This week on the Boagworld show we talk annoying clients and irritating PMs. Plus, of course, a whole lot more!
Paul: This week on the Boagworld show we talk annoying clients and irritating PM’ s. Plus, of course a whole lot more. This week’s show is sponsored by videoblocks and currencyfair. Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show, the pod casts about all aspects of digital design development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag, Marcus Lillington, Drew McLellan, Dan Edwards and Sam Barnes. Hello all!
Paul: did I do better this time Marcus, did I pronounce your surname?
Marcus: Take to was much better, I should say take 17 much better.
Paul: he made me rerecord the show so he gets his name right, he’s that vain.
Sam: we were 45 minutes in as well (laughter)
Paul: I can tell this week is going to be one of those shows. You should have heard the abuse I got before we even started. So, hopefully things now calm down. Everybody knows their place. I’m in charge people! Right, just for those of you who don’t remember or who haven’t listened to last week’s show, we are doing a round the table discussion this season. Which is something a bit different. There are five of us in the room, lots of conversation to get through and each person is kind of representing a different area. So we’ve got Sam Barnes who is talking about project manager stuff. Hello Sam.
Paul: We’ve got Dan Edwards, who is talking about design and creative stuff. Hello Dan
Dan: Hello Paul.
Paul: We’ve got Drew McLellan, who is talking about developer stuff, hello Drew.
Drew: Hello Paul.
Paul: which is quite interesting drew because last week we had Rachel on the show who is your other half, who was talking about developer stuff. But from what I can gather you are the one who actually does all the development aren’t you really?
Drew: Well we both do development, I guess I do most of the development on our product perch but she does masses of CSS development and things in general. And also for the product as well.
Paul: You’re really nice, you had an opportunity there to say that you did all the work.
Drew: Do you think I would live if I said I did all the work.
Paul: Yeah, but is she likely to listen to this showed you reckon?
Drew: She might, she might.
Paul: Oh, it’s not worth the gamble. See this is the problem I’ve got now Drew, because my wife now transcribes this show. So I have to be very careful what I say because I know she’ll definitely listen to it.
Drew: she’s listening closely.
Paul: She is. At 75% speed, it was so funny. I was listening to it back and it sounds like we’ve all had strokes.
Dan: That is what you sound like on a Saturday night 9 PM isn’t it Paul?!
Paul: Yeah, something like that. So she’s used to listening to me like that probably.
Marcus: Well Lee, who is on the show next week instead of me because I’m off at a client meeting, he listens to everything. He listens to audiobooks, he listens to everything at double speed and is got to the point now where normal speeds talk like this sounds wrong to him. Quite an interesting point.
Paul: I know, I know. It is bizarre because he expects us to constantly sound like chipmunks basically which is very off-putting. Anyway Marcus you’re going to be talking about sales and client relationships stuff may be?
Paul: And if we get as far as me then I’ll be talking about user experience strategy type stuff. As you can see it gets a bit vague when you get to Marcus and me. We don’t really know what we do. So there you go. So we quickly going to go round the table because I thought would do a nice little thing… Last week we introduced everybody, we won’t do that again. This week will go round the table and you can say what you’ve been doing for the last week. So Sam, this is going to be quite complicated for you because you’ve been on holiday for the last week.
Sam: Well yeah…
Paul: So you’re not going to be able to… Have you been working on any projects or doing anything?
Sam: Mostly it’s about managing the teams at the moment, we’re going through a big transition at Marks & Spencer right now. So it’s really about steadying the ship there. I’m pretty sure most people would rather hear about the iPad and the hotel story anyway.
Paul: Go on then, I knew you’d have to get that in.
Sam: It’s too good. So I’m staying in a hotel, there’s a complimentary iPad there and of course you pick up the iPad and you start to muck around, suddenly you think any photos in there? Let’s just say I found myself some interesting rather filthy pictures from previous guests in the room which was not expected at all. So rather than embarrass them publicly we simply, me and my best friend we simply opened photo booth, created some rather distorted pictures of our faces and left it on the lock screen in this rather prestigious hotel. I only wish I could see what the lion was on their faces when they first see that. Probably not on brand for the hotel but we giggled.
Paul: People, people really haven’t grasped the consequences of consumer electronics!
Sam: That’s the important stuff I’ve been doing
Paul: Dan what about you, have you been doing any work. Have any of us actually done any work this week?
Dan: I’ve done some work, yeah. At the moment my business partner Ryan is on paternity leave as he’s just had his third child.
Paul: Well that’s excessive isn’t it three?!
Dan: It’s three more than I would probably have (laughter) but because he’s been off and Michelle who is also our project manager, his wife, is obviously also off it means that between myself and Matt we’ve been pretty busy with stuff. Matt’s been particularly busy handling a lot of development and I’ve been doing a lot of the business stuff as well as trying to do some design stuff in between that as well. Yeah, tomorrow running my first workshop, client workshop. I’ve been involved in workshops before but have never been the one to run it.
Paul: So how are you feeling about that? Feeling all right about it are you?
Dan: Yeah, I am because the clients have bought into the idea that they do need it and it’s one of those things that we are always trying to sell to clients before we start the project. This one’s gone “yeah alright” and we are like “oh, okay. We’ll have to do that now!” (laughter) so, it’s good, obviously I’ve got a lot of Post-it notes and pens, all the essentials!
Paul: That’s all you need. You don’t need anything planned as long as you’ve got a lot of Post-it notes. It’s fine from there.
Dan: Exactly, yeah.
Paul: Drew what about you. What have you been working on in the past week?
Paul: This is so encouraging, I’m really encouraged. There’s Drew going I haven’t done HTML for 10 years, there’s Dan going I don’t know how to run a workshop and Sam just posting weird photographs on people’s iPads. None of us have got a clue what we’re doing! It’s really quite concerning! Marcus, please tell us you’ve been a professional this week
Marcus: I am a professional every minute of everyday! As you well know Paul.
Paul: You’ve had a bit of a nightmare week. Were getting onto that a bit later aren’t we? Your nightmare week?
Marcus: I’ve had some very good stuff as well as some not so good stuff. I’ve been putting together contracts for three new pieces of work, one of which I am very excited about, another American client so that’s great. We’ve got a couple of projects ongoing that I keep dipping in and out of meetings and working stuff out on that front. But most importantly I’ve been trying to work out where we’re going on our Christmas do. This
Paul: Oh, important stuff, yeah. I care about this am I getting an invite?
Marcus: Of course you’re getting an invite Paul. Yeah.
Paul: Good. So where are we going? Please don’t tell me were going to the same steakhouse that we always go to?
Marcus: I don’t know yet, I can’t decide. That’s why… It’s a dilemma. I asked people where they want to go and it’s in between doing some sort of assault course in the mud in the woods.
Paul: I won’t be able to make that date.
Sam: Not very Christmassy!
Marcus: Yeah, it’s not going to happen, don’t worry. So I get that or “can’t we just go and have a steak again”. And it’s like okay… We’ll work it out. More importantly, from a having to think point of view I’ve got to do a speech at my daughter’s wedding in a few weeks.
Paul: Yes of course.
Marcus: so I’ve been thinking about that. Just little things… As I write in my little notebook as I go through there are two things that stay at the bottom of every page one is speech and the other is Christmas.
Paul: Yeah, they go. Well my weeks been really boring I’ve just been doing the editing on the next book. So, that’s been sitting staring at words and getting frustrated and angry basically. That’s been my week. So we’ll move on from that. We’ll talk quickly about our first sponsor which is Videoblocks. Video blocks, as I said last week, is an affordable stock media site that gives you access to unlimited premium stock footage. You should be doing more and more video content on your website these days. It’s really becoming expected and of course the challenge with that is always finding good material to put on there. So, it’s got the same kind of content that you would find on some of those more expensive stock sites out there but it’s cheaper which is good. They’ve got a whole variety of stuff from time-lapse to aerial, different international locations, slow motion, nature shots, you name it they’ve got all kinds of stuff that you can add in to videos to give them a little bit what you would call the B role footage I think is the correct term. It shows that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
Marcus: Bread roll?
Paul: No, that’s a terrible joke. That’s it you’ve used up your bad joke usage for the show. So I’m now expecting a quality from you at the end. So there continually adding new content to keep the library fresh which is great. So essentially it is a subscription model, you can get a year’s access to basically download as much as you want and you can get it at a really good price because they’ve done us a really good deal on the show. So for $99 you can get as much video footage as you want for a year which is a $50 discount from the usual price tag just for us. So that’s less than $10 per month for unlimited video footage, which I think is pretty good. You can get the deal by going to videoblocks.com/Boagworld.
Round Table Discussion
Paul: Right, let’s get into our topics for the day. So the idea is that each person brings along a topic that we are going to discuss. It is going to be fairly fast and furious. Were going to kick off, if it’s all right, with you Sam. You’ve got quite a nice follow-up to last week. So last week you were asking the question “do we want to have project managers” to which we did answer yes. But that was only because you were on the show!
Sam: Thanks very much!. Will that was on the context of the continuous learning environment. Is it a role you need any more, but yeah, given that everyone did say yes, what I want to talk about, one of my missions for the last eight years now is to really try and change the perception and reputation of digital project management and their project managers amongst production teams. I do think that compared to 8 years ago that things have significantly changed but I do still often find that there is a them and us divide being a thing when you talk about it to people, typically in agencies and not in a scrum type environment. Someone representing digital project management on this pod cast of mostly ex production people who I think I’ve now got the added advantage of having to run the project themselves or have done it recently I thought it would be interesting to hear from all of you about when you were on those production teams that had project managers, what did those PM’s do that really annoyed you as a production person? A bit of a can of worms. On the upside what can project managers do to work better with their production team. Just to get started a couple of points from me, when I was a front end developer one thing that used to really really annoy me, and I still do see it happening now, is when PM’s or business, instead of saying that they don’t know about something they will try and style it out. The don’t realise at that point they completely lose the respect of those production teams. I just wish that these non production folk would realise it’s okay to not know things. And that’s why you have a team of people, that used to annoy me. Another thing that really used to get to me was when working on a project PM or an account manager or something like that would be making decisions all the time or judgements about my work when they literally had no clue what it was that I did and the challenges that came with it. All they knew was that it wasn’t going as quick as they wanted and nothing else. And it wasn’t that I expected them to know all that I do, but it bothered me then and I still see it today and there is this lack of willingness to try and understand what the challenges are and what my job is. I think one way that PM’s could possibly work better is, and I say this to myself, is when you just show willingness to try and understand the design and technology, just to a foundation level. Obviously if you can increase your understanding it will make you much more effective PM on the project. I’ve often found that even if the PM can’t grasp the basics it’s not something that they can get, that the effort they show and the willingness actually gets the respect points from that production team. Sometimes that alone can be that magic that gets the team to be high performing and also allows the PM to bring the production team into their world which is flipping it on its head. I just wonder what people remember or see even now from p.m. is that they kind of wish they would stop or any suggestions to make them work relationship a bit better.
Paul: I’ve got one that used to drive me nuts when I was a hands on designer, was that… So the design would get shown to the client and the client would provide some feedback to the project manager and that feedback was treated as gospel. So the client might say something like “well I don’t really like the colour”, for example. So the instruction I would get would be to change the colour. Well that’s not actually what they said. They said that they didn’t really like the colour, and there was no conversation and interaction. I think the solution to it is simple, which is sometimes I think the project manager becomes the barrier between you and the client as the designer and I would prefer to talk directly to the client and have that conversation. Dan you must have come across similar problems being a designer.
Dan: Yeah, I was going to pretty much echo what you said Paul but just say, you know, it happens less now that I am the director of our own agency because we don’t tend to work with other project managers as much as when I was freelance. Definitely those problems that you mentioned were the ones that I would have faced as a designer. I think the main thing is that it was like this middle battleground that you would have very little input or discussion with the clients. I think that that is when it becomes harmful to the project is when you do have to deal with this middle person that like Sam said doesn’t have an understanding of what you are doing or what the tech is or anything like that. But also, like you said, they take things as gospel. One way that I have found as a freelancer to get rid of that problem was essentially write into my contract that anybody who was making decisions would have to be involved in meetings. For example,… I’d have to be there as well right! So for example, say the end client was making a decision, it wouldn’t just be then it could be anybody else making the decision and also the project manager and myself and anybody else on the team. We would open up the discussion and try and break down the option of that happening because it does happen sometimes they say “ we had to have a meeting because the client needed us to have a quick meeting and these are the meeting notes and this is what you’ve got to implement”.
Paul: Would that stop the kind of “swoop and poop” manager? The guy who says “I’m not going to get involved in this I’ve delegating it to someone else”. So your client ends up being someone else within the organisation then halfway through the project they decide they want to interfere because they don’t like what their subordinate has been doing.
Dan: Absolutely, it’s definitely killer two birds with one stone. That was it for me, it was actually more trying to solve that problem but inevitably what happened was that the project manager still sat in on those even though he wasn’t the decision-maker. But he got a better idea of what the project was, what the client actually wanted. They may have written the brief or they may have been given the brief but then, like you say, the CEO might come along and throw in a random comment at some point and for the project manager it’s very hard for them to fight back against the CEO especially if it’s their boss. Whilst if it’s me that is able to go “here is why we did that” and backup the PM it is giving confidence to the project manager and they came say “we didn’t decide that and the reasons were this” I can sit there and back that up as well. Again it is just about breaking down those barriers I think. It is something that everybody is trying to do, become less siloed, I think that if you state it from the very beginning that that is the way you work and they respect your process and they are hiring you for your expertise, that process that you’re going to bring to the table, you are going to be in a much stronger place.
Paul: I mean for you Sam, as a project manager you must feel like you are stuck, piggy in the middle, between a client’s and yourself all the time.
Sam: I think when I moved from development to project management I think it was lack of experience really. As Dan said, I’d be in front of a client in the early days the client would make these demands and I wouldn’t be equipped enough to challenge it. But once you make that mistake a few times I’d like to think that a lot of people would learn the hard way, as most of us do. That’s when you realise that there is a gap in your knowledge and you either… If you’re going to go to these meetings alone you’ve got to either be armed with enough knowledge to challenge decisions and ask why or, harking back to the first point, have the courage to say I don’t know but I’ll get back to you. Then it buys you time you might be able to take some other people along to the meetings whatever it might be but what’s more core than that, rather than the action, is the understanding as a project manager that this is what your team expect of you. You are not in charge of the team, I think that’s a big mistake, you’re not there just to please the clients at the team’s expense which is what I think a lot of people do, rather than put the effort into learning because it’s easier to please someone with saying what they want to hear. So it does… I think it puts you in the middle, I think there are times as the PM when you really are stuck in the middle but when I think the mistake is when you do not bring the team into that dilemma that you are facing. If you bring them in expose your world to them a little bit and offer the same the other way it tends to end nicely and teams and clients tend to respect you a bit more.
Paul: True, back in the day before Perch? Was it Yahoo you used to work at?
Drew: I did used to work at Yahoo, yeah.
Paul: So how did you work in a big organisation like that because there is no end clients but there was still project management I presume?
Drew: Yeah, there were end clients and those end clients were higher up managers. So it was basically the managers all the way to the top and at the end there were a few of us trying to do some work.
Paul: I can tell you really enjoyed that experience.
Drew: Yeah, well I’m not there anymore. And this was about 10 years ago now so… It may not be like that anymore but judging by their output maybe it is. I have a lot of sympathy for project managers working on technical projects because as a developer often if somebody comes with a problem and says “here’s our problem, we need to be able to do this and how long is it going to take to do that” as a developer I don’t actually know the answer to that all the time. And I won’t know the answer until I’m reasonably deep into figuring out the solution. So for a project manager to be in that position between the clients, the client asks for something and they go to their developers and say “okay, what we need to allow for the budget, what do we need to allow in terms of timescales” your developers say “well… We don’t know yet” I don’t know how they… well I wouldn’t be a technical project manager because it just sounds like a… You’re not going to be happy are you! I’m 20 years into building websites and I still face this quandary daily of not being able to tell how long something is going to take until I start working on it. And it is so fundamental, isn’t it to project management, to be able to understand how many people you’re going to need and how long they are going to need to work on a particular feature in order to get it delivered. That is crucial to everything because it involves timescales the budget…
Paul: You make it up don’t you? That’s what most people do!
Drew: Well I mean, just near where we live here in Bristol there is an Ironbridge, footbridge that they saw a bit of rust and they decided they needed to refurbish it so they raised some money and they closed it down last winter and it was supposed to be ready in July. And of course it still covered up, they’re still working on it.’s full crew, every single day because every time they stripped back more paint and stripped back more rust they find more problems that they weren’t aware of when they originally looked at the structure. You think, well, it’s not just web development (laughter). There are these types of problems which are, I think, fundamentally difficult to project manage and I think possibly the only way to deal with it is to yeah, make it up! And come up with the high estimation and hope that you come in way under it.
Sam: I think that one of the skills of project management and account management is actually within those dilemmas. Successfully explaining to a client who is going to hear news that they don’t want to hear in a way that doesn’t annoy them and mean that you can progress the relationship or project, it’s those little micro conversations that can actually be as valuable as a big estimate.
Paul: Talking of annoying people, Marcus you’ve had quite a tough week haven’t you with annoying clients?
Marcus: Yeah, I’ve had a bit of an experience. This has happened before and I admit that I am using this section of the pod cast to have a moan.
Paul: So this is basically just a rant? Go for it!
Marcus: I think I used the words “and maybe we could all discuss how we could fix this in the future” well, we can’t but maybe that’s human nature.
Paul: I’ve got a feeling this isn’t going to be so much of a discussion. You’re going to have your rant, we’re all going to agree with you and then we’re going to move on.
Marcus: May be it would be interesting if other people had similar experiences but basically we received a brief a few months ago from a potential client in a sector that we work in with a sensible budget et cetera all good stuff. Obviously it was a competitive tender but we were like, this is a good one for us we can pull out all the stops and do a great proposal and a great pitch and all this kind of thing. Which we did. Was very pleased with the proposal, went along with colleague to the pitch we all got on great, it was all happy, happy. Then a week later I got a two line email, “sorry to say we’ve given the job to another supplier thank you very much.” Ends of email. At which point I responded saying “fair enough, can’t win them all” it would be great if you could give us some feedback as to where we didn’t quite come up… Make the mark as it were. I would really appreciate an honest appraisal of our proposal and our pitch. I phoned up probably three times and they were always in a meeting. I sent a very detailed email and that was about a week ago and nothing at all. And I just think that’s a bit rude! Frankly! I just… I can’t get to the bottom of why you would involve people and then not even be bothered to say why you weren’t selected. So yeah it is a moan and I don’t expect anyone have any particular reason as to why people would do this… Not necessarily if they’ve got similar experiences, it’s just, like, boom they are gone and we put in probably a week’s worth of effort for nothing. So, yeah, I expect you’ve had a similar experience Dan.
Dan: Yeah, well. I feel for you big time because we’ve had several opportunities over the last couple of years or so to pitch for exciting projects that we are going to be a good fit for you. And probably 70 or 80% of the time if we don’t get them, out of the ones we get 70 to 80% of the time they do come back and tell us the reason was. And that’s fine, we can respect that. We have had situations like this where they’ve not come back to us and it doesn’t matter how much you kind of… You need to let it go. I don’t really understand why, I think it’s possibly the reason is is they probably know that the reason isn’t an appropriate one?!
Marcus: Yeah, you were just making up the numbers in the first place or something like that.
Dan: Absolutely, they’ve made some sort of mistake and they’ve had to kind of go “oh, we’ve…” And they feel bad, they’ll see the decent thing is, as a nice human being, is to respond to those things. We actually had an interesting one where we didn’t get the project and we went through a pitching process, ours was remote and they were based in America so we didn’t… There wasn’t a lot of travelling and going to see the company and that kind of stuff but we still put in a fair amount of effort. Essentially they came back and said “we no longer have a budget for this and blah blah blah” and fine that’s okay, you don’t have the budget were not going to twist your arm to make you work with us. A year later they got back to us and said “oh hi, we still haven’t completed this project. The people that we hired…” We found out that it was just a freelancer that they had hired and I’m assuming because they didn’t have the budget didn’t hire an agency. “So, over a year down the line and we’ve got 80% of the work done but we need somebody to finish it” and we are like “right, okay where are you at” we spoke to them we found out where they were at and actually it turns out they were realistically only 30% but in their heads a lot of the work was done and all the decisions were made and everything. Obviously for us it is very hard for us to go “we accept all that the decisions that you have made, will just build this thing and finish that bit of design work”. Well we weren’t able to do that so we went back and said “Right, we think you need to rethink this” and they said “can you send us a proposal, can you do this”. So we rewrote the proposal for them based on what they had utilising that going through all of this again, only for them to come back again saying “okay thank you for this we will review it” a week later, nothing, try and chase up, nothing, another week later, nothing, another week later. It wasn’t until I think it was five weeks later we managed to get hold of them and they just said “oh yes sorry, unfortunately you are more than we want to spend”. So, it’s not the same, they have got back to us I know, but it’s like, you know when you think, I should have learned the first time when it happened. But they saw what our quote was before and it’s a year down the line and what we are bringing to the table they should know what to expect from us from our proposal. And the fact that they have obviously delayed us and delayed the response, delayed the response, only to come back as “oh sorry you’re actually too expensive” is just a complete disrespect to the fact that we had already been through this. They had not got the result they wanted by paying less and now they have to do it all over again. And I assume they’re going to have to do it all over again with somebody else, I have no idea.
Paul: I think what this comes down to, because I know that there are a lot of people who listen to the show who do engage as either freelancers or agency or people like that, I think what it comes down to is having respect for people’s time, isn’t it. Because when you’re talking about a freelancer that you hire an agency that you get to quote for work, or whatever, it is respecting the fact that people have to invest a lot of time in preparing a quote. Even if you are a project manager and you are talking to a developer and asking them to produce a quote for you, that takes them time, to work out how long it’s going to take them to do something. We waste each other’s time so much in so many situations it just drives me round the twist. The projects that most annoying me, or the invitations to tender, that most annoy me, is where people come to me and they say “hi, we’ve got this great opportunity and would love you to come in and do this, could you put a proposal together?” You give them a ballpark figure over the phone so that you don’t waste your time, and they go “yeah, all sounds good”. You go ahead, you provide them with a quote you put all the effort in and then they say “oh, no we decided not to do it”. You just think “ Ahhh…”
Marcus: I’ve got another one Paul.
Paul: Go on then.
Marcus: This one didn’t involve the client ignoring me, we had a nice exchange at the end of it but… This was a much smaller piece of consultancy that needed to be done quickly. A one side of A4 type of brief. It fits the bill very well and we can do X, Y and Z for this amount of money and we basically got the brief in and I thought “there’s no delivery date for the proposal, but it’s all quick, do it as quickly as I can”. So two days later I had finished the proposal and fired it off to, all my proposals I fire off to Chris for checking and vice versa. That evening I got an email through saying “we’ve had our meeting today and we’ve decided to go with another supplier”. It’s like, okay?! Well you didn’t tell us that. Basically I sent her a “ I’m rather disappointed” email the following morning with our proposal attached saying “I don’t expect you to change your mind but it would have been nice to have known”. The lesson I’ve learnt here is that I didn’t ask…
Paul: Yeah, you didn’t state when it should be back. Yeah.
Marcus: But, I still went for it as quickly as I could have humanly done it. And it was still “we’ve already made the selection” that was a complete waste of my time.
Paul: As for moving goalposts, I know they didn’t say so in theory it wasn’t moving goalposts but that is another thing that drives me nuts. Well we’re just going to change the criteria on you.
Marcus: Well I suppose… The only thing I can hope from this is that talking about these things that somebody might listen and go “oh right I better make sure that I respond to the people who didn’t win whatever project it is that I’ve got” so just telling them why. It is appreciated.
Paul: It’s hugely valuable and if you run an agency or freelancer and are not asking that question that’s also a big mistake. You should always be asking for feedback because you learn a lot from it. Another sneaky one that may be good to do is… I don’t know whether this is ethical or not… If you win a project ask to see the other proposals. What do you think?
Sam: I’ve done that before, it was fascinating.
Paul: I know, it is isn’t it.
Sam: it’s absolutely fascinating, yeah.
Paul: Dan, have you ever done that?
Dan: Asking if you could see the other proposals? I’ve never thought about that even be an option, to be honest. I would have just thought they would have said… Declined that. I’ve not even thought about it. I’d love to do it I’d love to see them but have never had the chance. Well maybe I’ve had the chance but I have never thought about doing it.
Paul: I find it really fascinating to see what other people have written. And actually because these days I’m not in the same position as you Marcus, or you Dan, so I’m not really writing proposals like that anymore but what I am doing is mentoring a lot of agencies that do so I’ve seen quite a lot of different proposals now. It’s really interesting to see the different approaches and the different levels of detail people put into it. It must be quite challenging to compare these different proposals really.
Marcus: That’s true but really it is unethical to ask for somebody else’s proposal. Particularly if they’ve said it is in commercial confidence.
Paul: Oh sure! That’s down to the client not to give it to you if it’s commercially confidential and all of that kind of stuff, doesn’t hurt to ask does it?!
Dan: How would you go about asking for that at what stage would you ask for that?
Paul: Usually quite late in the project when you’ve really built the relationship with the client. I would say it in a very non-… “If you’re uncomfortable with this don’t do it, but I’m always curious to see what other people have done”. Actually, normally it comes up naturally because they mention something that someone else had written or suggested in their proposal. Or we got talking about the tendering process or whatever else. I wouldn’t force it.
Dan: Only once and only if you win the project I would presume.
Paul: Oh yeah.
Dan: I know we didn’t win this but can we see what did win it!
Marcus: You could always ask who wins. That’s a very important question but to ask to see their proposal I think is a little bit… I don’t know, I wouldn’t feel great if somebody else is looking at our proposal that we had lost. So it’s not something I would encourage.
Paul: Okay, sorry.
Drew: it could be quite tricky as well unless the project is in quite a late stage and all the decisions have been made because if you then read somebody else’s proposal and get an idea from it you’d be in quite… Well… Quite a precarious position if you were to use that idea.
Paul: But clients do that all the time.
Drew: Yeah, but the client is a scumbag. (Laughter)
Paul: Says the man who doesn’t do client work any more. So let’s move on then to you Drew. Your interesting because you’ve got a moral dilemma of your own that you wanted to talk about which is balancing business needs with user needs. What was it you wanted to talk about there?
Drew: This isn’t really so much a development topic itself but it is something that if you are a user focused web developer like I always try to be it is something you hit up against an awful lot. The situation, I’m guessing will sound fairly familiar, is where you have an organisation and someone new comes into that environment. That might be an outside agency to work on a project or it might be a new team member. They have been studying what you do, your website or whatever it is and they’ll have all of these ideas about what you are doing wrong because they are completely fresh. They will say “this thing that you’re doing here is user hostile and will need to fix it by doing this that and the other”. And they will come full of new, exciting ideas of how to fix all the things. And the team that they are coming into will say “well, there’s actually a very good reason this is the way it is, it is because the business needs are that we do at this particular way”. A really good example of this would be that if you think of all these… You have to imagine air quotes here… All these viral sites which publish articles that get shared on Facebook and things like that they’re all sort of list articles and just rubbish. You see it and you think “that’s vaguely interesting” because they are designed to be interesting so yes, it does look interesting, you click through and it is supposed to be 32 things you never thought to do with socks. And you get the first item surrounded by ads and to get the second item you know, it’s in a gallery and you click next and the whole page reloads. And it is like completely the worst user experience that you can imagine. Now somebody who is looking at that and thinking about the user would think well this is terrible. But from their business point of view the whole reason that that article exists is to have a terrible user experience and show many many ads. So you’ve got these two conflicting sides. I guess the thing I’m interested in is how do you make sure that you nurture some of those good attitudes where you are thinking about the customer, thinking about the user, and not let it get completely squashed out by the business needs. To try and walk that very fine tightrope that lets you come up with a very good product, is there a way to do it?
Paul: This is really interesting, this is my anything at the moment. I am writing this book about user experience culture and nurturing a user experience culture within an organisation. I think it depends largely on the type of business that you are building. So if you are in it for a quick buck, you are looking relatively short-term in your business then it’s okay to use the user, to be frank. Because yes people will click on those links they will go and read the post and they will see the advertising and a tiny percentage of people will click on the advertising, the advertisers will be happy and you will make money. The problem in my view comes when you are trying to build a long-term business. Tricks like that only work for a finite length of time then eventually users begin to… It’s like any dark pattern, users begin to catch on they begin to learn and eventually you begin to alienate them. So, for example it is very very rare now for me to click on any of those links because those articles, I know are going to be a pain in the arse, you are not going to be able to read them so what’s the point, it’s not worth my time. So, I think really the user experience… This whole premise of business needs versus user experience needs is a bit of a false premise if you accept that the business is being built long-term. Because if you’re talking about a long-term business then ultimately creating a good customer experience, a good user experience will provide long-term business benefits. It creates repeat users it creates repeat revenue, it increases average order value, customer loyalty, word-of-mouth recommendation. It goes on and on and on. But you have to be thinking long-term so it’s more about encouraging long-term business planning than it is encouraging thinking about the user. Because if you’re thinking about the business long-term then you will recognise the need for the user. Marcus, you look like you want to say something.
Marcus: Yeah, I’ve got my hand up. My purple hand is up.
Paul: Yes, I say look. You are an icon on my screen!
Marcus: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more, Paul. It’s one of my bugbears. There’s something that keeps coming up a lot with charities it’s the idea of opting in or opting out for ongoing communication with donors. The only reason I mention it is because it is an argument I seem to be making very regularly, and don’t win. Particularly for asking people to opt in for postal communication. The argument always comes back that people will just ignore it. They won’t sign up for that so if we don’t opt them in, because they don’t care either way. So if we don’t them in for it we’ve lost them for ever. I don’t know the answer to that other than it doesn’t quite fit the way it should be. I think you should encourage people to opt in for things. That they want rather than opt out of stuff that they don’t. But it’s a bit of a weird one when it’s about postal addresses.
Paul: Yeah, that’s a particularly interesting one, for two reasons, three you could argue. One is that in that scenario I believe that opting people in by default, certainly in the European Union is against… Is actually illegal, it’s not allowed. I’d need to check that but that is my understanding of it. Secondly you’re not just talking about taking a check box you’re talking about asking people for their whole address, unless you are taking the address anyway which you might be if you were…
Marcus: if you are taking the address anyway…
Paul: All right that one doesn’t apply. The third one, and I think this is an interesting one, is relating to charity in particular. I do the whole course on persuasive design, I run a workshop. So one of the things that we deal with at the beginning of the workshop is morality. What is acceptable and what is not to do, where is the line between being persuasive and actually dark patterns and things like that, what you’ve described as typical dark patterns. Well, my attitude in that situation is it depends on what the user wants. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to persuade someone to do something now and with you that they already want to do. In other words I think you are wasting your time trying to persuade somebody to buy a dishwasher who doesn’t want to buy a dishwasher. And that if you pressured or tricked them into buying a dishwasher when that wasn’t what they wanted to do then that would be immoral. That would be a bad use of persuasive design. But if someone has already decided to buy a dishwasher it’s okay to motivate them to make that decision to buy now and to make that decision with you. Now, where charities are particularly interesting is if you ask in all the surveys ever done about charitable giving everyone says they want to give more to charity. Everyone says that. So in a sense when it comes to charity the gloves are off. The reason people don’t give to charity is largely because of the primeval lizard brain that holds them back from doing that “oh I haven’t got enough money right now and I’m worried about it” so, I’m much more free when it comes to charity to nudge people into taking action. I don’t know whether that… Doesn’t really answer your question.
Marcus: No it doesn’t. It does come back to this idea of basically… The argument that comes back is they don’t really care one way or another so therefore they’re not going to opt in.
Paul: but then what the question is, yes at that moment in time they don’t care one way or another but are they going to care when you start mailing them a lot?
Marcus: Yeah, or are you going to hack them off.
Paul: Yeah and that all depends, not really on whether they have checked that checkbox or not but how much you mail them. If they are getting something from you once a quarter or once a year then fine. If they’re getting something every other week you’re going to hack them off.
Marcus: Therefore what you’ve just said is its okay to opt people in, in this case, as long as you don’t piss them off.
Paul: Yes, except for that potential legal issue.
Marcus: Okay, that’s interesting.
Paul: That’s my opinion. Nobody else has had any say on that one whatsoever. Has anybody got anything… Nobody cares do they.
Sam: I stopped thinking when you said primeval lizard brain, to be honest that was the end.
Paul: Fair enough, I’ll accept that. But it is a really interesting question Drew. I mean you guys must have to make decisions about this because there is not just… We’ve talked about it in terms of dark patterns and stuff like that but you have to make a business call. For example then maybe a huge number of your users who want a particular function in Perch but a) it might be too expensive to produce or b) it might be going away from what you think the core values and functionality of Perch are. For example Perch has always been advertised as a really simple CMS so you must be fighting that thing all the time of “we could give users what they want but it wouldn’t be that simple CMS which is what we originally intended for this”.
Drew: Yeah, probably a good example of this is things like WYSIWYG editors. In Perch we have always used by default either Markdown or Textile formatting. We encourage people to do that because it doesn’t junk up your content with loads of HTML rubbish. For a long time, probably the first, I could be miss remembering, but the first 18 months or so of the product which is now 7 1/2 years old, we didn’t have any capability to implement WYSIWYG at all. We took a really hard line on it just as we had in our own business with our own clients saying that if you’re going to author content you don’t want to do it with a WYSIWYG editor because it makes your life hard and it locks all your content into that HTML and all the perfectly good reasons why you shouldn’t want WYSIWYG editor. But what we’ve had to do over time decided, or what we decided to do overtime is to soften our line a little bit on that and try and reach a bit of a compromise. Where we’ve recognised that some people are saying “no my client really does need something that is as simple as possible. They can’t cope with typing stars around something to make it bold, that’s too complicated for them” I mean, I would ask why are they writing content for their website if that’s the case? But that’s by the by. So we’ve had to compromise a little bit and what we do now, we have an option to add a WYSIWYG editor if you want them but then not included by default. We try and package up one’s which we think aren’t too horrendous, without too many horrendous features installed and say “okay, if you really must have something here it is.” So it’s always… It’s difficult because I think somebody using a WYSIWYG editor is a bad idea, it’s bad for them to use that, it’s bad for the content, it’s bad for a performance of loading webpages. Just everything about it is bad there is no good comes from it at all! Yet people still insist they have other motivations which I probably can’t understand because I’m not them. So I have to just listen to that and say “if you want it, here’s the option” but our recommendation and the default state of everything is always use Markdown, it’s the better solution.
Paul: And actually you raised two really good things there. One is the power of the default which is essentially what we are going back to with Marcus and his checkbox. You as a business can make a decision while still giving the user a choice. The other thing is that you are still educating… You are giving people what they want even if it is potentially bad for them. You’re educating them of a better way. I think there’s a huge power with that, so Marcus, going back to your point and that checkbox it might be instead of checking that box by default the answer is actually to make a more compelling case for people to sign up. To say “if you sign up for us to post you stuff these are the cool things we are going to send you.”
Marcus: Yeah, that’s normally my argument, that if you sign people up without them wanting to then you are going to pack them off. And they may never give to you again but I’m not going to repeat myself, the argument is… Well I am going to repeat myself!… That they’re not bothered either way. That’s what always comes back. If we don’t do it then we’re going to lose these people.
Paul: So because Marcus repeated himself there. In that 10 seconds, were going to have to miss Dans section I’m afraid, sorry. All because Marcus repeated himself. Not because of my long diatribe earlier where I talked about lizard brains.
Marcus: You know the truth Dan.
Dan: I do. I do.
Paul: Dan isn’t going to complain it means he’s got something saved up for next time he’s on.
Dan: I’m not going to complain, it’s all good.
Paul: Exactly and I’m on my second week of not getting around to my bit.
Dan: I see what’s happening. “I’ve got this great idea, I’ve got this great idea to talk about” yeah, you haven’t got anything Paul.
Paul: I haven’t got a thing. I live off of the shoulders of giants and other people’s success. So next week, you and me Dan, will go first.
Dan: Oh, the pressure.
Paul: So it better be good what you’ve got.
Dan: You’d better find something to talk about then hadn’t you.
Paul: Right, what we do need to talk about is our second sponsor. Maybe if we didn’t have so many sponsors it wouldn’t be a problem, honestly. There you go, business versus user needs. Do I have sponsors on the pod casts that are good for me as a business? Or for users who maybe don’t want the sponsors. My compromise there is to try to find sponsors that have actually got something that is useful. And this one is very topical actually to what we were talking about last week with Brexit. Last weekend a bit, well since Brexit, the exchange rate here in the UK is absolutely dived so the pound is now largely worthless. This is the new reality we live in. So things like exchange rates are a huge issue not just between Britain and elsewhere around the world these days. More and more of us are working with international clients, were getting paid in different currencies and so exchange rates can make a big difference. I was quite shocked when I started running my own business by how much money I lost just because of bank fees and exchange rates and that kind of stuff. So, Currencyfair which is the sponsor that we’ve got is a really good organisation that basically saves you about 80% on international transfer fees and exchange rates which is really really good. You know you get those companies that say “we offer free transfers and free commission” what they do is that they really offer a bad rate of exchange. PayPal is dreadful for this, they sting you with the exchange rate and they make money off the margins in the rates that they offer. Currencyfair have an average currency exchange rate of 0.35% from the rate that you will find quoted on Google. You know, if you just Google an exchange rate that the base rate. I don’t claim to understand it properly. So, currencyfair are only making 0.35% of any exchange. It is really upfront, they are honest about it which is a great way of saving yourself a huge amounts of money. Customers have transferred over €4 billion through them and they’ve saved about hundred and 45 million in the process. Their rates are constantly live and constantly updated and you can check their rates any time using a calculator on the homepage. Here’s the really cool thing, what you can do is you can make an exchange immediately or you can say “I’ve got this money that I want to exchange between, I don’t know pounds and dollars, wait until the exchange rate reaches this level and then exchange it.” Which I just think is really useful. So all kinds of useful cases you can imagine. If you’re working remotely and you’ve got an employer transferring your salary directly they can transfer it into a currencyfair account and then transfer it into the or personal bank account when the exchange rate is a certain level. Or if you have customers working abroad and in some situations you might even get shares being given to you in US dollars and the customer can use currencyfair to exchange and transfer those funds around the world. You get the kind of idea. Customers can set up recurring transactions as well, all sorts of benefits to this if you’re running your own business. Check them out by going to currencyfair.com/boag. Right, that wraps us up for this show. Quickly round the table, where people can find out more about you. Drew, as you weren’t on last week do you want to go first? Where can people find out more about you
Drew: People can go to my website which is allinthehead.com. Our CMS is grapaperch.com. On Twitter I am @DrewM.
Paul: There we go, Sam what about you where can people find out about you?
Sam: thesambarnes.com or on Twitter @thesambarnes.
Dan: Either Danedwards.com or Nodividestudios.com for work stuff and on Twitter as @de.
Paul: and Marcus
Marcus: headscape.co.uk and on Twitter @Marcus 67
Paul: Cool, so there we go. Marcus, do you have a joke to wrap up and remember it’s got to be a good one because you used the bad joke earlier.
Marcus: Well I do but I did say via email that may be true might like to do a joke. I don’t know if you took that on board or not.
Drew: I only do self-deprecating jokes but I’m not very good at them.
Dan: Brilliant (laughter)
Paul: You see Marcus! That’s how you do it.
Marcus: There you go, see?
Sam: Perfect delivery.
Paul: Yes, it was the delivery that made it wasn’t it. You didn’t actually realise he was doing the joke.
Drew: Drew is in.
Paul: Yeah, Drew is in. So there we go, that’s this week’s show. Thank you very much for listening guys. Were always up for things that maybe we should all talk about and will be desperate for ideas by the end of the season so tweet any one of those people that you’ve heard today and they might include your idea on the show alternatively you could just share topic ideas using the hashtag #4BW and we will try our best to put you on the show. Until next week thank you very much, goodbye.
Links mentioned in the show
- Drew Mclellan
- Sam Barnes
- Dan Edwards