Dealing with difficult people, managers and quotes

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld show we are joined by Meghan Wilker to talk about difficult people, managers and quotes.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This weeks show is sponsored by Shopify and Freshbooks.

Paul: Hello and welcome to, the podcast for all those interested in user experience, digital strategy and digital management or whatever the hell we feel like talking about on any week. This week as well as Marcus who always joins us, we’ve got Meghan on the show. Hello Meghan!

Meghan: Hello.

Paul: How do we say your surname to make sure I got it right?

Meghan: Wilker.

Paul: I did get it right.

Marcus: As it spelt, Paul.

Paul: Well you know me. I live in a constant state of fear over such things because I’m so used to people mangling my surname that I just presume I’m doing it to other people. So thank you for joining us Meghan. It’s very good to have you on the show.

Meghan: Thanks to having me. I’m excited to be here.

Paul: And Marcus is here too.

Meghan: Hi Marcus.

Marcus: I don’t even get the usual intro. I didn’t get the hello Marcus – nothing, nothing at all today.

Paul: Nothing. I’ve not acknowledged you in any way shape or form. No, it’s always nice to have you on the show Marcus. You know I can survive without you. What is it you do again these days? I have trouble following it.

Marcus: Use miss me if I wasn’t there. I just bring a general ambience to proceedings.

Paul: A certain level of je ne sais quoi?

Marcus: Indeed. Style, panache, all those things.

Paul: Exactly. Is that star appeal that you’ve got. So Meghan, I am sorry if you have a listen to the show before, in which case all of this pointless preamble will be nothing if not annoying. So Meghan, you are yet another person recommended to me by the amazing Sam Barnes.

Meghan: Oh Sam, yes.

Paul: How do we ever survive without Sam bringing us all together? And so have we met before? This is the embarrassing moment where you say, yes we’ve had this long conversation once.

Meghan: You don’t remember that? We had this four hour dinner, nothing? Nothing is ringing a bell?

Paul: I don’t know at this point whether you are joking.

Meghan: I am joking. I don’t know if we’ve met either. I think we were both at the Digital PM summit in Philly the first year but I don’t know whether we actually spoke to each other.

Marcus: Meghan, you would remember meeting Paul.

Paul: You probably didn’t because I was really sick at that conference and I think the only time I left the hotel room was to go onto the stage so that was about it. So yes, we probably wouldn’t have spoken at that.

Marcus: Sounds like a good result few Meghan.

Paul: Arse.

Marcus: Who would want your germs and diseases?

Paul: This is very true. I’ve been reading up on Meghan to find out all about her, from the clockwork website. Because you work for an agency called Clockwork, correct?

Meghan: I do, yes. I do.

Paul: So what kind of work you do?

Meghan: My job at Clockwork is chief operating officer. I started my career as a project manager in the way that I like to describe what I do now is that Clockwork is now my project. Clockwork is a digital agency and were based in Minneapolis, Minnesota and we build web applications and mobile apps, websites, software, all kinds of stuff. Anything digital, we create it, we build it, we design it.

Paul: So what I am slightly confused about is if you are the chief operating officer and Nancy is the chief executive officer, basically that reads to me like you do everything and Nancy does nothing. Is that a fair assumption?

Meghan: Oh she would love that description.

Paul: So I’m pretty spot on? You’re not denying it I notice.

Meghan: Her job is to decide where we’re going and my job is to get as there. That’s how I would describe it.

Paul: So you are the one that does all the work then? I know that well because I was very much a, set the vision let the other people do the work.

Meghan: But here is the thing. You can’t really do what we do without having a person whose job that is. So all joking aside I do think it’s kind of easy to look in her role as being, what do they actually do? But without that person who setting the vision for the organisation, my job doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning. The chief operating officer job has almost no meaning without a chief executive officer. But it can be hard to describe what the person who setting the vision is actually doing.

Paul: I love the way you put that. I was reading through a little bit about your biography and you’ve got that nice thing that everybody always has at the top of their agency biographies which is, what it is you’re obsessed about and you say Bollywood and coffee and Doris Day. Now, you mention vampires in this list and this concerned me. Now my concern here is what type of vampires are we talking about? Because I’ve got quite strong opinions on this subject.

Meghan: You’re more of a werewolf person?

Paul: Well no, I’m a great fan of vampires but it depends whether you are talking Twilight type vampires? You are a Twilight fan aren’t you, I can tell. I am getting the vibe.

Meghan: You’re getting the vibe? It’s both. I did read Twilight and I wouldn’t call it great literature but I enjoyed them. I describe those books is like angel food cake. There is not a lot there but it’s a fine desert. I also enjoy proper vampires. A little bit of both. I am not only a Twilighter but I will admit it when I went to Seattle and Portland a couple of years ago, I did take a detour and I did go to Forks. There was almost none of the Twilight movies filmed actually in Forks. But one of the things they did was take the sign in front of Forks high school and superimposed it over different building in the movie. If you go to Forks you can see the sign for the high school. So I go to Forks and I arrive the week after some special Stephanie Meyer weekend so there are huge banners all over the main streets. Every store in the town, even the hardware store has a sign that says, Twilight souvenirs here. It’s crazy what these books have done to this town, is revived town. So go to this high school sign and I stand in front of it and I make my husband take picture of me while this group of high school kids are walking past and as they walk past, they yell out ‘Loser!’.

Paul: Good, good.

Meghan: I know. It was the best moment ever. They were right but I am not ashamed.

Paul: You sound just like my wife. She has the same attitude to things like that and equally likes a range of vampire stuff. She would have no shame.

Meghan: I have a lot of guilty pleasures and I feel almost no guilt about any of them. They just pleasures.

Marcus: Well that’s good. But I have no idea what you’re talking about. Either of you.

Paul: You’ve never watched the Twilight films?

Marcus: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Paul: You don’t even know what Twilight is?

Marcus: I know what twilight is but don’t know what a film Twilight is.

Paul: How have you avoided that?

Marcus: I could say rude things, like I am a grown-up. Things like that.

Paul: To be honest if it wasn’t the Catherine I don’t know whether I would know, to be fair. Basically Twilight was a series of books that were essentially teenage angst, teenager falls in love with dead person. The best description I’ve ever heard, because there is this love triangle between her and a guy who is a werewolf and a guy who was a vampire. The best discussion that I’ve heard is that a teenage girl is torn between necrophilia and bestiality. But the big problem with Twilight is the vampires in Twilight and nothing like proper vampires.

Marcus: Like real vampires Paul?

Paul: Like real vampires. For a start, when they go out in the sun they don’t burst into flames. Instead, they sparkle. Their skin sparkles like diamond.

Meghan: Yes, like glitter.

Paul: It’s terrible.

Meghan: It’s pretty bad.

Paul: Now if you were talking about something like True Blood then I would be more on your side. That I enjoyed. My all-time favourite vampire film was Interview with a Vampire. Have you seen that one?

Meghan: I have seen that one.

Paul: That’s a good film. I like that.

Marcus: It’s all silly.

Paul: You can talk! You read science fiction stuff all the time!

Marcus: Is not monsters and stuff in it.

Paul: There’s aliens and stuff, what’s the difference?

Marcus: Well they are like real aliens.

Paul: Oh right, that makes perfect sense now you say that. Anyway we didn’t bring Meghan on the show to talk about vampires.

Meghan: What?

Paul: Unfortunately you got work for a living as well so we going to ask you some questions but before we do that struck about our first sponsor, which is FreshBooks. We got a new sponsor joining us on the show – yay for FreshBooks!

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You know who else did that Marcus? Wiltshire Farm Foods did that as well did they?

Marcus: I don’t remember.

Paul: I’m sure Matt told me that basically when you joined Wiltshire Farm Foods, you had to spend some time in each of the different departments including the customer service department. But also picking frozen meals in –20 things like that. But yes, I was impressed with FreshBooks. Think I might do an experiment. Apparently if you call them, they reckon they will pick up on average within 1 ½ rings. So I thought I would put them to the test on the show and see if they do pick up.

Discussion with Meghan

Paul: Let’s talk about our questions. Meghan what we’re doing on this series of the show is that we are taking people’s management questions and were getting people to send in questions and we’ll talk about them together. I’ve got three questions that we will going to discuss. I’m not expecting you to have the magic answers for all of these but just two out of the three.

Meghan: So this is like a gameshow then?

Paul: Yes you get to mess up one, we might help you but it’s basically all on use so I’m hoping you’re feeling the pressure right now.

Meghan: No pressure. I’ve got this.

Paul: All right, good. The first question is from Andre who writes, ‘what is the best way of handling new team members that are extremely technically gifted the just awful to work with. You know, that special someone with OCD yet a lack of hygiene and most importantly highly critical, opinionated and an antagonistic view of the world?’

I think at some point we’ve all encountered somebody like that.

Marcus: Do you think Andre is a real name is he using a pseudonym there?

Paul: I think it’s a pseudonym that I don’t think is anywhere you’d want to confess. We’ve been in danger of this kind of area before Marcus haven’t me, with some of the people that we’ve hired.

Marcus: I feel I can’t comment.

Paul: Are saying you are that person?

Marcus: No I’m not that but I might say something I shouldn’t.

Paul: I’m in the office thing is, don’t hire them.

Meghan: There’s a couple of ways to look at this question but the first is, having somebody like this on your team seems to be an indication of a culture issue but I know plenty of company cultures that will put up with a lot of really awful interpersonal habits in exchange for having a person who is a super coder. I don’t feel as a great decision because I think having people like that can be really poisonous to the rest of the team. But when you are a project manager, you don’t have a lot of influence always over the company at that level, so a 100% understand where this question is coming from. I’ve been in situations where you are working with somebody who is extremely difficult to work with but it is not in your control to change that. I think that’s one of the challenges of being a project manager, is that you’re working with people and trying to motivate people and you’re not actually their boss said the lavish that you have in trying to influence their behaviour is really indirect because of that.

I’ll tell you my optimistic answer to this question is that I like to look at people on my team as being padlocks. Everybody has their own special code and if I can understand what will unlock each person then I can get everybody on the team working together well. So when I worked with people who seem really difficult to work with, I’ve try to figure out what it is I need to do to get this person motivated and is it that I need to give them more context, like some people want to know more of the why behind what they’re doing before they’ll actually do but asking them to do, some people don’t want any of the context and just want me to send them they need to do over IM never actually interact with them, that’s fine too. So if you are a project manager and there is no way around getting this person off of your team or out of the company, which is what really I think should be the outcome if somebody is truly antagonistic, highly critical and awful to work with, that’s a poisonous energy to have on your team and in your company so I would hope the ultimate outcome would be that this person does not fit here. But we don’t have that kind of influence than I think the best thing to do is to figure out how to work around this person or how you can get them more into the fold.

One of the first developers I ever worked with was very much like several of the things mentioned here. He was highly critical and very opinionated, he would argue with me about everything, I was a very new project manager and very new to working and interactive and digital as I had come from a marketing agency and so I was not very confident in my own abilities and so when he would push back on me he would really throw me off my game. There was one day and I don’t remember exactly what he said, but whatever he said I gave it back to him hard and he just said, okay. And in that moment I thought, he just wants to see if I can take it and if I can give it back to him and as soon as I could show that to him I gained his respect and we worked brilliantly from then on. He was one of the people that really taught me this idea of each person having a code and if I can figure out what it is then I can figure out how to work with them and how to get them to work with other people.

Paul: I don’t want to make generalisations here but amongst developers you tend to have a fairly high percentage of people that are on the Asperger’s spectrum. Because that what makes them good coders, that incredible focus and other things. Having a son that is on the Asperger’s spectrum has been very enlightening for me and sometimes, you were saying that when you went back really hard on that person and gave as good as you got, I think sometimes that can be watch you see in this antisocial behaviour. It’s not necessarily that they are antagonistic and are out to cause pain or hurt, it’s just that they have no social skills and they are incredibly blunt. As a result, if they are that kind of person, they don’t tend to pick up on the subtleties of how you go back to them because they don’t have those kinds of social skills. So often times people like that you just need to say, look you are being rude, shut up and do it a different way. They will almost take that from you because they understand that because it is sufficiently blatant for them to wrap their head around. I’ve had that happen in a number of occasions but it can be quite hard to do, and perhaps as a British thing as well because we very rarely say what we actually mean which maybe makes it even harder over here.

Meghan: Well we have the same problem in Minnesota. There was this idea in the state of Minnesota called Minnesota nice and basically what that means is just extreme passive aggression. So I think culturally there are some similarities there, I think your point is a really good one though which is that you don’t always understand what is underneath what you perceive as being antagonistic or someone being awful to work with and there are a lot of different ways to address it. One of the things that I think is really important is to not make assumptions about what that person is trying to do or even if they truly understand how their behaviour is being perceived. Had conversations with people that I work with work pulled them aside to say to you understand how it makes the rest of the team feel when you do this, and I realise they had no idea that that was how they were being perceived. Again I think it’s about trying to figure each person out and most people don’t want to just be jerks to other people, just because. There is something else underneath that. Maybe they are frustrated with the fact that they are not being listened to in their position? Plenty of developers and companies that I have worked for really get work thrown over the wall at them. That’s a really frustrating position to be in where you feel like you’re not at all empowered to actually provide any creative thinking on the projects, you’re just this order take. So again it’s just trying to dig down into what is making them behave this way and how can you help them navigate that differently if you can’t as a project manager. This may or may not be an optimistic view but I think that in most cases that is something that you can work around.

Paul: The other alternative here is to essentially isolate the person that actually sometimes that can make it worse if the motivation behind the way they are feeling is that they are the last person in a long chain of decisions in their feeling disempowered. Isolating them is then gonna make that even worse. It really is about getting to understand them and what lies underneath.

Marcus: I’ve found over the years of working with developers and designers to a certain extent that the majority really like to know this is what I’m working on today and this is what am working on tomorrow and next week so think if you can keep them in the loop of this is what is coming up and this is why we are doing this and that but perhaps keep it more overly formal when you would with someone who didn’t have these traits and give you very workmanlike, then that can work. Going back to what you are saying it depends why they are being the way they are because sometimes I think people can be antagonistic because they feel they are not being managed well so if you have a professional and very formal and make sure everything is being done just so, that can help.

Paul: Talking of that that brings us very much onto the second question which is from Matthew, which is almost potentially the flipside of what we just heard which is, ‘how to deal with a manager or Project manager who is afraid to go to the business and tell them that they need time the fixes or re-factoring because they see it in some ways is an admission that they’ve done a poor job upfront?’

So this is the flipside and if you are a designer or developer or whatever else, dealing with a project manager can be quite difficult because that project manager is reluctant to say to the client or the business what you feel needs to saying. So there is a, this is the other half of the same question really isn’t it?

Meghan, how’d you like a designer or developer to come to you if they have got problems in these kinds of areas?

Meghan: It’s interesting because the version of this question that I get more often, the twist on this is that they are asking for more time. Nobody on the project team ever feels like they have been given enough time, whether that’s in dollars or hours or days. It doesn’t matter the discipline. So the conversation that I have had with people in those disciplines who have come to me with that is, I can’t just here, ‘I need more time/it isn’t enough time’, I need to hear what it is that you actually need. If all you tell me is that this isn’t enough time, there is really nothing I can do with that. Nobody ever believes there was enough time for any project ever. I’ve never had a project team say wow, look at this budget and look at this timeline, this is going to be great! It’s always how we can to do this and then we figure out how we get it done. And so what I said is, what I need from you is to tell me, we need eight more hours because we need to do X deliverables or we need to more days to do this because then it’s something quantifiable that I can go back to the client or go to the leadership team and say, great we need to invest X number of hours or X of days and doing this thing and here is the business value of doing that thing. So I think often if somebody’s afraid to go to the business, whether it’s internally or to the clients, it’s because it’s hard to deliver a difficult message and it’s even harder to deliver a message this difficult and vague. Because then the client or the business, it’s hard for them to buy into that because they don’t understand why they’re doing that and they feel like they are being asked to write a blank check. So if I just here that we need some time for re-factoring I ask what we talking about, six weeks? Six months? Six hours? I need to understand more what we’re trying to do. So I would say if you’re trying to communicate with a manager or a project manager who is your go-between and who has to bring that message, it’s making it as quantifiable as possible and clearly articulating what the business value is of doing the fix of the re-factor. So we need to re-factor because page load times are going to increase by X, you are an e-commerce site and this will mean that you are able to process more orders et cetera. I think you have to structure your request in a way that makes it difficult to say no to. The more you can share that information up the chain, the better chance that you have of getting the yes you want.

Paul: To be devil’s advocate with that mind, using that example that you’ve just given and referring back to Matthew’s original question, I think if you turned round and said to a client, we need X amount more time to optimise the performance on your e-commerce site so that you have less dropouts. I guess the theory is that the client will turn around and say, why didn’t you know that to begin with? That seems to be the bit of Matthews question which is a tricky one as it’s that feeling that his manager doesn’t want to go back to the client because there is an admission that they got it wrong in some way out of the gate.

Meghan: That also has to be articulated in the request especially in the internal conversation. Sometimes that is the cause, that is the cause that we really didn’t do it well the first time we didn’t catch something in QA that we should have and we need to go back and re-factor. Well then that is a business request to be made that maybe doesn’t get the client. There are other times where the technology has changed, something has changed all we have new information.

We had a situation recently with the client where they didn’t understand their internal performance requirements until we were finished with our part of the projects. So when they came back to us it was a new requirement and of course they’re not happy to have us go back and re-code something but to be able to point to our requirements and say these were the performance requirements that we understood in May is now in July there are these new performance requirements so we have to do this we factoring. A lot of it is about providing that context. So why do we need to do fixes and not assuming that clients or even sometimes internal stakeholders always understand why we got to where we are, to make sure that is articulated. And if it is that yes we just messed up, then mistakes happen. People make mistakes and so figuring out how we going to deal with those mistakes is not just part of our business is part of any business. Whether that means that we have to eat that part of the project budget because we made a mistake, hopefully be working environment where a mistake is not fatal. It shouldn’t be but I know in some companies, admitting a mistake is difficult and can have consequences that people are trying to avoid. But we have to create work cultures where people feel safe to say, yes we made a mistake and this is what we going to do to fix it, because people make mistakes all the time.

Paul: Actually if there is an industry which is more gentle towards mistakes, it is digital. It’s easier if you make a mistake planning a building that is then being half built, changing that mistake is huge. But in a digital realm it’s relatively inexpensive to correct on a mistake that’s been made so there shouldn’t be such a dislike of mistakes within our sector, but it still seems to exist in some spaces. It’s weird.

Meghan: People hate mistakes in general. People hate delivering hard messages in general. The core of what Matthew is asking is how to deal with someone who is afraid to deliver a hard message? Well that is literally every person on the planet. No one relishes having to deliver a hard message and so it also requires a discipline of delivering good news and bad news at the same velocity. We are all happy to share good news when it happens and we have to share the bad news is quickly because the longer bad news sits, the harder it is to deliver and say you have to just get it over with, whip that Band-Aid off and just do it as quickly as you possibly can because it gets worse the longer you wait.

Paul: Do you think there is a value in Matthew saying, should I engage with the client, should I explain it to them? Do you feel that undermines the manager that sits in between?

Meghan: Well speaking for myself I have always been grateful to people on my team who say, can I help you explain this to a client? Especially if their reason for it is deep in their area of expertise and not in mine. Service a QA issue or a front-end development issue, I would love it if a developer comes to me and says, here’s the issue and would you like me to get on the phone with the client and help explain what this is and what I think we should do about it? I don’t know that every project manager or culture is like that, I certainly have been in some companies where they are very nervous about who talks to the client and who doesn’t. I’m a big fan of getting the people who do the work is close to the client as possible. I don’t see a downside to that and so it’s at least worth offering to the project or product manager, would you like me to help explain this with you? Then we have each other’s backs in this difficult conversation and I’m not just sending you out to do this on your own and to take the abuse if people aren’t happy to hear this. I don’t want them to kill the messenger so I will go with you.

Paul: I often think that designers and developers don’t fully appreciate the challenges of going back to a client. I remember times where it’s made me feel physically sick, having to go back to a client and tell them something terrible. It’s as you say, hard to share bad news. I think a bit of empathy goes a long way if you are a designer or developer in that situation.

Meghan: I think remembering as a project manager, you are in this position where you are making promises to clients that other people are responsible for delivering on. If you don’t have this super high level of trust in the people that you are working with, I have also had moments where I have felt physically ill even telling a client, oh yes we going to have that done by Friday because the environment I was working in, I had no idea if this team is going to get it done by Friday but that’s the deadline and the client needs to hear something. That is just the best position to be in as a project manager and so I think going back to the empathy thing, remembering if you’re not a project manager but if you’re working with them and you are feeling like they are reluctant to deliver messages sometimes, remembering that they are delivering messages on your behalf and that’s a very difficult position to be in because they are trusting that you are going to keep your word and they are the ones that have to say if you didn’t and they are the ones who will have to take the brunt of the anger of the disappointment from the clients if the rest of the team doesn’t deliver.

Paul: All the responsibility of another power.

Meghan: Exactly. Why do we do this job again?

Paul: I don’t know why. I’ve carefully avoided it, as have you Marcus quite successfully generally.

Marcus: Well, delivering the bad news usually ends up on my lap.

Paul: Yes, that’s true.

Marcus: I’ve had quite a few examples of that over the years. And to a certain extent that’s fair enough as I have always said it’s the direct responsibility to bring business in but I think delivering bad news is potentially another one. This has never happened to us but just add another dimension to this is that if missing a deadline or making a mistake of some sort means that you are going to be penalised or fined in some way, because I know for certain contracts, that happens, it becomes even more difficult. I can’t really add any more than Meghan said, but make sure that everybody who has a part in the reason why these things need to take longer or whatever, is involved in that. Expecting some dishy just to go, okay I’ll go and tell them without any explanation or any mission to back it up, then that’s a really, really hard place to put it in.

Meghan: I think as a project manager you do have some power in creating the microclimate in the project team you’re working on. So trying to create a climate where people can share issues as early as possible, going to your example of if we have a contract where time is of the essence and we have to deliver on certain dates, well I would want to know as soon as a designer or anyone on the team feels like things are getting off track, I want to know that as early as possible so we are managing against that three weeks ahead of time is the finding out on the day of the deadline that they didn’t get their stuff done. But if you work in a company where people feel like they cannot admit a mistake than they are more likely when they start to see things going off track, to cover that up until it gets to a point where there was nothing you can do about it because now is the deadline are not done. I think as a project manager if you are in an overall company culture like that, trying to create in microclimate where people feel safe to say the minute they start to feel even a yellow flag on something, then they bring that to you and you figure out together how you are going to manage around that, helps to reduce the number of difficult conversations you have to have.

Paul: Is not even always the person trying to cover their own back, it sometimes them trying to be helpful as well because I’ve been in situations before where I’ve thought am I going to make this deadline or not and then I’ll say I’ll work some evenings. So I work evenings and that I myself out and then think it’s looking worse and then say I’ll work this weekend to try and get it done. So it’s almost out of a desire to please that you don’t communicate what’s going on and yes, it can make things worse. Always tell your project manager.

Let’s move on to the final question which is a question from Nick which I think will be interesting for everybody to contribute to. ‘I would be interested in people’s approaches to handling a website quote request. In theory I know that no work should be completed without a quote but you can’t quote until you have been through lengthy meetings with the client. Until you’ve done that analysis is hard to know the size of the site you are approaching and I feel that quoting before this point is pure guesswork’. So I guess the heart of the question here is, should we be charging for the research that we need to do to quote accurately for projects?

Meghan: Yes.

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: Oh well that was easy then.

Meghan: I’ll tell you how we started approaching this challenge at Clockwork a few years ago. We started estimating all of our projects into phases and so it’s exactly what you just described. We provided clients upfront with an estimate in research and planning and we also provide in the initial quote an estimate for the production and deployment and we make it clear to the client that our research and planning quote is a flat rate that we will charge them for all of the activities that we need to do to truly scope this project and that there were several deliverables during research and planning strategy and UX that require business and technical requirements and documentation. The conclusion of that phase is a more accurate estimate for the production deployment phase. Really we try to educate clients around why we can’t give them all of that information accurately upfront because we don’t know and they don’t know. They think they are coming in, knowing exactly what it is that they need and in many cases they don’t add me to help discover and find that together. And the has worked out really very well for us. One of the ways that we have framed research and planning with clients is that if at the end of that research and planning phase they want to get other estimates for production and deployment, they are welcome to do that. They can take out documentation which are things that can be easily read by other partners and they want to explore other estimates to they can do that. I think that helps to not feel locked in to something that they are not sure that they want to be locked into yet. So for the end of research and planning you feel like we’re not the right partner or you feel like our estimate was too expensive and you want to see what other agencies might charge you then they are welcome to take documentation and shop around a little bit and see what other agencies will charge you to build the same technical spec.

Paul: And that is exactly what we have said on previous shows about the way that Headscape works.

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: So you might say, why have I bothered including this is a question at all but the more I think about it the more I think it’s all very easy to say but there are quite a few situations where that’s quite hard to do. For example, if a client comes to you with a competitive tender, how do you respond in those kinds of situations? Marcus, I’m interested in your thoughts is not always black and white. I totally agree Meghan, don’t get me wrong as that’s exactly how I work but it can be quite a hard sell sometimes.

Marcus: I think on some projects it depends on the project. Some projects I get a great brief and it’s maybe just a design project, maybe just some front-end coding this very clear about what we delivering based on what’s in the brief and unhappy at that point to provide a fixed price quote. Obviously if as part of any research and discovery work that you do, that something new comes out of the blue think that most clients would be willing to say, that’s an extra thing we need to add that on in some cases I’m quite happy to provide extra price quotes for the entire project, whatever it is. More technically involved projects then I will normally nine times out of 10 say that it’s in everyone’s interest and you Mr Client, that we do a research and discovery and really understand what it is that we are going to be building otherwise we can’t give you a proper quote at this point. But yes you’ve got a point, sometimes you have to make a call and say, there is budget X to do all of this, that’s what’s in the brief that comes through that you’ve got to decide whether you are willing to go within that. You might actually think that looking at what’s being asked here, that’s actually a really generous budget probably. In that case you would probably go for it. If you’re thinking no way, then those that once you walk away or try to have a conversation with them and say, can we do it this way? See got to view it on one opportunity to the next.

Meghan: I think that that middle ground that you are talking about where it’s not an obvious no, but is not an obvious yes, where a client comes in and says he is what I have, due to take this project? I think those can work when you have conversations upfront with the client where you say yes, we can agree to do it for this fixed bit that means we going to have conversations along the way about what the scope of your project might be. So you might not get everything on your wish list, let’s prioritise what we think that you can get for this. So I think where we get into trouble is, we let clients think about what we build and produce as being widgets like. For X dollars you can have Y object. And it really has to have more of a negotiation and a conversation with the client. If they don’t come into the project willing to engage in this conversations, that’s when we know it’s not going to be a good fit.

Paul: That’s where things like procurement processes and formal competitive tenders, where you can only communicate via email all of that is just shows the absurdity of that kind of approach really doesn’t it? Because you can’t have those kinds of conversations with people.

Marcus: Meghan is that the thing for you? Because I think this is something that we have more red tape to deal with then you do. I might be wrong as this is why I am asking the question. We get an awful lot of invitations to tender come through where you are not allowed to speak to anyone. It’s crazy and we now have a rule here that we therefore don’t follow up if we can’t speak to anyone. I’m just interested to see, particularly if you have public-sector stuff like a council or organisations, it will be this very closed human process where you have to follow these very specific rules. It’s just a pain to do it. Is it similar for you?

Meghan: We get some of that but not a lot. We share a similar view which is that those are not going to be good fits for us. Because if we can’t talk to somebody about the work before it’s sold, who was responsible for it once it is sold? I find that in organisations like that then finding somebody who actually feels responsible for the project is very difficult and everything is done very anonymously but also by a number of people and committees, that they get very hard to deal with once you get into the project and you’re trying to have those conversations with the client about what should we do next. You have to go through all this whole change management process and fill out these free documents and you’re thinking no we just need to talk about this new browser, why can’t we have a conversation about the new browser? Those tend to not be good fits for us and we done a lot of work over the last year in better defining what makes the best client for us. It’s things like we want people who look at technology as an investment and not an expense. They are not necessarily shopping for the lowest price, they are looking at how am I investing in technology for the long-term business strategy and goals I have? And they are not shopping only on price. One of the items on our ideal client list is people who are willing to hear the truth and engage in difficult conversations because the relationships that don’t work well are the ones where clients just don’t want to hear or who are not willing to have the conversation and they are always, always difficult conversations when you are dealing with technology. Every project has at least one difficult conversation that has to be had and we have to have clients that are willing to have those conversations and problem solve with us.

Paul: It’s fascinating as I think a lot of large organisations, procurement processes are one of the biggest barriers that they faced a digital transformation and to creating better user experiences because they become so problematic in actually engaging with professionals well. As a result, they don’t get quality organisations like Clockwork or Headscape or whoever else, they end up working with these large IT companies that have got the mechanism to churn through these kind of procurement processes. You’re never going to get good value for money in situations like that, so it’s a very frustrating situation.

On that cheerful note, will wrap up the questions and I’ll quickly talk about our second sponsor, Shopify who I am sure are over the moon to be following such a cheerful point in the show.

Shopify are an amazing platform for creating multichannel e-commerce solutions in all kinds of different situations. The got over 275,000 merchants using them for everything from point of sale to e-commerce websites and everything in between. Was quite interesting about them is that traditionally Shopify is known for doing e-commerce solutions the small to medium businesses but that isn’t all that they do. They’ve also got an impressive enterprise level software which I didn’t know about called Shopify Plus. Shopify Plus is a cloud-based, fully hosted e-commerce platform but designed for high-volume merchants. So this is a much bigger operation, so it’s got enterprise grade selling capabilities but without the hassle and hefty pricetag of those traditional enterprise applications. It’s enterprise software reinvented really.

So businesses on Shopify Plus receive unlimited bandwidth get a dedicated account success manager. I have to say Shopify, that sounds a little pretentious. Having a dedicated account manager, fine. Having a dedicated account success manager… I shouldn’t probably criticise my sponsors. But that’s great, having a dedicated account manager is really useful, 24/7 support and all those kinds of things you would expect from an enterprise level solution. They are trusted by massive big brands, people like Budweiser and Tesla, Smashing Magazine, very cool but I’m not sure they are quite the same size. I didn’t know there are hosted on Shopify Plus, that’s interesting. They’ve also alongside that got the Shopify Plus partner program which is an opportunity for web professionals, designers, developers and agencies who work on these high-volume client sites to get the support that they need from the Shopify Plus partner program that the offer. Is a great opportunity for those who get a lot of enterprise level e-commerce projects, to start working with Shopify and to understand the incentive program that they offer and all this kind of stuff.

So if you are working on those larger projects than I would encourage you to check out their Shopify plus which you can find out at

Okay, now Meghan I am sorry to say we have the stupid tradition of having a joke at the end of the show. We have tried multiple times to get rid of this joke but it causes riots, I tell you. People get very opinionated we try and drop the joke. But Marcus is not the best teller in the world, it has to be said.

Marcus: That’s part of the charm I think.

Paul: You think that what does it the people?

Marcus: This one is from Jason and it’s quite short which is always a good thing.

I see a turtle walking down the street. I say to him who is that on your back? And he says, that’s Michelle.

Paul: Oh that’s terrible.

Marcus: That’s a proper reaction Meghan, well done.

Paul: My problem is that because I see all of these in our Slack channel, I’ve seen them all before you say them and so it makes it very hard to sincerely laugh at them.

Meghan: That was a sincere laugh. That was the first have heard that joke and it was delightful and I’m going to remember it.

Paul: Marcus, you were delightful. I don’t think you have been called delightful before?

Marcus: Never in my life.

Paul: So Meghan, thank you for coming on the show. Where can people find out more about you and what you’re up to?

Meghan: You can find that at

Paul: Thank you very much and that would be great. Make, he transcribes the show will be very grateful that you spelt that out for her. Thank you very much in just a reminder that we are always looking for new questions. You can send them to where you can comment on that URL you can just email me at Join us next week when we will be talking more about digital management issues. Thanks for listening and goodbye.