How to overcome your communication challenges

The Boagworld Show is back and this season we are answering your questions on people, project and management. This week we are joined by Sam Barnes to tackle your first batch of questions.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This weeks show is sponsored by Qwilr and Invision.

Paul: Hello and welcome to season 15 of Boagworld. Wow, 15 seasons Marcus! That’s a lot.

Marcus: Were almost legal.

Paul: Well if you count the original massive season, then we definitely.

Marcus: Were almost of age.

Paul: I didn’t do my normal introduction to die? I totally forgot. See we go away for a couple weeks and I forget how to do the podcast. So hello all and welcome to Boagworld.com, the pod cast for the all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis.

Let’s introduce our guest for the show, Sam Barnes. Hello sir.

Sam: Hello.

Paul: I don’t think you’ve been on the show before have you?

Sam: I’ve been listening from day one when it sounded as though you were in your bedroom, but I’m still here.

Marcus: Wow.

Paul: I can’t believe you really been listened to us for that long.

Sam: I really have. I remember sending in a question and I was absolutely stoked that it would got read out. In hindsight maybe I’m thinking you only ever got two or three at that point.

Paul: Quite possibly. We got quite desperate at one point. That’s the trouble, we doing that this season – whole season is based on questions that people are sending in. There is always this ‘Oh shit, were going to end up having to make up questions aren’t we?’ So you stand a very good chance of having your question covered on this show.

Marcus: But Sam is proof that we actually do read out people’s questions.

Paul: Yes. They you go.

Sam: However this was when you were recording in a bedroom, just a bit of context there.

Paul: Did you listen to it before Marcus was on the show?

Sam: Yes, I did. Quite a few years back I back to some of the earlier ones. It was you alone and you send little depressed I must admit, but that was what I listened to on the way to work pretty much most days. I was drive to work and actually learn something so thank you for that.

Paul: You’re more than welcome. So Sam what are you doing these days? What are you up to? Where is it you work?

Sam: Well currently I am unemployed. I’ve been working for the last five years for an online dating company as a project manager and also as a development team manager that I just quit there last week and I’m due to start for M & S Digital on 31 May.

Paul: How exciting. So you’re moving to an agency style world?

Marcus: No, M & S.

Sam: Not really because obviously it’s just the product. I’ll be working around the shop area but generally it’s just managing people and an additional team. Very exciting. But at the moment I am unemployed and am already getting up late, you know how it goes.

Marcus: Paul knows how it goes. He never gets up early.

Paul: I do very little.

Sam: He’s worked out how to get paid for it, which is something I don’t understand.

Paul: Marcus you say that I should be ashamed of my achievement.

Marcus: You’ve never got up early Paul ever since I’ve known you. This isn’t a recent thing.

Sam: I’m with Paul there. I’ll get to work and people tell me the 15 things they’ve done at work before I’ve arrived and I’m blown away. The world doesn’t exist for 7 AM for me.

Paul: And the rest.

Marcus: The world doesn’t exist before 10 AM few Paul does it?

Paul: No definitely not. I get quite angry when people arrange morning meetings. By morning meetings I mean anything before midday. I am basically a teenager at heart. Sleeping in forever and probably intellectually and emotionally as well.

So M & S eh?

Sam: Yes. Is a band of always loved and I think is the first time that I have worked for brand that I genuinely like which is really exciting, which is what attracted me to the role in the first place. But what I liked about what the digital team are doing is that they seem to be carving out a new way of working, particularly in retail. They are very similar to your GDS but commercially. So quite keen to see how that pans out and I’m sure there’ll be lots of challenges but I will just want to give that a go.

Paul: So what’s your role going to be there?

Sam: It’s going to be senior development manager which is basically managing 22 people. But really I don’t know much more than that. But really when I went to speak to them I was asked what I did in my current role and I gave them the summary, but really it boiled down to sorting stuff out. I think everybody gets that kind of stage at some point in their career, the longer they working digital. I thought it was a rubbish explanation of my job but the response was, ‘Oh great, that’s just what we need!’

Marcus: That’s fantastic. Because I haven’t put a tagline or a role on my emails for years but Stuff Sorter I like.

Sam: Yes, it could be anything. Is spotting things before they happen stop it could be people problems, it could be operational, it really can be anything. I don’t really live by job descriptions these days.

Paul: So hang on a minute, just before we started this podcast we were talking about holidays and you are saying about how your ideal holiday is to go where people aren’t. And you have said to me on numerous occasions that you don’t really like people. Is one of the big things that we have in common and yet you are managing 20+ people for your new job?

Sam: Yes, I thought about this and been asked about this many, many times and actually it is an obvious question. It’s the same as why do I do speaking when I don’t necessarily find it easy? I think it’s because I’m introverted. One of the things that comes with that is a lot of thinking, a lot of analysis and a lot of introspection and I think in a weird kind of way it makes me analyse people’s behaviour a lot more. I look at things a lot of people wouldn’t and it just seems to help me manage people. It also helps that the introversion and understanding what that is means that I understand everybody is different and I can see that in people. It is a very odd thing but it seems to work. I really want to care for those people more than maybe somebody whose little bit more extroverted and enjoys risk or gamble. They’re more likely to be in sales.

Paul: You say you don’t like people but you do then. You’re actually quite a people person aren’t you?

Sam: I do. I think it’s more that I don’t like being around a load of people. Or people that I don’t particularly like, let’s say.

Paul: It’s all right, this podcast will be over soon you can get away again.

Sam: This is okay, I can do this from my flat, this is perfect. If you’d asked me to go somewhere that would have been a different story.

Paul: Perhaps it’s the outside that you don’t?

Sam: I do have days where I don’t leave the flat. People will probably look at me very strangely but I generally do enjoy that.

Paul: Oh no, I am the same. I can easily stay at home forever. Marcus, you like meeting people and seeing things and doing things don’t you?

Marcus: At least two days a week I work from home, just in my own or with the dogs wandering around that I have to go to the pub at 6 o’clock, that’s what I tell Caroline anyway.

Sam: If you had said anything other than pub it would have sent a lot more credible.

Paul: So actually, having you on the show as someone who gets stuff done or sort stuff out is perfect for the season because essentially this season is about sorting stuff. Is about all the things that don’t fit nicely into any other category. It’s interesting isn’t it, a big percentage of what we do in the digital field isn’t actually the things that digital is known for. If you talk about digital you think of design, we think of development, maybe think of usability type of stuff and content may be. But there’s so much more with people and projects and management and politics. So that’s what we’re getting into this season.

So we got some questions for use and which were going to do in a few minutes. I say for you, but the really for us. We won’t just make you answer them all. But before we do that and he wants to encourage people to submit questions. We quickly run out of questions on a season like this so we really need your questions about any aspect of web development to do with people politics of projects and management and all that sort of thing. You can submit those by going to boag.world.com/questions and you can submit your questions there in the comments at the bottom of the page. Keep those questions coming and I collect them together. Alternatively just email them if you want, to paul@boagworld.com or even tweet them @boagworld.

Let’s do a quick sponsor slot before we get into our questions and am really excited to have Invision for a sponsor of this season because Invision one of those well-known staples of design prototyping that everybody knows about. Except you don’t know as much about them as you think. You’ve probably heard of Invision but have you actually used their prototyping design tools because they are amazing? So struck about lots of different features of Invision over the coming few weeks but this week I want to talk about just the basics.

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Discussion with Sam

Paul: So, as we’ve already said about the season, the premise of the season is to answer your questions about project management, people management and all the other stuff that goes around digital management. I’ve been collecting questions from people for a while and have picked out a few that we are going to kick the season off with.

The first one is from Mel. She is talking about communication. Her question is ‘Who’s job is it to keep communication in a project flowing and what can facilitate good or bad communication and what are good methods for a remote team?’ So there are three questions all put together into one. So let’s start with the question as to whose job it is to keep communication flowing.

Marcus: Everybody.

Paul: That was my immediate reaction as well, Marcus.

Sam: I think it depends on how you work or maybe you have working for you. Let’s say in the environment where you have a project manager, a traditional agency or hybrid where there is a project manager very much running things, the communication would very much fall within their remit is to keep it going. Whereas in within a scrum environment I personally think is the scrum masters job to coach the team onto how to keep the communication flowing by leading by example in keeping tabs on it. I think, one of things that I’m really passionate about is not really focusing on one way of working so regardless of how you are working at the end of the day you’ve really got to appreciate that no matter what we do as a job, we are first and foremost professionals and building a product or service and everyone in that team should see communications their own responsibility as much as anybody else’s. The truth is that when communication goes wrong it causes problems for everybody and a lot of people think that a project manager having communication issues with the client about something might not affect their work but at some point is very likely to and I think it’s my personal approach to it is to lead by example and make sure it’s okay but always try and teach people on the team how to get better at it and also point out the effects of when it clogs up.

Marcus: I think the honest answer to that is that it’s traditionally the project manager in the traditional projects, that it’s their responsibility to make sure that everybody communicates but it is actually then everybody’s job to do it. But if somebody isn’t communicating then they are the ones that need to poke pins in people to make it happen.

Paul: I very much remember years and years back I saw someone on Twitter saying something along the lines of ‘What does my client want from me? I can either build them a website or talk to them but I can’t do both’. And it was like, oh no, no. Because communication is so vital, taking the time to communicate and interact with the client or other stakeholders or even your own team is just as important as the actual work you do. Because you can waste so much time building crap that’s wrong if you’re not communicating.

Sam: When I started out I really wanted to be that kind of coder that produce headphones on and just did his work. I really enjoyed that and I think sometimes you can just go little bit too far with that. I think it’s something to do with experience but also you just learn along the way that actually the talking is what produces the right result more so necessarily than the skills. You’ve got to get that talking right.

Marcus: If ever I hear anyone complaining whether it’s at Headscape or anywhere else, it may be because the person that’s supposed to be working with them is doing something wrong. If only they had communicated, then things would probably be much better and complaints will be happening.

Paul: It is interesting mind that there was a little bit of a trend against, there is very much an anti-meetings mentality within our industry. I can see where that comes from to a degree. I hate meetings with a passion and they drive me nuts but that isn’t an excuse for not communicating. Sometimes the two get a little bit mixed up don’t they? It’s like 37 signals and their ‘we don’t talk to one another and we get on with our work’. That’s not what they are saying is it really?

Sam: I did a post of this a few years back and it actually mentioned 37 signals and is really about how people have a certain calibre of people working for them which allows them to define different ways of working. You’ll get another company read how they do it and will try and copy it or their team will say if we are not doing it that way and were doing it wrong. And I think is the same with github and those kind of guys, they get a certain type of person on board you just know their stuff and maybe have a lot of more experience. You try mirror it in another company’s maybe not so easy. I think there’s always that little bit in the middle which is missed that’s understanding about who you are and who you have working for you and why that is beneficial that way of working and white makes it easier.

Paul: And also alongside that as well there is the fact that even if your team are the superefficient wonderful people that can get on with work and speak to each other through telepathic abilities you still got to interact with clients, you still got to interact with stakeholders and these kinds of people who aren’t as aware about what digital can do. So for me when you talk about keeping communication flowing is not just about communicating about the product or the project, is also communication and education going hand-in-hand. So a lot of it is about educating the client, educating stakeholders about why you are doing what you are doing and what your approach is. And to some extent, educating within your own team so that if you are a developer, educating the design about what you are doing and why you are doing it and vice versa.

Sam: 100%. This is how I got out of coding. I was working as a really small team as a front-end developer at the time and I saw how work was coming into us and how account managers were talking to clients and I just felt that there was education lacking on both sides. You had your production team getting cross with the account managers and vice versa but it was because neither of them were really explaining the whys. It’s easy to solve the strange thing when people stay in their own camps.

Marcus: That’s what I was trying to say earlier on about when people are moaning about the other side. Quite often it’s then failing to communicate or educate, as Paul was saying.

Paul: You think there’s a degree when it’s left over from the early days of the web when one person could do it all? There wasn’t that same need to communicate perhaps than there is now.

Sam: If I think back to working with clients 10 years ago compared to now I think the conversations were comparatively simpler. The technology was simpler, the options were simpler, there weren’t any mobile devices. It was much more of a kind of, I want to build a website, there is a site map, let’s go and build it type thing. It’s a different world now. Very different world.

Paul: So one of the parts of Mel’s question was what can we do to facilitate good communication. What are your tips there?

Sam: There are few so I think the very first thing is to get it right from the start. And from that I mean possibly even pre-sales but certainly from the kick-off. It’s 101 stuff that people do forget to do. Clearly defining contact points for a project, if you work for a small agency and you work for a small client is usually okay but you can work for a bigger agency or a bigger company or working for a global company or 10 stakeholders or whatever, but getting down clearly who are the contact points and making sure that nobody deviates from that list understands what the downsides of deviating from that are. So is really down to expectations. The classic example from older days was when I would be a project manager on a project and were working away and then suddenly I would see a designer doing something on his screen on my project that don’t quite understand. Sorry ask what is up to it turns out that the client has been talking to him. They’ve called him or emailed him and it’s not that you don’t want that, you just want to make sure that you got control of that as such. So is really just making sure everybody understands that.

I think that obviously having people in the team who can talk the language of business technology and design at least at a foundation level really helps. That’s where the education comes in. I kind of like not see developers as developers. That’s not all they are. I think is more common now but certainly maybe five years ago the thought of educating a developer and some design fundamentals, you might have gotten some screwed up faces at that. But I think that is so important that you can start to listen to and be involved in conversations outside of your primary area.

For a project manager, a very popular phase is to be a chameleon where you can adapt to any environment. Brett Harned who I think you got on soon, actually loves something called a RACI matrix for communication. I’ve used them when you’ve got lots of stakeholders it tends to be more corporate. Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. It can work really well. People do go outside it but at least you’ve laid down some ground rules to begin with.

I think finally one of the things that I find helps, regardless again of how you work is something that I’ve stolen from scrum. Something that I was taught about scrum is that one of the things is to get into the rhythm of your ceremonies. Your stand-ups, your sprint planning, your retrospectives. I think the same with regular communication. If you just get a regular status update, whatever it might be but it’s something that everybody knows is going to happen at this time and in what format and what to bring, I think it all just fits into place. Everyone knows it will always happen then.

Paul: That last one is quite an interesting one because I actually think sometimes you get into a scenario with some of the people that I have mentored before where they talk about this project that’s been really problematic. We scheduled the work in for August and in July they were hassling me about what was going on. I actually encourage people to communicate even if you’ve got nothing to say. Even if all you are saying is that you got this work is scheduled in for August. Just say that.

Sam: One of the most simple solutions I’ve found is a weekly status report. I know it sounds obvious on the face of it but what I found is that when I started using these is that sometimes people send status reports that are too big. They are a paragraph rather than bullet points. They need to be really easily digestible by whoever is reading them. You have to send it on the same day, ideally at the same time and in the same format. It just has like what you’ve achieved this week, what you going to do next week, any blockers, what’s the current budget and what’s the current timeline. Just those points and you don’t have to have made any significant progress but you still send it. I think the problem is that you get a project and you win it and then you get to week one. Only a week ago you could be just signed the paperwork and nothing has changed so even as project manager, even though you know it’s the right thing to do it does cross your mind that is it worth sending it on week one? It seems a little bit dogmatic. But I have learnt the hard way that if you do that from day one, is like an evolving set of news the client. It not only keeps the communication going and flowing really well but also it’s a really early trigger point to have potential difficult conversations.

As for keeping your team up-to-date I personally like to send those reports to the company into my own team. It has so many advantages just keeping people up-to-date but also it sounds silly that when you are a developer or somebody who enjoys working in isolation that’s fine, but at the end of the day any issues on your side will have an effect. Often I have found that people who have made a mistake, won’t really appreciate what that means for the project and the bigger world such. But if they get the report is with everyone else that shows mistakes and problems that affects projects on time then it crystallises it more as a business. But you’re not doing it in a patronising way, everybody is getting the same and is what it is. It just changes as to how you view your job I think.

Paul: I like that a lot. It’s really good. Another thing you said is that you said about you should start early and vaguely mentioned the sales process. I think is a very important point. It’s very tempting when you’re in that beginning sales point to tell the client what they want to hear. But actually that’s the time when you should start challenging them, you should start being really honest and upfront about their expectations. Marcus, from our experience that’s nothing but beneficial isn’t it? Clients warm to that honesty.

Marcus: Generally speaking yes. Normally the kind of people that don’t like hearing the truth, you don’t want to work with. We were talking about how things have changed over the years and I think one of the reasons why communication between greater departments encoding departments and sales have often been difficult is because of what we were talking about now. You can understand why our salesman who has a target is thinking, if I can promise a little bit more here I can win this work and that means I’m going to win my target and he promises it. They answer here is make sure you involve people from the creative team in the sales process.

Sam: I’ve had that so often in the past what I did find was that the people that were being affected by bad sales actually didn’t want to go that extra step. I would always advise, get involved and I did that myself. Just go along, start to understand the pressure of sales, of cash flow of things that are nowhere near your world at that time once you understand targets, you might understand and begin to see why they are bending the truth a little bit. But there are better ways to do it. You can still have a successful sales meeting without necessarily that. They can pass it over to you and before you know it you are a salesman as well but hopefully selling in a more ethical way.

Marcus: I can hopefully guarantee that any salesperson would want that person in the room with them every single time. The last thing you want to do is to be coming over as they don’t know what they are talking about. We know now to say that we will come back to you on it but back in those early days I would just make it up and say yes we can do that.

Paul: Oh have we stopped doing that?

Marcus: Yes we stopped doing that at the end of last year sometime Paul.

Paul: No one sent me the memo.

Marcus: Oh you’re still making it up?

Paul: Yes. The last part of Mel’s question was about managing remote teams. Is is something you’ve ever had to do Sam?

Sam: Not in a line management capacity was certainly in a project management capacity. I’ve got a lot to say on this and so much you could read already out there.

The first thing that has to be said whenever I talk about this is that there really is no substitute for being with someone. As much as I say it, people do start to think that it doesn’t make a difference and while that is a dream I do think that at the moment it really does make a difference. When I’ve had to do it, I’ve tried so many techniques. Obviously there were chat rooms like slack which much everybody’s using now, I’ve even tried a tool which I think is actually shutting down now but was an interesting idea which was called squiggle. It did feel a bit creepy as you didn’t get any privacy but I quite liked the idea. I do see that’s where we might be in five or 10 years on with privacy. But I think the main thing for now is that everything has got to be documented. There needs to be centralised to do lists so really everybody can see the status of work is obviously with remote working comes different time zones and all sorts of convocations like that.

I think also the needs to be a willingness ideally to spend on making remote teams easier. For my last company we built a very tiny room and we called it the Skype room but it was what we used to stand-ups and retrospectives. The idea was that it was seamless as possible. Natalie Semczuk is a remote project manager based in New York and she’s done lots of talking on this and she’s got lots of good points like being extra clear when communicating and repeating instructions back to people. It’s funny how you need to understand that it’s correct. Another thing she talks about is how it’s really hard to spot if people are going off on a tangent. People don’t own up as quickly if they are working remotely and you only find out later in the process which is an awful pain. Little things like asking how each person prefers to communicate when they are remote. That’s something that I like to do and even asking whether it’s morning or evening, when do they prefer to have this chat and how do they prefer to talk? Some people are really uncomfortable talking on audio or video. I don’t know why but some people prefer chat. But I think one of the things that actually really helps with working with remote teams, not so much of the communication but is actually getting to know your remote teammates. Natalie talks about this as well but something that I’ve experienced, when you are remote you lose that silly interaction you have in the office. I think you’ve got to try and make a conscious effort to ask them how the day was and not talk about work and you get the bond they need.

I think the main thing about working with remote teams is that when you start doing it you were always going to encounter some issues. It could be technical; it could be operational. There are so many different things that could happen. The key thing is to push through those and see those things something to solve rather than to pull back from them. Is quite hard to do at times but I have seen it really work in the past.

Paul: For me I think the biggest barrier to remote teams is psychological. Is trust at the end of the day. You have to be a to trust the people within your team and that takes a very different management mind-set. There are still a lot of organisations that manage with this kind of control structure and the truth is that when you’ve got remote teams you have to trust people to do their job. To get on with it and do what needs to be done. It’s moving away from the mentality that hours of work done to result driven stuff.

Marcus: I think we can learn a lot from how we work with clients as well. How we work with clients we can take that to how we work internally because clients all remote pretty much. It’s very rare that you get one over the road. I found with certain clients where we have an hours call which is normally a video call where we ensure a proper agenda and notes taken and then you go over everything twice, they are the projects that go really well. What we’d like to do with more the technical projects is get the client in with about a month to go and sit round the table and bang through all those little issues that we need to do. That might not have been part of the original spec for the project but is just worth it, the idea of getting people face-to-face. Just those two things, if you have at least a weekly face-to-face video call with a proper agenda along with a round the table face-to-face. They are worth their weight in gold both of those things.

Paul: To think it affects how you can hire if you’re working remotely? My feeling is that it’s quite hard to manage a very junior member of staff remotely.

Sam: Yes, I think I would agree with that. Again it’s trust but that’s a different kind of lack of trust. Is not a lack of trust in their character or ability to stay focused, it’s their ability to work unguided. When I first started I needed someone next to me all the time. And millions of little questions throughout the day, so yes definitely affects that. I think it’s something that we’re going to have to conquer.

Paul: It is without a doubt and I think it’s good for many, many reasons but it does create some challenges to. We’ve been talking for ages but in theory have only done one question.

Sam: You’ve only got two questions, is that the problem here?

Paul: Admittedly Mel managed to get three questions rolled into one, so good for Mel. Next up is a question from Brian. His question is, how do you balance call new technologies, libraries, tools et cetera with the old tried, tested and true methods? Which I think is a very good one because you get teams of designers and developers who always wanted to do the new cool funky thing but with that comes risk. So how do you manage that risk?

Sam: I think I wrote a post about this for Think Vitamin in 2011. It was when HTML 5 was bursting onto the scene and everybody was busy trying to put up a new site with it. I saw a very similar post by Dan McKinley from Stripe and Etsy and the post is called Choose Boring Technology which I thought was a great title. But really his thoughts are exactly the same as mine and it comes with experience. He spent seven years at Etsy so he was actually able to see the full ramifications of decisions made in this dilemma is such. One of things he was saying was that the good thing about boring technology, if you want call boring tried and tested, is not just the capabilities but it’s how they fail and where they fail. Technology choices don’t happen in isolation. Adding a new technology comes at a cost to your company. So really it is a tricky balance to get right but what he tries to get across is that your job is keeping the company in business. It’s irrelevant what you do but your job is to keep the business going. And therefore you have to start with that as your decision basis as to whether you going to use new tech or not. He said a good question to ask when you are considering whether to use the funky new tech or not is basically, how would you solve your immediate problem without adding anything new? It’s really interesting. If you start and go off of that premise, then you start to think that I could do this and do that. The truth is I think that it’s a decision each time. It is based on risk and is based on your business. You have to at least accept that, especially if you’re working as part of a team. I’ve worked as a part of a larger team where we chose to use angular for a certain feature and it was great. It was working great and it was almost like it was built for it. What we didn’t appreciate at the time and what I think Dan is trying to get across is what that meant. So the people that were skilled in angular core or any new tech, what happens if they leave? Is this thing secure? How quickly can this become insecure? There were so many questions. So I would go back to Dan’s post where he is asking everyone to think and take a step back and work out what is best for the client and the business before you even consider what tech to use.

Paul: There is another consideration their mind. I totally and utterly agree with you, with everything you said by the way but there is also that element where you are responsible for a team of 20 people in their career advancement and their happiness in their job. Marcus is responsible for an agency of people and he’s trying to retain staff and keep them engaged. To see what I’m getting at there?

Sam: I do. It’s all about balance. I think if you need to start using some stuff that people want to use that as exciting and who knows, it could be the next standard, yes you do need to think about that with team morale especially if the company down the road is offering people to use that anytime they want. I think you have to be mindful of both and have to be wise about where you try it out. Good examples are internal of very small projects. The things that have not enough risk so that if it doesn’t work is not going to be a complete disaster for your company. You have to be very measured in both approaches.

Marcus: The idea of holding back a technology that everybody wants to use is probably going to affect the business so it is still a business-related decision.

Paul: There is also a danger you get stuck in a rut and never move forward and the next thing you know you’re still building in confusion or still building flash. It’s a really tricky one, this one.

Sam: I think you can get the company understanding it if you approach it as, let’s say when we were going to use angular, that only affected some of the front end JavaScript developers. But the fact of the matter is that everybody is going to have to interact with this, from operations right through to back-end developers, whoever it might be. If you actually involve them in the decision and as a team you agree you are going to go for this, as a team you take on that risk. When we did it, we didn’t do it that way and so when some issues arose because what we had chosen to use, it was really tricky to deal because it was really down to one or two people in a team of 40.

Paul: You’re right about the risk of that knowledge going away and going to another company or whatever else which is a worrying scenario that keeps me awake.

Marcus: We can’t move on from this one Paul because you basically recommend something new on a weekly basis. And we’ve learned to ignore you.

Paul: But that’s the really interesting thing isn’t it about the dynamic that we used to have in Headscape, is that you need people like me that push and push and push, always trying new things and always exploring the edge of what’s out there. But equally you need people like Sam or Chris in our case, to constantly say yes, but let’s think that through, think through the details. I was fully comfortable with the fact that you would reject 80% of what I said and I accept that is the reality of doing business and I think maybe that is the problem that the frustration some people have in a company, is that if you are that pushy person, someone like me who is always playing with the new toy, you need to accept that only a small fraction of those I ever going to make it to be in production. Presuming you can accept that then there is nothing wrong with you continually suggesting new ideas. The problem comes is where it turns into a conflict point between the sensible people like Sam who is wanting to do the right boring thing and people like us who wants to do the role the exciting thing. It’s just understanding each other’s personal perspective.

Sam: Finding the balance between those two types of people working is where I’d you get a successful company and a happy team or that actually horrible toxic environment that nobody gets on annuity produces any good work. It’s taken me a long time to learn that and I am as guilty as anybody, when I was just a front end developer that was all I did. I wanted to use the latest everything and I couldn’t understand at that point in my career why there was so much resistance. It just felt that people being dogmatic or nervous or not up-to-date. Of course looking back I realise now and I think that’s what our job is now, the people that sort stuff out, is to look out for that kind of thing as much as anything else business-related and try to explain these things to people how I wish I had had it explained to me at that point in my career.

Paul: It is so important is not to just say no. Not to dismiss people. I remember when I was younger like this but there is a very specific turning point in Headscape for me, but before that point I just felt continually dismissed, that I was coming up with these great ideas and trying to push the company forward and Chris was being a miserable shit most the time. That’s what it felt like. I’m exaggerating for comic effect! But that was because maybe Chris wasn’t articulating as well as he could be as to why it was a bad idea, he was just sucking his breath in through his teeth and going hmm. So explaining why it’s so important and what the risks are, and one of the things I like to do is that of just dismissing and I do this with clients quite a lot, instead of just saying no that’s a stupid idea or even explaining why it’s wrong, I start to ask questions. You could even do the same with people that come wanting new technologies. So how are we going to deal with the legacy here? What happens when you leave? Get them to think it through themselves.

In terms of the turning point with different character types it was when we worked with, what was it called Marcus, the people who wrote reports on your personality?

Marcus: Insights. Still working for them.

Paul: Bloody amazing that was. This is the total tangent really were good to get onto our third question but this is really interesting as it shows an interesting part of this the with the stuff elements which is people. So we worked with Insights which is a bit like Myers Briggs, they write reports on people and their personality. They insisted pretty much that those of us that were involved in the project completed these 20 odd questions so that they could assess us and we could understand what it was that they did better. And so we did. We literally filled in just 20 questions.

Marcus: 25 questions and I can remember somebody saying it actually only takes 10 questions but if you do 10 people don’t tend to believe the results. So they have to ask 25.

Paul: They asked these 25 questions and I tell you the report that I got back was the most enlightening thing I’ve ever read about myself. And of course I saw what Chris is one was as well and Marcus’s although I am nearer Marcus than I am Chris which is why I pick on Chris a lot.

Marcus: You and I were only one segment part I think Paul?

Paul: Yes, we were quite close but me and Chris were opposites. But it helped me understand him and it helped me understand me and it just made me realise that actually it’s not other people being dicks when they say no to me, but it’s just a different view of the world. Sit was a really, really enlightening process so I’m really glad we did it.

Sam: I think another thing that I learnt last year was empathy maps. I’d never come across this before. I’m in people management and tend to find it easier than others to empathise but when we were presented with this in a workshop and actually pitched somebody in my head that I felt was always saying no, and it sounds as though it was how you thought about Chris at the time, and I arrogantly thought I was never going to learn anything new from doing this. But really just going through that exercise the 15 minutes, if I had known that 10 years ago you would have saved me an awful lot of pain with lots of people.

Marcus: That’s Insights business though. That revalationary feeling, we all feel it when we do this sort of exercise and they’ve got a global business out of it because they know that what they’ve got really does work.

Sam: It’s witchcraft, that’s what it is.

Marcus: It is.

Paul: Was really interesting about you mentioning empathy maps is that as a user experience designer I use empathy maps all the time with users. And I say this all the time to other designers, were so good at empathising with our end users but we don’t apply that same knowledge to our colleagues and the people that we work with every day. We so need to.

Sam: I think again coming back to the introversion and extroversion, many, many years ago I had a little bit of conflict with some bosses who are doing the selling and I was a project manager. I would be the one pulling back and this person would be selling and taking gambles and at the time this just seemed craziness to me but also for him to and it’s taken me a long time to realise that actually was just different types of people. So me telling him not to go out selling in gambling and not to just pulling a number out the air was actually killing what he found fun about work. Likewise, when he wanted me to take all these risks, it was doing the same. I think just understanding the difference in people can actually change everything pretty much overnight.

Paul: Interestingly that brings us full circle. The two questions that we had, the first one was about communication and the next was about balancing new technologies with old ones and actually the answer to the second question from Brian about balancing technologies is about the first one. It’s about good communication, talking these things through as a team. I think that might be every occurring theme of this season. The answer to whatever the question is is good communication.

Sam: Absolutely.

Paul: I think at that point we will wrap up. We did have another question but you will just have to come back Sam and talk about this again.

Sam: Cliffhanger. Is not that exciting.

Paul: The worst cliffhanger in the world. I know, I am going to read what the question is and that would be a cliffhanger.

Marcus: No you can’t.

Paul: Is that too much?

Marcus: No, go on do it.

Paul: What are effective teams doing to ensure that everyone has access to the companywide information and resources?

That’s easy, the answer is communicate. It’s like when I was a kid and used to go to Sunday school, it didn’t matter what the question was the answer was always Jesus. It’s easy.

Right, okay. We’re going to pick up Prescott’s question next week at some point when Sam gets back will definitely get round to it. Don’t worry Prescott we will get back to you.

Paul: Okay let’s quickly do our other sponsor before we wrap up this week’s show. It’s a great sponsor to have all this talk about non-design and development stuff. Is a product called Qwilr. Last season I talked about a different proposal writing software and its really good the other bit of software that we’ve used. But since the end of last season I’ve actually discovered this new and really impressive piece of proposal writing software that now has become my go to it of software. So going back to what we’ve just been saying about me flipping from one thing to another is a drop of a hat – classic example of it here. But this is so sexy! And I need it and its new and shiny!

It’s called Qwilr, so the name needs some work and it just produces gorgeous looking proposals. Not only is it gorgeous but effectively the proposals are these mini websites where you can include video in, you can include iframes in, they are rich and interactive. Oh it’s just sex on a stick, it really is. I shouldn’t get this excited about a proposal writing software but I really do. It’s so easy to put proposals together but look absolutely stunning and will blow your clients away. We talk bit more next week about some of the details about what they do just the ease of use is great. You can create this great looking website very easily, you’ve got this reusable box the contents and use it from one project to another and you can also save it out as a PDF for those clients that like something printed. So definitely check it out as its really good piece of software that tell you bit more about it next week but it’s worth having a play with. They have a free trial and also get 50% off for three months if you use the promo code BOAG. To find out more about them and use that promo to get the free trial go to [boag.world/proposal], I won’t make you spell Qwilr.

All right, that pretty much wraps it up. Marcus, a new season of jokes!

Marcus: I know and thank you to Nick Johnson-Hill on the Boagworld Slack channel who has given me loads.

Paul: Oh that’s wonderful.

Marcus: The first one of the season I think is rather good.

A Roman walks into a bar and holds up to fingers and says “five beers please”.

Paul: That is terrible. I don’t even know if it qualifies as a joke.

Marcus: I give you another one.

I removed the shelf from my racing snail to make him go faster but if anything it made him more sluggish.

Paul: Oh no, that’s terrible.

Marcus: I liked those two a lot. Thank you Nick.

Paul: Thank you Nick. Much appreciated. Just a reminder to send us in your questions and you can do that at boag.world.com/questions. Next week is Sam just said earlier on in the show we’ve got Brett Harned joining us and he’s going to tackle a few more questions. Sam you come back later in the season?

Sam: Yes, sure why not.

Paul: Wonderful. Nothing like putting him on the spot.

Marcus: That’s a no Paul, it’s a polite no.

Paul: No we’ve got him recorded. He has to come. Thank you so much for joining us Sam and thanks to everybody else, see you next week.

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