Is pro-bono work a good idea and how can you manage it effectively?

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Pete Boston from Dootrix to discuss managing pro-bono work, finding time for collaboration and dealing with poor client communication.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This weeks show is sponsored by Resource Guru and Invision

Paul: Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show, the podcast about user experience, digital strategy and a whole lot more. My name is Paul Boag and joining me as always is Marcus. Hello Marcus!

Marcus: Hello Paul, how are you?

Paul: I’m very good. I’m excited about playing with this new recording app that we are using which allows us all to magically record each other remotely over a long distance.

Marcus: Believe it when I see it.

Paul: It’s going to be good. You’re such a cynic.

Marcus: Pete are available next week to record this again?

Pete: Ha Ha, I might be.

Paul: So as you can tell we are also being joined by Pete Boston, hello Pete!

Pete: Good afternoon Paul, good afternoon Marcus.

Marcus: How you doing?

Pete: Very good thanks.

Paul: It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken to Pete.

Pete: Yes it has been. It’s been a very long time since I’ve spoken to you Paul. It’s been very nice actually.

Paul: Ahh. That’s harsh.

Pete: That didn’t take very long did it?

Paul: No. So basically Pete used to work at Headscape as a project manager and has moved on and is now working for a company called Dootrix. We’ve had Rob Borley who was one of the founders of Dootrix on the show a number of times and Pete you’ve been on a number of times over the years.

Pete: I have actually yes.

Paul: But as we were doing a season on digital management issues it seemed obvious to get you on the show.

Pete: Thank you very much for inviting me.

Paul: So tell us a little about what you are up to today and what Dootrix do and the kind of projects that you are managing because obviously when you were at Headscape used to be managing typical web design projects, but it’s a little bit different now isn’t it?

Pete: Yes, things are exciting and good. I moved over from Headscape March last year and I’ve been in Dootrix for about 15 months now I suppose. So Dootrix is a design and development company based in the south of the UK. We mainly build mobile applications, desktop applications we also do APIs and websites, we’ve even built an application for a smartwatch recently which has been quite a fun project. So currently I am working on a dashboard for a company for whom we created a mobile tracking app for a couple years ago, which is interesting. Much like Headscape, I work on projects from all sorts of different industries which is very nice. Last year worked on a project which was a point of sales solution for an iPad.

Paul: It seems to be broader than just the web, which is what you are doing at Headscape. Dootrix have been doing stuff with drones and all kinds of things haven’t they?

Pete: Yes, lots of bits and pieces including a little bit of Google Glass. They like to experiment as well even if they don’t necessarily do a project with the clients now. To discover and research all of these technologies to make sure they are up to speed. We do websites as well but it is broader.

Paul: You make it sound as though it’s like a load of boys with toys, basically. Something new and shiny comes along and they want to play with it.

Pete: Yes we just got load of kids everywhere lying around and it’s just an excuse to play around with gadgets I just remembered that we’ve just launched a new website. I don’t know whether you seen it or not?

Paul: Oh yes I have. It’s really nice actually, I really like it. That was Chris Anderson who did that wasn’t it?

Pete: Yes it was. He did that and it’s got beautiful photography. I don’t know if you noticed that?

Paul: Oh is that yours?

Marcus: I thought the photography let it down really. I thought you were going to get a pro in.

Pete: Yes Chris and I did the photography for the site, it was actually good fun. We had a couple of days when was that everybody needs to be in the office and we tried to take as many photographs as possible which didn’t look too staged but we just wanted to avoid stock photography. And then somebody said it looks like stock photography. That wasn’t the idea!

Marcus: It’s a problem though. When we redid the Headscape site and with thinking about doing it again at the moment, if you want to stick to the kind of rules that you talk to clients about for example what makes a good design and usage of imagery, all we’ve really got to play with from an imagery point of view is our faces and who we are and maybe where we work, the town and the city. But that’s it. After that it is just stock photography or really random abstract stuff.

Paul: And also your work.

Marcus: Well that obviously. That’s a really easy thing for us to add colour and imagery but were working with a client at the moment who has exactly the same problem. Their work has nothing to do with anything aesthetic, so it really is just them.

Pete: We were really lucky because obviously we work in a nice place. Is not dissimilar to the old Headscape barn actually. It’s a really nice location. Got a whole load of clients with a whole lot of kids and it’s really difficult to make cool kid look exciting from a photography point of view. Obviously you can but it’s quite a skill to capture it without it just looking as though it’s like a bunch of boring kids.

So that’s what I’ve been doing recently and is good.

Marcus: So all the rest of the team get to play with the kit and you’re the grown-up?

Pete: I was until recently, the oldest. But I’m not anymore, so I am celebrating.

Paul: That’s really sad when you become the oldest. And they’re all just a group of children playing with kit. But it’s true, you have to stay up-to-date don’t you. You have to keep up-to-date with these latest innovations. It was interesting we were having a conversation about that in Slack recently about keeping up-to-date and it does just feel impossible doesn’t it? There is so much going on in so many different areas.

Have you guys played with creating bots yet? That’s the latest thing isn’t it?

Pete: Bots?

Paul: Yes. Obviously not from the tone of your voice.

Pete: We have got a client who has been experimenting.

Paul: That’s the new thing that I want to play around with when I have some time. It’s finding the time isn’t it?

Pete: Yes it is finding the time. Being a project manager I don’t get to do all the exciting things, I just get to do the things that make other things run smoothly in the background.

Marcus: That was my point. You’re the grown-up.

Paul: But the trouble is, as a project manager, you have to keep up-to-date as well so you need to learn.

Pete: Absolutely so that’s been one of the learning curves and challenges, keeping up to speed with technology and keeping up with the guys and their rates of learning which is generally amongst developers, pretty quick.

Paul: Have you got to go to any project manager conference is recently? Or has that been of the table for a while?

Pete: I haven’t actually no. I was asked for one of them but I couldn’t make the data don’t think. No, I should do, I need to get to speed really gets back into the project management conference circuit because it was very much enjoyable.

Paul: Talking with Brett last week about a load of different conferences. There are more and more of them these days.

Marcus: Some Barnes mentioned a couple of them is well, but I’m struggling to remember what they were.

Paul: Neither can I.

Pete: I think the guys at White October do some, they’re based in Oxford.

Paul: Oh, White October? Have not heard of them.

Pete: That’s Holly’s company.

Paul: Oh we need to get Holly on the show. Damn, I forgot Holly. I’m sorry Holly if you’re listening. Holly is a very talented project manager that we definitely need her opinion on at some point.

Which brings us onto the subject of the podcast which is that, this season as you know by now, we are answering your questions about digital management issues generally. This week we’re going to be looking at things like pro bono work, finding time for collaboration, dealing with poor client communication and that kind of thing. But really it’s very open-ended and we just want your questions, anything relating to managing digital. See you can send those questions by going to and you can submit them there in the comments on that page.

But before we get into that I just want to quickly talk about our sponsor, Invision before we get into this week’s questions. If you don’t know Invision they’ve got an amazing suite of productivity and design tools. We talked in the last couple of weeks about their amazing prototyping tools but this time I wanted to tell you about a free plug-in that they offer. Why they want me to promote a free plug-in, they seem to give away so much for free, I can’t get my head around these guys and what their business model is. It’s a free plug-in for sketch and for photo shop, called Craft. Now I’ve only used it with sketch, I’ve not used it with photo shop but it allows you to, well let’s say you’re creating a prototype or a design mockup, it allows you to insert real unique content into those prototypes which is a simple click, so if you are mocking up a page which has headlines or articles or an address in or a username, instead of having to make up all of that content, you can just click a button and it will grab a real headline and put something in, or get a username from somewhere and put it in. So it will also do the same with placeholder images, so if you need is a load of placeholder images it will go out and find them grab them and put them in. That can either be leaving it to its own devices and it will find stuff to drop in for you or alternatively it can pull content from a live website, so you can point it at a website and say, grab me a load of headlines from this website, which is a really quick and easy way. If you are doing a news listing on a homepage, you can just grab all the news stories from the existing homepage and put it in to your prototype. So it’s real decent content.

It’s also got a really powerful duplication tool for things like thumbnails or listings so let’s say you’ve got the news story with a headline, a bit of a description and a thumbnail with it, you can duplicate that news listing, as if you want three or four a page but it will update the content featured those news listings, so each of those news listings has got its own thumbnail, its own heading, its own description. So it’s really quite a powerful way of building prototypes. It will even create style guides for you, allowing you to universally update colours or typography and all of that is for free. See can only imagine what their paid products are like. If you want to try out either Craft or some of their paid products you can get three months for free of unlimited prototypes, mobile user testing and loads of other stuff by going to and enter the code INV-BOAG.


Marcus: Ahh, look you noticed! I put my hand up.

Paul: We’ve got a new feature in our recording software where he can raise his hand.

Marcus: I was wondering how long it would take you to notice, and it was instant. I’m very impressed Paul. All I was going to say was that I was using Invision this afternoon.

Paul: Oh have you really? How are you getting on with it?

Marcus: Absolutely great.

Paul: Good. I’m glad you said that. It was a bit of a gamble at that point.

Marcus: Yes it was wasn’t it! No, but it’s really good. The test will come when stakeholders at the client have to start adding comments. We will see on that one.

Paul: So when is that going to happen?

Marcus: Probably early next week.

Paul: Oh good. So next week, you could tell us how that went. And I’m sure that the guys at Invision would like honest answers to it, so if it doesn’t go so well we will talk about why. It will be interesting.

Discussion with Pete

Paul: Right, let’s get on to the actual questions for this week. We’ve got a great list of questions that it starts with a question from a guy called Paul. Now, this isn’t me, just to clarify. If I am going to make up questions I will do so in a more imaginative way than using my own name.

Pete: Well I don’t know.

Paul: You’ve got a very low opinion of me, Pete. Anyway Paul’s question is, how do you manage pro bono projects without the client taking advantage of you?

So I think probably the first place to start, and I don’t know which of us is going to start on this, is under what circumstances you think you would do a pro bono project? Has Dootrix done any pro bono work?

Pete: What does pro bono mean?

Paul: Good question. Free, is the way I interpret that.

Pete: Pro bono does not mean free. Pro bono means for the good of the public. So it might be for no charge but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s free. So I guess there are different scenarios where you might do pro bono work. It could be for a friend I guess; it could be for a charitable organisation or good cause. For me the most common way of doing free/pro bono work is where the classic sales director says, there will definitely be another project here as long as you will do this one for free.

Marcus: I don’t think that’s pro bono, that’s a loss leader.

Pete: No, what I am going to cover does cover that as well whether heavily discounted or however.

Marcus: Let’s us just safe free projects.

Pete: So yes there are a couple scenarios.

Paul: So with one thing, that example that he just gave, oh there’s going to be a big project coming along, Marcus how do you deal with that? I know in my head how I deal with it and I can’t remember a scenario where that’s happened to us.

Marcus: I probably did a long time ago, now I don’t do it anymore.

Paul: Now you just say sling your hook don’t you?

Marcus: Not quite in those words. I don’t think it’s genuine. I think it always feels as though that exact scenario just raises huge alarm bells to me. I make the point that we can’t work for free. We have to pay people, we have to pay our rent and we can’t survive as a company if we work like that all the time. So I say no, generally. There are certain scenarios where certain clients, and again this hasn’t happened for years, but would try and get you to spec their whatever it was for free. I stopped doing that as well because it would take weeks sometimes to spec something.

We talked last week about this idea of having a discovery project on its own before you do the main project and that’s what came out of those initial bad experiences of basically being dragged into trying to spec somebody’s website or application, it was usually something very complicated, and they weren’t really paying fair.

Pete: I think people or companies who are into that are probably smaller organisations who are trying to grow and hoping to get bigger contracts.

Paul: My response to it is, and is not my idea but I heard someone say this once which I think is a genius response to that particular scenario, is, yes sure, I am perfectly happy to do this project at a reduced cost or free of charge if we put a contract in place for a bigger piece of work. Which I thought is a good response to it, isn’t it actually because it ties the client in. And if they are not willing to do that than it really is bullshit.

Okay, let’s say there’s a scenario where there is a piece of work. You’ve decided maybe to work for a local charity that you want to support or you’re helping a friend out or you’re doing a loss leader whatever the scenario is. So you’ve agreed to do this pro bono work, because there is not a financial cost to the client, and I think this is the driver behind Paul’s question, there is nothing that stops the client taking the Michael with it and saying, oh can we do this to? What about this? And it just spirals out of control, so I am kind of interested Pete in your thoughts as to how to prevent that from happening.

Pete: It does happen and there are a few things that you can do to cover yourself. You need to treat it as any other project, so you need to scoop the project out, you need to establish the success criteria, agreed terms upfront, so you need to set milestones and timescales. You need to establish the decision-makers from the clients see make sure you get successful sign off. All these things we do in a normal project, even writing a statement of work seek and have yourself covered. And then apply your standard pricing or your discount or if it’s completely pro bono and you aren’t charging for it, then that is reflected in the statement of work that you write up and agree with your clients, just so your client can see and appreciate what you are giving. You can even send dummy bills at the end of each milestone, just to remind the clients or other members of the team who may not appreciate what you are giving.

Paul: I like that idea a lot, the actual idea of costing and pricing it like a normal project and then just applying a 100% discount. That’s nice. I like that a lot.

Pete: Another thought I had was that you need to schedule it in as well. We at Dootrix work pretty much exclusively using agile, running sprints so this client might get two sprints and they will be scheduled into a calendar or calendar dates and once they are up, they are up. In sprint planning, if they make a load of assumptions and we spec out sprint and halfway through the sprint they say, no we want this. If they want to take something out of a need to add something, then you need to make sure that’s taken out as well. Again you just need to make sure that you cover yourself by doing all the normal things you do in a project and then just at the end of it don’t charge them anything.

Paul: That’s quite a good point that you make there about not constraining the project in terms of price although your suggesting you could do that as well, but you can constrain it by the amount of time you are investing in it which is essentially what you were talking about with the agile approach.

Pete: That’s how we approach it. We would agree upfront a number of sprints and then obviously there’s only a certain amount of work you can do during a sprint is a certain amount of time.

Paul: This is a big problem I guess as well for people that work internally within organisations where there isn’t charging for work that’s done. So in those kinds of situations you need to find other factors by which to constrain a project and time is one of them. But also, like you say, I think even internally, working with internal clients, it’s good to demonstrate the cost of the project to the organisation. One of the things that I often encourage internal teams to do is to cost out every project in terms of how much it costs the organisation and that goes to senior management on a monthly basis because that then makes people think twice about asking you to do some trivial thing because they know senior management are going to see what it is that they’ve been asking for.

Marcus: I have a question though Pete. The new Dootrix website, was that done as a proper project?

Paul: Haha, good question.

Pete: That’s an excellent question at a do have to be careful what I say because the Dootrix director will probably be listening to this.

Paul: Oh no, just dob them in.

Pete: I think they had good intentions to run it as sprints and I think it was run in sprints but from what I can gather it sounded like the Dootrix directors were quite difficult clients. No, it was fine and I think as is always the case when you do your own website it’s a really hard thing to do. I remember doing this with the Headscape site as well actually, it’s a real eye-opener to see how things work from the client end. I think it’s a useful exercise to go through anyway but no, I think Rob and Kevin and Chris had good fun and a good banter going around on doing the site. But in the end I think it was turned around in three sprints? So six weeks or so.

Paul: That’s not bad.

Pete: That’s not too bad. Maybe a couple of months. But it was difficult as well because we were, as is always the case when you are doing your own website, we were trying to fit paid work around it. So the whole agile sprint approach was a little bit loose shall we say?

Marcus: I think you shouldn’t get too uptight about that personally. Okay, it’s going to get delayed, so be it. As long as your current site isn’t damaging the company in anyway, then get it done when you got the time to do it. We are also with the new Headscape site, going to look at a little bit of experimenting with Drupal 8.0 I think.

Paul: Oh are you? Moving across to Drupal 8.0?

Marcus: Well if it was a new client site that would may be a little bit of a risk to do that, but for us it’s less so, so it’s a perfect opportunity to experiment with that but it probably will take longer.

Paul: Also has a chance to play with the new technology, will not new technology is used Drupal the time but maybe a new version. You haven’t got the massive legacy of that horrible boagworld site with thousands of posts on it anymore have you?

Marcus: There are still a couple of areas where the content from the central database goes to both sites so we need to cross that bridge but not yet.

Paul: One problem at a time. Okay, now Marcus you briefly mentioned loss leaders as being a slightly different thing to pro bono. So in your mind is there a place for loss leader projects?

Marcus: I think there is a place may be to discount, a complete loss leader them back to, can you do this for me and something good is coming in the future. But I think sometimes you need to decide whether you are willing to discount projects because you like the client and you like what they do. Chances are it will turn out to be five years of work and then in that situation there is a fixed budget and when you know that fixed budget isn’t gonna quite cover what you going to do so you sometimes we’ve made the decision to discount.

Paul: Okay let’s move onto the next question on the list which is a bit of a long one but it’s a good one. It’s from Rob Cooper. He writes, I have a client that had truly horrendous internal communication, meaning I got dragged from pillar to post with incorrect instructions from members of staff on the website build. In the end the website I delivered was miles away from the boss’s original idea and as such a long battle of my payment ensued where I had to argue I only acted on instructions from his own staff. How could this have been prevented?

Good one this one.

Marcus: That’s a horror story isn’t it.

Paul: Yes I feel for Rob over that. We’ve been there once or twice haven’t we. None of us have got an answer, we are all just going, yes that’s a bad situation.

Pete: What it sounds like here is that there was the clients or the project owner wasn’t around. The person running the show didn’t have decision-making authority. I think that was what was lacking there. If all decisions need to be pushed back to somebody who was never around, that’s making it a challenge. From an early stage or one of the first things you need to do is establish roles and responsibilities and you have to establish who from the client end is going to be the product owner. That person has to have the authority to make those decisions. They can’t need to always go back and escalate it to others.

Marcus: I think that sometimes these situations appear purely because people can be difficult and often people in power can be difficult. We’ve certainly experience that on occasion. I can remember one where the managing director/CEO agreed to all these things. Yes, my marketing director will make the decisions, blah, blah, blah and we all came down to it, he swooped and pooped as we’ve said many times in the past. There was no arguing with him so I think to a certain extent you got to accept the people are difficult and you’ve got to make the best of it. As Pete said, you got to ensure that statements of work are in place, what you are going to deliver is agreed upon, how you are going to work is agreed upon, what the lines of communication are and all those kinds of things. Just be aware along the way that something might come in from left field that you weren’t expecting and that’s going to change from project to project. I haven’t gotten any golden answers as to how you can deal with difficult people in the situation that I’ve just described but you got to do as much as you can upfront and get people to agree to stuff but accept that maybe sometimes is not always going to go to plan.

Pete: I think it also raises the importance of actually documenting everything. It’s a boring task but having notes from the kick-off meetings or progress meetings or sprint panel meets, having that document in your hand and using those notes is really important. Document things you’ve agreed and also document things that you discussed or want agreed just to make sure that you’ve covered yourself. You’re right, is difficult and I suppose sometimes you can as a project manager, try and engage people and get to know how people tick. Everybody is different but I think you can sometimes hit a bit of a bump because you think somebody is perhaps easy but further down the line they become difficult. That’s why it’s important just to document well whoever the client is and what of your first impressions are.

Paul: I think if I’ve been in Rob’s position here, in hindsight obviously is easier, but if Rob was in that position again I think you’re right. Step one is to have a good solid statement of work that outlines what’s going to be done. Two, he’d obviously had a conversation with the bosses at some stage because he talks about their original idea, so he was aware what that original idea was. My gut reaction is, at the point where you deviate from that original idea, I think I would feel the need to pass that back via the boss. Not as a, we’ve decided to go in this new direction, we need your approval for it, we’re all going to sit on our hands until we get it, but more the making sure they are in the loop and saying this is what we going to do unless we hear back from you in the next couple of years will presume that’s all right and proceed. Just so it’s again about covering yourself as Pete said. Because you have lots of little informal conversations along the way and if you’re not, as Pete mentioned, documenting them as you go then you are going to get yourself into trouble sooner or later aren’t you really?

Pete: I also think that in the question he spoke about being pushed from pillar to post with incorrect instructions from members of staff and I think if I am running a project, the person that I scoped the project out with suddenly wasn’t around anymore than I’d have concerns about that and try and figure out why. I would also want to make sure that whoever is running the show in his/her absence is going to have their decisions respected.

Paul: Yes, it’s about having one definitive decision-maker isn’t it? I know some people take the attitude of, I only want to deal with one person on the client site. I actually don’t feel like that because what can happen sometimes in that situation is that somebody makes a passing comment that the client then takes as gospel and you’re forced to implement it and you never get to talk to that original person and find out whether it’s actually a good idea, or how strongly they feel about it. So I prefer to be directly engaged with all the different stakeholders across an organisation. But ultimately the needs to be one individual that says yea or nay to a piece of feedback and so it sounds like in Rob’s situation there were lots of different people that were all feeding into him with different instructions and there was note single decision-maker.

Okay, anything else to add to that one shall we move on?

Pete: What I was going to say was just that in a situation like that if you’re running scrum, you have regular meetings anyway but it’s good to have the product owner or whoever is running the project from the client side regularly updated as to what’s going on. That’s the whole idea really.

Paul: That’s interesting, so if you been running this project as an agile project would you have expected the bosses, not the point of contact but the bosses, to have been engaged with that process?

Pete: No. We would have expected the bosses to nominate a product owner who would sit in on daily stand-ups to make sure that we were going down the right route and make decisions along the way. But that product owner would have to have a decision-making authority to make sure that he/she were able to make those decisions. And then if they needed to, check with their boss, that’s fine but I think regular communication is absolutely key.

Marcus: I think to maybe summarise this is where this project went wrong was that there were too many people communicating with Rob, whereas it should have gone through a single place. Sure, Rob can talk to people but he needed to be agreeing all the stuff with probably a project manager at their end.

Paul: Yes. Is this idea of a product owner, isn’t it? With your product owners, you get them involved in the daily stand-ups every day do you?

Pete: Sometimes. It depends on the client to be honest. Sometimes the clients are happy for us to get on with it, some clients we obviously run … contracts with them so we run sprints here internally just as our own structure and the product owner sometimes joins us. Other clients, the product owner joins us every day for stand-up. It depends on project.

Paul: I am always interested in that as to how heavily involved you get the client and the process and that’s what becomes problematic isn’t it? The sweep and poop bosses that are high up, getting their time is so difficult yet they can absolutely derail an entire process if they so wished. Going back to the example of where we had a client Marcus, that you mentioned earlier, that came in at the end at the end of the project and said no, I know I said I was going to delegate authority but this is wrong and we can’t proceed on this basis. We did end up charging them more than that didn’t we?

Marcus: We did.

Paul: Which is fair enough. That is the boss’s prerogative. If the boss wants to turn around at the end of project and say, okay we’ve done all this work but I want to shelve it all and pay for a load of new work, then that’s kind of okay isn’t it?

Marcus: I guess. It does make you wonder and is a bit of a waste though.

Paul: Oh yes, and demoralising for the team as well.

Marcus: Both teams, particularly the internal client team. Avoid it if possible. But sometimes decisions will be made in a project and design will be signed off et cetera and then two months’ later people just change their minds. Yes, I thought this was right and have lived with it but now I’m not so sure and I’ve signed this off. We need to go back and I know this will affect costs and timings but we need to deal with it. That happens. Rarely, but it happens.

Paul: The thing is of course, some clients have not necessarily seen, or find it hard to picture what something is going to end up being. It’s quite hard to visualise stuff if you’re not regularly involved in building websites or applications.

Anyway, let’s move onto our final question which is from Darryl Snow. He writes, given that a lot of collaboration needs to happen between teams of web professionals working together on a project, but at the same time they all need to spend time extremely focused on what they are doing without interruptions, how and when do you handle communication?

We talked a lot about communication last week with Brett but we didn’t really deal with this balance between people actually getting on with their work and communicating. I’m interested especially in an agile environment, how you deal with that Pete?

Pete: So with agile the key thing is having daily stand-ups and stand-ups need to be run really carefully. They need to include the team, the scrum master and the product owner in our case. We do do some work doesn’t include him. It’s important to keep them really short so everyone essentially covers what they did yesterday, what their plans offered today and get the scrum master to clear out any blockages. Our team are all situated in the same office and that’s something that is really important to us. If a team member wants to lock themselves away and stick their headphones on, turn their emails off, that’s their prerogative and they need to do that then that’s great, but we do encourage team members to communicate and wheel themselves across from the other desk and ask a question as much as possible. If they get to the stage where they could really do with the day working from home for example and have a completely undistracted today that’s fine. But we still have a stand up in the morning, making sure that everyone else knows what everyone else is doing so that the next day we can discuss where you are.

It’s a tricky one as it is a fine balance because sometimes some developers and some designers just want to have complete silence with no distractions at all. But I think the reality of the project, if you want things to run smoothly, you just have to communicate and get people talking to each other, be it via voice communications or face-to-face. If you have a remote team you can use Slack or have regular Skype hangouts. Interesting question that.

Marcus: I agree with that. I think really people within a team should be able to contact anyone, any other member of the team whenever they feel like unless the person has said, hang on, don’t contact me for the next day or half a day or whatever. That’s the way round it should be.

Paul: Really? One of the things that I favour, there are different types of communication aren’t they you think about it. There is what I call asynchronous communication and real-time communications. I find it quite frustrating the idea that anybody can suddenly shout at me on Skype or can suddenly grab my attention by wheeling over to me and sitting next to me. It seems to me that an asynchronous method that I can check every so often like slack or email is a lot less intrusive. If somebody’s enquiry can’t wait an hour while I finish what I’m doing, is it really that urgent?

Marcus: I guess what I’m saying is that if I’m going to wheel over to someone else’s desk or Ed is going to real over to Dan’s desk or something like that, I was going to say they won’t just wheel over, because they do, these two. But I think if you ask can I have five minutes of your time and then wheel over is fine. It’s just rather than, no I am blocked out the next three hours working on this, don’t talk to me. You may as well be at home with everything switched off. That’s my view on that.

Paul: Yes, but three hours isn’t that long really is it?

Pete: I think it depends how you get used to working with the team. Certainly from my experience with the guys at Dootrix for the last 18 months so as they know how each other work. Some like to shut themselves away for a while and quite regularly someone will wheel themselves over to somebody else and they’ll say, no go away comeback in an hour and they do that. They all do it which other and they know that the benefit they get from that is going to be rewarded by them being able to do the opposite if needed.

Paul: I’m a great fan of having some kind of indicator that you don’t want to be disturbed. I remember right back in the Town Pages days Pete that I used to put a sign on my desk saying ‘Piss Off’.

Pete: We should get you a hat that says leave me alone.

Paul: The universal signal is that I’ve put headphones on.

Pete: That’s the universal sign at our place. People do wear headphones if they’ve got some decent noise cancelling headphones which completely blocks it out. So in that case you would slack them or email. I just ignore that and going tap them on the shoulder.

Paul: Yes! See you were always a nightmare with this with people. You would send me an email and then Skype me to tell me that you had sent me an email.

Pete: And then get up and walk over and tell you?

Paul: Yes!

Pete: Yes, but then I would need to know the answer. But yes, it is about engaging how people work. Some people are happy of you to interrupt than others and you weren’t that happy Paul, but other people are quite happy to be distracted and quite like it I think sometimes. But yes is finding that balance isn’t it?

Paul: I just think some of us struggle to concentrate more than others and get distracted easier. Once I finally get into the zone of something and finally settle down to do something it only takes somebody to say, can I have a word? And it breaks it with me. While I think some people are much better at dropping in and out of tasks so it’s understanding that isn’t it really.

Pete: Another point is the guys at Dootrix, we do all work from home probably one day a week. People know that if they are going to have a day to work from home as they would have had that day or couple of days sometimes when they’ve had the entire day focusing. They know when they come into the office they’re more likely to be distracted.

Paul: Which is fair enough. Whenever I used to come into the Headscape office because I used to come in so rarely, I would write of the day is being absent of any kind of constructive work.

Pete: For us the key thing is that we know that everybody communicates at half-past nine in the morning, have a stand-up which lasts for 10 minutes and has quick updates of where everybody is and then you go off. The important thing is that during a stand-up you make sure that the stand-up doesn’t end up being half an hour or an hour and you make sure that if it seems as though people having a more detailed conversation, you just say to them can you take this off-line and discuss it later.

Paul: That’s the role the scrum master isn’t it manage that kind of thing? Does that normally fall to you?

Pete: Yes.

Paul: I presumed that was the case. Will hopefully Paul, Rob and Darryl, those answers have helped a little bit and I hope it helped other people as well but I think we’ll wrap it up at that point and talk very briefly about our next sponsor which is a new one.

It’s a project management software actually called Resource Guru. Resource Guru is a cloud-based team calendar so basically it allows you to have a calendar with different people in different resources and then you can drag-and-drop availability into it. It’s got a simple drag-and-drop interface that’s fast and is a simple way to schedule people, equipment and other resources. Meeting rooms is a great example of it. It allows you to see a big picture at a glance, who is busy and who is available, who is off work et cetera. You can also customise it so you can add your own custom fields and set up your own filters based on for example, you could have different people with different skills or parts of different departments or different locations or whether they are freelance or permanent. So you can use these kinds of filters to find the right kind of people and schedule their time in but also to report in any way that you want to. So it’s fully customisable and you can have all these different types of settings for each of your resources to deal with things like overbooking that kind of stuff.

Clashes are generally automatically prevented and bookings can be added to a waiting list which is quite nice so that you can manage your capacity planning further ahead and all that kind of stuff can be dealt with. They are offering a free trial and it only takes a few seconds to sign up and give it a go. I’ve been playing with it myself and I really like it, unfortunately I have no team to manage these days as it’s just me by myself. But listeners of boagworld can use the coupon code BOAGWORLD, so as well as the 30 days free trial you will get, you can get an additional month for free. So that gives you two months to try it out. You can use the coupon code by going to

Right, so that about wraps it up. Marcus what you have for us?

Marcus: You’ll be glad to hear this is the last of Nick Johnson-Hill’s very silly and very bad jokes that have come from the Slack channel.

Paul: Aww that’s quite sad. I was actually getting into those.

Marcus: There aren’t any more but I’m going to try and find something different. But this is possibly my favourite because it’s so silly.

Was the stupidest animal in the jungle?

Paul: Don’t know.

Marcus: A polar bear.

Paul: Yeah. It’s factually correct. So there we go.

Marcus: That’s the 300 and… Joke I’ve told on the show.

Paul: That’s not true because you weren’t on from the very start.

Marcus: Yes I’ve missed more than one on many occasions but they you go.

Paul: So just a quick reminder to send some more questions as we are going to run out pretty soon if we don’t get any more from you guys. You can send them and post them in the comments at or just email them to me at Next week we are going to be joined by Emma who is Pete’s replacement at Headscape and I am coming into the office on time Marcus.

Marcus: You are, yes.

Paul: Very exciting.

Marcus: An actual face-to-face show. I always like that.

Paul: Oh yes and by the way for those of you who are paying attention and nobody was, the guys from Clear Left you were going to join us this week couldn’t make it and so Pete very kindly stepped in at the last minute. But we can guarantee it will be Emma next week and the people from Clear Left will be joining us soon.

Pete, thank you so much mate is always great to chat with you was always. It’s good to talk to you again and we will maybe get you on again later on in the season.

Pete: Would love to.

Paul: But for now thank you for joining us and thank you dear listener the tuning in and will talk to you again next week. Goodbye.