The Performance Episode

This week on the Boagworld show we talk growth, scope creep, new technology and performance.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This weeks show is sponsored by Videoblocks and CurrencyFair.

Paul: Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show. The podcast about all aspects of digital design, development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag and joining me on this week’s show, are you ready for this, Leigh Howells, Drew McLellan, Dan Edwards and Tera Simon. Hello all.

Dan: Hello

Drew: Hello

Tera: Hello

Leigh: Hello

Paul: Hey, everybody is there and everybody’s audio is working and all is good with the world. Let’s just hope that it keeps up through the entire show. Just to remind you that if you haven’t listened to any of this season yet we are doing a roundtable discussion as you might have gathered by the number of people here. Each person is going to bring a different thing to the table each week that we going to talk about and discuss. Different people have different areas of expertise. So, we have Dan Edwards who is covering design related stuff, hello Dan.

Dan: Hello Paul

Paul: How’s it going this week? What have you been up to?

Dan: I’ve been doing a bit of all sorts really but as I mentioned in the last episode I had my first client workshop.

Paul: Yeah, how did it go?

Dan: Yeah, it went really well. It was really interesting and they definitely found it valuable and I found it really valuable. It’s been really interesting, we’ve yet to see how it’s going to impact the rest of the project purely because we were doing this pre-project is a discovery phase. So that’ll be interesting. Other than that I’m moving house soon so I’ve just been prepping and getting stuff ready for that.

Paul: Oooh, lucky you. I despise that with a passion. I vowed that I’m never moving again now. We are done. Talking of moving, Drew…, You moving to Ireland yet?

Drew: No, not yet, no.

Paul: You were only talking about moving the business, mind, aren’t you?

Drew: Yeah, we’re talking about moving the business just so that we are based in the EU, after Brexit. Because we already sell in euros and dollars and pounds. We are already in multiple currencies so we figured that there are so many advantages of being in the EU that we might as well move the business and take advantage of them. It’s only a short flight from here, we are in Bristol.

Paul: I know, it’s not far is it, you’re Bristol-based aren’t you?

Drew: Yeah.

Paul: So what if you been working on this week Drew. Anything interesting, any new features that you want to leak to the wider audience

Drew: I’ve been working, amongst other things, one of the things I’ve been focusing on this week is… Will fill people in, if they’re not familiar, we build a content management system. And one of the things I have been looking at is our process for uploading images. Which sounds like a really really simple thing. To upload images, you find that in every single web application. I’ve been paying extra attention to making that a really nice process, making sure you can just grab an image file and drop it in a logical place and it just sort of works. Also that you get good feedback if things fail. That sort of thing.

Paul: That’s the thing that I envy you.

Drew: Really?!

Paul: One of the nice things about working on either as part of in-house team where you’re working on the same site all the time or building the same product all the time, is you get to spend attention on that kind of detail. When you work for an agency you are always moving forward, you were always pushing onto the next thing always building foundations but you never get to go back and… You do sometimes… But generally you don’t get to go back and kind of obsess over those little things. and I miss that.

Drew: Yeah, although I could obsess over a thousand different things so I have to be really careful not to spend too long obsessing over one particular thing because there is so much to be done all the time.

Paul: That’s true.

Drew: But yes we get that shot to go back and revisit things which is good.

Paul: Which is very good. And Leigh, what have you been up to? It’s been awhile since we’ve had you on the show hasn’t it mate.

Leigh: Well I usually fill in don’t tie so…

Paul: Ahh,

Leigh: Everyone’s been available I guess. What have I been up to? Done a couple of workshops this week, busy doing stuff. Loads of projects on.

Paul: What were the workshops, what type of workshops do you do?

Leigh: We did a customer journey mapping workshop. And then wire framing workshop basically, sorting out information architecture.

Paul: I’m doing some customer journey mapping next week so… With Headscape actually so me and Chris are going up to London to do some, which will be very nice.

Leigh: Will you have jumbo post-its though? It’s the new in thing.

Paul: This is the new in thing isn’t it ? I’ve seen these there like enormous.

Leigh: It’s really good because if you’re in a big room nobody can read tiny little Post-it notes, which are the mainstay of doing all kind of workshops. But if you’re putting them in a war, especially with your handwriting Paul, I’m not sure if anybody would be able to read them so…

Paul: My handwriting is fine thank you very much.

Leigh: Jumbo post-its four times the size, 4K post it’s that’s what they are.

Paul: That sounds good. So there you go Dan, there’s a tip for you next time you do a workshop. Make sure you’ve got jumbo post-its.

Dan: I’ve never heard of this, this is a new thing. I did look for big Post-it notes because as soon as you write on them everybody has to go right up to the wall and squint. Especially with my handwriting, I’ll admit my handwriting is terrible.

Leigh: We should put an Amazon link on the show notes.

Dan: And get all those affiliate pennies in.

Leigh: Yeah. (Laughter)

Paul: Oh, it could be my affiliate ID it’s my podcast (laughter). It’s good to have you back on the show Leigh even though you were very rude about it. You said, didn’t you say last week was boring? Did you say that? Or episode one?

Leigh: I think I said it sounded very sensible and grown-up. I’m just not used to it Paul.

Paul: That is what you said. It was sensible and grown-up, you didn’t say it was boring. But I just interpreted that as meaning the same thing to me. And you’ve got someone completely new on the show this week which is Tera Simon. Nice to meet you Tera. Apparently we’ve met many times before and I’ve just forgotten but tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, where you’re from and that kind of thing.

Tera: Sure, I’m in Raliegh, North Carolina in the lovely US. I work for a technology consulting firm called Atlantic BT. I’ve been doing project management now for probably the last 15+ years. I’ve recently moved over to being the director of client engagement so putting a lot of focus in on how to make sure we are managing client expectation, satisfaction while at the same time still delivering projects the way that we should.

Paul: See, look! That was so slick I’m so impressed. The rest of us have been going “Well, I’ve been doing some stuff this week and faffing around”. Then you’re in there and you lay it out exactly what you’ve been doing and who you are, you are so slick. These Americans you’re just slicker, that’s all I can say.

Tera: Well it’s also earlier for me right now so I’m still drinking coffee and trying to wake up.

Paul: Ahh, while we are on the downward spiral to the end of the day and misery. The end of the day isn’t misery actually is it, that’s the wrong way round. Yeah, I know what I meant! Alright so that’s the group that we’ve got here today, we’re going to dive into some content in a minute but before we do that we are just going to do a quick thing for our sponsors. Videoblocks have been supporting the show this season and will continue to do so for most of the season actually. They are really supportive, in fact the entire season should I say. They are an affordable subscription-based stock media site that gives you unlimited access to premium video stock footage. Which these days is so important as we introduce more and more video on to our sites. I’m certainly doing loads of video work and I know other people are as well. What I like about it is that it is just so simple and straightforward with its licensing. It’s got like a members library and a marketplace as well. So there’s some content that if you’re subscribed and you remember that you get access to for free as part of the subscription, that’s a huge library of content. And then there’s other marketplace content which you can buy as you require. So everything is hundred percent royalty free so even if you’re a subscriber and your subscription ends you still have that video that you’ve downloaded and are using, you’ve still got the rights to use that. It’s not kind of limited to when you’re subscribed. It’s royalty free for personal and commercial use there are no hidden fees or anything like that involved. It really is a great way… if you’re looking for stock footage to add in they’ve got a great service and I think it’s really good value for money. They are offering listeners to this show a really good deal as well. You can get a years subscription for only $99, which if you think about it the amount of footage that you could download in a year, that is really extremely good. It is a $50 discount on its usual price tag, just for people on this podcast. So it’s less than $10 a month for, really, unlimited stock footage. You can get the years subscription today for $99 by going to videoblocks.com/Boagworld.

Round Table Discussion

Paul: So, let’s jump right in and kick off straight away… I promised you Dan, you got bumped from last week’s show, we ran out of time, that we would start with you this week. Now Leigh said, and I quote, “That’s a really boring subject I can’t care about”. So, (laughter)

Leigh: Thanks Paul, thanks. Just ignore him.

Paul: So now I’ve set it up so well Dan, what do you want to talk about this week?

Dan: (sigh)

Paul: You’ve lost the desire to now haven’t you, you’ve been crushed by Leigh.

Dan: I’m going to talk about chewable coffee, no I’m not! That is a thing by the way, I’ve just had a chewable coffee thing.

Paul: Isn’t that how coffee started? People chewing it?

Dan: This is like little cubes that look like oxo cubes, covered in sugar and then made out of coffee.

Paul: It sounds disgusting!

Dan: They’re not great.

Leigh: So, how much caffeine has it got in it then?

Dan: Umm, you know what? Caffeine… hundred milligrams per serving that’s two pieces but I’ve only had one piece so…

Paul: I don’t know how much that is down, that’s about the same as a cup of coffee.

Dan: A cup of coffee has 200 mg in it so…

Paul: Oh, well there you go.

Dan: But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about growth and hiring and firing. So, I read this interesting article, it’s not a new article, it was written earlier this year by Jason Fried I think that’s how you pronounce his name, the Founder of base camp. It’s called “Gut-checking growth”. Essentially it hit a few… It made me think really because we grew from two people to 6 people fairly quickly and since then we’ve gone back down to 4. When we had to let the first person go it was a horrible, horrible experience anyway and something that I would never wish upon anybody that runs a business. But basically we thought what next? We didn’t hire for a little while and then we did hire and the person we then hired was a project manager so not a developer or a designer or anything like that. And that was great and that was good and everything was fine with that and since then we have also had one of PM’s leave. So a few things have changed, but anyway what got me thinking was… What made me rethink what we do after that, you know, going back down to 4, is what do we do after that? In this article basically what Jason does is kind of ask those questions. So for example just quote him “Whatever the reason when somebody leaves it’s a great moment to break out of the replacement mindset and ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t replace that person”. You know it’s very easy to get into the pattern of, right, we’ve got work we’ve got a certain number of people and they’re busy and therefore you always need that amount of people. If somebody leaves you then basically have an opportunity, as he says, to kind of break that pattern and think about what if you gave yourselves a few months without the role. For example, there’s always more work to do. So, for example, it feels very natural to just put more people on it. But could, for example, you just stay at say five people? And do what six people were doing without overloading those five people. What if actually use it as an opportunity to think “Well maybe that means we don’t need to just be grabbing every piece of work that we get because we suddenly don’t have the pressure of having those people.” All it really is is putting the question there. It’s a rare opportunity to question growth. Obviously there are so many hidden costs as well with growing. Organisational complexity, communication breakdown and people to move around and manage. There are not just simple things such as the overhead of hiring somebody. It sparked the question to me, what do you do and when is the right time to hire? Do you work at 120%, I’ve heard someone mention this before I can’t remember who, do you work at 120% for three months just to see if you can manage with those people before you hire or is it best just to stay small stain lean and then grow organically? So yeah, I just wanted to put the question out there myself to you guys and see what your experiences were with that.

Paul: This is something that has always been a pet subject or pet peeve of mine is this… Especially with agencies there is this assumption that bigger is better the whole time and that you just keep hiring, keep hiring. When I was at Headscape we grew up to 20 odd of us and for us running the company it was horrible. You spent less of your time working on projects and more of your time managing people there was a bigger pressure to bring new work in the whole time. I really found it quite a tough period. Leigh, I’m quite interested in your perspective because obviously you’ve been at Headscape since almost the beginning. Do you prefer it bigger or smaller?

Leigh: I prefer now it’s smaller again which is where we started. The amount we grew, so quickly it led to a period where I could no longer see the edges of what we were doing any more. There were more projects going on than I could… Even knew about. That still happens with a small team but nowhere near as much. I think there was already a tendency to get lost on the way side of things because there were other projects going on that may have been more important than you and your project. People just kind of focused on those. So, I much prefer a smaller team and how things are now.

Paul: Dan, have you and Ryan talked about what you want to do in the future No Divide do you see yourself growing again?

Dan: Yeah, we’ve spoken about it, yeah. I think for us it’s deciding on where we want to take the company. As you say having a bigger or smaller agency I don’t think it really matters too much terms of your output. Obviously you can output less as a smaller team but that might be of greater quality than somebody that is a massive team. They are completely unrelated I think to a certain extent especially when it comes to quality. I think for us it is more about thinking what direction we want to take the company and for us I think we want to focus more on creating our own products. So, ultimately we’ve already started doing this. We are already building our own products internally and what we are trying to do now is to actually structure the team in a way that we have a product lead and we have developers and creatives that are heavily involved in creating and developing those products. What we’ve discussed, what we would like to see is perhaps is expanding team into… We keep that core team that we’ve got working on product but then we have an expanded team that works on client services. Now, we wouldn’t completely exclude them, it’s not like we’d have three or four people working on client services and 2 or 3 working on our products, they would have crossovers. I think if you were to expand it would be because we’ve got a product that we now need to maintain and build upon and also you want to do client work so we would probably need to expand. I think the team that we have now would probably be more heavily involved in the management and ongoing production of this product or products that we create. That’s just because that’s the kind of stuff that really excites us. It might be that when we hire maybe we do hire people to work on that product and we just become solely a product team. At the moment we don’t want to completely step away from client work so if we are to hire again it would be on the basis that they would be working in client services and also crossing over into our product side. Obviously until you launch the product we don’t know how that’s going to go. It could completely flop or it could completely take off or it could just remain kind of in the middle. Depending on what happens with that as well and future products that we create will I think influence us and our decisions about who we hire and I think that’s the main thing we are doing. We are essentially taking a step back and making sure that we are only hiring people at the right times. Saying that we potentially may be on the cusp of getting a pretty big contract in which case we will simply need to hire because we don’t have the manpower to handle it right now.

Paul: But will you hire a permanent member of staff in that situation or will you get in a contractor?

Dan: We will probably hire… This particular contract if we get it… We will probably hire permanently based on a six month initial contract. The reason for that is just because of the size of the project we just would need somebody on it for at least six months anyway so it would be more cost effective for us to hire them, even for a whole year, we would still be profitable.

Paul: Yeah. Drew, talking of products and things like that it blows my mind that you guys have not hired somebody. Especially as a husband and wife team, do you ever get a break?

Drew: No, never get a break. There’s only just the two of us and I was thinking about this in terms of going back to the question of growing, is it always good to grow. I guess if you’re doing a good job either as an agency or as a product company there’s always going to be a slight snowball effect. If you do a good job for a client, okay that project will finish but they’re going to be coming back even just occasionally with more work. Or doing little bits of changes or additions, what have you. Your workload tends to just grow and grow and grow and grow just through the natural course of things, unless you’re doing a terrible job and really annoying all your clients and they never come back! So, some respects it’s almost inevitable that you have either got to grow or you’re going to be overloaded with work and you could start taking on less work or something like that. But yes, from our point of view it is just two of us and we’ve been going 7 1/2 years on the product with two people and things are, I guess, a lot slower now, just, again with the product you get this snowball effect of so much code to maintain so many features to revise and what have you. Yeah, I think we would like to grow. But I’m not a very good delegator, that’s part of it.

Paul: Tera, you must be a much better delegator. This must be your kind of area.

Tera: It’s interesting, with the company that I’m at now I’ve kind of watched us change and grow. I’ve been with the company for a little over five years. When I first started our size was around 35 to 40 people and I watched us grow to almost a hundred and then I watched us lose down to almost 50. Now we are back in that growth pattern again, were getting back to… We’re about 70 people strong. One of the things that Dan was talking about was focusing in on – do you have to immediately replace a person when you lose them? That is when we started really honing in and putting in our focus on. What we realised when you have always been a smaller shop, you have a sort of family mentality and a culture that you can’t train and educate other people to know what it’s like to have that type of culture for the company. And we started finding that as we were trying to quickly hire in new people to replace the ones that we lost we started to lose who we were as the company and started to lose some of that culture mentality. And so we decided to take a step back and really look at our workload and see, with the clients that we had, were we be able to operate a little more lean. We actually went on a hiring freeze for about six months to allow us to just catch up and redefine who we were and then slowly we started hiring back in. I think any company whether you’re a team of two or a team of a hundred you can operate lean. You know how to do it, it is just how do you facilitate it with everyone else?

Paul: I struggle a little bit with this term, where people talk about operating lean, because you’ve got to be careful that that isn’t code for making everyone work harder and putting more pressure on, there’s a balance there.

Tera: Absolutely, and that’s what’s we had to keep a close eye on. Unfortunately we weren’t in the mindset where we only had one designer or one UX developer. We had multiple people that served in those roles. What we tried to do was limit the amount of client work that was coming in so that we could see and map out. With the amount of client work that we have are we able to still maintain profit while keeping that work/life balance for the staff that we have? So what we started to do was become more smart with not saying yes to every single client that came in and from there we were able to start shaping what was the direction that we wanted to go as a company. So instead of focusing all of our time and energy on projects that are only a couple of thousand dollars here and there we could start going after larger and longer scale projects that allowed us to have more dedicated teams where they were able to operate and work on 1 to 2 clients instead of in your traditional agency mindset working on 15 to 20 and you’re task copying every single time.

Dan: I think that’s like the absolute crux of it really with it. That’s what got me thinking about this because it was especially relevant, I think, when we had two project managers and only obviously four other members of staff and then when one of our project managers left it was like, okay “do we need?…” There was always work, we always found work, there’s always work that could be done but do we need to and would it actually be the right thing to bring in, as you say, bring in somebody else that may just jump in to a company that doesn’t fit just because we need a PM because we’ve lost one. That’s where this kind of article perfectly fit in to my story and I think everything that you said there was spot on really. Exactly how we felt, although much, much smaller scale we are definitely not in the 50 to hundred size. Culture is something that we really want to get right I think it is really hard as well as a remote team to get that. Getting the right people is even more important when you work remotely because they’ve got to not only be willing to work the way that you kind of have two with our clients and everything but also as a remote team it can be really hard for certain people. I hope that wasn’t too boring, I don’t think…

Paul: No, no, no. I’m often surprised at actually how many of these issues are irrespective of size. You’re going to struggle with growth whether you are 100 people or a two-person business as to whether you should grow, when you should grow and those kind of things. Talking of universal problems brings us onto Teras topic for the day which is scope creep. Which if you run any kind of service based business it is a huge issue. So what is it you want to talk about with that?

Tera: So, one of the things that has been on my mind lately is… You look at it and you always sort of lay it downwards. The project manager is the one that is in charge of three primary things when you have a any client. They are in charge of managing timeline, budget, and scope. What happens is that you find you have got other people within your company or even if you’re just a freelancer working on your own, you have to understand how to go about managing a client’s expectations and understanding when does scope creep become available or actually starts happening on the projects that you are working on. So I kind of want to open it up to the team. I know a lot of times when you start hearing the word “scope creep” you tend to forget about… There are so many other different types of creeps out there. The one that always freaks me out is “hope creep” which is when your team telling you that everything is going fine, everything’s good, it’s great, then Bam! Everything falls apart. So it’s how do you go about managing this and making sure your clients are in the know that these things are happening when sometimes you’re not even in the know.

Paul: There’s a similar one to hope creep which kind of relates to scope creep as well, that I see a lot is that “something is beginning to go wrong but it’s okay, we can pull it back. We can work evenings, we can work at weekends. There’s no reason to scare the client, we can save this”. So there’s this kind of hope and expectation that you can turn things around and then that doesn’t work. You don’t manage to catch up with the deadline or catch up with the work or whatever else. So you end up telling the client at the very last minute that things have gone to shit because you have hoped all the time that you can pull things back. So I mean that is the primary lesson that I have learnt over the years. To actually be honest with the client upfront, as soon as you think something might go wrong say to the client “We are falling a bit behind schedule, we are not sure we are going to meet the deadline. We are going to try our best”. Then you can only exceed expectations can’t you?

Tera: Yeah, but at the same time it’s also… It is not just the expectations of your client but it’s the expectation of your team. One of the things that we… I… Have always tried to do when I have worked with teams is I have a no surprise clause so basically a no ballshit clause. Where if you’re going to shock me or surprised me with something then you are going to ruin this project. I promise that I am not going to be trying to over sell and under deliver and have you having to sit at the office for 20 hours straight trying to pump coffee into your veins to make you stay awake, if you promised me you’re not going to bury your head in the sand if you realise from an expectation perspective you just weren’t strong enough to figure out how to do it. Don’t surprise me with ballshit.

Paul: But then the flipside to that, which I can kind of understand from a client’s point of view, is that a client comes into a project and they haven’t necessarily done this before, they’re not digital experts they don’t know all the ins and outs of it so they write this brief of what they think they want and the project gets going and then as they are exposed to the project and so the process and they are learning stuff, they are going to think of new things and they going to think of new functionality and stuff that they want. So, how do you deal with that kind of stuff? I can kind of understand that.

Tera: So, for us one of the best things that you always say is “document, document, document”. You know change is going to happen and one of the strongest things that you need to be able to do as a project manager is learn how to be flexible and adaptable. So document what those changes are and have straight conversations with your clients of “is this something that is absolutely necessary, does it tie back to a business goal that’s going to help you in the long run?” If that’s the case then is there something that you can eliminate or do you have additional funds that you are able to utilise and issue a change order to make that happen. But I think a lot of times people are just afraid to have those conversations. We always say that we want to under promise and over deliver but when you do that whats the risk that you’re running into from your own business perspective? Are you giving away so much that you’re never going to see another dime out of a client.

Paul: Leigh

Leigh: Yeah, when you mentioned documenting which is something I’ve been trying to do as projects go on. Try to document and log all the little changes that happen so that you can refer back to things. When decisions started to go down a different path. I just wondered how you did that. I’m not a project manager so quite often my attempts to do this kind of thing collapse under pressure of other work. Is it something you document on something like basecamp or do you have a specific way of doing it?

Tera: Sure, so we have a different project management tool that we use that we will allow clients to come directly in and see every single status of every single task that we are working on. We’ve come to realise that using Google docs is probably one of the easiest things in the world of managing changes to scope. Mainly because you can see all the iterations of what people are doing to change. One of the things also is that we try to make sure we don’t automatically start to implement something that we have that conversation and then if everyone is kind of on the same page and looking at that same document then you can go back and say “well back here is when it is mentioned…” It is all time stamped anyway. We also have all of our project managers send out weekly statuses to each of the clients that they are working on. In those they will document was there any change to scope or any new discussions that came about and that helps with that change log mentality.

Paul: I mean, another big problem with scope creep of course is not just whether they’ve got the additional budget to pay for it but whether you’ve got the capacity to deliver that internally. So how do you deal with that kind of thing do you make use of “Well, let’s do that in phase 2” a lot?

Tera: We do, we are fortunate enough that we do have a pretty deep bench over here were we are able to pull in additional people if we need to on a project. But not a lot of companies really have that capability so sometimes when you’re having that conversation, again, it’s always that project managers triangle, ‘good, fast, cheap’, so how quickly do you actually need this new feature that they want to add in. Is it something that can wait till phase 2 or is it something that has to happen for this particular project. Then we need to extend and push out that timeline. It’s all about the conversation.

Paul: Dan how do you deal with that because obviously you guys are much, much smaller so if somebody suddenly turns around and says “There’s this new big complicated piece of functionality that I want and I’ve got the money to pay for it can you do it?” That must present some interesting challenges for you.

Dan: Yeah, absolutely it does happen. We worked on a very long, long project last year where the product was, you know a very very complex system and everything was MVP, you know! It didn’t matter how unsure we were about if something was needed it had to be there because it was… Everything was an MVP. So we kind of struggled with this ongoing when something would come up and it was like “I thought it would work like this” or “could we use this tech?” or “could we do this?” And essentially what we had to do was just… we try to be very transparent anyway with our clients and like Tera said have the conversation with them. Saying “We can do this but you know by us doing this it’s going to extend the deadline by a month”. They had the money so it was kind of like well I’m happy to extend it a month cost wise but I don’t want to wait a month for it! So it’s kind of like almost saying “can you chuck some more people at it?” but obviously we don’t have the people and the thing is that what we tried to do is say to them, or to any clients that have this with us, we can’t obviously just going to hire someone because they want a feature or they want us to do a months worth of work in a week or whatever. We can’t just go out and hire off the back of that because the reasons they hired us are the reasons we set out at the beginning, because they liked the way that we work. The way we all work together is also something… We can’t just bolt someone on and expect them to fit in with that and it’s also not going to make for the best project if we do that and the best result for them. So again, it’s just really I guess about having that conversation and then giving them that option “of okay, how important is that feature? a) It’s not going to be released when you want because it’s going to be put out by month and is the financial implication for you worth this? How important is this and what have you got to back up this decision. Often there is not actually, maybe not, often is the wrong word but sometimes there is not the kind of reasoning or data to backup the decision so it’s kind of like ”Well our competitors use it. They’ve just redesigned their site and they use this search.“ And I’m like ”Well that’s fine but up till this point where they’ve redesigned the site that was never an issue for you, suddenly now your competitors have done this thing and you need to do it, it must be there. But it wasn’t a priority before so how much of a priority is it?“ And again it reigning in that… It’s very easy to get excited as a product owner where you think ”They do that so we must have that because we want to stand out and who want to be competing and winning.“ It’s easy to become overexcited and think everything must be there and every feature is important when really maybe it isn’t. So, just kind of reign that in and open a conversation, have a dialogue and basically set up a plan. That’s what we would do work that into a phase 2 or part of a retainer or whatever, that’s how we would try and work that. If it’s really, really… They’re not going to back down they really want it we would ask ”what can we drop out?" What isn’t as important as this new thing? That obviously is a whole other conversation but you know…

Paul: But the trouble with that, and I totally agree the point that you were saying about that product owner gets overexcited about some new feature or something like that. Of course the trouble is that sometimes what they push out to enable this cool new sexy thing is not always the sensible thing to push out. And that kind of brings us onto what Drew wanted to talk about today. A great example of the kind of thing that isn’t sexy, that clients don’t get excited about but are hugely important, is things like performance. So Drew what was it you wanted to talk about when it comes to performance?

Drew: First of all I take issue that performance isn’t sexy. (Laughter) I think performance is very sexy!

Paul: I do as well, believe it or not I do get quite excited but most clients don’t is my point.

Drew: Well that was kind of my question. To put it in context I think performance is massively, massively important. I probably have a disproportionately skewed view of how important performance is because I try and… For me it’s a primary concern in everything that I build because I know that other people are building stuff on top of my code. So I try and make things as fast as they possibly can from a sort of fundamental design point of view. Like how the code is architected, and everything, always performance is weighed in there as an important factor. Almost as much as things like usability and accessibility. Performance is one of those key cornerstones. So that brings me onto the question because it is increasingly important, it’s important for user experience because a fast responding site or app provides a better experience for the person using it. And that’s been measured and proven by people like Amazon who see massive increase in revenue for every millisecond they can take off their page load time, that sort of thing. It’s becoming increasingly important for Google who are starting to use it as a ranking signal. It is increasingly important for the number of users who are accessing stuff on mobile data where things are slower, just naturally things are slower, so the faster you can make your site the better the experience they will have. So it seems that everything is pointing to the fact that performance is really, really important across the whole scope of your project. But is it something that we are really selling into clients as a big feature? Is it something that people are really thinking about when they choose their hosting plan, for example? Or are people only thinking about optimising the JavaScript or compressing their CSS or [minifiying](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minification_(programming) their images a little bit more. Is it a feature that you can actually up-sell? And if so how? How do you do that? How do you quantify how much extra time better performance will take you to build into an application or a site or a project? Or is it something that you should just be doing anyway and it should be reflected in the scope of work and reflected in what the client gets billed? Because… Go on…

Paul: No, no. I was just going to say sometimes we sell things to clients in the wrong way, right. At the moment I’m writing this book on user experience and changing culture within organisations to be more user centric. One of the key premise I talk about is “Look, don’t bother talking to management or colleagues about the needs of users because they don’t really care”. Everybody’s quite kind of selfish and care about things that affect them. So they care about whether they’re going to meet their targets, whether they’re going to increase revenue or whatever it is that they care about. Jared Spool wrote a great article about this with user experience saying "Look, you are never going to be able to convince management to care about user experience but you can show how user experience enables them to deliver what it is they do care about. Whether it be stockholders value or whatever else. I think the same applies whether you’re talking about accessibility or if you’re talking about performance or whatever. Personally, I wouldn’t go to a client and sell them performance, right. Personally. But what I would sell them is the fact that they want increased brand visibility. While that means that you need to be well listed on Google and performance is one of the things that affect that. And I would sell to them additional leads or revenue being generated, that’s something people want to see, and mobile is now one of the biggest growing areas in that kind of area and so therefore their performance matters. So it’s kind of matching, in my mind it’s matching performance against things that people already care about. Does that make any sense?

Drew: I think it does make sense, yeah. I guess the sticky point comes where you have to persuade the client in some way to spend more money because of it. For example, if they’ve got some existing hosting there you are asking them to launch a new site onto it and it is rubbish, it is really slow and awful. And you’ve got to say to them, “No, you’ve actually need to, you know… you’re spending X thousand on this website you need to spend more than five dollars a month on your hosting. Otherwise that’s going to waste… and it needs to be faster for these reasons.” Do you think there is a case to be made there? Or…

Paul: I think you need to be able to show them. I think that’s the big thing with most clients that I work with is you can tell them something until you are blue in the face but if you can show them it then it will make all the difference. So if you can demonstrate… If you could do, for example, a video and you could have their page loading on one server, split screen and their page loading on another, that they would get. Do you see what I mean?

Drew: Yeah, I guess that’s where something like webpage test is incredibly useful. Are you familiar with that?

Paul: No I’m not actually

Drew: So, there’s a site called webpage test and you put in the URL of your website and what it will do is actually a filmstrip of your site loading. Frame by frame showing how it loads bit by bit and the timing. So what you could do if you have a project on a staging server of your own which is nice and fast and have their existing hosting you could run the same thing on both and show them the difference in a graphical form.

Paul: See that… it’s those kinds of things that work so much better with clients, you know. Being able to see the frustrations is very different… If you say “it’s a two second increase in load time,” well, big deal people can wait two seconds. But if you show that difference and you feel that difference it is so much more compelling. Leigh, what are your feelings on it.

Leigh: Yeah, I love that idea of what you just mentioned,webpage test. Especially if you showed them their competitor and the frame opposite their site.

Paul: Good idea!

Leigh: That would really sell it to management. Showing performance being a really important thing.

Paul: Yeah, because I mean that goes back to what Dan was saying about how clients see something on a competitor’s site and they get “Oh, we’ve got to have that too” if you showed that with the web page load time that would really do it, I’d love that.

Leigh: You show their page crawling as their massive carousel starts loading.

Drew: The other thing that site does is give you grade ratings on different aspects of performance. They’ll give you an A to F where the A is nice and green and shiny and the F is red and bad. So that’s another thing you can do, again with competitors. You see your competitors have got an A grade for this aspect and your site currently has an F. Our target for your new project is we’re going to bring it up to an A. Or because of whatever constraints, we are going to bring it up to a C or a B. This will give you then something to aim for and to show for the client that you actually achieved what you set out to do. And that you are delivering on what you promised.

Paul: And things like that make a huge difference. Having those kind of metrics that you can measure against and measure yourself against your competitors makes such a difference. By the way I come out as almost all A’son that site, except my cache for some reason. My cache of static content is not working, I wonder why… Sorry I’m getting distracted now. Oh I see! It’s my avatars that are being pulled from Gravatar that are not cached.

Drew: It’s amazing how it highlights the things that are a problem. Yeah, it can really help in optimising things like Gravatars. What tends to happen is your site will make a request out to the Gravatars server and then if the user hasn’t got gravatar then it will make a request back to your server to get your default image which it will then return back to you. It’s a bit crazy. It is useful that it highlights that sort of thing.

Paul: So I’m going to risk running over for a few minutes because I do want to touch on Leigh’s subject because I feel that in some ways it follows on. Talking about the stuff that clients get excited about and they get all enthusiastic about a certain thing and often those are upcoming things. For ages it was mobile apps, wasn’t it. And then the one I’m hearing a lot at the moment is… It just makes me smile even to say it… Is virtual reality is the new thing that everybody seems to… I’m hearing a lot of talk about. Leigh, what was your kind of point around this?

Leigh: Yeah, things like artificial intelligence as well. The point was when do you start looking into these things, when is the right time? Because we are all kind of scared of wasting time on new stuff because it is shiny and it might not actually take a hold but then you don’t want to be left behind either. So, is it just something we should always all be looking at all the time? Or are there better ways of just knowing what is taking off and what isn’t. It’s a bit of a big vague area really.

Paul: It really is. And it’s really tough as well. The one that I’m oohing and aahing about at the moment is virtual reality, I think, a little way away for anything other than gaming it’s going to be a little while however amazing it is. So I have kind of parked that in my head. Augmented reality I think is really interesting but hasn’t majorly taken off. There hasn’t been a big player in it. Artificial intelligence is just way out of my field of expertise so I think that is hugely important but it is not something I have to worry about in my particular skill set. But the one that I am interested in at the moment and I can’t decide whether it is worth my time is chatbots. This idea of a user interface that isn’t a graphical user interface.

Leigh: That was kind of what I meant by artificial intelligence as well. Yeah.

Paul: And I just can’t work out whether it’s worth my time to put into it? I mean, Dan, I know Ryan likes playing with new and shiny so he must always looking at this kind of stuff but do you set aside time for staying up with all this kind of thing?

Dan: We set aside time for different things. So we set aside time… for example, we only work for client days a week and we work at least a day a week on our own products. And that’s because of what I was saying earlier, about the fact that we want to get our own products out there. Therefore having scheduled time in our schedule! But allotted time to work on these things is important. I guess for us it’s kind of understanding or realising what it is that we’re getting into. I think for example… I’m with you Paul I don’t really see how… Well I can see how in certain industries… How AI or VR is probably going to start to play into the app space and the webspace and things like that. For us it’s not a priority like getting in and learning those things just because they are new. I think the way that we have always approached things is that whatever we are going to be learning, if we are going to be learning something new then what is the reason for doing it. If it is just because it is new then we question why we are doing it. And that is really just because of time, we only have so many hours in the day, as we all do, would our time be better off looking into performance, for example, how our sites could perform better for our clients, by learning something new there could we perhaps optimise the experience for our clients. Would that be a better use of time? So we haven’t really got any specific time set aside for learning these things. We always question whenever we’re starting a new project, what did we learn from the last one and where did we struggle. That might be that we simply start using something like, we are using Algolia as a search engine. It is like a search tool because we found previously when we were building search which is like a huge task that we spent far too long on. What we can do is just utilise something by learning how to implement Algolia. It is like a really simple thing but it saved us loads of time and it made a ton of difference to the client as well. And suddenly it is something new that we can start to sell in to our clients and utilise and things like that. Those things are more of a priority to us at the moment than just simply, for example, looking into VR or AI. It doesn’t mean they’re not important… Depending on what you’re working on, I would love to get into the messenger bot space, especially for product teams, I think that is would be something that could be really useful. Again, we see pretty much every product that we have gone to use has one of those zopim chat boxes sitting in the bottom right. “Hey I’m Johnny, have you got any questions?” I think if you can actually tie that into something like messenger where the client might already be, sorry, your potential user might already be and they can ask you questions about the product and things like that. Pre-populated with various answers and things like that. That is interesting to me because I want to get into product but equally I’ve seen that work for people like Olly Murs who has been using it to interact with fans and so you know… You know…

Paul: I think the problem I am having with it, with this kind of stuff is that clients kind of expect me to have an opinion on it. Tera, I know Leigh has got more opinions on this but I’m quite interested because you are part of a larger agency do you guys have anything like an innovation team?

Tera: We are trying to but we seem to find that client work is taking over our ability to be innovative. Which I guess is a good thing because, you know, we get to keep the lights on. One of the things that we did do was that we started our own incubator or concept here. So if you had a developer or designer that had an idea for an app or something that they wanted to focus in on. It’s interesting to hear the conversation going on about wanting to be more product focused. We actually have two products that we are rolling out ourselves so that is where we are trying to do that innovation piece. But looking at it from VR and things like that we haven’t even attempted to tackle it. I could see where it could be a benefit if you are looking at things from a university perspective and maybe want to utilise VR to do a walk-through of a campus so you could see what it’s like. But then you have to know that the people need to have the right hardware. It just becomes very difficult to try and plan for all the new things that are coming out there when you are barely keeping your head above water for all of the active things that you currently have going on.

Paul: Yeah, yeah. Leigh.

Leigh: That was basically my question about research and development departments and when the client seems to have more knowledge about stuff that is coming up then you do because maybe they do have a research and development department, that can be a little bit to intimidating. So yeah.

Paul: To some degree is it not just… You can’t know everything about everything, you know. For me it goes back to that old T-shaped model you know. I need to be aware of these things, I would be a bit disturbed if a client turned round to me and said “What are your thoughts on so-and-so-abot” and I hadn’t even heard of it, that would worry me a little bit and I would at least want to know what it does or what it potentially offers. But beyond that there is only so much you can know.

Leigh: Yeah, I’ll rely on nuzzle to trawl my Twitter feeds for the things that pop up a lot.

Paul: Nuzzle, that’s another one I haven’t heard of.

Leigh: Oh, it’s an android and iOS app I guess, that just looks at your Twitter feed and it pulls to the surface things that are mentioned a lot. And things that people that you are following mention a lot and people that they are following… So. Yeah, it just pulls things to the surface rather than you monitoring Twitter all the time to see what is cropping up time and time again, which is a usually a good indication to what is taking off out there.

Paul: But you get something like… The trouble is you can get things that are fads, can’t you. Sometimes potentially quite long term fads as well. Then they’re gone. They evaporate.

Leigh: This Internet thing! (Laughter)

Paul: Well if you want to take a really extreme example and well, you can’t call this a fad, but I remember when Flash first came along. I made a decision, I remember going, my brain doesn’t work in this way, I can’t… So flash, I never spent any time really with flash. And I’d like to claim that I knew that one day it would disappear but of course that wasn’t why! Technologies do come and go, how long do you invest in these things.

Leigh: Well the amount of time I wasted learning Flash and making mouse following graphics… (Laughter)

Paul: No, we made a lot of money out of you learning Flash so that’s fine.

Leigh: So it wasn’t a wasted then (laughter). It’s not transferable necessarily but it was good for the time it was there.

Paul: Leigh has brought possibly the impossible question to answer, how do you decide what to keep up with? Everybody who is listening to this knows none of us have got the answer to that question, we are all flailing around trying to keep up with this incredible speed of development. So that wraps it up for the discussion. I want to quickly mention our second sponsor for today which is Currencyfair. Currencyfair basically allows you to save up to 80% on international transfer fees and exchange rates. You know how many companies say “Oh, it’s free transfers, no commission et cetera” but then what they do is they give you a really shit rate of exchange so that they make their margin of that rate of exchange. Which means it gets really expensive. I do a lot of work with the States and although I’m benefiting hugely from Brexit at the moment and the really weak pound I do pay a huge amount in just bad conversion rates between currencies. What is really nice about currencyfair is that actually they average only 0.35% off of the rate quoted, the kind of generally accepted rate, the kind of thing you’ll find on Google. So customers have transferred over €4 billion through currencyfair and saved about €145 million in the process and their rates constantly change all the time and being constantly updated so that you can check at any time on their homepage what their rate is. You can either set it to transfer immediately or alternatively you can schedule it for later when the rate hits a certain level which is brilliant! So a couple of examples of use cases, if you run a small agency or small to medium size company then you can pay suppliers in multiple currencies around the world which is great. Or alternatively if you are receiving goods from around the world then you can receive them in various currencies through Currencyfair. Also, if you’ve got presence in more than one country you can move funds between the various countries that you are in, all through using this system. So if you want to find out more about it check out currencyfair.com/Boag. So it’s totally worthwhile if you really are dealing with multiple currencies, which is pretty much all of us these days. So that pretty much wraps it up for this week’s show. Let’s get onto… Dan has just put in the type, “Are we ever going to get onto your subject?” Dan, you know my subject is rubbish and I am trying to avoid actually covering it, that’s what’s going on there!

Dan: I see what has happened here Paul, you know. Bring these people… Get these people to bring ideas and don’t bring any.

Paul: I’ve got nothing to offer myself. It’s just because I’m polite. I put other people before myself.

Dan: I really wanted to hear about your subject and this is the last week for me on the show. I will just have to listen then when it comes out.

Paul: Oh no. Oh Dan. I will have to have a long conversation with you personally about co-creation of content. I’m sure that will be the highlight of your week (laughter)

Dan: It will be Paul, it will be.

Paul: So, a quick roundtable of where people can find out about each of you. Let’s start with our newest member, Tera. Where can people find out about you?

Tera: If you want to find out more about me you can follow me on Twitter @tcaldsimon or go to IamTera.com.

Paul: Iamtera.com, I like that. Leigh, what about you?

Leigh: The best place is probably Headscape.co.uk and I’m @Leigh, l-e-i-g-h, on Twitter.

Paul: and Dan?

Dan: Probably the best place is Twitter, yeah, @de.

Paul: Okay. Drew?

Drew: On Twitter I am @DrewM and we are grabaperch.com.

Paul: And if you want to join pretty much all of us, I don’t think Tera is in, but pretty much everyone else. You can join us in our slack channel as well by going to Boagworld.com/slacking and sign up there. Marcus isn’t here to give a joke so I’m just literally going to give a joke from the slack channel. Jason Brown had a great joke that I really enjoyed which is “a man walked into a zoo, the zoo only had one animal and it was a dog. It was a shitzoo” shitzoo?

Drew: Shitzoo, I think you fluffed the punchline there Paul.

Dan: It’s all gone silent hasn’t it?!

Paul: And on that note we end the show.

Dan: You should have told that chemistry joke.

Paul: Which chemistry joke?

Dan: To be honest I don’t know if you’d get a reaction. (Laughter)

Leigh: Very good!

Paul: Shitzoo… (Laughter) and on that note we shall leave it. See you all again next week. Thank you to all my guests and thank you to you for listening.

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