How to Collaborate Better without Becoming a Door Mat

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show, we look at the importance of working collaboratively with colleagues and stakeholders. We look at why this matters and where to start improving our skills.

This week’s show is sponsored by Miro and GatherContent.


Paul Boag: This week on the Boagworld Show we look at the importance of working collaboratively with colleagues and stakeholders. We look at why this matters and where we should start improving our skills. This week's show is sponsored by Miro and GatherContent.

Hello and welcome to the Boagworld Show podcast, about all aspects of user experience and design, digital transformation, strategy, working in digital, and things like that. My name is Paul Boag, and joining me as always is Marcus Lillington. Hello, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: Hello, Paul. I apologize for sounding a bit funny this week. I'm calling in from the kitchen rather than the office.

Paul Boag: Does that mean you're decorating your office?

Marcus Lillington: Yes. Yes.

Paul Boag: Is it going to be all new, spangly, and new and nice and maybe even tidy?

Marcus Lillington: Maybe. You never know. Anyway, so I certainly thought, "Ah, all microphones and proper stuff and all that kind of thing is, yeah, tucked away for the moment, so let's get my little USB mic out and sit it on top of my laptop." But anyway, I'm still here.

Paul Boag: It'll do the job. It's good enough, isn't it?

Marcus Lillington: Exactly.

Paul Boag: It's not like we're professionals. So, yeah, it's Halloween at time of recording.

Marcus Lillington: Yes. Happy Halloween, Paul.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: It means nothing to me. Maybe it's an age thing.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Or does it to you? Perhaps it is, because it was never a thing when we were kids particularly, was it?

Marcus Lillington: No. Not at all. I just think it's daft American stuff. Sorry, Americans, who are listening, but I think …

Paul Boag: Well, no …

Marcus Lillington: Something else, you know, it's a bit like my mother and father, when he was alive, had the same opinion on Father's Day. That wasn't a thing when they were kids. Mother's Day was, Father's Day wasn't, and it's just another cynical exercise on getting more money out of us and this kind of thing, and I'm kind of the same about Halloween. It's just like yeah …

Paul Boag: Yeah. And that's really interesting, because I thought … I half-wondered whether my lack of involvement in Halloween as a kid was because I grew up in a kind of conservative Christian household, and they disapproved of it or something, but they never really talked about it as being some …

Marcus Lillington: Well, I think there's a little bit of that, because I grew up in a very, very liberal Guardian-reading, "Don't approve of that sort of thing either" sort of household.

Paul Boag: Ah, okay.

Marcus Lillington: But it wasn't really a thing. Not like it is now.

Paul Boag: No. No, it wasn't. But I've got to say, I quite like it.

Marcus Lillington: Really?

Paul Boag: Yeah, I think it's a … Other than Christmas, I would say it's my favorite holiday, even though … Because everybody gets dressed up, and it's silly, and it's fun. I like it. You definitely are an old man. Grouchy. But I would agree is an American tradition, and so should on principal annoy me, because it's an American thing, not a British thing, but actually, I think it's a cool British thing, sorry, American thing.

Marcus Lillington: It's all right. Just don't expect me to do it. Or I'd say I would happily do it with the little, tiny kids, so yeah, maybe I'm just being two-faced about it.

Paul Boag: Yeah. You'll do it with your grandchildren, you know you will.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, yeah, but I don't remember doing it with my kids, other than walking up and down the lane to knock on people's doors, but I wasn't dressed up or anything, I don't think. Maybe I was. Maybe I've blotted it from my mind. Who knows?

Paul Boag: Wow. You're a miserable arse is all I can say. There you go. So yes, so we've got nothing particularly planned today as a Halloween Special, because as you could tell both of us are grumpy, miserable sods. And Brexit's not happening today now, so we can't celebrate or commiserate leaving the EU, so that's not a thing either. So all in all, it's just a wet, miserable Thursday … Friday. Friday. It's Friday. That's a good thing.

Marcus Lillington: It's not Friday, Paul. Look on the top right of your screen.

Paul Boag: Oh, no. It's Thursday. I'll tell why I think it's Friday. Damn, that's really depressing. It's because tomorrow I'm going to a conference, so it's not an all day's work.

Marcus Lillington: May as well be Friday then. Good days.

Paul Boag: No, because I've got to speak at the bloody conference.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, right.

Paul Boag: I don't ever get to go just to conferences and sit there. I always end up doing something.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. They are good fun going to. I haven't been to one for ages. I must.

Paul Boag: Well, this is just a little thing in Cheltenham that you were going to come to and never got around to it as normal. All talk, no action. That's your trouble.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. On that one, I can't argue. I had actually completely forgotten about it. There you go.

Paul Boag: Well, there you go.

Marcus Lillington: Enjoy yourself, Paul.

Paul Boag: Sure. I will do. So yes, I was going to do an introductory bit. I wasn't going to talk about Halloween, and I wasn't going to talk about it. I was going to talk about electric blankets.

Marcus Lillington: I don't think I've ever had an electric blanket.

Paul Boag: Has not?

Marcus Lillington: Oh, that's not true. I had one when we used to go on holiday to Scotland a lot when I was a kid, and usually in the summer, but we'd occasionally go in the winter, and then you'd need one.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I love an electric blanket. Oh, yeah.

Marcus Lillington: Really?

Paul Boag: To have a bed that you feel like someone's just been sleeping in before you've got in it. There's nothing quite like it.

Marcus Lillington: See, I quite like … No, it can't be too cold, but I quite like getting into sort of cool crisp sheets rather than …

Paul Boag: Well, no, I do in the summer, yeah, but in the winter an electric blanket is lovely.

Marcus Lillington: Okay.

Paul Boag: But I've been having major trauma. It makes you realize how blisteringly bad most things are designed in the world, right? That is one of the things I hate about doing my job is it makes you acutely aware of every shit design decision in the world. I'm now on my third electric blanket, trying to find one that I consider acceptable, because they-

Marcus Lillington: Why?

Paul Boag: Well, you'd think how could you screw up an electric blanket, right?

Marcus Lillington: So it doesn't electrocute you. There's one. It heats up.

Paul Boag: Yeah, no, okay. So presuming its basic functions are working, how could you screw it up? But you can. But do you know what? And this is … Do you know what it comes down to? It's where people blindly copy what other people have done before with never questioning it, right? And you see this in digital all the time as well. It's like, "Oh, I've got to copy and paste a country drop-down list with every country in the world, even though they're not relevant to me." Or just because somebody else has done something dumb in the past doesn't mean you need to.

Right. Louis has pointed out one problem with them, which is they often have got unbreathable material. They're like plasticky material, which is horrible to sleep on, but that they are getting better on. What they're not getting better on, what they insist on doing, copying one another, is the position of where the cable plugs into the electric blanket, right? So there's a plastic lump, basically, and they always put it right under your elbow when you're sitting in bed. It's incredible. Every single one. Why they can't just put it at the top of the blooming blanket underneath your pillow, that would be the logical place to put it, but no, no, we're going to put it in the worst possible position.

Marcus Lillington: Well, surely by your feet would be the right place to put it.

Paul Boag: Well, yeah, except you need the cable in order to adjust the temperature.

Marcus Lillington: Oh, okay. Being it there's another aspect to this, and it's cost. Maybe not with what you just said, but I had a friend of mine, who spent years developing these LED safety lights, exit lights, that kind of thing, and it was before LED really became a thing, so it was kind of ahead of its curve, blah-blah-blah-blah. They lasted for 25 years, which was five times longer than the standard one, but it cost twice as much to produce. But so twice as much, but lasted five times as long and it was more efficient, didn't use as much power, blah-blah-blah, all these kind of things, they thought they were onto an absolute winner, but when it came down to it, the people spec'ing out buildings just wanted the cheapest item. End of. It was something they couldn't see coming, and the venture ended up failing because of that, because they felt they had such a better product, but in some cases, cost is always going to get in the way.

Paul Boag: What's interesting there, and that's something again I think we come across as digital people sometimes, the difference between the person buying and the person using. So in that case, they didn't care it was not the cheapest, because they weren't having to live in it and replace the lights all the time, so they just wanted the cheapest version. But then the end user would've appreciated it, because they're the ones that have to live with it.

The great example of that is freaking enterprise level software that is always horrendously designed and an absolute nightmare, but the people buying that software are not the people that have to use it every day. Intranet is sort of a great example of that. So they always just go with the off-the-shelf, simplest solution that ticks all the right boxes, because they don't have to live with it, day in and day out. And it happens all the time. You get it in loads of different areas, so yeah.

Marcus Lillington: That still happens today.

Paul Boag: I know.

Marcus Lillington: Every day.

Paul Boag: I just republished a post about intranet design that I wrote a couple of years ago, and I'm really busy at the moment, so I didn't have time to write a new post, so I thought I'd republish an old one. Let's find a post. And I saw this intranet one, and I thought, "Oh, I expect things have changed," but no, no, it's just as shit as it always was. Nobody spends any money on intranets whatsoever.

Marcus Lillington: But that's not true, though. From what you've said, they spend loads of money on intranets, but in the wrong way.

Paul Boag: Yes.

Marcus Lillington: And they still have. I don't want to … We always get to pointing at SharePoint, and go, "SharePoint isn't as bad as it once was," but that was always the IT department's, "We use Microsoft, so that's the tool that we're going to use for this. Shove it in. It works. Off you go," kind of thing, and everyone goes in there, and goes, "Well, I don't know how to use this, so don't use it." And then it's just this kind of white elephant. But the same applies for loads of different software. My earbuds keep falling out.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Companies can wrap their heads around the idea of spending money on stuff that's customer-facing, because that will increase revenue, but they can't wrap their heads around the fact that you can spend design money on internal stuff, and no, it won't increase revenue, but it will increase efficiency. But they don't seem to worry about that, but anyway. Ahhh. Anyway, I'm very interested by your thought for the day.

Marcus Lillington: I think, which is one more thought on that, and it is relevant, I think it's a lack of collaboration, Paul, between teams.

Paul Boag: Yeah. That's a good point, which is what we're talking about in today's podcast. Marcus has very kindly segued into something that isn't the topic yet, because before we get onto the subject, collaboration, there's something much more important to talk about, which is your thought for the day, Marcus, which is My Role on the Podcast. Is this where you're going to resign live on show, or are you demanding more pay or a bigger role? Is this some kind of job negotiation going on here?

Marcus Lillington: Well, why don't you just have a listen, Paul.

Paul Boag: Okay, I will.

Marcus Lillington: So last week, I wandered off into a completely non-digital, non-work-related place, so I thought, "Well, what can I talk about that's really close to home." Well, the podcast was the first thing that came into my head, and then I thought, "I don't really … I think I've talked about editing software and stuff like that in the past, but I've never really talked about my role on the podcast, which is what this is entitled. And it's taken me a while to realize, but I think my main job on this show is to be a foil for you, Paul. Kind of like we're a comedy double act. Not sure which one's which role, but anyway.

Paul Boag: No.

Marcus Lillington: I used to worry a little bit about that I wasn't prepared enough or that I wasn't pulling my weight somehow, and I don't think either of those things actually are things I should be worrying about. And I thought I'd talk about them. So looking at being prepared first. After many years, I realized that me being prepared took some of the spontaneity out of what we do.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington: We used to agree things like, "I'll take this question, then you take that one, and then I'll do that one." And then it was kind of like you were waiting for me to pick up the question, all this kind of thing, and it always sounded a little forced and took away from what I'm really meant to be doing, I think, which has taken me a while to realize, which is trying to make things sound as natural as possible and, dare I say it, as entertaining as it can be. So that's the being prepared thing.

I guess what I'm saying here is that sometimes, even at work where we're meant to be super, super organized, you need to just ride with things and try to react for the best results, even if that is a little bit scary. It brings on a pressure of its own, I suppose. So yeah. Where I put myself under pressure for the show, I make up without having to do any homework, which is kind of cool. Although that's not particularly strictly true at the moment.

So moving on to pulling my weight. Obviously, I do this section of the show now, so I do do a little bit of homework, but I haven't always done that. Last series I didn't do anything, and so I just turn up, and go, "Oh, what's going to happen this week." But yeah, doing this section does kind of go a long way to assuaging any kind of guilt that I might have, which isn't much. But again, over the years, I realized that sometimes I've got a lot to say on certain shows, and on other shows I don't, and the thing is that's completely fine. That's how it should be. So similarly to my previous point, if I'm constantly trying to butt in and add my point and show that I'm here and have lots to add, it starts to sound forced again.

So just two thoughts really. One is being prepared isn't always the best approach. Sometimes, ad libbing is great, because it will sound more natural, and two, sometimes it's okay to just sit back and not input much. So that's my fairly short thought for the day.

Paul Boag: It's a short thought for the day, but it's actually really applicable in all kinds of territories as well, because I remember when I was young, right, and I still got this in me, that you feel this because of your own insecurity, and this desire to be taken seriously, do you feel like you have to say a lot and contribute all the time to every conversation, even though you might not necessarily have anything in particular to contribute.

Actually, that undermines sometimes the confidence you're projecting, and one of the things that I think works well about you, because we play quite opposite roles really in a way. I'm the bouncy, enthusiastic one that can never shut up, and you're this calm individual that just puts in things every now and again. And actually, I think that probably does you more credit than it does me. You know?

Marcus Lillington: I'll make up for it by saying daft things as well, Paul, though.

Paul Boag: Well, yeah, of course. We're both idiots in our own way …

Marcus Lillington: Different style of crosstalk 00:17:01

Paul Boag: But my point … yeah. My point is is that actually there's often this belief that in order to, say, be seen as the expert or to be seen as a leader in your field, you have to be that kind of mouthy individual that I am, and that's not actually true, I think whatever your role. So I think that's a really interesting one, and I think the other thing, which does lead nicely onto the topic for today's show, is the fact that we have worked so closely together for so long, and we're used to collaborating, and we're very aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses, that we know how to work well and effectively together.

So I can sense a show where, "Okay, Marcus has got a lot he wants to say on this, and I can back off a little bit," and then I can sense other shows where you've obviously got bugger all to say. And so I fill in the gaps, and we support one another like that, and so that's the way it should be. And also, if you want to follow this through to its logical conclusion, one of the things that I think makes collaboration very difficult for a lot of people is they really struggle with personality differences.

And I always go back to the us as three founders of HeadScape. Me and Chris is probably a bigger difference than me and you. He is, I've said this before of the show, a very details-orientated person, a very considered person, and it's very easy for me, as somebody who's very big picture and very spontaneous and running in without thinking, to clash with someone like that, but actually, you come to realize that those differences are where the strengths lie. And it's the same with you and me as well. I think if it was two people like me, it wouldn't work, and if it was two people like you, it wouldn't work. You need that variety, don't you?

Marcus Lillington: We've mentioned this before on the show as well, but when we used to work for a company called Insights that do personality tests, and the four major quadrants, which is Red the Leader, Yellow for Inspirer or something like that, Green for Helper, and Blue for …

Paul Boag: Analytical.

Marcus Lillington: Data-Oriented Person. Both of us are in the Yellow Inspirer one, and Chris was in the Blue Data Analyst. He's right at the top of the wheel, with the Red and the Blue sort of Leader/Data person. Very serious individual, and we're more like sort of larking about types down at the bottom.

Paul Boag: Well, it was interesting actually, because I think we actually split quite well, because if I remember correctly, he was kind of Reds, which were Leader, and Blues, which was Analytical. You were mainly Yellows with some Green involved if I remember, and I was some Yellow and some Red. So actually, we split the quadrant quite nicely between us, and I think that getting those right partners and those right working relationships with people is so, so important. You need that mix, but also you need people that recognize that people who are not like them are still good and of value, and I think that was one of my big weaknesses for many, many years is I had this tendency of seeing anybody who wasn't like me as a bit slow, a bit indecisive, a faffer, and all of those kinds of things.

Marcus Lillington: If anything, the opposite is true. If you've got a variety of people, then you're probably going to end up with a better thing, whatever the thing is at the end of it.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. A better and probably delivered ultimately faster as well, because you're not making so many mistakes. I tend to make a lot of mistakes with my approach to the world.

Marcus Lillington: You could compare this to pretty much anything. A sporting analogy, you know, a team has to be made up of people related in skills, and you could say that they also need to be made up of a load of different personalities. You need to have leaders, you need to have followers, etc., etc., you need to have people who need to be kicked up the ass to do well and others who need to have an arm around them. It takes all sorts for success.

Paul Boag: I saw a great TED video once, which showed a piece of video, and it was of some kind of vaguely hippy-ish event, lots of middle-class people pretending to be hippies. The kind of thing Chris goes to, Chris Scott, Larmer Tree.

Marcus Lillington: Larmer Tree, yeah, yeah.

Paul Boag: Yeah. So there was a piece of video, so there was lots of people sitting around on the grass, eating picnics and that kind of thing. And there was one guy who just decided to get up and start dancing. There was no music going, and he was just dancing.

Marcus Lillington: Peace and love, baby.

Paul Boag: Yeah, exactly. Then over time, another guy got up and started dancing with him, and more and more people got up and joined him. The guy in the TED talk said, "Who's the real leader there? Who led that?" And everybody said, the kind of general consensus was the guy who stood up and started dancing, but actually, this guy argued, "No, it wasn't. It was the second guy." The guy that was willing to join him, that was willing to take a part in that and turn it into … And you notice in the video that it took a long time before the first guy was joined by the second, and then once the second was there, it happened very quickly. I don't know what the point of this is, other than to say that there was something very powerful about not just being that perceived leader but being that support that comes in very quickly, and actually, that's a really important position.

Marcus Lillington: That's true, actually. I think that's a major part of particularly social media advertising is this idea of if you say something great about somebody else or a product or whatever in kind of passing, it's so much stronger than if it's like, "Let's make a big advert for it." And we all know that, we all know that if we really want to push someone at work or something like that, we'll kind of talk about them in those passing terms, but it's so much more powerful. Interesting.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Absolutely. So anyway, this is all leads on very well to what we're talking about, which is this idea of collaboration, teamwork, that kind of thing, and I think we've already touched on some of the good reasons to do it.

Marcus Lillington: Cool. Let's stop there.

Paul Boag: But there are others. Yeah, we're done! We're done. That's it. There are more cynical reasons as well. We've looked at the kind of it improves the end product and those kinds of things, but there are more cynical, selfish reasons for wanting to collaborate as well. But one of the big ones for me, and the reason that I so heavily favor working in collaboration with stakeholders, I'll include people that don't need to strictly be included a lot of the time, and the reason that I do that is because makes getting buy-ins so much easier that if people feel that they've contributed to something, then they feel a sense of ownership over it, they're less likely to reject it, and they're more likely to defend it to other people as well. So there's a huge benefit there from involving other people.

And then of course by involving other people, you improve the breadth and depth of your own knowledge. The best example of this I could think of, it's quite an old example now, with Mack Curry 00:25:31 of Wiltshire Farm Foods back in the day. He was a very hands-on client. He was very actively engaged, and I know of many people who would find that almost a little bit irritating. "What? We're the experts!" But in truth, I learned enormous amounts from him about things like analytics, A/B testing, all of that quantitative side of the web that I was really very ignorant of before he started teaching me, and I've had that time and time again with clients.

Lyle in the chatrooms just said that he's having that at the moment with somebody who's come and sat next to him while he works, obviously somebody with a different skillset, and that's actually one of the things that I recommend quite a lot is to mix up teams. I'm working with one of my clients, runs an agency at the moment, and I said, "Well, where do your developers sit, where do your designers sit?" And this kind of thing. And they all sit separately. They sit in their separate teams, and as a result, they never got that kind of cross-collaboration. Lyle has just added that it's also painful, working with people from other skillsets, and he's entirely right, it is. It slows him down. That is exactly, that is 100% what it does, but ultimately, yeah, as he just said it for me. Lyle, do you just want to come on the show and do this? He just added … No, no, don't apologize.

Marcus Lillington: Don't apologize.

Paul Boag: No. He's just added that it ultimately leads to a better product, which is right, and actually, I don't think it will necessarily slow down the project as a whole. It might slow you down a bit, but probably doesn't slow down the project, because you'll find that sign-off is easier and all of those kinds of things.

Why are you showing chocolate orange on the webcam, other than I want chocolate orange then.

Marcus Lillington: To make you jealous. No there reason.

Paul Boag: Okay. Fair enough.

Marcus Lillington: Mmmm.

Paul Boag: So again, buy-in is a really good reason. Improving the depth and breadth of your knowledge is another good reason, and of course, as by extension then that improves your career prospects. The more you know, the more knowledgeable you are in more fields, the more likely you are to get promoted within your role, or the easier it makes it to run your own business at some point. And it also enables you to start interacting with more complex projects. The bigger a project becomes, the more complex it becomes, the more specialists are required to make it happen, and so the more you need to be good at collaborating with those specialists.

If you're working on relatively small websites, of course you could do it all yourself. I did for donkey's years. In the early days of the web, I coded it, I wrote it, I designed it, I did everything, but once you work on websites the kind of size I'm working on these days, no way. There's no way I could do all of that. Not just from the quantity, but the depth of specialisms involved. If you have ever got ambitions to work on big projects, you need to be a good collaborator.

But the trouble is we tend to avoid collaboration for the kind of reasons that Lyle has already pointed out, which is that it feels like everything takes longer, and Chris has just said it feels like people micromanage you to a degree. It can feel like sometimes you end up with worse results out of it as well, because people are interfering with your part of the job and how you would do things, but I would actually argue that those things are only true if you're doing it wrong. And that's what I want to kind of explore in a little bit more detail.

But before we do that, I just want to make it clear what collaboration is not. It's not about meetings, right? If your collaboration consists of having a committee meeting, that's not collaboration. That's something else. That's getting feedback and accountability and that kind of thing. You're not collaborating, you're not producing anything together. You're critiquing stuff that's already been produced, so that's a different thing.

Also, collaboration isn't just about giving in and rolling over. If you're not convinced by what someone is saying to you, then there's more of a discussion, you need to work on it more together. I'm the last person in the world that I think anybody would describe as a soft touch. I would dig my heels in when I need to, but that doesn't mean I'm not a huge collaborator.

That makes me sound like I sympathize with the Nazis, doesn't it? "I'm a huge collaborator." That's not what I meant. You know what I meant. And it's also, collaboration is not just about asking people what they think either. It's a very distinct thing, which we're going to get onto in a moment and explore what that means in practice in just a second.

But before we do that, I want to talk about our first sponsor, which is GatherContent, who've been sponsoring quite a lot of our episodes this season, which is lovely of them. They are my … I was going to say they are my favorite kind of content organizing operation …

Marcus Lillington: Gathering type thing.

Paul Boag: … gathering platform, but honestly, I can't think of anybody else that does it to any even comparable degree. They really are-

Marcus Lillington: It's a fair thing to say then. They are definitely your favorite.

Paul Boag: It is a fair thing. It's like, say, I tell my son all the time he's my favorite child, because he's my only child. Yeah, GatherContent is … It's just the platform you use for organizing content. I'm sure there must be other ones out there, but I honestly don't know what they are, and I honestly don't care what they are. This does it. Great. Lovely. It's certainly a hell of a lot better than getting sent Word documents, and oh, I'm getting that at the moment from a client. It's my own fault. They send through Word documents, and it's like, "Yeah, okay. That's just …" They've even tried to show layout options in a Word document. It's just a bloody nightmare. Anyway …

Marcus Lillington: What's wrong with that?

Paul Boag: Marcus, don't bait me on this subject. This could derail the whole podcast if you do. Anyway, GatherContent is a content operation platform that helps your teams produce effective content at scale, and that's a really important thing. The bigger your website, the bigger the benefit GatherContent is. Customers who use this platform to manage their people, their processes, and obviously to produce effective content, but it's also looking not just to handling and bringing content together and organizing your content assets, it's also looking at things like workflows and sign-off processes, all the things that means that you can work in an efficient way with content. So if you want to find out more about it, then please visit, and drop them email as well, because they're lovely people and will happily chat with you, I'm sure.

All right. So let's go back to the subject of collaboration. So as I was thinking about it, there are kind of three types of collaboration that I think I engage with, and I'm sure there must be other types, but this is how I kind of organize it in my head. There is collaborative working where you're physically working together on a fairly ongoing basis. So for example, Lyle having someone sitting next to him at the moment probably is an example of that.

I just got totally distracted there, because I mentioned Lyle, and I noticed he just posted something in the chatroom, and I saw the words swastika emoji, and that completely threw me. So I'm not even going to read the rest of it. I'm just going to presume it's not bad, and that actually it's a perfectly reasonable thing to say. And no, Louis. My trigger word is not swastika emoji. Oh, I mentioned Nazis. Yes, I did. That is true. You can't get through any kind of conversation without mentioning Nazis these days.

So we've got three types of collaboration. We've got collaborative working, which is what Lyle is doing when he isn't talking about swastikas. We've got collaborative workshops, where you bring a group of people together for a specific period of time to work on something, and then there's consultation and review cycles. So I kind of just want to look at these in a little bit more detail. We haven't got that long, so we can't get into too much detail, but let's look at collaborative working.

So you could either have collaborative working within the same discipline, so for example, pair programming would be an example of this. I don't know if you've ever tried pair programming where you have two developers working on the code at the same time, one developer is driving and actually typing stuff in, and the other person is normally navigating, which means that they're kind of inputting on direction and picking up some stuff. Lyle says that he does this quite a lot, and he did some this morning, and it's, as he points out, it's really good for bug fixing and that kind of stuff. So it's a really well established thing within development.

I don't think it's as well established in maybe other fields, but I think it could work in other fields. I certainly think it could work in copy writing, of having two people working on copy together, maybe one focusing more on content and one more on tone of voice or something like that. It could happen with design and does actually happen in design in some ways in that sometimes you have a UX designer working with a UI designer, so there's one person that's focusing more on the aesthetics, one focusing more on the usability. But you could also get collaborative working between different disciplines, so for example, designer and a coder is a very good combination. So I was always think of Ed and Dan in that kind of situation, or Lee and Dan.

Marcus Lillington: Lee and Dan.

Paul Boag: But yeah. But I always think of Ed and Dan because they're actually physically located in the same office together, and they bicker like small children.

Marcus Lillington: Lee is too, now.

Paul Boag: What's that?

Marcus Lillington: Lee is too, now. Lee's at the office, now.

Paul Boag: Is he really?

Marcus Lillington: I'll tell you about it another time, crosstalk 00:37:37

Paul Boag: Well, that must … Yeah. That's … Oh. Ooh. I want to know all about that. That sounds interesting. So yeah, you could imagine Lee and Dan sitting in the same room. Must be Hell on Earth for anybody sitting around them, because they bicker like an old married couple, but the result is really good work. Lee as a designer, Dan as the front end coder on that. And the other good combination is designer and copy writer. That I think can work really well as well, where the copy and the designer created in tandem with one another. So that's collaborative working.

Then there's collaborative workshops, and these are probably the most common in my world at least, because …

Marcus Lillington: And mine.

Paul Boag: … it's just crosstalk 00:38:24 Yeah. In our kind of role, we don't tend to do as much collaborative working. But collaborative workshops, absolutely. There are whole loads of different workshops I do. There's Understanding the Customer Journey, which is a kind, tends to be a kind of big picture workshop. So you bring together people that have got understanding of their customer experience, obviously customers themselves, but also people like customer support teams, sales people, marketing people that have got data on users, that kind of stuff, you bring them together in order to get a complete picture of the customer journey, because the truth is in most organizations, no one individual has an overall picture of the customer journey. So doing something like that is a way of collaborating to get that complete picture.

Then there's collaboration around branding, and you can run branding related workshops. So there tends to be three kinds of exercises that I do in those workshops. There's the waiting room exercise, which I think I've talked about before on the show, but I'll quickly recap.

Marcus Lillington: Invented by Lee Howells.

Paul Boag: Invented by Lee Howells, yes, the very Lee Howells that we were talking about mere moments ago. So the way that that works is essentially you get a group of stakeholders together, who have got different perspectives on the brand, and you design a waiting room where people would come if they were coming to your organization. So they would talk about what's on the walls, what furniture there is, what music's playing, those kinds of things, and out of that comes a list of words that your design should be representing. Minimalistic, professional, whatever those words are. Another way of doing it-

Marcus Lillington: What I've found over the years of doing that exercise is people tend to say the same thing. 90% of the words will be the same across some airy, spacious, clean, all those kinds of things, but it's the surprise words that are the ones that you're looking for, like Nazi, for example, but I expect no one will want to say that. Obviously, I'm joking, but you can then kind of fix on that particular word and really kind of dig into the client about, "Do you really mean that?" And if they do, then you've got something you can hang off the design that's really unique, so that's what I've found is great about that exercise.

Paul Boag: Totally agree with that, and the same is true of the second exercise that I was going to mention, which is the famous person exercise, which you say, "If your brand is a famous person, who would it be?"

Marcus Lillington: Barack Obama, Stephen Fry.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Exactly. With that, I do the QI thing. People probably don't know about QI. It's a quiz show in Britain, where if you give the predictable answer, you get minus 10 points, so it flashes up on the screen. So I actually have cards now with a load of stereotypical people written on them, and if they say it, I hold up the appropriate card and say, "You can't have that one."

So Marcus has just mentioned two, which is Barack Obama and Stephen Fry seem to come up very regularly. But what's interesting is why they pick that famous person. If your brand was a famous person, who would it be, right? "Oh, it's going to be Barack Obama," let's say, "because he's charismatic, because he's approachable," and those words help inform the design a little bit.

And the third exercise that I do, which really comes out of those two is a collaborative mood-boarding exercise, where we say, "Okay. Well, we're going to split down into groups. One of you take the word 'charismatic,' one of you take the word 'approachable,' and then go away and create some mood boards, not Power Point or whatever, and drag in images that you think represent that you think represent that word, drag in type faces to represent that word, color, examples of other websites," and we'll use that as a way of engaging people in the process of collaboration.

Then there's wire-framing workshop exercises I do. So the two exercises I tend to do, collaborative exercises, they are the user attention point exercise and the six-up exercise. The user attention point exercise basically is a very simple exercise to get people to realize that users have got limited attention, and that you can't shove everything on a homepage.

So what you do with is that you say, "Well, okay, the average person will spend about eight seconds assessing a page. Let's say they could take in two, three items in a second, right? We'll then convert that into points, so yeah, anywhere between 16 to 20 whatever points, somewhere around that kind of view of user attention. And for every element you add on to the page is going to cost one point of user attention that is a minimum, but if you want people to spend more attention on one thing than another, for example more attention on your primary call to action than your privacy policy, you need to give it more attention." And so you get people going through this exercise. I won't go into the few details on it, because I'm going to share with you a link about that later.

Louis has asked, "Can you just say 'navigation' as an element on its own, or do you have to break it down?" What I tend to do, Louis, is in the very beginning of that exercise, before I tell them about user attention points, I get them to brainstorm as many items as they can think of, and I actively encourage them to come up with as many as they can think of, so they do tend to break things down. I wouldn't necessarily get them to list every single navigation item, but for example a header, I don't let them just put header. I encourage them to put "search box," "navigation logo," that kind of thing.

Marcus Lillington: Another exercise that I like doing with that list of homepage items, which is simpler, is just saying design the mobile homepage. So you've got all this stuff, nav is on the mobile homepage, and of course what you're getting them to do is to prioritize the content, because you have to put it in a list. You have to put something at the top, something second, something third, and I don't try to hide that. I'll say this is what you doing, but it really forces people to make a decision. And if you've got quite a big group, maybe four or five groups of two or three, you can then kind of pull all the answers together and crunch the numbers and come up with a priority that you can then run with in prototyping that can be tested, so it's a really good way of prioritizing content.

Paul Boag: And if you don't want to be committed to it, because it's a mobile app, then all you do is replace the word "We're designing a mobile app," with "We're designing a book jacket." And then you could talk about the front cover …

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. Cereal box.

Paul Boag: … the spine, the back, the inside flap, etc. And then the other version … So there's user attention, and then there's also the six-up exercise. Some people prefer crazy-eights. Basically, you're wire-framing a lot of different ideas. You can Google both of those terms if you want to.

Marcus Lillington: I've got a sales six up there. It's great for me. I don't often do that one anymore, because you just get into madness. We'd like a 3D version of our offices, please. Anyway.

Paul Boag: It's because they get progressively more desperate coming up with ideas, isn't it? Everybody has got in their heads one idea of what the page should look like, but when you ask them to come up with six or eight, it's like, "WHOA!" When they begin to struggle, I often start giving them advice, so I say, "Well, what if we focused on just this audience? Or what if we focused just … Made it more blog-like, or we focused on this product." In order to give them a bit of guidance, you don't end up with, yeah, 3D virtual crap that they come up with sometimes.

But it's very worthwhile. The reason that exercise is worthwhile is not only is it collaborative, it gets them involved in the process, but also educates them a little bit. It gets them thinking, "Oh, there isn't just the one way of doing it I had in my head. There are multiple ways that this could be approached."

And then sometimes I do content workshops as well, where I'll get a group of people together, and we'll do some brainstorming around what objections and questions might people have. Coming to this site, why might they not want to buy, what questions might they have? So we have them brainstorm a huge list of those, and then we split those down into different groups and get people to come up with bullet point responses to each of those, and that becomes the basis of your content. So there are loads of opportunities for running very collaborative workshops around this kind of stuff.

And then the final area is consultation and review, and I think this is the one that people fear the most. It's like, "I'm going to show people my work, and they're going to tell me it's shit." And so people don't like doing that, but actually it's very worthwhile doing. One of the things that I do when I'm working on, say, either a prototype or even a beta site, is I do everything out in the open, so all of the stakeholders can see my work as I'm doing it. So I have a development server, where people can see stuff. I have work being pushed all the time to InVision or some prototyping platform. It's totally available all the way through.

But then what I do is when people go and see that, I make sure that they understand what they're looking at, so they're not just going straight to the development server and being dumped into this half-finished site, but instead what they're seeing is a video at the beginning, and I normally record a short little video of me explaining that this is work in progress, these are the problems with it, this is where we know it's crap, this is where we think it's getting there, these are the kind of areas that we would appreciate feedback from. And I think that's a really key thing when it comes to any kind of presentation. If you're ever presenting stuff, make sure that whatever you're presenting has got an explanation intrinsically tied to it.

So another great example is if I produced a design concept. I almost always never send out a JPEG or send out a URL with just the design in. What I normally do is record a video presentation of me talking through the design, so therefore, they can't then hand it onto other people internally without that context being attached to it. They can only hand on the video. They can't hand on that JPEG, so to speak.

And I always end those presentations with some very structured feedback. I never ask people, "What do you think?" because people have to fall back on their personal opinion. I never ask them, "Are you happy to sign this off?" Right? Because then it's, "Are you happy?" Right? And that brings them back to their personal opinion. So instead what I do is I will ask questions like "Is this in line with the business objectives we agreed together? Does this represent the brand direction that we worked on together? Does this meet user needs that we identified those user audiences and those needs together?" So if they answer yes, yes, yes to all of those, even if they personally don't like it, you've educated them to go "That's okay that you don't like it. It's still a good direction you can go in." So asking structured feedback rather than "What do you think?" makes this consultation and review process much, much easier.

The other piece of advice I would give around this is make yourself the center of all feedback. One of the common mistakes I see a lot of people make is they say, especially agencies make this a lot, "We want a single point of contact," right? And I get that, because it is a pain in the ass with lots of people coming back to you individually. But if you say all contact has to come through one individual, then that individual is doing all of the negotiation over the design or the whatever themselves, and they're having the direct conversations with the people that ultimately you need to win over.

You're much better off saying, "Look, just let anyone feedback to me." That way A, you get to have the conversation with all of those stakeholders and understand what they're underlying thinking is, understand the problems that they're facing, and maybe even talk them out of it if they've got a dumb-ass idea, but B, you're now the only person that's received all the feedback, so you get to pick and choose what you listen to and what you ignore. So make yourself the center of all feedback.

And the last piece of advice I would give is if you're dealing in a large organization, like I know a lot of people that listen to this show work in the public sector or in higher education or fields like that, work for big organizations, here's a piece of advice. Go wide. We always try to close down the number of people that provide feedback. Do the opposite. Go big, right? Go organization-wide, and the reason that that's good is because now any individual voice is drowned out. It becomes about statistics. 73% of people said this, 28% said this. Right? So if you have one pain-in-the-ass stakeholder, you can say, "Well, I'm sorry, but 75% of people had a different opinion," and it makes it very hard for them to argue with you.

So there you go. There's a little bit about how I handle collaboration.

Let's talk about our second sponsor, and then I want to give you some resources to go away with, so that you can go and learn a little bit about more about some of the things we've talking about today. So our second sponsor is Miro, who I think our new, new to this season at least. I'm trying to remember, because I've been using them for so long you kind of forget whether you know them personally or whether you know them as a sponsor.

Marcus Lillington: You have mentioned them before on the show.

Paul Boag: I have. I'll tell you where I've mentioned them is around card sorting, because there are some card-sorting tools out there, but to be honest most of them are shit. The biggest one, I shouldn't say this, should I? I shouldn't slag off somebody's hard piece of work. The biggest one is OptimalSort by Optimal Workshop, and it's just not a very nice user experience. And so I tended to use Miro a lot for this kind of thing, for card-sorting exercise.

Marcus Lillington: I make my own.

Paul Boag: You make your own?

Marcus Lillington: Yep.

Paul Boag: What do you mean you make your own?

Marcus Lillington: You know you can get kind of like A4 sheets of stickies, like for postal stickies.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I do that when I'm with people, but I seem to do quite a lot of remote card sorting, where the people aren't in the room with you.

Marcus Lillington: Okay.

Paul Boag: So in that case, Miro's really good if you haven't used it for that. So anyway, I should say what Miro is first. It's a visual collaboration platform. Everything sounds so fancy these days, doesn't it? So it enables cross-functional teams, so it's very appropriate actually for this particular show. So if you've got product managers, project managers, designers, developers and marketers, all these people that need to work together, then Miro provides basically a whole load of tools, but it's heart is like a virtual whiteboard. So you can imagine how well it works for card sorting, because it's the equivalent of doing it on a bit of paper, which is what you do.

You can share feedback on it, you can create a single source of truth for your projects, you can organize stuff, you can … It's a whole suite of stuff. I'm biased towards the virtual white board, because that's the bit I use the most, but there is actually quite a lot in there that's worth checking out. If you need to do collaboration, it's definitely worth having a look at this. So it can help teams work together in a more efficient way, especially if you're distributed, which let's be honest, a lot of teams are these days, and you have to walk across multiple channels, multiple timezones, allows you to feel like you're in the same room with one another.

So it's got loads of templates that you can use to save time, it integrates with loads of different platforms as well, which is really useful, things like Zapier, Microsoft Platforms, prototyping platforms, you name it, it's got dozens of plug-ins as well, and they're used by pretty much everybody really, anybody that's the kind of big name people, like Twitter and Netflix and Shopify and Cisco. It's a good tool, I have to say. So if you want to find out more about it and start collaborating together,, Actually, that's a great tool if you're not together, and you can't get all your people together, Miro is the way to go.

But there are other links I wanted to point you out as well before we wrap up this show. If you want to do workshops … My problem with meetings, right, is that everybody discusses whatever, but they're not producing anything. It's all in the abstract, it's all so vague and wooly, wishy-washy. And also in a meeting, you lose control. You lose control of the conversation and the things that are being discussed, and very quickly you end up having to do stuff you don't want to. So I'm much more of a fan of workshop exercises.

I've mentioned a few already, but there is a great website called Gamestorming, and actually there's an associated book with it as well, which gives you loads of different tips of different ways that you can run exercises around these kinds of different collaboration methodologies rather than just having a meeting, and I would highly recommend you move away from meetings towards workshops. So check out Gamestorming, it's

If you don't know anything about pair programming, I'm going to put together … There's a great guide I came across for pair programming that I will include in the show notes for today's show. I will just check that it's not got a URL. No, it's got a horrendous URL because it's on Median 00:59:11, so I'm not even going to try and read that one.

And then I've got three articles that I've written, all of which you can search on on my website. The first one is on customer journey mapping. Actually, that's number one on Google, so if you just search customer journey mapping, you'll find it, but you can search on my website as well. Another one that you might want to check out, which talks about a lot of the other workshops exercises we've covered in this show, is one called Co-Design Success. So if you search on my website for the term Co-Design, you will find this article, which includes a detailed breakdown of things like the user attention point exercise and the waiting room exercise and collaborative mood-boarding and all of that kind of stuff, so you'll want to check that one out.

And the final thing is I've got a whole article just dedicated to that user attention point exercise, because that's a particularly good one that I use quite a lot, so if you Google or search on my website, if you search on user attention points, you'll find that one.

Okay. Right. Marcus, do you have a joke for us?

Marcus Lillington: I do, but I'm slightly worried that I've said this joke previously. It's the surrealists and changing a light bulb? Ringing any bells?

Paul Boag: To be honest, I don't pay attention to your jokes, so you may well have done it before.

Marcus Lillington: This is one of my favorites from the hiatus we had between our two series. From James Sheasby Thomas. "How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to hold the giraffe, and the other to fill the bathtub with brightly colored power tools."

Paul Boag: No, you haven't told that one before, and that is quite a good one. That is good.

Marcus Lillington: I love that one.

Paul Boag: Okay. I like that. All right. Thank you very much. I thought it was going to be even more surreal than that. I thought, "How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Fish."

Marcus Lillington: Yeah. Lamp post.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Exactly. But no, I like the particular selection. Yes.

Marcus Lillington: Good.

Paul Boag: Okay. Next week, we're going to be talking about assessing trends and emerging technologies, and I think you'll find me particular ranty in this upcoming exercise, because I think people waste far too much time on things that are not going to go anywhere just because they're trendy and cooler in any particular moment. And I shall share many, many examples of this in the next show, so join us again for that. But in the meantime, thank you very much for listening to this show. I hope you found it useful, and we'll talk to you again next week. Good bye.

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