Why Being Project First Is Vital For Building Business-Critical Web Applications


A New Approach To A Common Request

My goal for this post is to share how Alpha Alias applies our project first model to the creation of business-critical web applications, and how it can provide more value than traditional methods.  

Before I jump into the meat of this post, I’ll first provide definitions of ‘project first’ and ‘business critical’ for those who would like clarifications and context.

Project First

In my recent post, “What Is “Project First?,” I describe the ‘project first’ practice in great detail. To summarize that article: “Simply put, ‘project first’ allows the project to define what, who, and how we execute. We define the project first, then select who will work on it and how that work will be done.”

It sounds like what every agency in the world should be doing, but in fact it’s the opposite. I go on to describe the differences in the article and I highly suggest giving it a read if your understanding of the project first model is still unclear.

What Is “Business-Critical?”

It might not be clear to everyone what is considered business-critical in the context of web applications so I’ll spend a moment painting a picture of what I mean when I use the term.

In today’s world it’s difficult to think of a business that can operate without leveraging some type of web application. It’s essential to have a website, regardless of a company’s industry, and any company that plans to market their business will find it difficult to ignore the direct access to potential customers social media can provide. While they are necessary to compete in most industries, and often vital to your company’s marketing efforts, these web applications are not business-critical.

Business-critical web applications are for companies whose digital presence is vital to the success of their business. Ecommerce websites, airline and hotel booking sites, stock or cryptocurrency investment portals, many SaaS businesses, and digital destinations created as the primary source of lead generation, are all types of business-critical web applications.  

A Failure Of The Agency-First Approach

A few years ago I was working at a digital agency that was approached by a client whose website (business-critical for lead generation) was in need of a visual upgrade. The website was built on top of a completely custom application used to manage all of their products. There were about 15k products in the database.

The agency I worked for built WordPress sites and had created a proprietary product for use within the WordPress CMS. Naturally, the agency’s solution to the visual upgrade request was a complete migration of their technical stack to the proprietary WordPress solution and recreating the product management system the client was used to working with.  

This action is what we call the ‘agency-first’ model.  A client approaches the agency with a challenge, and the agency provides a solution based on what they know how to do.

The project first approach is to understand what the project needs and then provide a solution that brings the most value based on those goals. In this case it would have been to put the budget into UX/UI and talented front-end developers who could build a powerful new front end for the system the client was already using. You could do this with GatsbyJS or any other REACT app with ease.

Unfortunately, the reality turned out to be a mess. The budget went into building an API and integrating the product management system with WordPress, then building out custom features in the WordPress CMS. This activity took the project over budget and the client didn’t get everything they wanted from an interaction or visual perspective. It was a lot of unnecessary and wasteful work, and all because the project was run agency-first.

The issue with traditional digital agencies and their agency-first approach is that their fundamental operational model can’t offer the best possible value for a project. Every agency with a team of developers is only able to operate within the available skill sets of those developers. Even bigger agencies who have the ability to hire large numbers of developers will still try to drive internal efficiency by cutting corners with proprietary processes and products.  

The Challenge

Why Business Critical Applications Need To Be Project First

Business critical applications benefit when the goals and needs of the project come before the team and processes that will execute the solution. The conversation should always start with “what does this project need?” and not with, “here’s what I can do.”

When operating with the project first model, planning is the most important phase of the entire project. It is vital to identify the needs and goals of the project and to craft a plan that brings the most value to those elements.

The skill sets and teams required to execute the plan are only understood during the planning phase, and those resources should only be brought in when things are becoming more finalized.

The primary objective of a business critical web application is to get the greatest possible value for your project. The first step in achieving that value is working with a company that prioritizes your goals above everything else. That’s why being project first is vital for building business critical web applications. That’s how Alpha Alias works.


How Alpha Alias Applies The Project First Operational Model

I always try to paint the picture of the Project First model as the more approachable way of dong things. In many ways working with Alpha Alias will feel similar to working with a traditional agency. With classic agencies you’ll talk almost exclusively with a project manager or an account director; you’ll see some names on emails who you know are working on the various intricacies of your project. The Alpha Alias way is only different in that the people working on your project are specialized in specific skills that were brought in especially for you. 

Alpha Alias applies the project first operational model at a fundamental level of your project work. We want to know everything about your project. We want to know how your company thinks. We want to understand your business goals and make them our own goals in the context of your project. And that’s all before we decide to work together.

We want to care about the same things you care about because that helps us understand the true needs of the project. Eventually we get to a point where we workshop the project and lock in all the definable details. We match those requirements with our understanding of your company and use those as tools to bring in the right experts to action the tasks we’ve defined.

In the process of defining the work we methodically ask, “is this what’s best for the project.” This helps us define a more focused approach to the work and allows us to realign budget to areas where it can bring the most value. If it’s not bringing value, our recommendation is always going to be to use the budget on something more impactful.

We carry the project first way of thinking through conceptualization, planning, action, delivery and optimization. We add value to business critical web applications by focusing on what’s important to you and your project, and allowing that to shape how we execute the delivery. 

Want to learn how Alpha Alias can apply the Project First model for you? Contact us.