This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Emma Manning from Headscape to discuss continuous delivery, project management skillset and delegating successfully to your team.
Marcus: Hello Paul, in person!
Paul: I can see you.
Marcus: It’s like the world in 3-D. It’s very exciting.
Paul: Were also joined by Emma Manning, hello Emma.
Emma: Hello Paul.
Paul: You’re very excited about being here aren’t you?
Emma: I am.
Paul: Emma is a project manager here at Headscape, and that’s where I am today, in the Headscape offices. Be honest Emma, have you been pretty much forced to be on the show?
Emma: I was probably the most reluctant guest speaker ever.
Paul: No. Because Chris Scott has been on once.
Emma: Has he? I thought he’s never managed to appear?
Paul: No. He has been on hasn’t he? I am pretty sure he has
Marcus: I may have blocked it from my mind.
Paul: He really, really didn’t want to be here. You don’t either, so, did Marcus make you?
Emma: To be honest I think you put me on the spot actually Paul.
Paul: What you mean me? How my getting blamed for this? I have no authority over you. You could have said no!
Emma: It was when I was very, very busy and I got called into this office with a diversionary question. I was hoodwinked into going, ‘yes all right’.
Paul: It was Marcus who dragged you in. I was just having a conversation about whether you might like to. Next thing I know he drags you in and you weren’t given any choice. So Marcus, you are the baddie.
Marcus: You’ll love it Emma.
Emma: No, it’s fine. What I was thinking is that if I do it now that I haven’t got to do it again for a very, very long time, or ever!
Marcus: You are one of the best guest that we’ve had ever be back again in 10 shows.
Paul: It’s like washing up. Do it badly and nobody will ask you to do it again. So just be really shit for the rest of the show!
So Emma, when did we start working together? When did you join Town Pages?
Emma: Oh, 1999 or 2000. The reason I remember that is because my daughter was born in the year 2000 and that was when I was that Town Pages.
Marcus: Nobody knows what Town Pages is.
Paul: Go on then, you explain what Town Pages is.
Marcus: Town Pages was a fantastic company that we all worked for, as did Leigh, who is often on the show and often on the first episode but not this time. He’s feeling a little bit bitter about that.
Paul: That’s because he’s shit.
Emma: Is this the first episode? Because I could easily fix that.
Paul: No, but we on the fourth. And of course Pete, who was on last week.
Marcus: And Chris. We all met at this company called Town Pages in the late 90s which was a.com company. Its mission…
Paul: I’m interested to see you explain this.
Marcus: Well it was like a portal of information, UK wide via the Internet or local via kiosks in shopping centres and stuff like that.
Paul: Because people didn’t have the Internet at home as much did they?
Marcus: Nothing like it. I know it sounds weird.
Paul: It was a terrible idea at the time.
Marcus: Anyway, we all met up and there was a really good design team there. The basis behind the business was somewhat flawed and it ended up dying. But we all met there and learnt how not to run a business.
Paul: It was one of those kinds of, almost like a wartime experience. It brought us together through trauma and heartache. I mean some of it was crazy. There was all kinds of weird things that went on and one always sticks in my mind the most was that the people behind the company, it became almost like an incubator for other random ideas, like pet cemeteries. But then, somehow we end up in a situation where the managing director had committed to producing 15 websites over a weekend. So we all ended up working over a weekend to produce 15 websites. We are there when we did that?
Emma: Yes I was.
Paul: That was crazy.
Emma: But wasn’t one of his other businesses, didn’t he own Robin Reliant?
Paul: Did he?
Emma: Yes, I remember from seeing that on Top Gear. It brought it all back.
Paul: Good track record then, owning Robin Reliant.
Emma: Yes, you see a lot of those on the roads nowadays.
Marcus: In its day, Reliant was quite a successful thing.
Paul: He started off as a funeral company didn’t he?
Marcus: Yes, I think so.
Paul: It was really funny, when I was speaking out in Poland recently, I was asked for some interesting facts to introduce with. I realised that I had had one boss that was sent to jail for VAT dodging, another one who dies from stress, another one who when he was forced out, left a smelly cheese under the roof tiles of his office. And all this was at Town Pages. So yes, it was an interesting time.
You went off and then worked with another kiosk company didn’t you?
Emma: I did, for my sins.
Paul: And then someone said you ended up as a teacher?
Emma: Yes, I retrained a few years ago, about six years ago. Yes, because I’d had my children and they were at school, I thought it would be a career that would partly fit in around the kids. But it was actually partly because I did my degree in design and technology and I’ve never really used it so I thought this looks really good, I did lots of research into it and you were guaranteed a job. They said if you do the training, you get paid to do the training and you would be pretty much guaranteed a job teaching.
Paul: I sense a but coming.
Emma: Well, there were jobs but she had to be prepared to go anywhere in the country. And when you got your kids already settled at a school in a nice area, there is a limit to how far you are prepared to travel the something that isn’t really going to sustain you financially. But there were lots of reasons. It was a challenge.
Paul: I think you describe coming to Headscape as a chance for a rest? Clients were going to be easy after kids?
Marcus: Surely dealing with difficult children is perfect experience working at Headscape?
Emma: Is a transferable skill.
Paul: So when you are at Town Pages you were a project manager, or a producer as we called them then, which was a project manager with extra skills, a bit like what a project manager is today.
Marcus: They still use producers at the BBC.
Paul: I like it as a term and I prefer it in some ways project manager. It doesn’t sound so dull.
Marcus: I think producer, or I believe that a producer is more involved in content production as well as running projects.
Emma: Yes I would agree with that, I think there is more scoping it as well. Whereas I think project management is a bit more where it’s already been scoped for you and you have to deliver it.
Paul: Which, to be honest in our case and the way that projects tend to work for us, a producer is a better title considering what you do most of the time, or I don’t know, do you?
Emma: The statement of work is already written and that is already been agreed so to me that’s a bit of a producers role that I don’t do.
Paul: Give it time.
Emma: No, I’d be quite happy to do it.
Marcus: You do a lot of work using CMS and putting content in and I wouldn’t say that was exactly a traditional project managers role.
Emma: No and I think particularly in this role it’s not just spreadsheets at all anyway, but it’s not just the task management, there are other aspects to its and you have to be quite flexible and willing to muck in and try different things in different parts of what you might consider being a different role in a larger organisation.
Marcus: We are a small team and everybody needs to do a bit of this bit of that.
Paul: We stumbled into a highly controversial area, the whole area of what title you go with.
Emma: Does it matter?
Emma: It’s a title at the end of the day.
Paul: It seems to be the current trend is towards digital project management rather than anything else. I think basically, Brett and Sam who we’ve had on the show the last couple of weeks, got together and had a meeting and decided for the rest of the industry. They ran conferences about this kind of thing so they called them DPM so that kinda stuck. But I like producer.
Emma: Yes, but then as opposed to a project manager in a different industry, for example building, in which case you would be called a project manager. So it does differentiate between an industry and a sector will stop
Marcus: It does, but then I think people know what a project manager is and they know what to expect. They might not with a producer but you can soon tell them.
Paul: Very true. So what are you working on at the moment work -wise Emma?
Marcus: She’s just twiddling her thumbs.
Paul: So not very much then? I bet the day that Emma arrived you just vomited projects on you.
Emma: No, well actually Chris Scott went on holiday which was quite a good move.
Marcus: I am the good one.
Paul: That’s superb. I can’t believe he did that. So yes, what are you working on at the minute?
Emma: What are my working on at the minute? We are at various stages of different projects. We’ve just done a big design that went live last week and we got another territory rollout to do for them. We’ve got VSO which is quite close to going life but there’s still quite a bit to do on that.
Paul: It’s always that last 20% that takes 80% of the time.
Emma: Yes is that last 10% of that project but it’s about 210% of the effort. Like it’s ever been any different. So we got that one, we’ve got a law firm in Washington who are great clients and we’ve got a couple of others which are coming up to going live to.
Marcus: We’ve got loads going on.
Paul: It wasn’t meant to be a test where you have to get every client!
Emma: Oh and there is HESA.
Marcus: The most exciting clients name ever.
Emma: Can you not guess from the acronym? Higher education statistics agency.
Paul: Oh I want to work on that project.
Emma: I tell you what Paul, it is a lovely project, a really lovely project. They are very nice clients and they’ve done things in the right order for example they’ve done their rebranding and it’s really nice and they’ve done that before they got engaged. As they do things in the right order.
Paul: I like a client has a friendly nice person and gets it as well. The combination of the two seems to be very rare but makes a huge difference in projects. Sounds like you are really busy then. Cool. So are you booked up until August?
Marcus: Yes I think we can probably start taking new stuff on at the end of July the new proposals. But we couldn’t take on lots of stuff around then. So if anybody’s got any projects out there…
Paul: Why not Marcus, you don’t get to push Headscape very much on this show, especially now I’ve bug it off. It’s all about me and what I want. So end of July, new projects? What do you want?
Marcus: Last summer, Ed and I worked on a project for a national parks UK which was very visually appealing where we spent many days up in the Lake District working with the client. So that’s type of project I want, another one.
Emma: In the Maldives.
Paul: You’ve just come back from Washington, the two of you! You went on a Segway tour didn’t you?
Marcus: We went on a Segway tour on the Sunday because we flew out Saturday and had the Sunday to acclimatise and then a full week working.
Paul: That’s fairly intense. We did it before didn’t we, years back, when we went out the states.
Marcus: We did three days and then three days elsewhere.
Paul: That was knackering.
Marcus: The final day was there if we needed it. But as I mentioned to you before we really needed six. You live and learn. But it was really good and we got so much done. This kind of way of working started with the national parks project. Because they are right at the other end of the UK, you’re not going to go for a day. If you go overnight the nudity planning to come back home again. Let’s go and stay for three nights with three full days let’s see what happens. And what came out of that was that rather than just going and grabbing a load of inputs, tell us as much as you can about this, this, this and this and then we’ll go away. We actually got into starting to do the work and then you can start discussing it face-to-face and tweak a few things. That was the purpose of trying to do more in depth sessions at the start.
Paul: I love that, when you get to sit side-by-side with the client over a period of time so much more gets done, doesn’t it?
Emma: And you get the buy in, you get them on board and I think that’s one of the most important thing about it.
Marcus: We are still selling Headscape.
Paul: I thought we’d moved on. Dear listener I apologise for opening a Pandora’s box.
Marcus: I’ll stop now and save something for next week. We’ve always, particularly with the CMS based project where there’s a lot of content that needs to be shoved in…
Paul: Shoved in? I love the terminology Marcus.
Marcus: Well as we were talking about this last 10%, you get the client in and get them around this table that was sat at and spent the whole day working it out, rather than sending them a list of stuff to think about. Literally sitting next to each other works.
Paul: That is in selling Headscape, that is just good advice.
Marcus: If you work for Headscape, that is how we work.
Paul: So basically what you are saying is, if you work with Headscape you have to come and work really hard in preference to justice running around a bit.
Marcus: That’s actually true.
Paul: We’ve actually just undermined the whole selling thing. But you do get iced buns?
Emma: We do do cakes don’t we? Coffees and tea.
Marcus: And lunch usually.
Paul: What extravagance! Anyway enough about that.
So as we said the season of the pod cast is really all about answering those digital management issues, some of which we’ve already stumbled into. We are always looking for more questions which you can send to us at boag.world/questions and there is a comments section on that page so go ahead and post your comments and questions there and we’ll pick them up and use them on the show. As is the way with all these things you got a pretty good chance of getting your question answered because we never get enough questions. It’s always the way. People don’t love us and don’t want to interact with us.
All right let’s move on quickly to a sponsor and then will actually do some of the questions which will be good. Our first sponsor of the week is Invision which is an amazing set of prototyping and design tools. You guys have been using Invision for the last couple of weeks haven’t you?
Marcus: We have, yes.
Paul: It was that bad was it?
Marcus: I mentioned it in the last show didn’t I?
Paul: Yes because you are going to say how you got along with it.
Marcus: We ended up not being able to use it because of a client requirement which is something they don’t currently cater for which is the idea of a team working on stuff together. We needed to be able to send out some design work for reviewers to review but it was imperative that their comments couldn’t be seen by each other because very powerful people who would likely lead each other.
Paul: So if the boss said this was terrible, then the others would more likely agree?
Marcus: Exactly. So it was a case of us not being to use it because of that purely and I let them know this thanks for your feedback and a bit on the list of things to do.
Paul: So what you think of the rest of it? Good app?
Emma: Yes, really good. I was very impressed.
Paul: Well they you go. From the horse’s mouth. And they don’t get paid, only I do. So we talked about what an amazing prototype tool that is and we talked about Craft which is their free plug-in the sketch and photo shop that we talked about last week. But it’s also really very much a go to tool for a whole range of amazing companies. So this isn’t just a tool that Santa agencies like Headscape use…
Paul: This is a tool that the big boys use, people like Mail Chimp, Twitter, Netflix, Uber, Evernote, LinkedIn, Shopify, Adobe, Sony, Nike, all use this as a prototyping tool and to be honest I can see why it is pretty good. But it’s really good if you are an agency as well so definitely check it out. You can have a three months’ free trial of using all of their prototyping tools, all their mobile user testing tools, all the rest of the stuff by going to boag.world/invision and entering the code INV-BOAG. So there we go.
Discussion with Emma
Paul: All right, so let’s move on to our questions before I pass out. It’s so hot in here.
Marcus: It does get too hot in here and it is because we are recording we have had to shut the window and the door. So it’s a little sauna. I’m just trying to ignore it.
Paul: Are you? I’m just dripping. It’s very attractive. So we’ve got some questions and as Emma has already said, she wasn’t looking forward to this so what we’ve done is selected the best softest, nicest question I think in the world to start with. Which is a question from Matt and his asking what the key skills are to be a good project manager, because I think it’s an area he wants to get involved in so that we take a few minutes to talk about what makes a great project manager. And as you are a great project manager, just talk about yourself!
Emma: So the question was…
Paul: What skills make you a good project manager?
Paul: That is genius. Genius, Emma.
Emma: No I just want to see your reaction. There is a certain amount of truth in it though, it’s not the main one obviously but meetings do go on, and being able to sum up and be concise about things is I think quite a key skill to the role.
Paul: It was interesting as me and Marcus were chatting over lunch and he was talking about when you went out to the states recently and how you divided and conquered. With you and Marcus in one meeting and a designer, a front-end coder and a back-end coder in the other, running the other session. They are incredibly talented people at what they do but they did struggle to keep things on track.
Marcus: I think Leigh would be the first person to say, we needed you in there to bully people.
Emma: Obviously have done quite a lot of that in schools with probably some of the toughest audiences and you do learn how to control, there are certain skills to manage an audience, to make sure everybody still on track and you can do quite a nice way. There are certain things that you can do and I think that, in fairness to Leigh, when you’re doing the design side and is quite a lot of other stuff to do, it’s quite a lot to do all of that and keep everybody in check and on task. But that’s a different kind of skill. It’s like a lot of project managers would possibly think they would never have to do that particular aspect of a role. A lot of project managers might just want to be behind the scenes, never have to run a workshop, never have to do that aspect of it. But to me I quite like that as I think you get the feedback from the client and build a rapport with them in a way.
Paul: I think is increasingly an important skill as well, especially as a lot of organisations are working in the more agile manner which means the project manager often ends up being the scrum master and the scrum master is all about keeping things on track so it is a necessary part of the job these days.
Emma: I think it depends on the size of the organisation and how the teams are set up, that sort of thing. At Headscape it is a small environment and so you naturally have to be more agile by nature because in a big organisation you can have more dead wood. You can get away with doing less. But it’s going to be really apparent if you are in a small organisation or agency and things aren’t happening.
Paul: The other thing that I find really interesting about project managers is the one skill that I don’t have, well there are many schools that I don’t have when it comes to project management, but one that springs to mind is that again, the balance between being a bit of a bully because you do have to bully, but still being likeable. Because if people don’t like the project manager, things go bad.
Emma: Yes, say for example, when I went into teaching there were two things. You need to remember a little bit of enthusiasm goes an awfully long way, and the second thing is that you have to be really resilient. I think if you have those two things, it will stand you in really good stead. It is that whole thing of actually trying to remain likeable. When I joined here, there was the old guard and then there is the newer people and I guess one of my main concerns is that they may want to leave. Genuinely. It’s like, who is this clown that they bought in? She knows nothing, and they might all decide that this is the time to go. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet and hopefully it won’t. But is that thing I do think those are skills that you need.
Paul: The other one gets me as I was listening to them earlier, you are asking the guys a question, and it’s obviously something that the client has come to you wanting to know something but there was this, you’ve been given a question but they honestly did not want to deal with it. They saw it as outside of the project scope, nothing to do with them and they were grumbling as people do. The way he remains completely calm about that was like water off a ducks back and I think that patience and slightly emotionally removed from what you are doing is quite important to. Because that wound me up even just hearing it and I wasn’t involved.
Emma: Oh no, no, no. I have to say one thing is that I never take it personally. Going back to the whole thing about the teenagers, they will say all sorts of things to you and you cannot be that person who takes it away and takes it personally. It’s the same in the work environment. It’s very rare that I take anything to personally.
Paul: They weren’t being rude, they were just grumbling and didn’t want to do it.
Emma: Yes, like kids.
Paul: Fair comment.
Emma: Yes, I think it’s partly down to experience sometimes I think I should know more or be able to field those kind of questions a little bit better. But actually it’s something that is probably something that we need to work on as a company, which is making the time for those kind of annoying type of questions that can really eat into somebody’s time but actually if you had half an hour or an hour once a week where you went through them then you could actually tickle those things off without somebody losing concentration and having to sit there for hours tackling a much meatier task.
Marcus: Well we have a fixed today but fixed today gets killed we have too many projects. But perhaps we should have an annoying question hour?
Marcus: You’re allowed to ask questions between 2 PM and 3 PM.
Paul: That goes back to what we are talking about last week where I was going that I hate being interrupted. I know that if Emma had asked me that question, that she asked Dan and Chris earlier, I would have reacted like Dan and Chris. It’s an interruption and I got other stuff to do, is a stupid question and I’ve got no time for it whatsoever, so I would have reacted in the same way. I just find it really interesting because those kinds of questions do matter and a part of the service.
Emma: But the other side of it is that I know I have to get back to the client and if I don’t get back to the clients, that reflects badly on all of us. So that says I am prepared to use my pester tokens. I know when I’ve overstepped the mark normally because I would get snapped at but that’s because they are busy people. I think having quite a tough skin and not taking things the wrong way is probably quite key.
Paul: Yes, is having that tough skin while at the same time being aware. I know some people who have very tough skin and as a result of oblivious to when they pierce someone off. So you still got to be aware of emotional states, so it’s a difficult balance isn’t it?
Emma: Is actually going back to the whole teaching thing, you’ve got to empathise partly with your client but also with the people that you work with and recognise that they have got a heavy workload and so empathy is the other skill.
Paul: Is there anything else that springs to mind skill wise? I’m sitting here trying to think as well.
Marcus: Good at lists?
Emma: Actually a good listener. I would always say you have to be a good listener.
Marcus: I was leading somewhere there. I actually meant that you need to be very thorough and that’s through making lists and taking notes and that kind of thing and not to leave stones unturned.
Paul: That’s a really good one. That thing of, a lot of people have got that, let sleeping dogs lie, I’m not going to raise that issue. I think project managers have to turn over the stones and find out what’s underneath because otherwise it’s going to come back and bite you. I have really mixed my metaphors there haven’t I? Three or four on the go there!
Emma: It will do. You do have to be prepared to ask the ugly questions sometimes.
Marcus: I think a lot of people, myself included are guilty of going, is a meeting situation and you’ve agreed a load of things are one of them you are unsure about, but you tell yourself it’ll be fine. But project managers keep going back over, does everybody understand?
Emma: Actually that brings me onto another thing. It’s actually being prepared to stick your hand up and ask the daft question because you can sit anywhere in a meeting room and you really don’t understand. People have talked and voiced their opinions but you come away and you think, I really don’t know what I’m supposed to have concluded from all of this. I don’t know what the question was and I certainly don’t know what the answer is. So actually coming away and being the person to stick their hand up and say, can you just clarify this? You can do it in certain ways so that you don’t look like too much of an idiot, and it’s the same in the classroom, you’ll probably find that there are five other people that will stick their hand up and say, I don’t know either.
Paul: You are rights. It’s massively important and I think it’s something that comes with age and experience that one. I remember when I was younger that I would keep my mouth shut because I don’t want to look stupid but you do reach a point when you just think, screw it!
Emma: But that has changed I think with kids nowadays. Having done the teaching, kids would ask you all the time, and that’s the other side of it. They will keep saying I don’t understand. That’s the other side of it, they haven’t made any effort.
Paul: Do you say that a lot to clients?
Emma: I rarely have too. That’s a big difference between the two industries.
Paul: Right, anything more on that show we move onto the next question? The next two questions from Darryl Stone, he’s been posting some good questions and so we’re going to use them.
The first one is, when moving from a production role to a managerial role, how do you let go of delegating tasks to people who you know can’t do it as good a job as you could do if you did it yourself, and what if you don’t have time to train them?
Emma, you seem a bit worried about Darryl’s mental health? What’s your concern with that question?
Emma: So he’s said he hasn’t got the time first of all, to teach people to do the job.
Paul: And he’s also saying that they can’t do it as well as him. Either he’s got some kind of narcissistic complex, no offence Darryl, I’m sorry mate, all they really can’t do it as well as him. Which is to be honest, more likely. Especially as if he is more experienced.
Emma: Is difficult without really knowing what the task is. But I would generally say you’ve got those kind of concerns it’s how you ask somebody isn’t it? You could do it in a nice way, do you know what? I would do it like this. Yes, you have to make the time to show that person how you might do that particular job but actually sometimes you’ve got to let people do things their own way because we all do things differently. And it’s not necessarily that they are, is difficult without knowing, but it might be that they just do things differently. In his mind it’s not the way he would do it but you have to accept that some people work in different ways and might come up with a different solution or they might come up with the same solution but they go about it completely differently. Is not necessarily wrong.
Paul: He’s caught himself in a Catch–22 because he saying I don’t have time to train people but if he doesn’t train people that they are never going to be as good as him and if he doesn’t delegate he’s never going to have time to train.
Emma: If he is the manager of this person now, I would say if you’re going to be a good manager he has to make the time to train that person and monitor their progress and make sure they are happy or to be honest, there was something wrong there. Either his work load is wrong and you haven’t got enough time to do the job properly or you need to get a bit faster doing it. But either way you need to make the time.
Paul: It sounds to me like he’s in one of these scenarios which is very common where you have digital teams where the manager of that team is actually doing day-to-day production work as well is trying to manage projects. That is a really tricky situation to be in and they are under resourcing the team basically.
Emma: Yes, absolutely. You have to recognise that there is something wrong, I’ve you’ve not got enough resource or you need to make the time to train your resource up see need to address it one way or the other.
Paul: The truth is Darryl,
Emma: You shouldn’t be working 24/7, seven days a week to get the job done, so he probably needs to flag it to one of his managers and say, I’ve got this, that and the other, I can probably sort it out but I need this amount of time.
Paul: Or accept that the quality is going to go down. If you delegating it out to people, for a period of time while they teach themselves in effect, the quality will drop but hopefully with the odd pointer from you here and there it will go back up. I felt like that when I first stopped designing at Headscape and we started taking on designers, I remember feeling like this. I was still doing some design and I would look at their designs and go, really that’s not good enough. Some of that was what you just said is, that they just had a different style and a different approach to me and actually was good enough that it just wasn’t my own personal taste. That’s a huge thing to get your head around. But some of it was that they just weren’t as experienced as me and so all we did was make sure that the more experienced projects of the projects where quality mattered a lot more would go to me and the stuff that was less important, they would do. Over time their skills went up and now you look at people like Leigh and Chris who would be the people who’d come in at the time, and they work far better than I ever was.
Marcus: I think in Darryl’s case, there needs to be needed to be a handover period. That would have worked and then you can work out processes. I’m not sure from the question but it sounds like the work that’s going to be done by the new people taking over the old role will be coming to him to review. So if you had a couple of weeks working next to each other, that would be great.
Paul: That’s another thing. If these two people were working side-by-side, just being able to look over people shoulder and say, while it did you do that? Or something bit more constructive.
Emma: I was going to say Paul, you do not say that.
Paul: Oh my word that’s terrible!
Emma: Darryl, don’t listen to Paul.
Paul: Oh dear, you know what I meant. So certainly working side-by-side makes a big difference as well in that kind of situation. The other thing that worried me a bit is this thing about not having time to train them, because that’s a big concern. In our industry training is such an important part of the equation isn’t it?
Emma: Yes, and also I was thinking about this the other day, if people are on holiday or they are going away, there is a lot to be said for having those crossover skills so that you can hand over to somebody else. So although it probably feels as though you really having to make the time and is a bit rushed and all the rest of it, there is a huge long-term benefit by investing your time in training those people to cover those times when people are sick or on holiday. See you’re building in a bit of a contingency really for the future.
Paul: It’s not just a project management issue, that’s a critical business thing. I was working with a client recently and in their team they only had one front-end developer who knew how to do the website and they left. They had literally no one who knew how to put anything on their website or do anything because there was a critical weakness there, and that’s just bad planning really.
Marcus: I think what it really comes down to is about Darryl speaking to his new boss and saying there is going to be a problem here if you don’t let me have some time to train.
Emma: That’s actually a sign of a good manager, somebody who is actually looking not just at the next one or two weeks but looking a little bit further down the line and saying, do you know what? This could be a big problem that you are storing up. In fact you can turn it into a huge positive by investing in some training either doing that in house or out a house but is something that needs to be flagged and that’s perhaps part of the transition between doing a production task and being a good line manager.
Paul: Okay then write Darryl are you listening? Darryl, the next bit that I’m about to say is for your manager so you can copy out of the pod cast and play it to your manager.
Hello Mr Manager, my name is Paul Boag, and I am a user experience consultant and digital transformation expert. I work around the world and have written four books and am an expert in my field. I’m telling you here and now that you are not investing enough time in your staff and things are going to be horribly wrong if you don’t pull your socks up, get your act together and allow some time your staff to be trained properly. I am encouraged to also tell you that there are a range of excellent companies out there that provide training services including Headscape Ltd.
Thanks for listening.
They you go Darryl, just play that to your manager and everything will be great. How’s that sound?
Marcus: If you believe that, you’ll believe anything.
Paul: Right, let’s do our final question for today which is also from Darryl will stop so we are worried about you Darryl and if you need help, reach out to me on Twitter. We are here for you mate, we’re here for you.
Darryl writes, how to restructure a production team to support continuous delivery? i.e. you might have your team split into designers, developers and testers, with some people sitting idly waiting for others to hurriedly complete a task. So he’s looking at task management issues in continual development, which I think is a very fair question.
Headscape has to deal with these kinds of problems, how do you guys deal with it?
Marcus: That’s why thought I would let Emma have that question.
Marcus: It’s tough. That’s the honest answer because sometimes you can’t say, oh you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the right number of resources for this task, the right number of resources for design et cetera because it changes all the time. Keep an eye on it? I am serious, communicating keep communicating. If it looks like somebody’s task is going to be running out soon, can they help out? That something else, as you are saying before Emma, it helps if you can turn your hand to something else. You mentioned it regarding people going on holiday but actually if your usual tasks run out, you can dive in and help other people out.
Emma: But again it’s the whole thing about cross training somebody in the sense that if there is a new skill they are picking up, is an ideal opportunity to train them in another area. If your bit light on testing at the moment, why don’t you come and help with whatever?
Emma: In fact, you might be able to prevent some of the problems that build up further down the line.
Paul: It’s almost like the second question answers the first. Time for people to do training, in their downtime. Going back to that first question, is the presumption that it’s Darryl that has to do the training, but there are loads of training resources out there, loads of places where you can learn new skills as staff should be training one another as well.
Emma: Actually, it can just be that. Why don’t you go and sit next to this person for the day, shadow them, make it quite informal and they will probably learn a lot more.
Paul: It also makes people a lot more tolerant working with one another. If as a designer you understand how the underlying code works, you tend to be a little bit more sympathetic and vice versa which is always a big thing I think. I wonder whether I think Darryl in this question, by talking about continuous development, I wonder whether he is actually talking about agile? Because this problem of designers, developers and testers all working on the same sprint at the same time, can be problematic when a sprint involves more development work and less design work and that kind of thing.
Marcus: Yes, because you have to have those members of the team don’t you? And they have to be dedicated to it before the one week, two weeks, however long it is.
Paul: So that’s a tricky one. I’ve often asked that question because we don’t use agile in that way here. We pick and choose a bit unless things have changed?
Marcus: I guess we’ve done some semi-strict agile but generally is mostly waterfall.
Paul: I’ve asked this because this is been a concern of mine, this idea that you could have some sprints that are very heavy et cetera and I think it’s also particularly problematic when you are looking from a design point of view because design is often very holistic and is very hard to look at an individual work silo without looking at the whole overall as well. The feedback I’ve got over that one has been a bit woolly around the edges. It feels a bit dodgy in places.
Marcus: The fact that we are talking about taking bits of agile the work for us, suggests that is maybe a little bit too rigid. If you have a very rigid way of working, then you are going to have holes in it. Every project is different.
Paul: One of the solutions to this problem is that the designers work a sprint ahead, so they are working on one sprint while the developers are working on another. But that then feels quite waterfall?
Marcus: Exactly, so a short waterfall?
Paul: The other thing I propose myself which works quite well is the idea of instead of producing one section at a time or one piece of functionality in a series of sprints, that you actually work through fidelity. To start off with a very rough wireframe and you are layering fidelity more detail as you go down. That tends to even out the workload a little bit more across the different people.
Marcus: Unless you work with agile strictly all the time, or that you’ve only got one project that you’re working on, unless you’re an agency where you’ve got projects where you are at different places with them, you need to be able to have people free. Dan is going to work on this project for the next three weeks, and if we were strictly agile he would have to be on the project he was on. He wouldn’t be free.
Paul: Of course the downside of that is as a designer or developer you can feel like you are pinging from one project to the next the whole time.
Marcus: I think you got to be careful. You should be doing half days with one project in the morning and another in the afternoon.
Paul: How do you deal with that from a Headscape point of view these days?
Emma: What I was going to say was that be honest, something that’s worked quite well recently is that if you have separated out the design process side of it and the development back-end, you can actually do quite a lot of the development on the backend as long as you got quite an understanding client who doesn’t expect it all to appear looking all beautiful and lovely on the front-end. You can structure things and makes your backend developer feel a bit more comfortable because they got the building blocks in place for the project and you can get a lot of the content in there and in fact from a client’s point of view it works really well because when it does come to the CMS, they’ve got a much better understanding of what it is that they are looking at and what they got to build. It’s not just, we spent all these three months looking at the lovely pictures and designs and oh my goodness I’ve only got two weeks to fit in all the content and I got loads of questions. So actually doing it that way so that you do a certain amount of the back-end development and then sometimes it does stop it depends on the project, so for example if I take HESA as an example, there was a lot of technical development there. So a lot of that has happened upfront and the design is actually behind. But it doesn’t really matter because at some point Dan will get the messy bits and join the two. He and Ian, between them will have to join the two up. I think it works quite well, as a project manager I am always concerned about the person at the end of the line and that is always your backend developer. So it’s always, I always think that going back to whoever is looking at the project management role, if you put yourself in their shoes and try and look after their workload then you will find it a little bit easier to manage it. So anything you can get done upfront for those technical people, getting any of those things squared away, so much the better.
Marcus: That’s my code for 50 minutes Paul.
Paul: Oh right, Marcus just raised his hand and I had no idea.
Emma: I thought it was a random high-five!
Paul: I thought he wanted to say something profound! We need to wrap up then as we are at 50 minutes, but what you were essentially talking about is decoupling dependencies wherever possible.
Paul: Because if you can decouple those dependencies the people can work almost at their own rate and so you don’t have one person running away from another. Easy.
Emma: It’s logical really isn’t it?
Paul: Do that, Darryl. Use the spare time for training and we’ve answered both your questions and it’s all great.
I bet he’s really happy.
Marcus: Especially with the bit you gave him to play to his manager. He will be delighted with that.
Paul: We’ve just solved all his work problems in one slot.
Right let’s do a second sponsor which is resourceguru.io/boagworld, talking about project management. This is a cloud-based team calendar with a really simple drag-and-drop interface. Is fast and is a simple way to schedule people or equipment or other resources online. You can see the whole big picture at one go, who is busy and who is available, Darryl for your training that you would be doing, and who is off work.
You can add custom fields to the resources to filter in different ways. For example, you might want to say, just to show me designers who have got skills in this particular area or back-end developers that can do X, Y or Z. You can also filter people by department or location or only show permanent members of staff. Those are custom fields that you can set up to be any way that you want basically. It makes easy to do things like manage time off requests because you don’t have to track them in a separate calendar is it all together in one place which is so useful because you get some applications where you are dealing with holiday allowance and people taking time off which you are trying to deal with the work that’s got to be done on another calendar. This brings it all together in one nice place.
So unlike other management software, it can be scheduled in one place and you can plan soft vacations so you can see the impact of their absence on the team’s project workload. There is a 30 day free trial and it only takes a few seconds to sign up. This is of this show can use the coupon code BOAGWORLD when they subscribe to get an additional month three. That means you’ve got essentially two months to give it a go and try to out with your business and that’s a good opportunity to see if it’s right for you. You can do that by going to resourceguru.io/boagworld.
So that about wraps it up. Did you know we do Marcus’s joke? Have you heard about this?
Emma: I’m leaving the room now.
Paul: Stay still. You have to endure it to and you have to pretend to laugh at the appropriate moments. Go Marcus.
Marcus: This one is from a Ian Lasky.
Will glass coffins be a success?
Remains to be seen.
Paul: Ahh. No, that is so, so, poor. Thank you Ian.
Marcus: I like that one. I like them all.
Paul: So, just a reminder, send Marcus more jokes to Marcus@boagworld.com and send me your questions to Paul@boagworld.com. That’s about it.
Thank you Emma for doing this, I know you didn’t particularly enjoy it.
Emma: It was a pleasure. Oh and that’s another top skill. Be a good liar.
Paul: Week we’re going to be joined by Chris. Now I don’t know Chris, he just voted in saying he wanted to be on the show. Marcus is convinced that Chris is just going to come on the show and spout obscenities the entire time. So I’m hoping that this will work out okay.
So yes if you fancy being a guest on the show, drop me an email, tell me a little bit about your background and we’d love to have you on.
Thank you Emma for joining us and thank you guys listening and goodbye.