This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Andrew Millar from a leading UK University to talk about his experiences running a digital team.
- More on The Digital Project Manager School.
- More on Pactly.
- Boagworld Article – Prototyping: Why Bother and Where to Start? A Definitive Introduction.
- Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) .
- Article by Jared M. Spool – Why I can’t convince executives to invest in UX (and neither can you).
- Boagworld article – How to End the Pain of Shifting Project Priorities.
Paul Boag: This week on the Boagworld Show, we're joined by Andrew Millar from a leading UK university to talk about his experiences of running a digital team. This week's show is sponsored by Pactly and The Digital Project Manager School.
Hello and welcome to the Boagworld Show, the podcast about all aspects of digital design, development, and strategy. My name is confidently said as Paul Boag and joining me on this week's show is Marcus Lillington and Andrew Millar.
Marcus L: Hello.
Paul Boag: Hello, Andrew.
Andrew Millar: Hey, how you doing?
Paul Boag: This is, just as, just as well as the last time you asked me when we tried to start the show, and the time after that as well, so there we go. I'm not doing well today.
Marcus L: Take three.
Paul Boag: Yes, take three. Take one, I had the inability to say my name. Take two, I forgot to put my headphones on, so we are just doomed, doomed, I say.
How is life with you? Are you busy, Andrew?
Andrew Millar: I am. We're just in the middle of ripping out an entire web estate. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but less of a good idea as we're getting into it. But, it's all fun.
Paul Boag: You're kidding.
Andrew Millar: It's all good.
Paul Boag: Now just a-
Marcus L: Is that all kind of getting into connecting with back end systems that have been around forever and all that kind of stuff?
Andrew Millar: Yes, trying to-
Marcus L: Oh, crosstalk 00:01:33.
Andrew Millar: … connect spreadsheets is a great thing.
Paul Boag: Ooh, so, just to put this in context for people, Andrew, where do you work, and how big is your website?
Andrew Millar: I work at the University of Dundee. Four years ago when we started all this, our entire web estate was about half a million pages. We've got that down to just under 100,000 across the whole entire web estate. But, the main corporate site is about 20,000 pages.
Paul Boag: That's the one that you're ripping out and redoing, are you?
Andrew Millar: Yeah, well, we're trying to consolidate a lot of the other websites back into the main corporate website. Yeah, a lot of that 100,000 might start to come back in as well.
Paul Boag: You're going to migrate, or are you going to be getting rid of a load of content as part of that, or …
Andrew Millar: I hope so, yes. inaudible 00:02:30, it's going to go on a couple of years. Yeah, no, we're hoping to, we're re-imagining the way we do the website and moving from a less siloed representation of the institution to a more integrated one.
Because, we used to be feral. We've talked about this in the past. If you had a loud voice, you just went and did whatever you wanted. We're now in the 21st century, and we're now starting to try to bring all that back in together to something that makes some modicum of sense.
Paul Boag: I just love the idea of a feral website. That's a pretty good way of describing many websites I work on, feral, yeah.
Andrew Millar: The problem was I was the one that was feral, because inaudible 00:03:17 on my own mistakes at the moment. Yeah, it's all good.
Marcus L: Ah.
Paul Boag: Well, we'll get into that, your mistakes and your journey to where you got to at the moment. But, first of all, I have to obligatorily ask Marcus, did you have-
Marcus L: Oh.
Paul Boag: … a nice holiday?
Marcus L: I did. Did you like my time lapse sunset earlier that I posted on the Boagworld slack channel?
Paul Boag: Very nice indeed.
Marcus L: I had to shout at people not to walk in front of me. "Oh, get out of the way!" When the sun set on the beach at the end of it holding my phone up for like 20 minutes thinking this wasn't such-
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Marcus L: … a good idea.
Paul Boag: It was a terrible idea. You definitely needed a tripod of some description to do that.
Marcus L: Then, as soon as it gets to the really good bit at the end, someone decides to go and walk by, bastards.
Paul Boag: Always the way.
Marcus L: Yes, I highly recommend Sal, Cape Verde for lovely beaches and sunsets and generally being chilled. It was lovely.
Paul Boag: Well, I've had a good week too. I've been prototyping. I forgot how much I enjoyed prototyping. Every time, it's like every time, it's not … It wasn't that long ago I did it but just to get digging in and messing around with a site is so much fun. Especially when it's free from constraints when you're prototyping to imagine what the future could be, rather than worrying about technical legacy and legal and things like that, so I've been having great fun doing that.
Andrew's grinning from ear to ear I can tell. Technical legacy, you don't know what that is, do you?
Andrew Millar: Haven't a clue, not a clue.
Paul Boag: No.
Andrew Millar: Yes, I completely appreciate your position on this. It's wonderful.
Paul Boag: I've been having such a great time. I've been advising, doing a mentorship with a really big multinational company at the moment, and I've been saying to them, "Look, just step back and dream dreams. Imagine what it could be like. Do a prototype where you're not constrained by …"
It's almost like they're paralyzed, because there are all these constraints around them. But, yeah, so that's what I'm doing. I'm doing that for a charity at the moment which sells, it does this kind of buy a donkey kind of thing where you get a gift, don't you, for someone-
Marcus L: They deliver you a donkey.
Paul Boag: They deliver a donkey to your house. You know what I mean.
Marcus L: crosstalk 00:05:46–
Paul Boag: Can I just say in my defense, I do explain it better than that on the prototype that I'm building. Okay, I'm really-
Andrew Millar: It sounds like an awesome project.
Paul Boag: It is. Buy a donkey, yeah. Yes, there you go. Yeah, I wrote a post a while back on prototyping that is worth checking out, because it's a really good post, he says modestly. It's a long post, let's put it like that. It's a comprehensive introduction to prototyping. You can get it by going to boag.world/prototyping.
Andrew Millar: Yes?
Paul Boag: … people that haven't heard about, heard you last time you were on the show, can you give us a bit of a potted history? We've established that you work at the University of Dundee. You've established that you've been there for a while from the sounds of it, because you're dealing with your own technical legacy. Tell us about your job. What is it you do?
Andrew Millar: I'm head of web services at the University of Dundee. I have been at the university for 20 years this year.
Paul Boag: Aw, no way.
Andrew Millar: I did, note, in my defense, I did the first four years my undergrad degree, so-
Paul Boag: Oh, okay.
Andrew Millar: … I'm still a young thing or pretending to be a young thing. Yeah, I've been here for a long time and been going through different roles and different things right from the very low levels up to the heady heights of being head of web services which has been fun. It's got its challenges, but it's my dream job as well. This is what I always thought I was going to be doing, so-
Paul Boag: Really? But, that's-
Andrew Millar: More or less, more or less.
Paul Boag: I was going to say, because 20 years ago, it would have been a thing but not a huge thing, I wouldn't have thought.
Andrew Millar: No, when I … That was 1999 that I started my degree, and the web was just starting-
Paul Boag: Oh, yeah.
Andrew Millar: … to become a thing.
Paul Boag: Yeah, it was. Yeah.
Andrew Millar: It wasn't, we had browsers, and we had the internet, everything else. But, it wasn't anywhere near what it is nowadays. Then, just reflecting on what my first jobs were, there was nothing like this back then. It was never-
Paul Boag: No.
Andrew Millar: … your main job. It was part of another job that you did this.
Marcus L: Web master, that was what-
Andrew Millar: Web master.
Paul Boag: Those were the days.
Andrew Millar: They were good titles.
Marcus L: My dream job-
Paul Boag: They were.
Marcus L: … would be restaurant critic I think.
Paul Boag: But, don't you think … I often think this that jobs like that, there's a real serious danger that very quickly your passion for food turns into work, and it's ruined.
Marcus L: It's absolutely true. Yes, people would think I would say being a musician. But, no, that ruins being a musician, so you're dead right.
Paul Boag: Of course, I am. I'm a wise man.
Marcus L: You're always right, Paul. Oh, no, you're not, are you?
Paul Boag: That means, you've spent … Shut up. That means you've spent your entire career at the University of Dundee?
Andrew Millar: Yeah, more or less. I went away for a year. Unfortunately, another university, and-
Paul Boag: All right.
Andrew Millar: I actually, so I graduated in 2003, and I'd been working at a convenient store/petrol station type thing during my degree, and I quit that just before I started my last year at university. I walked in on the last day of my exams and said, "You got any jobs going?" They offered me a manager's position in retail bizarrely.
I was a supervisor before, but they offered me a manager's position. I thought, "This is great. I'm going to end up earning money, and this is going to be wonderful." The whole degree went out the window for a wee while, because I was earning money, and it was cool, and I had stuff to spend.
Then, I didn't really like retail, and the kind of people that were managing me weren't terribly nice either. I sent them a rather obnoxious letter saying, telling them where to have the job as it were.
Paul Boag: I can't imagine you doing that. That's really weird.
Andrew Millar: Yeah, I can't imagine myself doing it either. It is, but, yeah, I was marched off the premises and told I had two weeks gardening leave.
Then, I looked for other things and ended up at the University of Abertay, which is the other university in Dundee, as a web administrator and bizarrely job shop coordinator, which was a part-time job service for students to try to help them earn money during their degrees.
Marcus L: Oh, the irony.
Andrew Millar: Yes. Then, did that for a year or so, did that part-time, and then ended up at Dundee doing the same thing at Dundee but part-time, so having two jobs at the same time.
Paul Boag: Right.
Andrew Millar: I really quite enjoyed it. For a while, I considered going away from the tech stuff and being more people focused, because I quite enjoyed speaking to students and helping them and looking at CVs and all this kind of stuff. It actually helped me later on in my career, because I could look at one CV inaudible 00:11:05 thinking of what was wrong with it. That was fine for inaudible 00:11:10.
Then, I got a position up at one of the big colleges within the university, the College of Life Sciences. That was just brilliant. It was one of these small IT teams that if you think about The IT Crowd that was, or The Big Bang Theory, that was kind of like what we were. It was just this brilliant bunch of people but completely obsessed with tech.
Those were the times when everything that ran in the browser was a web guy's problem, because it wasn't the same. I'm talking like I'm an old person. This didn't happen that long ago, but everything that ran in the browser was suddenly my problem. I was suddenly immersed in doing servers, configuration, and development and having to manage the entire life cycle stuff. That was fine, and I was the only web guy at that point.
Over the years, I expanded my role and expanded my team to being something a lot bigger. We started to take over different things. Then, the university restructured probably four years ago now, and I became head of web services. I was offered the position, and I took it. Now, this is my dream job.
I miss development though. I miss designing and developing and writing code and configuring servers. There are days where you wish you could just go back to those days and tinker around. I now manage people that do cool stuff, and I used to do cool stuff.
Paul Boag: But, that's the curse of anyone that is successful in their career, isn't it? Eventually, you end up not doing what it is you love doing.
Marcus L: crosstalk 00:13:00–
Andrew Millar: Yeah.
Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But, of course, you can have a much bigger impact overall on the direction things are going, and that's kind of satisfying. It's satisfying in a different way, isn't it? It changes I guess.
Andrew Millar: It is. You can help with impact. Actually, you had a big impact on my career. I'm going to give you a big head now, but-
Marcus L: Aw.
Andrew Millar: … you did.
Paul Boag: That's what I like-
Andrew Millar: You had a-
Paul Boag: … especially with Marcus Lillingtonistening. Carry on.
Andrew Millar: I'm not getting paid for this, I should say. No, I remember hearing you speak at an IWMW event in 2013 about digital transformation, and all that was entailed by that. I went from being this really tech-y person to actually going, "Oh, there's a human element to this, and we could do this, and we could do that. We could do the next thing."
That focused my thoughts actually on what I wanted to do. It helped me go, "Actually, I want to get into management. I want to change things. I want to make things better. I want to …" I started sending all these things to senior people in the university saying, "We should do this. We should do that. Here's this cool guy that says this." Yeah, it was useful really to be honest.
Marcus L: All good then, until you said cool guy. But-
Paul Boag: crosstalk 00:14:18–
Marcus L: … that was one of Paul's fire and brimstone talks, if I remember rightly, trying to get everyone in the room to grab the whatever you grab and go back to various universities and institutions and do something.
You actually did it. Paul-
Andrew Millar: I did, yeah.
Marcus L: … you should feel good.
Andrew Millar: crosstalk 00:14:37, Paul.
Paul Boag: Yeah, but, to be fair, it's a lot easier to tell people to go and do it than it is to go and do it. I had the easy bit, didn't I, really? I sound humble. We must stop that. Yes, it was all down to me. There we go.
But, what I find quite remarkable really, Andrew, is that you spent pretty much your entire career in one organization. Yet, you seem less institutionalized, if you know what I mean, than many people that have only been there a few years.
When we worked together, I never got from you that, "Well, we tried that, but it didn't work." Or, "Oh, you'll never get away with doing that here." It was always much more positive, much more, "We can bring about change."
Is that a reflection on the institution, or is it a reflection on you, or … Where does that come from? Because, a lot of people have that kind of crushed out of them, especially in an organization like a university.
Andrew Millar: Yeah, I'm going to be completely humble and say, of course, it was all about me. But, it was about the institution as well. I love Dundee. I did my degree here, so I've been on both sides of the table.
But, I've had opportunities to go elsewhere, agencies and private companies. Every time, I've gone for the interview, and you've sat there, and you've listened, and I've always just been … I like the idea of being part of something that's doing good. That's in the strap lines transforming lives. That sounds a bit strange, sometimes, but when you speak to the academics, and you speak to people, and you see what they're doing and even speaking to students that understand what they're doing with their lives.
Actually, it's not a bad place to work. I get quite a lot of pride out of saying that I work for the University of Dundee, and I enjoy it. There are days when you go, "Ugh, I just can't be bothered with this," and just want to chuck it all in. But, the good days outweigh the bad days.
I've always just been dragged back. Yeah, reflecting now that it's been 20 years that I've been here in one capacity or the other, yeah, I think, "Should I be moving on?" I'm enjoying myself. I like it. I like the people, like the work. Let's just keep cracking on and doing stuff.
Paul Boag: Paul has asked a good question in Crowdcast where he said, how do you maintain perspective when working within one organization for so long? Do you have, are you fed from the outside in some way, or how do you get that fresh perspective that you need in order to a job like you're doing?
Andrew Millar: I listen to a lot of, inaudible 00:17:38 of podcasts like this. I listen to lots of different perspectives. I try not to get too, I've learned over the years not to take things too personally and not to get crushed down and always try to look for the better way of doing things. I think that also comes from my family as well. They were a family that looked at different ways of doing things and those outside perspectives and that as well.
Often, I'll have things outside of the university. That gives you lots of ideas as well. I like going and speaking to people, "What is it you do? What is it you do?"
Also, within the university, I try to get out of the office quite a bit and actually go and speak to the schools and the directorates and the people who are having the problems and actually try to empathize with them and go, "Yeah, I can understand why you're saying this to me because of what you've now told me."
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Andrew Millar: I think when you sit in an office all the time, you're very used to just going, "Why am I getting all these requests?" In fact, it's dead funny. I was looking through old emails yesterday and came across an email I had sent to what was essentially my predecessor about 10 years asking for things that I'm now saying no to. Asking him silly questions. A little bit of retrospective sometimes helps to keep your head on straight.
Paul Boag: Also, there is actually a very strong higher education web community out there. Andrew's already mentioned IWMW which is a superb conference that I'll link to in the show notes. But, also, within Scotland as well, there's Scottish universities, you all talk to one another. Don't you meet up every now and again? Now, that must help I'm guessing.
Andrew Millar: We do. It's called Scottish Web Folk. It's done by a brilliant guy up in the Highlands and Islands University, Duncan Ireland, and he keeps us all meeting and talking. We arrange, I think it's quarterly, we get together and chat about things that are affecting us, things that are coming up.
This is UK-wide, especially in terms of the IWMW community, we're not terribly precious about what we do. We will have a good moan, but we'll give each other solutions. It's a huge support, especially when you hear what other people that are going through and having to cope with. You look back at your own institution and go, "Actually, this is not as bad as what other people are going through." We're very, very fortunate in the support we've had. It could have been so much worse-
Marcus L: crosstalk 00:20:19.
Andrew Millar: … so much worse.
Marcus L: We came back from an IWMW, a couple of years ago maybe, something like that, and I made the comment of something along the lines of, "Isn't it brilliant to see the HE community taking strides forward. They're way ahead of industry," or something like that.
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Marcus L: And, I got absolutely slammed for it. "That might be the-
Andrew Millar: Really?
Marcus L: … case for a small group, but we're still struggling," was the message. That was a few years ago, but, yeah.
Paul Boag: Yeah, it is true. It is all over the map. I've just been working with another Scottish institution. I pick my words very carefully here, and they're just, they're crippled. They are just, they cannot … It's one of the rare mentorship relationships that I've done where I was unable to make progress with them. It was just a dead end.
Yeah, there are pockets of that, but I think that is declining. I think like any sector. I work in a lot of different sectors. I think higher education in some ways is more progressive than many other sectors.
Surprisingly, even the corporate sector, even organizations like I worked with another retailer, a fashion retailer, multinational, and their e-commerce and their ways of working from a digital transformation perspective, they are leagues behind somewhere like Dundee.
It entirely depends. Yes, the commercial sector throw more money at it, but it doesn't mean they're further along the line of digital transformation. There's a huge difference, you know?
Andrew Millar: Yeah.
Paul Boag: It is fascinating.
Andrew Millar: Yeah, I was going to say, we've just done a big tender exercise where we've put it on UCMS. As part of that, I was looking at an agency that we can work with, and it was amazing going through that process about some were, we were going to have to teach them how to do stuff.
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Andrew Millar: You always assume when you're sitting in that higher education context that you don't know anything, and you're no good. We saw some that we thought, "We can't work with you, because we're going to have upskill you to the stage where we're at, before we can actually get you to move on." We wanted an agency that was going to push us, rather than us having to push them.
Paul Boag: Yeah, absolutely.
Let's pause just for a minute, because I want to talk about The Digital Project Management School. In fact, what I want to talk about is a charity that I've been working with which is called the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Check them out actually. They work in this idea of a circular economy. The idea that we can have an economy that is more friendly to people and the world and stuff like that, so they're a really interesting charity.
What is so fascinating about working with them is that they're growing, and they're expanding, and they're doing all this kind of stuff. And, they're desperately trying to recruit a digital product manager and just the first of numerous ones. They want to set up a hub and spoke model where they have digital project managers embedded in different parts of the charity.
They are having such problems recruiting. I ought to put a link to their job description really in the show notes, because they really are having a struggle recruiting, because finding good people is really, really hard. That is why … This does tie into the sponsor, which is The Digital Project Manager School. This is why I want to feature things like The Digital Project Manager, because they train people that can do these jobs that are so desperately needed.
You talk to anybody who runs any kind of digital team, and there is a real need for good people with digital project manager skills. Very few of us have actually ever had any training in this area, and that's exactly what The Digital Project Manager School does. They launched a course last year called Mastering Digital Project Management which they've received some superb feedback from. It's really very much pioneering in how digital project management is taught, because it's different, isn't it, to traditional project management, so I'm really glad to see that this is being taught in that kind of unique way.
The course is completely online. It's got a seven-week curriculum. It covers everything from broad topics like project methodologies and leadership qualities. The kind of thing you need if you're going to be leading a digital team like Andrew is and all the way through to doing that kind of specific daily task like estimating projects, handling budgets, writing briefs, dealing with unexpected challenges from stakeholders, and a whole lot more.
The next course is starting on February the 4th, so you'll need to hurry by the time this podcast comes out, and you can find out more about it … Oh, Marcus-
Marcus L: You don't mean February-
Andrew Millar: February the 4th?
Paul Boag: No, no-
Marcus L: April?
Paul Boag: … that can't be right, can it? April, I mean April. I mean April. It's the beginning of April somewhere. Thank you for pulling me up on that, Marcus.
You can find out more by going to thedigitalprojectmanager.com/boagworld.
Andrew, talking of digital project management and leading teams and that kind of stuff, how would you describe what your role encompasses?
Andrew Millar: It's a difficult one. Head of web services, it sounds like you're the cleaner dusting off cobwebs. I guess how I explain it depends on how long I want the conversation to last. I don't want to come away with any work at the end of it.
I could say I design websites, which is a complete lie nowadays. I don't ever get my hands on actual HTML and CSS. But, you always get somebody going, "Oh, could you build me a website for such and such?"
Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew Millar: Sometimes, I just say I'm an IT manager. Especially, with insurance companies bizarrely when they ask you what your occupation is-
Paul Boag: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Andrew Millar: It just seems to be this anonymous, anonymous? I can't say that word.
Paul Boag: It's not crosstalk 00:26:58–
Andrew Millar: It seems to be a strange thing.
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Andrew Millar: No, so I just say I'm an IT manager when I'm speaking to insurance companies just to try and … Sometimes, I say I'm in digital marketing. Again, it depends on who you speak to. Most of the times, I just say that I'm in charge of Dundee Uni's website, and I have all the responsibilities around about that, and I get all the grief and all the complaints and all the accolades and whatever else in relation to that.
I think, and it's strange now I'm a manager I'm finding that a lot of the skills I had with design and development and all this good stuff have started to wane a wee bit. I still understand the principles. I still understand all that stuff behind it, but when you just say you're the manager, it doesn't sound quite as cool as a web master used to.
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Andrew Millar: Yeah, I think that's how I explain it.
Paul Boag: What does it, for us, who are a little more informed than maybe an insurance company, what does your role actually encompass? What do you do on a daily basis, say, an average day?
Andrew Millar: An average day, so I normally get into the office about half past eight, and the first hour is spent with emails. I do, I have a routine of when I do a first pass. I just separate all the wheat from the chaff and figure out what's actually important.
Then, I'll reply to the important ones first of all. Very often, I'll just leave ones that I think, "Ugh, I don't have time to answer that one just now," or, "That's going to require a bit of thought," or, "Actually, I need to go and speak to someone about that."
That's about the first hour. I go through my task list. I used to be able to keep everything in my head. I don't know if it's something to do with age, but I just cannot keep everything in my head now, so I use task lists every day. I have a task list for, I use Microsoft To Do or something like that. I have a task list for every person that I, each one of my direct reports, my manager and other key people. When I go about the day I can type stuff up and say, "I need to speak to you about that," and everything else.
Then, as part of the big web project, we have everything planned out. I can inaudible 00:29:18 thing. We go through that and figure out where we are. Then, half past nine every morning, we have our standup with our additional agency down south where we tell them what we've done. They tell us what they've done and figure out what we're doing for the day.
Then, the rest of the day, it's split between meetings and doing some actual work, sitting at my computer which some days you wish you could just spend the whole day sitting at a computer rather than attending meetings. Although, the days when you do get to sit at your computer doing stuff, you wish you had a couple of meetings to break up the day-
Paul Boag: To break it up, yeah.
Andrew Millar: … to break it up, the monotony. But, most of my work nowadays is about speaking to people and bringing people together and trying to make decisions.
Universities are strange places that rule by consensus rather than by a top-down approach. You would think that you could go to the senior person and go, "Can you make a decision on this?" They'll make a decision on that, but you'll get another 10 people who will come back at you and say, "No, no, that's the wrong decision, because of X, Y, and Z," and you have to go back to the start.
A large percentage of my time is going and speaking to people and trying to convince them that we're doing the right thing and get them on board and try to get them to understand what we're doing, and why we're doing it. Some people get it straight away. Other people, it's a bit more of a longer process to explain what user experience is and interface design, and why we're doing user needs and, "Well, I've given you your user needs. Why do you need to go ask other people what your user needs are?" That is really pretty much 90% of my time going out and doing presentations and all that kind of stuff.
Paul Boag: Do you feel that people are getting it more now? Do you feel that your colleagues understand that you're not what your job title says, which is you're not just a service department that delivers on what ever random crap they want to produce? Do they understand that you as a team are providing a leadership role in digital?
Andrew Millar: I think it's getting there. We've moved out of IT into marketing about four years ago which has really helped us try to sell that story, because marketing was really suffering from a similar thing that they were seen as people who did the posters and the leaflets. That's what they did. We've had a joint attack on the university to try and get people to understand that we are partners and trying to help them to sell their products.
There are still people that you get, I get random phone calls saying, "You're head of web service, right? I've been on the phone to IT, and they said we can do this. Can you guys just make it happen?" It's like, "I'm not part of IT." They still think that we're part of it, and it's all this …
Some people get it and some people are completely on board. Some people the internet is just this foreign thing. Trying to get academics to think about, what will people actually be searching for when they're looking for your course? That's what you should call your course, so that it resonates with the market. It's just, you feel like you're banging your head against a brick wall sometimes.
Then, other academics completely get it, completely get it. It's a joy sometimes to find an academic who is ahead of you on this game.
Paul Boag: Yeah, so, but do you get … Sorry, Marcus, carry on.
Marcus L: No, all I was going to say, your title is web services manager which, yeah, is very dry, isn't it? But, it seems like you're … I remember, Paul, you coining the term digital evangelist a few years ago. It sounds like that's your role more than anything else. You're going out having to persuade people either to part with money for a project or to do a project right. You're not really necessarily, correct me if I'm wrong, but, it's sort of yes, people report to you, and you've got projects going. But, really, your job is to go and evangelize, is that right?
Andrew Millar: Absolutely. Yes, because it's a hearts and minds thing sometimes. Sometimes, it's not about the business case that you put forward. It's about getting to the key people and actually convincing them.
I remember when I did the interview for this job the feedback I got was that I was almost evangelical in my presentation. I think that's absolutely right. You have to convince the hearts and the minds that this is the right way to do things. You have to be a bit charismatic in how you present things, and you have to take people with you.
It's not always easy depending on the situations you're going in. You have to be prepared for backlash sometimes. But, yeah, no, I think you're absolutely right, Marcus.
Paul Boag: That's very interesting that you said there. It's not always about the business case or the logic. It's about winning hearts and minds, and I think that is something that is seriously underestimated in our sector. We have this kind of mental, we have this presumption that if we set out a logical argument, and it's all so clear, and it makes sense, then everybody should just fall in line and do what we want them to do. The world doesn't work like that. People don't make decisions like that in any organization and especially not universities.
It's essentially you're a salesman really in what you have to do. I always go back to that brilliant Jared Spool article where he wrote … It was entitled, "Why I can't convince an executive to invest in UX and neither can you." The premise of the article is, I've been doing this for 20-plus years, I've never managed to convince an executive of anything. All I can do is try and frame it around something they're already convinced of.
If they want to reduce costs, and I talk about how user experience design can reduce organizational cost. If they want to increase market share, I talk about how it can increase market share. It's not always just about being logical or presenting an argument.
You take an academic that you could talk about using the right, the terms that users search on. Like you say, they don't give a monkey's ass, because they don't really care about students half of the academics. They just want to do their research.
Marcus L: Sweeping statements by Paul Boag.
Paul Boag: I said half of the academics. The other half don't do that. But, there are some-
Andrew Millar: crosstalk 00:36:30–
Paul Boag: … academics … Yeah, yeah. There are some academics that are there for research, and, actually, the teaching is something that they're not as interested in. That's fair enough.
Marcus L: They're forced to do, yes.
Paul Boag: Yeah. That's fair enough. In which case, you've got to frame the whole of the naming the things right and the terms. As much about the benefit that it will provide them in terms of their exposure and peer review and all of those kinds of things, the things they already care about. Yeah, you're entirely right. It's a hearts and minds exercise, definitely.
Andrew Millar: It has to be something they care about. I remember when I started a pitch for the big investment bid. We went in and said, "We've got half a million web pages we need to sort out." They go, "Well, okay, is that a lot? Is that a little?"
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Andrew Millar: You then say, "Well, if I put one person on it for 10 minutes, it's going to take me 53 years to get through all that." They then start to sit up and go, "Oh, actually, I see the scale of the problem here." You then got that little hook to bring them in, and they then go, "Okay, let's listen to what this person's saying."
But, I remember another senior academic sit in front of them showing them data, showing them analytics, and it contradicted his view of how things should be done. He says, "Well," he says, "you can make analytics do anything." This was a senior academic that spent his life with data doing analytics and completely disregarding it. It's a difficult job sometimes.
Paul Boag: But, you get into all kinds of … Sorry, Marcus. You get-
Marcus L: That's fine.
Paul Boag: … into all kinds of psychological stuff there as well around how the academic would presume that he was a superior to you within the organization rather than a peer, and so you're supposed to just fall in line with him.
Also, let's be honest, these guys argue for a living. That's what they do, so it is a tough environment. Other than when Marcus went through a period of working with lawyers, I don't think you can get much worse than dealing with academics really. They're right up there. Sorry, Marcus, you were going to say something.
Marcus L: Well, we're currently working with a law school. Imagine what those-
Paul Boag: Now, they got to-
Marcus L: … like.
Andrew Millar: crosstalk 00:38:46.
Marcus L: Yeah, they are good fun generally speaking. What I've found over the years, and I think this is because I'm an external consultant is everyone agrees with me. "Yes, yes, that makes absolute sense. That's how we're going to do it going forward." Then, you have to when you're reporting back at the end of it, you have to say, "Right, we need to get some of this down in policy," and actually write it down.
You might agree in principle about put users first, et cetera, et cetera, all the things we discuss. But, what that could actually mean and provide examples that yes, you're little project that you think is the most important thing in the world needs to go through the same questions that you would any other project. All the stuff you just agreed to basically applies to you as well, and you have to hammer that home.
I'm currently writing that at the moment for the law school. Yeah, you've got to have stuff to support that, because I've found that people do agree with it.
Paul Boag: Really interesting you say that. I actually tweeted only this morning, I think it was this morning, or it might be in my buffer queue, I tweeted that sometimes the best way of defining things like that is to define what you're not going to do. "Yes, we're going to put the user first." Which means we are not going to put … first. You got to show them the cost if you-
Marcus L: Yes, crosstalk 00:40:13–
Paul Boag: … want them to actually agree with it. But, also, policies are great. Policies are power, because policies aren't personal. If you write things in policy, people fall in line a lot easier. At least that's my experience.
Andrew Millar: As you say, academics are good at arguing with policy and finding-
Paul Boag: Oh, yeah.
Andrew Millar: … caveats to the policy. We once had a, I'm not sure it was a policy, but just a thing where we said, "You can only have I think it was four sentences on your course page." But, then, the English-
Paul Boag: inaudible 00:40:43–
Andrew Millar: … course came back with every comma and semicolon and whatever it is, and it ended up as big as it was before. That's just life.
Paul Boag: But, you've got, you do a type of this, don't you? Because, you do a variation on the digital triage approach. That's an example of a kind of policy, is it not?
Andrew Millar: Digital triage?
Paul Boag: Oh, no, I'm entirely wrong.
Marcus L: Who?
Andrew Millar: Is that me?
Paul Boag: I-
Andrew Millar: This is good. We should do that.
Paul Boag: Sorry, I've obviously got you utterly confused with one of the other 30 higher education institutions I work with, so forgive me for that.
Andrew Millar: No, I think there was. I think there's somebody at IWMW was doing digital triage. Who was it?
Paul Boag: Somebody. It's something I made up at one point, but it's essentially a way of organizing projects. The order you do projects using a point system rather than whoever shouts the loudest. I'm sure you've got some variation of that where you have a list of criteria by which you decide which projects go first. You said at the beginning that you have moved away from that who shouts the loudest. What system do you use then? I'm interested.
Andrew Millar: Whoever provides me with chocolate generally. No, we tend to, it's a combination of business requirements. There are some areas that naturally bring in higher amounts of cash than other places. They generally get put to the top of the list of those institutional targets to be met, we tend to look at that.
We tend to work with our individual schools and directorates early on in the planning process to say, what are your priorities? We can then start to look at that across the piece and go, "All right, we can do that and that and that. We can't do that."
We tend to try and get them all together, so that we can have a bird's eye view to say, "Well, we could do that, and that's going to solve nine problems just by doing that bit," so it varies.
We did try to come up with a points-based system, but it was really difficult trying to get good data out of the institution. You say, "How much money are you going to bring in?" "I'm going to bring in this amount of money." You go, "Where's that data coming from?" "Well, I think I can get this amount of money."
Paul Boag: Yeah, crosstalk 00:43:10–
Marcus L: Can I go off on a tangent a minute? It is slightly relevant. Is that you mentioned the English course with the sentence and using all of the-
Andrew Millar: Yeah, yeah.
Marcus L: … commas and semicolons, et cetera. I'm reading a book called A Gentleman in Moscow at the moment, which is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. It reminded me of a sentence which was, "Here, indeed, was a formidable sentence, one that was on intimate terms with the comma, and that held the period in healthy disregard." Beautiful. Read that book. It's gorgeous.
Paul Boag: One thing that I wanted to ask you, Andrew, was this idea of how are … You said earlier about you were looking back through old emails, and you saw an email where you were asking for the very things that you're now saying no to. It got me thinking about your role, and how you learn as you go through your career. I'm really interested, if you could go back and talk to that person that four years ago got the role of web services manager, what advice would you give him now, now, you've gone through what you've gone through?
Andrew Millar: Run.
Marcus L: crosstalk 00:44:31.
Andrew Millar: I think I would encourage myself to trust my instincts a bit more, because I've realized that the things, I tend to second-guess myself a lot and not trust what I'm saying. We've talked about imposter syndrome before and all that that entails. I think I could possibly have made a wee bit more progress, if I had stuck to my guns. Because, I tend to find the things that I've said first of all, it's been argued against, and then we've come back to it in the future and accepted that's what we should do. You think, "I said that two months ago, and it was thrown out."
I think trusting my instincts a bit more and, also, asking for more than you'll think you'll get. I've always been quite conservative, because, again, I second-guess myself and say, "Well, I'll ask for that. But, actually, I'll not get that, because of X, Y, and Z, so I better ask for this, and I might get that."
When it's actually just go and beg and then work down from that. You'll generally get what you wanted in the first place just by putting more than you thought you were going to get. Although, I have been surprised as well that I've been given what I ask for, which is I've obviously made a good case for it.
Paul Boag: Yeah. It's really, that whole thing of second-guessing yourself is really tricky. Because, you could end up having the opposite problem where you swing the other way, and you become too dogmatic over stuff when you actually need to back off. It is something that you only really learn by trial and error.
Going back to the other thing that you said about you say something, and, then, 18 months later, it's adopted. Do you think there's a degree where that's inevitable to some extent? That sometimes an idea takes time to bed in, or it wasn't the right time for the idea. The organization wasn't ready for the idea yet. Do you think that has been the case in the past?
Andrew Millar: I think so. I've often found that if you try to convince people against their will, they'll still keep the same opinion. You have to give the idea time to settle and mature and can roll around in their heads, and you just have to keep plugging away at it.
If when I think back 20 years to the stuff, well, not 20 years, but maybe 10 years when I was writing all these kind of things, it's taken 10 years for me to get into the position where it's possible. I've said this before. The things that we're doing now wouldn't have been possible 10 years ago.
That's nothing to do with me. That's just the maturity of the organization has got to the stage where actually we accept that these things are important, and we understand a little bit more, and we've got the reputation to be able to sustain them.
Yeah, it takes a while. Sometimes, you can convince people just by giving a good presentation. Something that pulls at the heartstrings. Other times, you need to go and do it and leave it with them and just accept that you might not have won that day, but you'll come back to it in the future, and it will be more relevant.
Paul Boag: That's also, mine, there's something in there of having, the fact that you've been there for so long. That you take, you take the long view with an institution like that. That, sometimes, you went back, earlier we were talking about how some higher education institutions are really struggling, and they haven't made progress and all the rest of it.
I think sometimes that can be good people come in, they get frustrated by the situation and then move on. There's not that consistency of push, gentle push, push, push, keep pushing, year in, year out.
Actually, there's something to be said for the fact that you've been there so long, and you've been constantly pushing at that. That maybe you have actually had a bigger impact on the institution than maybe you think you have. That you have been instrumental in moving it to that place, or am I giving you too much credit?
Andrew Millar: You can never do that, Paul. That's entirely correct. No, I think you're right. I think you have experience. I think having sat within lots of different areas in the university, I'm able to look at all the problems and understand, "I can understand why you're asking for this."
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Andrew Millar: "I don't think this is the right thing for you, and here's the reason why I don't think it's the right thing for you." You talk with some knowledge of all the problems that they're going through. Once they realize that you're actually empathizing with them, the barriers come down a wee bit, and you can actually have an honest, one-to-one conversation.
I'm now kind of inaudible 00:49:37 to game keeper where, as I say, I'm starting to fix a lot of my mistakes. Because, I've got those contacts back in those areas where I'm trying to make changes, they tend, I'm not saying they fully trust me, but it's an easier sell to make than somebody who's coming fresh, who's got no higher education experience, or no experience with Dundee.
I've seen that with other areas of the university where very, very good people have been brought in who are cracking in industry or private sector, whatever else, no experience of higher education or Dundee in general, and who just got completely frustrated that they can't move things on at the pace they want to do. They disappear, and you're back to stage one within a couple years' time. Yeah, I like to think that my gray hairs count for something.
Paul Boag: Yeah, and I do think that's the case. You're right. I've seen people that have come from somewhere like the Government Digital Service, and they think they're going to sweep in and do what's happened at the Government Digital Service and make it all different, make big changes.
But, in truth, every organization is different. You can't make the presumption that what you did in another organization is going to transplant, even, even if it's in the same sector, it's going to transplant into a different situation, because culturally every organization is different.
That's something that I've had to learn as an outside consultant is not just to presume that when I go into an organization, "Oh, I'll do what I did in the other three universities I worked with," or whatever else. You can't do that, which is a shame really. It would make life a lot easier if you just could.
Andrew Millar: It would do, yeah.
Paul Boag: Just to wrap up, one last question before we finish, which is, what do you see as being the future of your role and maybe the role of your team? How would you like it to change, or how do you think it will evolve?
Andrew Millar: That's an interesting one, because I think when I came into this job, you think web as this future looking thing, and something that's going to be around for ages. Now, that I'm a bit long in the tooth, you think, "Actually, the sector is changing so quickly."
We're not going to be looking at browsers for terribly much longer. It's going to be into voice. I think as a team and, certainly, as myself, I'm resigning myself to the fact that things are going to change. I'm not going to be doing … My job as it is now is not going to be the same as it is in five years' time. I can almost guarantee it. Even just different technologies or different ways of working, it's going to be different.
I think that the challenge is, the challenge for us is finding people who are willing to change, and who have that ability to change as well. It will be different, and things will move on. That's just the nature of the job.
In university, sometimes, we get people who just want to come in and do the 9-to-5, and that's-
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Andrew Millar: … crosstalk 00:52:58 until retirement. That's just not the sector we're in. Even the wider higher education, that's just not the way it's working anymore.
Paul Boag: You've got change from all angles as well, because not only do you have to keep pace with the change of digital, the whole of higher education has gone through this major upheaval, as it's become more of a consumer-led sector. It's about bums in seats and all of that kind of thing. Yeah, it's a lot coming at you, isn't there really?
Andrew Millar: Yeah, the sector from what it was 20 years ago, fairly unregulated to what it is now is, it's just light years of difference. Then, all the funding changes that are happening as well. We're necessarily having to force ourselves to change.
I think there's disruption coming in the market in the not too distant future, if it's not here already. I think we're going to be pushed to try and keep up with that. I think we are as an organization ready for that. But, that's going to be difficult from a people aspect of it.
Technology comes and technology goes, and you get implementers, and it works. But, it's the people and culture aspect of that, that's going to be the tricky bit.
I think that's where more of my job is going to be based that trying to allay people's fears and trying to help them come along on that journey. Whereas, in the past, they were just shut down and just gone, "This is not for me, I'm not going to do it. Go away, and I'll-
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Andrew Millar: … inaudible 00:54:32 again."
Paul Boag: Yeah, so on that cheerful note-
Andrew Millar: Well, that's good. It's a good-
Paul Boag: crosstalk 00:54:38–
Marcus L: Look to the future, accepting change, it's important.
Paul Boag: Oh, it is. That's really important.
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Marcus L: Not sure, it was a, well, it might have been. We definitely did have that one. I think that might have been a government agency.
Paul Boag: Oh, is it? A government agency.
Marcus L: Yeah, yeah.
Paul Boag: Just brilliant.
Marcus L: Via the loading bay doors or something like that.
Andrew Millar: I wouldn't put it past a university to be honest. inaudible 00:56:38.
Marcus L: crosstalk 00:56:39–
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Marcus, do you have a joke for us?
Marcus L: Dave Smith on the slack channel posted this, and it did make me titter. I used to play the triangle in a reggae band. I had to give it up, because it was just one ting after another.
Paul Boag: Aw, that is, that is terrible. Well done, Dave, thank you for that one.
Andrew Millar: Awesome.
Paul Boag: Andrew, thank you so much for coming on the show again. It's always a pleasure to talk to you.
Andrew Millar: Thanks for having me.
Paul Boag: Good luck with the massive rebuild.
Andrew Millar: Thanks, I may need it. I may need it.
Paul Boag: Yes, you will need it. That is pretty intense, but it's the right thing to do. Sooner or later, you have to go, "Do you know what …" I'm not a fan of website redesigns, but you need a firm foundation from which to build, don't you? Every now and again-
Andrew Millar: Yeah.
Paul Boag: … it has to be done.
Next week, we have Aaron Walters joining us again on the show. It's been a while since he's been on. He's currently working for Invision as an evangelist, going back to Marcus' term earlier. He's doing all the education stuff on Invision. Again, what the hell does that mean? What's it mean to be an evangelist? We're going to find out next week when he joins us. But, until then, thanks for listening and goodbye.
Awesome. Great stuff. Sorry, Louis, we didn't do your question about 9-to-5. But, eventually, you got to wrap the show up. Thank you very much, everybody, for joining us in the room.
Andrew, can you pop us through the audio that you recorded today? Drop it in Dropbox or somewhere like that and just fling it at me and Marcus, is that all right?
Andrew Millar: Yup. Yup, will do.
Paul Boag: Excellent. Thank you very much. That was brilliant. Much appreciated.
Andrew Millar: You're very welcome. Thanks for having me again.
Paul Boag: Aw, it's always nice, and we'll talk to you again soon. Bye.
Andrew Millar: Cheers. See you later.
Marcus L: Bye, all.
Paul Boag: Bye.
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