How to build a reputation as a digital project manager

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Holly Davis to discuss profile building, building trust and sharing resources.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This weeks show is sponsored by Shopify and Invision.

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

Marcus: Hello Paul. I’ve got a cold.

Paul: Really?

Marcus: Yes, really. I went on holiday just for long weekend to Devon and I got there I got a cold. Literally opened the car door and got a cold. Not funny.

Paul: You sure it’s not hayfever?

Marcus: I thought it was that to begin with no, it’s not. I’m not very well, be nice.

Paul: Fortunately we not in the same room today which means you can’t infect me with your illness.

Marcus: It’s my son and his girlfriend. They gave it to me. I blame them.

Paul: Pesky kids.

Marcus: Pesky kids indeed.

Paul: Is always the kids. When they used to be at school they were basically a conduit for evil bugs.

Marcus: Now they are in their 20s they still are!

Paul: Bless them. Is because they socialise with other people. It shouldn’t be allowed. Young people should be quarantined in individual areas are not allowed out. I tell you another really bad place is conferences for this. You always go to conferences and get ill with some bug other because there are all these people fall over the world coming together and bringing their diseases with them.

Marcus: I’m going to a conference tomorrow and taking my diseases with me.

Paul: What conferences that? You don’t normally go outside?

Marcus: I don’t normally go outside but it’s IWMW.

Paul: Oh yes of course.

Marcus: The higher education one. It’s good fun usually. Anyway don’t you think you ought to introduce our guest Paul?

Paul: Oh yes, we’ve got a guest!

Holly: Hello!

Paul: Hello Holly, how are you?

Holly: I am fine thank you. Thanks very much for having me, it’s good to be here.

Paul: Talking of conferences, that was where we first met wasn’t it? At a project manager conference. That was the one in Austin wasn’t it?

Holly: I think it was, yes. We’ve crossed paths couple of times since.

Paul: Yes we have. And talking of which, that was where I got really ill.

Holly: Yes I remember you being very poorly.

Paul: I was the most poorly ever been at a conference. I was standing on the stage giving my talk and there are actually spots in front of my eyes and I thought I was going to pass out. It was not good.

Marcus: I’ve been ill in Austin as well.

Paul: Well yes, but that’s a different reasons. That’s alcohol consumption. Have you ever been to SXSW Holly?

Holly: No, I’d absolutely love to go but no I haven’t.

Paul: It’s a crazy experience. I’m hearing good things about it again now. It went through a stage of everybody going, meh.

Marcus: Well I went, meh, the last time you went. I thought it was too big. The first time you went there was probably a couple thousand people, there were three or four streams and it still felt really big. I think we went about three or four times in the last time there was 20,000 people there with 10 different streams you could follow. You got invited to everything we couldn’t get into anything because the queues were so long. I just thought what am I doing here? But I’ve heard since they’ve catered for that huge size and are doing a lot better. I’m also gutted that the fact that the last time I was there; rumour went around that the Foo Fighters were guests at the final party. I just thought yeah, right. The year before it had been a Mexican band – I have nothing against Mexican bands but they were a Mexican band that he had never heard of. And the Foo Fighters were going to be playing at Stubbed Barbecue which was 1000 people outside. I thought no, no chance, I’m staying here in the bar and a couple of our guys that we were with went and they came back and said it was them and here’s the pictures! So always been somewhat gutted by that experience.

Paul: Bitter and twisted.

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: You would absolutely love it Holly, it’s quite an experience and to be honest the best part of it is the sitting in the bar. You almost don’t need to buy a ticket for the event, you just go and you sit. There is a place called the Iron Cactus where you can sit on the sun terrace upstairs and drink margaritas and basically pitch and moan about how hard it is being a project manager or whoever it is that you’re talking to about that time, moaning about the state of digital.

Holly: That’s definitely on the bucket list so hopefully one day.

Paul: Oh well let us know if you have a year where you are going to go, let me know and I might find an excuse to go too.

Holly: That sounds good. We can moan at each other.

Paul: Well I have just come back from a bit of a conference. I just come back from Hong Kong which was a bit of an adventure. I’ve never been to Hong Kong. I must have talked about this last week on the show?

Marcus: I don’t think you did?

Paul: Did I not ask my obligatory question that I always ask, which is, have you ever been there Marcus? Because you’ve been everywhere.

Marcus: Yes I have but I didn’t answer that question so no, feel free to show off about your staying in the world’s highest hotel and all that stuff.

Paul: It was one of those, I can’t believe I am living this moment, trip. For a start I was flying out for a conference for a large insurance company that was doing a leadership conference all about digital disruption and transformation and that kind of stuff. I was only going to be there three days and it’s a long way to go for three days and so I thought I’d push my luck and say I’d go, but can I fly business class? So they agreed to that which was a pretty good start because I don’t often get to fly business class despite what everybody seems to think about my life. And then, when I was booking it, it said if you spend X number of flight points, then you can get £300 off. But then I thought no, because the client is paying for it. I’m not spending my flight points on that. But then I scrolled down to the bottom and it said, for only £300 extra, you can upgrade to 1st class! So that’s what I did. So I got £300 off with flight points and I put £300 back on with the first class, and I came back first class. It’s amazing!

Marcus: I’ve flown first class once.

Paul: What, only once? That’s surprising!

Marcus: And I remember having a really bad hangover. It was a seven course meal on every course had a different drink that went with it.

Paul: Yes, and they constantly top up your drinks as well. The trouble is I started before even got on the plane because I arrived really early and was in the first class lounge with a champagne bar and a private room with all these kinds of things. So I was drinking then and by the time I got on the plane, and they keep filling you up… Oh dear.

And then on top of that, the conference was happening in the Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong that is the highest hotel in the world, so my room was on floor 115 and when you go up in the elevator your ears pop which I just think is awesome.

Marcus: I think that might have made me feel a bit funny.

Paul: It was a bit peculiar. And then you have floor-to-ceiling windows on one side. And then you have a swimming pool on floor 118 which is the highest swimming pool in the world. It was a crazy trip. The amount of money they must have spent on that conference! Just the kind of party that they had for their leadership team was incredible. It’s like a different world.

I’m giving up. You know how I have on my website saying that I mainly work for not for profits and charities…. Screw that!

Marcus: Only insurance companies now?

Paul: People with a lot of money please. If you are a charity, not interested any more. Go away. No I don’t mean it! But also, they had a really good speaker, a Swedish guy called Fredrik Haren? He’d written a book called The Idea Book. He talks about business creativity. Top absolute best speaker I have ever heard hands down. I was following him and it was like, oh shit! He had them laughing the whole way through and he was just really, really, really good. He did this one brilliant exercise part way through his talk where he said, you’ve seen how I’ve told you it’s important to be creative, you’ve said it’s important to be creative, you’re listening to a talk about creativity from one of the leading experts on creativity, it’s time for us to be creative. And so he wrote 1 to 10 on a flipchart and he said, I want you to shout out things that are utterly impossible. So people were shouting out things like time travel and all these different things. So he wrote 10 things down on the list and he got the end of it and he said, okay so, we’ve got a bunch of creative people at a creativity conference, talking about creativity and you’ve all given me a creative list and you all agree that there is an infinite number of things in the world that are impossible. Yes, yes, we all agree.

He then puts up a slide that lists every single one of the items that we’d written down. Everybody says the same thing.

Absolutely fascinating and a brilliant speaker! I’m definitely going to get his book, which is the ideas book.

Holly: I’ve just scribbled it down.

Paul: Yes, definitely worth reading. So yes, it was a really good trip basically. So Holly, what about you?

Marcus: Yes, hello Holly. I don’t know you.

Paul: Yes, we are 11 minutes into the show we’ve not really talked about Holly at all. Marcus, I met Holly at a conference, but Holly I know very little about you actually even though we met and chatted quite a lot. I don’t even know where you work?

Holly: Okay, so I work for White October and a digital product agency based in Oxford. There are about 30 of us there and you work for a variety of clients, healthcare, finance, education, publishing.

Paul: Did you just say finance clients?

Holly: Yes we have worked with some online investment clients.

Paul: Do they need speakers for conferences anywhere nice?

Holly: Not that I’m aware of, but your name will inevitably come up if I hear.

Paul: Suddenly you, Marcus who says you don’t like public speaking very much, will find a way wouldn’t you? If you got off to tripped Hong Kong to stay in a luxury hotel, you would overcome your fear wouldn’t you?

Holly: Probably yes.

Marcus: I am looking at a picture of the white October team, all in yellow T-shirts.

Holly: Yes, can you spot me? Well you don’t know what I look likes that could be a bit tricky.

Paul: I’ve got to have a look now. See now, I’ve heard of white October that I had put them together as who you work for.

Oh there’s the picture. I was about to say about Holly is hiding at the back, but no she’s right on the front row near the middle. So you see the guy in the black jacket? Go to people to the right and that’s Holly.

Marcus: Hello Holly! You’re not waving back.

Paul: She’s just staring at you Marcus. That’s so rude.

So there we go and that’s interesting. So would you define yourself as a project manager?

Holly: Yes.

Paul: Does that mean, do you have account managers as well?

Holly: Yes we do have account managers but they do a lot more than sales within White October. They stay in contact or close to the project throughout the project life-cycle and keep a more high-level picture in terms of strategy and the sort of thing.

Paul: So a bit like what Marcus is supposed to do?

Marcus: What you mean supposed to do?

Paul: Well, I know given an option, you’d just the client like a stone once you’ve signed them up, wouldn’t you?

Marcus: Yes Paul, that’s exactly what I’m like.

Paul: No. But seriously you would be an account manager.

Marcus: Yes and I get involved certainly from a strategy level at the start of projects.

Paul: So Holly, be honest. Aren’t account managers just annoying? Aren’t they essentially coming in and interfering at random intervals through the project?

Go on say it, you know you want to!

Holly: Previous experience before I worked at White October, the have been occasions which have been annoying but no, I actually find that when they are involved in the project it’s very useful to have someone else there who can sense check that kind of an approach and have that high-level overview of the project and project direction and know exactly the clients aims and visions for the project and make sure the team are kept aligned with those. It’s easy when you’re a project manager to get so into the detail of the project that you sometimes find it difficult to step away from it and see from a client perspective, how we are doing against their success criteria.

Paul: See now, you just turned my very loaded question into a brilliant answer. I can see why you are a project manager. You’ve got the ability to massage the truth.

Marcus: Oooo.

Paul: Sorry, I’m in a childish mood today. Is because I’ve just started writing this new book and I hate beginning the process of writing. It makes me hysterical, hence the mood I’m currently in.

Marcus: How many times if you started it and scribbled it all out?

Paul: Well actually, not many. I take the attitude of I will just write it through once – not the whole book the section that I’m writing and I will keep going until the end because I think then I will go through and scribble it and check and change it. Because the trouble is otherwise you will start and stop, and started stop and never get going. Especially with a very first bit. So basically my role is write it once to begin with, which is a very Earnest Hemingway approach.

Marcus: He said, right drunk and edit sober, didn’t he?

Paul: Yes, which might explain why many strange mood right now. Before we get onto the questions were today I just want to quickly talk about our sponsor, Invision, who have joined us yet again. They are really supportive of us the season and have an amazing suite of prototyping and design tools.

Now, I’m going to ask a loaded question here Holly – just lie. Is Invision something that you guys use it White October?

Holly: Yes, we can’t live without it.

Paul: Brilliant answer, well done. I’ll find out afterwards whether that is true or not but for now we’ll just pretend it is true.

So it is really a good suite of prototyping and design tools. We talked about the prototyping element and we talked about their free plug-in for sketch and photo shop which is just amazing. One of the things that I really like about the Invision prototypes is that, if you working in photo shop and you have created a prototype in photo shop that you’ve uploaded into Invision and your prototype is now working within Invision, you can continue to edit the source file in photo shop and when you click save, it updates the Invision prototype. When I first read this I was like, really? That’s bloody useful and very clever. So I’m quite interested in that feature and if anyone’s use that, let me know in Twitter or whatever because I like to know more about that. You can also check out previous versions of your design, so it’s keeping the whole design history so you’ve got basically an automatic version control of any prototypes which is really useful if you do multiple rounds of testing and you are iterating your prototype which you should be doing people, always iterate! And then you can revert back to any one of those design states with a single click if you want to as well. It’s an amazing set of tools.

A lot of the functionality is available completely free and you can use it forever and ever, but if you want some more the advanced stuff, you can get three free months of unlimited prototyping, mobile user testing and the boards that I talked about last week. So if you want to get those three free months, go to and enter the code INV-BOAG. So that is Invision, please check them out and I really appreciate it when you guys support our sponsors because then I get money!

Marcus: Hahaha.

Paul: Well, the cost of transcription alone is crippling.

Marcus: Really?

Paul: Meg, who is now listening to this, charges me fortune!

Marcus: Good.

Paul: Oh. Well she does have to listen to us every single week.

Marcus: I know, I went through the entire pod cast last week and I realise what a saint she is.

Paul: She should be charging me double but don’t tell her… oh shit! (***Oh yes!)

Let’s move on to the discussion and the questions this week.

Discussion with Holly

Paul: We’ve got three questions is always that we are hoping Holly may be able to bring some sanity to this, rather than us just answering them alone.

That start with a question from Geoff. This is an interesting one from your perspective Holly because you are building a little bit of a reputation within the project management community and you are now known around the circuit, so this question is for you. ‘How can I build a profile as a project manager? Designers have their portfolios, developers have either GitHub or a side project, so how can you as a project manager demonstrate your value to both your colleagues but also to prospective employers or to the community as a whole?’

What have you done in that regards Holly?

Holly: I think it’s a really interesting question because as you said, other disciplines definitely have ways of gaining that recognition from the worldwide industry or colleagues. Who defines the success of a PM? I guess it’s normally the team or the clients and you don’t always get that amount of feedback from those as you look for it. Externally to that it’s still not recognised in the industry as well as it could be. I have been reading NetMag for eight years now and I loved it when you blocked about NetMag recognising PMs and awards. As much as I love NetMag you do think that there is this massive entity of product development and the jollity that does include a project manager but they are generally the unseen. How do we get more recognised what we do?

I know Brett Harned was on the podcast the other week and he’s actually doing a lot of work within the community to define what a DPM does and values. I think that will really help in terms of once we have an identity as a group of people doing a very similar job to communicate that outwardly. I think we can showcase our individual goals and values and identity. I do a lot of writing on project management and team leadership type topics on PM blogs like ReseourceGuru but also more recently on Medium. It’s quite interesting because as you blog, people who you wouldn’t necessarily think would engage with project managers, developers and other colleagues have been asking questions and starting to engage with the project management and process in a way that they may not have done before. I think another thing is attending and going to conferences and so before I met Brett and Sam Barnes I didn’t really know that a community project managers existed. I just stumbled across it by attending one of their workshops that they did in London three or four years ago and before that I felt that there weren’t that many people like me, and yet there are loads all over the world. I think having attended and being fortunate enough to attend as a volunteer a couple of conferences that Brett had organised in the US, there are 3 to 400 people that attend that conference and its ever-growing, I think there are plans to grow out of the US, there is definitely demand in the UK for more conferences like that. So think volunteering at those events has really opened up new opportunities and ways to connect with other project managers. We have a couple of Slack channel’s, one in the UK with about a hundred people in and a couple in the US and it’s great to be able to talk to other people doing the same line of work as you, and then hopefully collectively and as a community, we can build up the profile of project management and what we do and why we are important in the project.

Paul: It’s really interesting because I think the is a bit of a stigma that exists around project management. I don’t even know what it is, perhaps it’s boring or it’s not a proper digital profession which is absurd really because the truth is every single one of us, even those of us that aren’t project managers, end up doing some elements of project management at some point. So something we can all associate with and yet you get things like a lot of publications that almost articles about project management a little bit or not even project management but management in general because that tends to be the kind of thing that I write about. Not project management but digital management. It was almost a resistance in some quarters to that. The net magazine awards are a great example of that. It seems insane to me that you don’t have an award for a well-managed project. That should definitely exist. And they have listened to me, despite me telling them.

Holly: That’s terrible.

Paul: But it’s great to see people like yourselves, Sam Barnes is another one as his blog is excellent, writing about these things and I’m glad to see that you are writing on some other third-party sites as well and that there are people like Resource Guru who sponsored the show a couple of weeks back. They are actively putting out content in that area which I think is good as well. It’s interesting because the reason why we end up doing this season of the show is because Brett came on last season or the season before and that actually was the highest downloads that we’d ever gotten in on the show. Higher than Jeremy Keith or Jeffrey Zeldman or anyone like that, that was the highest one because I think there was a real demand for it.

But coming back to Jeff’s question about building a profile of project managers as a community and then there is building your own personal profile and your personal brand. Is it mainly writing, is that the main tool that you have, talking about projects and challenges that you have faced?

Holly: Is in variety of ways. I co-funded with my colleague, Steven Thomas, a PM meet up in Oxford and it’s those extra curriculum things you do around the edges of work and that you do because you want to do rather than you have to do which really shine through to people when they see the things that you are involved in. I would say to anyone looking to build their own profile that if something like that exists, attend it. If it doesn’t exist, set something up even if it is a one-off informal meet up that turns into something more long-term, can you lead workshops or can you speak some of these conferences that happen? Also looking at mentorship – that’s a great way to share what you learn, if you seek to mentor a more junior digital project manager for someone who is entering the industry.

I think as well you said about project management sometimes appearing boring or not very creative and I think it’s up to us to make it creative. If you can maybe do a video resume showcasing your presentation facilitation or reporting skills, those things that seem quite boring and hard to die just things, can you show them in a way that is engaging and creative? Is quite a challenge but is something that we should seek to do to break down that barrier that seems to exist or that resistance to engage with, process or management of projects?

At White October we set up at the start of projects something called a living case study which is just a slide deck but includes quotes, pictures from workshops, all those artefacts you gather along the way so the end of the project different parts of the company can use it, so it can be used as a PR tool and it can be used by the client if they are having to go back to the people who’ve given them a grant for the project to write a report, but it’s also transferring that to what that means to project managers in terms of profile of a portfolio what you do. How can you use something like that is an artefact to show your worth in the project? So talking about the processes you use, what worked and didn’t work, what retrospectives you used and how they were responded to by the clients of the project team members, what obstacles you overcame and things like that which show the more human side to day-to-day project management, showing the good bits and the bad bits and being able to communicate that in a new way. Is definitely something that could be done but I haven’t seen many people do it, so it would be interesting if any project managers out there who are doing more than just a CV to show their work or their projects off, that would be interesting to see.

Marcus: The living case study idea think is fantastic. It normally falls to me to write the case studies and you are thinking, eight months ago what did we do? Just to have all of that is a resource, I take your point that it’s something different and as a portfolio for a project manager but just for helping everyone out particularly the person that writes the case study, what a fantastic idea.

I have a side question which we probably should have done the start, how did you get into digital project management?

Holly: Like most people I fell into it. So I graduated from UD doing a media course and then worked for a music start-up and I was working there closely the digital agency in Manchester, building a website for that. So is doing client side project management but without necessarily the job title or the skills but let them on the job and then after that I started at a small agency doing project management and it was a steep learning curve for six months to a year, getting used to all the different terminology and working with designers and developers. Managing projects was all relatively new to me and all that comes with that in terms of managing budgets and working closely with clients, but I just loved it. I loved the variety of working on lots of different projects, meeting lots of different people, working with teams, I love that element of project management really.

Marcus: I think the on the sexy side of it is basically that if you have the word manager in your title, of any sort, then you are viewed by designers and developers as ‘the suits’ and I may be exaggerating to make a point but that’s why it’s often hard to get a publication to want you to write for them to speak at a conference that isn’t just about project management because it’s seen as the unsexy side of the work that we do. It’s wrong.

Holly: I think were also seen as outside of the team, I think is really important project managers to be an essential part of the team. When not something outside of the production of the team, we’re part of that team and I feel that it’s often communicated that project managers are telling people what to do and they are obstructive from the actual doing of the work. Whereas I feel my role is very important in terms of being involved in workshop prioritising, an extra branch of work figuring out how we are going to deliver it, thinking about UX and Paul’s talked about that at a previous conference that I attended, about PMs being the last hope for user experience. It’s important the project managers don’t think of their roles as just being defined to just managing the project but being deeply involved as much they can be all the other disciplines that make up the project.

Marcus: It can go the sales way as well. I was a project manager many years ago and I kept finding myself speaking to the clients about what’s the next project, what of the new things around the corner. It became obvious that I should be doing more of an account manager role or a sales based role because I was less interested in the thing we were doing and more interested in about what was happening next but I was able to do that because I was working with the client every day.

You are right, project management spans across everything and you should be involved in all of it not just so-and-so needs to have this done by the end of the day.

Paul: It’s very much a linchpin role isn’t it? That’s why I gave that talk on project managers being the last best hope for user experience because user experience, as I am writing in the book that I’m writing at the moment, is this thing that crosses all departmental and disciplinary barriers. A developer has just as big an impact on the user experience as a designer has, as a copywriter has, as a marketer has and anybody else has. Who is it that interacts and Paul’s all those people together? It’s the project manager. So in some ways the project managers in a unique position and I really hope that there is more of a realisation of the value that they bring.

Going back to the whole issue of building your own reputation, a big part of it whether you are a designer, developer or anything is about sharing isn’t it? It’s about showing what you’ve learnt, sharing what you bring and in a developer’s case it’s the code, in the designer’s case it’s example designs of templates but actually there is a lot of room for project managers to do the same thing in terms of template documents that they produce. These things are invaluable, people leave them up because then they’re not having to recreate stuff from scratch, whether it be a project definition document or whether it be an agenda for a kick-off meeting. But then the other thing is exercises getting the ways of engaging people. If you look at a book like Gamestorming, it was a huge selling book which is just a collection of workshop activities and that’s hugely successful because people are desperate for that kind of information. How to run an effective meeting, all these kinds of things. So it’s a really exciting area and I think project managers will become a lot more to the fore especially as digital projects become increasingly complex.

Anyway let’s move onto the next question from Darryl Snow. He says a cohesive team has to be bound by trust. Each team member has to trust that everyone else on the team is going to pull their weight, help out when needed and meets the same level of expectation. How can every team member being encouraged to be more empathetic and contribute trust to the team as a whole every day to instil mutual confidence and keep projects ticking along? My reading between the lines of this is that I have a lot of people that are just shut away in their own little worlds of design, development et cetera, how do I get them working together, being more empathetic, considering each other’s needs and working as a cohesive team? Which is a really good question and it’s a tough one isn’t it?

Holly: Yes it is tough and I find there are challenges working within a team for people not to get siloed into thinking, I’m just working on this and I don’t need to consider where that goes next. It’s like, when is it done? It’s not done when you finish your bit of work on it but when it signed off by the client and there is a lack of awareness around who is in that process with you and what they might be doing. I think project managers and designers often work on any projects in a day and developers often talk about contexts of being hard, but for the majority of the work we have is unusual for a developer to be switching to another project during the same day. They normally working on one project or maybe peer reviewing on another. Project managers and designers often have to be switching between meetings and changing contexts as well and it’s having that awareness for the whole team. It comes down to leading with empathy and demonstrating the behaviours that you expect to see in the rest of your team. I’ve run a couple of good retrospectives at the start of projects about what others can expect of you and what you expect of them and making that really explicit. In my role and within this team, this is what I expect of you and this is what you can expect of me in return. I think that makes it really good to know where people stand in the project and where there is blurred lines for example, normally on a client call I would be taking clients notes and is fine for people to expect that I’m doing that but I think that is a person who is not a technical project manager there might be some technical bits and pieces that are covered in that meeting and I would expect that the tech lead or the leader from the projects to be capturing those requirements and then feeding them back to me.

Sometimes there are blurred lines where people think it’s the PM’s role to capture notes as I might be thinking, let’s use our skills to the best of our abilities and there might be certain things where the lines are a bit more blurred and you can actually help each other out a bit more.

Paul: Do you do daily stand-ups at White October?

Holly: We do, yes.

Paul: Because I think that’s a very good mechanism for getting people to think about each other’s jobs because you got that, well for a start you are saying what you are doing, but there is also that barrier bit, what barriers you are facing is quite a good one for making people think about what other people need to do their jobs.

Holly: Yes I think that really helps give a bit more context as to what people are working on and when they are blocked out other people can remove that block is a block for the team rather than for the individual.

Paul: Do you have your team is physically sitting together? So are people sitting by disciplines or they sitting via projects that make sense?

Holly: Projects, so we are a cross functional team and were all sat on a pod together, normally with a couple of developers, a designer, PM, and a tester.

Paul: Because that makes a huge difference as well doesn’t it?

Holly: I think retrospectives are a great tool at the end of sprints or packages of work to reflect and come together as a team as to what went well and where could we be improving where we are interacting with each other? Collecting events during that sprint of that period of work where team members have felt frustrated or cross or sad, where those interactions have fallen down. We’ve also brainstormed as a team as to what good and bad behaviours look like within that team, so highlighting a desirable trait that they see themselves that they’d want the rest of the team to exhibit, and then one is obviously harder to admit to but something that they see in themselves when other people in the team but if we had got rid of it would be for the greater good of the team. It makes people be vulnerable in terms of admitting to stuff that they know that being late to a scrum or not asking a designer to review their front-end after it’s ready for a few things like that, it helps to know that what people find difficult and how we can help each other out to be a better team.

Marcus: You really have to recognise that people are very different as well and that some people are highly emotional and others don’t care what you say to them. That’s one of the hardest things about management. I love the idea about what you said about having a workshop where you can get them to say all the things they do like about themselves and what they don’t, I think is really nice way of dealing with what I’m talking about. I think you have to accept that some people will deal with that process better than others.

Holly: Yes, for some people it might make them feel very uncomfortable.

Paul: How do you stop a retrospective like that turning into a pitching and moaning session about each other? Or are British people just too polite to do that?

Holly: I think we are normally too polite but yes, we are very careful in retrospectives that you never name an individual. It’s never about an individual per se but of course you have to be sensitive to people as some people engage with these type of activities not better than others and you need to find the right balance as you wouldn’t want to end each sprint with something as intense as that but every once in a while to check in where people are at, especially if you feel in the team there is a niggle amongst one or two people that could be easily fixed with an honest and upfront conversation or something geared towards talking about that particular issue.

Marcus: I’ve also found that probably the best thing for encouraging teams making them feel good is to take them out for a nice dinner.

Holly: Yes, food is always good.

Paul: The answer to all problems – take them out. Alcohol helps as well I have to say, as far as getting teams to let down some of the barriers between them and get them to interact with one another. Just not too much as there is a tipping point where it goes from everybody loving one another to everybody hating one another.

Okay we ought to move on to the final question because we spend far too long on the first one. What are effective teams doing to ensure that everyone has access to companywide information and resources? This is from Prescott by the way, thank you Prescott.

Early you talked for example about those live case studies and there is also I think things like the statement of work, other documentation and other information related to a project. Had you shown of those internally within White October?

Holly: There are a couple of ways. We have a physical backlog and business roadmap on the wall which other people can add to the To Do column. It could be something that they’ve noticed about the culture or something more practical about the office, and it can go on a board and then the management team will with you that board weekly and then there is that visibility to the rest of the company about what the priorities are and what people are working on. That’s also communicated every month where we have something called first Friday which is just an opportunity for people to get together in the company to share what they’ve been working on, so sometimes it will be demos and presentations, talks and will have pizza and break for a couple of hours in the middle of the day together as a team. A part of that is a vision for the next quarter so not every month that once a quarter the management team will get up and talk about the priorities for each person in that management team and what they’re going to be working on the people have an awareness of what’s going on. We have a weekly ops meeting which is a combination of project managers, AMs and members of the management team and you were doing that for about a year and have a retrospective at the end of each of those meetings, when someone mentioned why don’t we invite someone who doesn’t need to come to this meeting, the opportunity to come in and sit and observe and write a high level report what was discussed and what people were talking about and then they share that with the rest of the company. We’ve been doing that ever since and some people enjoy that more than others as it’s quite a long meeting but that was really good that people came into the meeting and were able to share in their own language what projects people were working on, what projects that were going well and which we were working on that had difficulties. So the combination of that monthly update and head of client services gave a monthly update and a roadmap of what we’ve been working on in that month, what projects of gone live and then normally all the project managers put in screen casts or screenshots of the projects and sometimes will demo those. I think having frequent demos of the work that you do, so have a demo slot and open it up to other teams to drop in and see what’s going on in your project – I think it’s a really nice thing to do, having a standing thing in the calendar were people would know that it’s 4 o’clock every Thursday and you can drop in, not the seller to give feedback on the project but just know what’s going on.

Paul: Wow. That was a really good answer to that question, Holly. The only thing you didn’t mention Holly is that are there any tools that you use in terms of software, et cetera for communicating. Do you have any kind of intranet or file sharing system?

Holly: Yes, we use Google Drive predominantly for sharing files and we also use Jira as a project management tool and I know you can get something called Confluence which is an add-on for documentation which a lot of project managers use and is very good. We’ve got a company intranet and we use Slack very heavily for project communication, but the majority of files are on Google Drive and that works for us as they are accessible to everyone.

Paul: How do you get on with Jira because I have to say I didn’t like it.

Holly: I mean it’s a beast of a product and I guess that’s a good thing but also a bad thing. You can customise nearly everything in it and the more you do that more of a headache it becomes in my experience, so we’ve created a White October standard workflow, a standard project set up which means we can set up a new client or project in about five minutes rather than when we were first using it, everything seemed to take ages to do and it was painful to use. But now we’ve got that setup it’s fairly streamlined and we do find the backlog feature really useful in terms of managing user stories for our clients and prioritising it and being able to attach files and comment on it. I’m not saying it’s loved by the project managers as a tool in itself but how we use it, it works well for us I think. We don’t always use it for smaller projects. We are a big fan of Trello which is of slim or lightweight, but the larger software builds it’s a bit more robust.

Paul: I think it basically just offended my design sensibilities. It’s not the most user-friendly of applications is it?

Holly: No, it isn’t.

Paul: It very much depends on who is using it, like any tool. Talking of tools let’s move onto our final sponsor of the day which is Shopify.

Shopify is a leading multichannel commerce software trusted by over 275,000 merchants. It can do absolutely everything that your business owners are going to need from selling online to selling store, which I wasn’t aware of, and on the go. So it’s got integration directly to enable you to sell on Twitter or Pinterest or Facebook, but it’s also got point of sale systems to sell in bricks and mortar stores. It is easy to use and it’s got a great backend interface so that the merchants can manage their stores all on their own without having to disturb you as the developer. Talking of developers, Shopify has invested heavily in its partner programme for freelance designers, developers, consultants, agencies, anyone really who builds e-commerce websites for clients. They have made it really simple to get up and running with Shopify and you can build your custom themes using HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Shopify’s easy-to-use template language which is called Liquid, and it is really very straightforward to use. Shopify’s partner program provides you with loads of three resources including a dedicated partners block, they do webinars of which I have done a couple in the past, I’ve also written articles for them actually and there are all kinds of help to find new clients and grow your business as well. So they want you to be a success obviously so that you sign up and build more websites through them as they give you loads of help and support agree a business.

You will also receive a dedicated partner manager who was your point of contact a time you have got any questions or need help closing a deal or anything else, they can give you all the advice and support that you need. As a designer or a developer, you can make real money with Shopify’s partner programme as you get a revenue sharing model so it’s really worth considering. You can earn money by referring clients, building stores or building themes or apps for Shopify as well and it’s a great way to create that passive income for designers and front-end developers or even agencies because it’s money that just will keep coming in without you having to do a lot of development work for it.

You can sign up for the Shopify partner program and I would highly encourage you to do it is no big deal doing it and you can do that at Okay so that about wraps it up for this week and Holly I’m sorry that the downside of being on the show is that you now have to ensure Marcus’s joke.

Marcus: Yes, I did think to myself, who tells the silliest jokes? It’s got to be Tim Vine and so I’ve looked up some Tim Vine jokes.

Paul: I don’t even know who Tim Vine is?

Holly: I’ve not come across his name before either.

Marcus: What’s he been in? He’s a comedian and he’s in a TV show called Not Going Out.

Paul: Oh yes I know who he is and I’ve seen him on some panel shows before.

Marcus: Anyway he is the king of the silly wordplay joke which is my kind of thing, so here we are.

He said: ‘I’m going to chop off the bottom of one of your trouser legs and put it in a library’

I thought: ‘That’s a turn up for the books’.

Paul: That is quite good.

Holly: Yes that is.

Marcus: There are many, many more. It’s a golden link.

Paul: Why do not use more from the bad jokes part of our Slack channel?

Marcus: I did use a few.

Paul: I like ‘What’s the difference between a rhino and a zippo?’ ‘A zippo is a little lighter’.

That’s good. And one that I submitted myself…

Marcus: Here we go, now you know why I don’t use them.

Paul: A man tried to sell me a coffin today, so I told him is the last thing I need.

See? Oh I like this one,

Merlin: To celebrate the return of your quest, we give you this roundtable my lord.

Arthur: Cool. Who made it?

Merlin: Circumference!

Marcus: That is just awful. But it’s more my level I think. You used up three jokes there.

Paul: I don’t care. Two of those jokes were submitted by me, which let’s face it, you’ll never going to use on principle.

Marcus: You learn to be sparing with them.

Paul: Oh okay, will have just blown through the supply. Holly thank you very much for being on the show, is been really usefulness and really good stuff there and I really appreciate it. Hopefully you’ll join us again soon and I hope it wasn’t too painful and experience.

Holly: No thank you very much, and thank you for doing a series on PM’s.

Paul: Yes, let’s celebrate those PM’s! Just a reminder, talking of being sparing, we need more questions people. This is getting serious now as I am running low. You can submit questions either by emailing me at or by going to boagworld/questions and submitting them as comments there. So Holly I expect you to go away and submit a question please. It’s your penance for being on the show. And it’s really good because you can create some really hard questions the upcoming guests.

So next week we’re going to be joined by Carson Pearce who is going to suffer the wrath of Holly’s questions. But until then thank you very much joining us Holly and thank you for joining us dear listener.