complex initiatives in an organisation. A diverse range of skills and personality types are required if success is to be assured — these span technical development and configuration skills through usability to strategic and communications capability.
The team needed to ensure they looked after themselves and their professional development through this. We developed a matrix on which to plot all the necessary skills according to competency and interest.
Example of capability and interest mapping
The critical areas based on low skill AND low interest emerged. Deciding where to spend the money was now straight-forward.
There are different ways to use the matrix. In this example, we took the following steps:
Each team member individually plotted their interest and capability
Create a single, consolidated view
Use the individual results as a coaching tool
Articulate capability gaps to management
In this case, the team identified ‘Information Architecture’ as the high need/ high risk and low-interest area. The budget bought an external expert.
Note: System selection was complete, thus ‘CMS selection’ and ‘Functional specification’ became ‘low interest/ low capability/ items.
How to Steal from the Rich like a Boss
Your digital project might not be getting the funding it needs — but I guarantee there’s another project out there that is being well-funded.
Nowadays, almost every project has a digital component. Whether the project goal is to market new opportunities, develop better ways of working or open a good old fashion store — everything has a digital element.
I often work with teams that have insufficient funds for their projects. In that case, I encourage people to go out and find the rich kids and offer to give them a helping hand. With a small degree of thought or abstraction, it’s easy to create an online asset that will work 100 per cent for one particular group and also for others across the organisation.
In one organisation that was undergoing a restructure, we had a chat with the Change Manager around her pain points — the biggest was managing communications across the entire organisation. Our offer of help was gratefully accepted, and we moved on to a communications hub. We developed the new functionality with their project budget, and we did so in a way that others with similar requirements could utilise the same functionality.
This new capability went on to be widely-used across the organisation. Once it was up and running, it was an easy sell to the business to others. A quick mock-up to other potential internal clients using their content (including images and rich media) demonstrated the uniqueness of each new offering. Once the requisite functionality is in place, content is the differentiator. In the right way, excellent user design will go unnoticed. Content can take over now.
For the digital team, each new internal client became their spokesperson, advocate, marketer and fan. Every initiative turned into the latest internal case study. Now, rather than being a blocker, the team was an enabler. They weren’t saying ‘no, sorry we can’t help, we have no funding or resources.’ The team took action in the following ways:
Identified the teams or projects that held a healthy budget.
Understood the specific pain points and requirements.
Created new functionality to meet the needs of that team or project.
Applied a level of abstraction to ensure that others could use these new features and functions.
Reduced time-to-market for other initiatives. The functionality was set-up and, ready-to-go. Anyone with a similar requirement could roll in their own content and whammo — be up and running immediately.
Found the next project with the next lot of budget and an online need and started at Step 1.
That’s how to be a true Super Hero.
Take the Crowd-source Challenge & Make More Money
I have not, as yet, been able to convince anyone to crowd-source funding for their digital initiative. But I do think this is a genius idea.
This approach would work best in an organisation where ‘the people’ were screaming for help and relief. Any corporate with poor processes, out-of-control bureaucracy and disjointed communications would make for fertile ground.
Crowd-sourcing funding within an organisation is unusual, and I’d say not for the faint of heart. The message or request should, therefore, be equally bold and very public — no hiding in the shadows for this one. If you are going to succeed, you need to own it.
Think about and plan your crowdfunding as if it were an advertising campaign.
As with any internal program, define the core messaging and channels.
Secure some intranet home page real estate.
Enrol Corporate Communications and have them chronicle your wacky efforts to improve the lives of staff members and customers.
Feed back progress to your supporters and anyone else watching your efforts.
Find ways to gamify the experience.
Call out significant contributors, where appropriate, respect the privacy of others.
Be bold. Show people that there is a way to do this beyond anything they could’ve imagined. Have some fun with it!
Embrace the Constraint for the Win
Embracing the constraint doesn’t mean letting it define you — it is the opposite. Embracing the constraint takes it out of play and enables you to do your thing.
Superheroes work tirelessly to ensure that frontline staff have access to the tools and information they need to keep customers happy. They have a genuine belief in digital. Superheroes are on a mission to bring the message to the masses and will succeed or die trying. Perhaps a little dramatic, but they will be victorious or burn out — too often the latter.
The Defeated are often burnt-out Superheroes. The Defeated have experienced first-hand the effort and energy required to drive initiatives without sufficient support. As such, The Defeated will focus effort on communicating the impossibility of mobilising under the current conditions. Digital inertia is the result, and the frontlines of the business; and ultimately, customers bear the brunt.
Be Smart, be the person or team that works within the system for the benefit of everyone — including you.