The ultimate checklist for a successful data project

Let’s be honest, when data projects drift over time or deliver less than promised hell is around the corner. Whether you are on the client or the project manager side.

data project

How to lead data projects efficiently in the software industry

All project managers I know have lived data projects where nothing goes as planned. But I say never again ! After 10 years of project management I started crafting the ultimate checklist to avoid a nightmarish data project.


Now as the head of the Delivery Team I have been able to test it at scale. And it’s working like a charm.


Here is a little bit of context so you understand what my playground is.


At Toucan Toco, we want to make people successful by helping them to make better decisions based on data. Our web app shows data well designed, playful, data visualizations and storytelling. Access to Data is not a privilege of a happy few anymore.


Our clients are every decision makers and teams in fortune 500 companies: CIO, CMO, C-LEVEL, HR departments… you name it.


What we call projects are the set up and configuration of our software within these companies.


After delivering more than 300 data projects to more than 100 clients the past 5 years, we found a golden rule to install pure joy, happiness and success into data driven projects. It starts with a shared vision, acknowledged and respected by all.


It is like creating your own state with a set of rules that everyone commits on following. How do you enforce these rules ? On what pillars do they stand ?


We created the ultimate checklist of the alignment levers to ensure the success of our projects. I am happy to share it with clients/buyers as much as project managers.


Our recipe is simple


  • 1 delicious Pain, so you actually do a data project that makes sense
  • 4 committed stakeholders able to arbitrate between options during the project
  • clear Key Success Factors, so you know what needs to be checked to consider that the project is a success
  • a slice of Data, because there isn’t such a thing as qualitative data and the available one
  • a good Communication, so everyone is always on the same page
  • 1 Methodology, so everyone acts the same way


Mix it with a good energy, a good mood and a beautiful smile and voila : success !



So you get it, it is all about getting the dream team to work together, following a set of rules that will lead the project to success.


Let’s deep dive, and explore the magic of successful project management.

Building the dream team for each data project

The People you need around the table : Sponsors, Business Owners, Data Owner and a Project Manager.


Each of them is in charge of a specific workstream of the project.


Having these 4 stakeholders committed to the project is key for the success of the project. If one of these people is not defined, runaway from the project. It will be a failure.


  • A strong Sponsor ensures that the project will be pushed forward before, during and after the project delivery. You need people who strongly believe in the project to motivate the troops and promote efficiently the work within the company. We call them champions.
  • Business owners know the reason why we need to do something. They set the goal of the project by expressing their pains, frustrations or needs. They give food for thoughts. They validate the implementations made during each steps of the project.
  • The Data Owner (DO) feeds the project with realistic materials. The DO knows where the information is, how to extract it or how to manipulate it to output the value from it. The DO is responsible for the data delivery on time. The DO is the guardian of a pragmatic approach, key to ensure a successful project delivery.
  • The Project Manager (PM) is the orchestra conductor. The PM is responsible for the global monitoring of the project, its rhythm, its timing, its closure. The PM, by establishing an efficient communication between the other stakeholders, prevents the project from deriving from its original scope.

<h2″>Golden rules to make a data project successful [step by step]

Step 1: Know your end users


The dream team must identify the Persona of the project. They must know the answer to the question : Who are the end users ?


You want their lives to be easier at work, help them making better decisions by developing this project, so let’s make sure that we know who they are, what their pains are, and that the answers we thought about will actually change their lives.


The Persona have to be clearly identified so that the project meets their expectations and answers their needs.


Step 2: A Pain there must be


data project focus


A successful data project is a useful project, a project with a purpose.


It is something with a usage Return On Investment. It is the answer to a pain or to a business need. The project output is the answer to the pain / business needs. It is a frame you can refer to when you need to make decisions on the project.


Step 3: Define Key Success Factors

KSF must be communicated by all the stakeholders and engraved in marble.


Depending on the stakeholder, the success factors can different. So really it matters to write them down. For some, it can be a deadline, for others a specific functionality.


For instance, for a sales dashboard, device responsivity can be a KSF as the sales need to have access to their performance figures and be able to read them from different devices (smartphones, computers…).


It can be also to be available in 2 languages.


Having all the stakeholders to agree on the KSF gives a frame to the project. It also brings everybody to commit on the same goal. Make sure you refer to it when you need to make a decision.


Step 4: Available Data

Duh ! A pain or a defined business need is great, but you obviously need Data to bring value to the project. Data must be available, clean, and well formatted to be exploited efficiently in a project.


The Data Owner handles the data complexity. The Data owner is necessary to create value from the data and to deliver it to the end users.


Step 5: Recurring communication 

An open communication. A clear, honest, scheduled and recurring communication. Also, works better with a dedicated tool. At Toucan Toco we chose Trello to manage our projects and to host all our communications with the project stakeholders.


A new Trello board is opened to all the stakeholders at the beginning of each project. Every important piece of information (contacts, meetings minutes, Key Success Factors, actions…) is gathered in one place. Also, there are no emails sent despite the minutes. Everybody has access to the same level of information and can interact with each other.


Everything is out in the open, nothing is hidden and so everybody assumes their responsibility on their dedicated tasks.


Step 6: A Methodology to rule them all

Your methodology must be acknowledged and respected by all. Everybody needs to believe in this methodology and has to be ready to commit on following it for the sake of the project. Methodology allows to time the project and make sure that it doesn’t drift over time.


At Toucan Toco, we created our own methodology inspired by the Agile principles. We believe that to deliver our projects quickly and efficiently, getting feedbacks on a regular basis is necessary.


We decided to slice the projects into sprints / iterations where the stakeholders can express their feelings and thoughts about our developments.


From Day 1, we work on the final material, and we improve it together with the stakeholders over time and over iterations. It is all about getting and prioritizing their feedbacks.


All our projects follow the same methodology, the same Project Journey.


Toucan Manifesto sums up all our best practices for a successful project. The client and Toucan Toco pledge allegiance to the 10 ground principles of the Toucan Manifesto to make the project a success.


A strong methodology gives us more confidence in the data project management. It enables us to deliver our projects efficiently. And, as a consequence, it boosts client satisfaction.


A free checklist to download just for you !


These steps gathered all together on a data project, and a Project Manager eager to ensure that they are all respected is the key to establish a clear and shared vision on the project. It paves the way to success. One vision to rule them all.


So what do you think ? Can you think of other rules for delivering successful projects ?


Also, as we are fond of tooling and that we believe that sharing is caring, we created a matrix of a successful project and we are happy to provide this gem to you.


==> Download it here for free. Enjoy !

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