The Ties (and Happy Hour Celebrations) That Bind Us

The Ties (and Happy Hour Celebrations) That Bind Us

Baby it’s cold outside but we still make time to chit chat, get to know each other a little more on a personal level and joke as we huddle together. In the end that’s what makes it really worth it.

We’re definitely better, the more we come together.

As I walk the last few blocks back to my car in the freezing cold drizzling rain my ears are cold, I can barely feel my legs and my toes are frozen. In spite of all this I’ve got a bounce in my step, a smile on my face and a warm feeling inside.

We just wrapped up our team happy hour at Nel Centro Portland, with a beautiful outdoor patio complete with a living wall and toasty warm outdoor fireplaces and seating area. As we utter these famous last words…

“Awesome, it’s not raining let’s sit outside.”

What was beautiful, but cold weather, quickly turned to rain as we scatter to relocate our group under the eaves outside and way too far from the fire. While this may sound a little…who are we kidding, A LOT…less than fun, we still had the chance to chit chat, get to know each other a little more on a personal level and joke as we huddle together. In the end that’s what makes it really worth it.

Cultural Participation

The memories we walk away with or events that turn into company wide inside jokes all make me a little happier to head into work the next day. While it’s easy to politely decline and head home to spend time with family, pushing a little beyond the comfort zone or taking a page from “YES Man” and getting out there are what make these moments and connections a little more special.

Without it we would never have had the chance to giggle over the time Andrew almost got tackled by the secret service while running in to work on a day that Barack Obama was in town. Or the time we narrowly avoided getting a group tattoo (thank goodness). Or when we thought we’d wipe the floor with a bunch of 13 year olds playing paintball but instead got paired up against a group of ex Navy Seals and left without our pride and with lots of bruises. Or as our happy hour was cut short by a large party who had reserved the room and we think maybe, just maybe they’ll never notice if we join in their celebration and as we reach for a glass of bubbly to celebrate…they actually do notice. As we’re shown the door we wouldn’t have it any other way than to end the night together with one more story to tell in the morning.

Building and Maintaining Team Culture

Creating and scheduling team building events and activities is about more than just having fun. With most of our day split between work and home we want to instill a sense of belonging, enjoyment and pride in our teams. We do this in many ways with activities like happy hours or annual celebrations, but we also include many smaller touches that can often go unnoticed like inspirational quotes on letter boards, thank you notes of appreciation, snacks in the kitchen and scheduled time to get together for lunch. None of these  make a difference without participation and each opportunity brings the chance for more conversation and a closer connection that bring us together day in and day out.

Our Web Design and Development Philosophy Creates Space for Innovation

web design and development

Our Web Design and Development Philosophy Creates Space for Innovation

By embarking upon each web design and development project with a shared mindset, we free the team from constraints and create room for exploration and innovation.
web design and development

On Web Design: Process vs. Purpose

While we do our fair share of process documentation, which you may have seen in our Scalable Web Design Project Management post, we’ve also seen our fair share of change rendering these obsolete. Rather than dive deep into documenting every tiny detail that may or may not be needed for a given project, we’ve taken a step back to re-evaluate.

Turns out what we needed wasn’t more process documentation for the team to check boxes. Instead our goal is to create a baseline understanding of our approach, thought-starters conversation questions aimed to drill down to uncover the goals and metrics that help guide our web design strategy and approach. We aim to have every team member understand the purpose of each milestone, each meeting, knowing the outcomes we desire from each phase and milestone along the way. With these guidelines in place we free the team from constraints and create room for exploration and innovation. What we came away with was more of a mindset than a process.

Our Web Design Philosophy

Our philosophy and approach for web design and development stems from curiosity, we’re continually looking for ways to improve and try new things. What we know about the digital space is that it’s constantly evolving. We  leverage the tools we have on hand and seek out new technology to leverage  for our teams and our clients. We believe in this so strongly it’s part of our company strategy.

Creating Digital Growth Through Innovation

We intentionally create space in our work day for innovation, looking for new ways to simplify, improve and exceed expectations. Born out of this philosophy we’ve developed our Digital Growth worksheet, this came out of our collaborative approach working with clients define goals that are measurable. We don’t just want to finish a project, we want it to make an impact and the only real way to do that is by tracking measurable results.

Digital Growth

A Better Approach

As we look ahead wondering what the year will bring you can be sure that we’ll tinker with the old, new and in between to push boundaries and seek out ways to provide true and measurable Digital Growth for our clients.

Ushering in a New Era: EO Chicago’s 2018 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards

Ushering in a New Era: EO Chicago’s 2018 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards

“Love, love, love what you do and everything else will fall into place.”

That was one of many valuable pieces of advice EO Chicago members and seasoned entrepreneurs imparted upon aspiring business leaders at EO Chicago’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) last month—an event Solid Digital was honored to sponsor, alongside many other influential organizations.

“I heard that in order to be successful, just be a little better than average. In other words, average people quit. Just keep going.”
–Anthony Cassara, True Productions

Held at The Dalcy in Fulton Market, the GSEA event celebrated the future of entrepreneurship in which three student entrepreneurs from recognized universities got to present, in Shark Tank fashion, to an expert panel of judges to win a $10,000 award and move on to Nationals.

So Much Experience and Wisdom in One Room

There was quite the impactful list of judges and guest speakers, including, Max Temkin, co-founder of Cards Against Humanity, Betsy Ziegler, CEO of 1871, Rich Labriola founder of Stan’s Donuts, and keynote speaker the Iron Cowboy, James Lawrence who dropped this knowledge:

“To grow, to adapt and evolve, we need to become uncomfortable intentionally. Only then will we meet the best version of ourselves and honestly find out what we can accomplish.”
–James Lawrence, Iron Cowboy

With our CEO on the EO board, our team was involved in part of the event planning and management. It really was a great team bonding experience. We were decked out in our Solid Digital tees, mingling and manning the photo booth that we’d set-up. Our marketing team was also running the EO Chicago social media to capture the excitement of the event in real-time, and engaging with those that couldn’t make it out for the event.

For fun, we’d also contributed a signature drink called “S-E-Ohh God I Can’t Feel My Face,” which was a hit! From the perspective of an Engagement Manager, it was the perfect environment to make new contacts with forward-thinking individuals and expand my network.

Solid Digital signature cocktail

Overall, EO Chicago put on a great event with a live DJ, tons of yummy food, and networking throughout the night, all in celebration of the future of entrepreneurship.

Huge shout out to our friends at Kindred Content who filmed and captured it all in the video below.

5 Tips for Conducting Effective Virtual Meetings

5 Tips for Conducting Effective Virtual Meetings

When it comes to communication, nothing beats an in-person meeting. That said, virtual meetings provide a quick, travel-free opportunity to align and communicate. But how can we make the most out of these remote gatherings?

Even if no one has to hop on a plane to make a meeting, it is still equally as important to ensure your virtual meetings are effective and helpful.

Here are 5 tips for effective virtual meetings:

Tip #1: Pause

According to recent research on the subject, executives now spend an average of 23 hours a week in meetings, up from less than 10 in the 1960s. Don’t rush to hold a meeting, and ask yourselves the following questions first:

  • Do you have all the information you need to hold the meeting?
  • Do you need to discuss and collaborate? Or can your need be solved by delegating and calendaring?
  • Is it critical that the team are on the same page democratically? Or can one leader disseminate information independently?

If any of the above answers are a “no,” think critically about whether or not a meeting is needed. Your [busy] team will thank you.

Tip #2: Communicate

No one wants to start a meeting with a blare of feedback or an annoying echo, so it’s important to ensure every member of the project is set up for success. While the phone is an easy technology to master, the non-verbal cues and expressions you get from video-conferencing are important and valuable, even if no screens are being shared.

Call the client and any third parties in advance to determine the best technology for them to use in their office. Most modern offices allow for audio via a meeting room computer and a conference phone. It’s important to use only one source for audio to avoid feedback. If you are at all unfamiliar with the conferencing equipment, perform a test ahead of time to ensure you are comfortable. This will not only convey preparedness and professionalism, but it will also respect everyone’s time, which brings us to tip #3.

Related: Top 5 Signs You’re Not Planning Enough

Tip #3: Minimize

Keep time zones and working hours in mind. If a developer is on the call, try to schedule the meeting early in the day, or around lunch to maximize their productivity.

  • Always distribute an agenda ahead of time (more on that later).
  • Track the time in long meetings so everyone is aware of where they are and can adjust if needed.
  • If your calendaring service has a “speedy meeting” feature that defaults what would be an hour meeting to a 50-minute meeting, use it!
  • Always be punctual.
  • Always aim to end early.

Tip #4: Prepare

The key to successful meetings and presentations is preparation. Effective preparation renders the nuts and bolts of preparation invisible and allows both the leader and the participants to instantly flow into critical thinking and problem-solving. Here are some tips to help you get prepared.

Let the client know what technology we’ll be using and provide links to install software if needed (like a virtual meeting client).

Every meeting needs an agenda. That agenda should be a guideline as to what to talk about, and in what order. The way to identify what those items should be is to ask yourself “What do we need to have at the meeting’s end that we don’t have now,” and compare that to the meeting attendees. If the agenda is relevant to all attendees, then you are in good shape. If not, either the agenda needs to be adjusted, or some attendees may not need to attend the entire meeting.

The agenda should be distributed publicly no later than a day in advance in order to give all attendees an opportunity to prepare for the meeting.

In addition to preparing an agenda we also recommend a “global notes” shared document for each team member to record their thoughts – this way, if there are any misunderstandings or vagaries, they can be identified in real time and clarified.

Effective preparation renders the nuts and bolts of preparation invisible and allows both the leader and the participants to instantly flow into critical thinking and problem-solving.

Tip #5: Recap

At the end of the meeting, ask if there is anything that wasn’t discussed to ensure that all attendees got what they needed. If there is nothing else, you can move onto the recap. In the recap, the leader quickly goes over what was discussed, the decisions that were made, and the follow up action items.

This recap should also be posted publicly to ensure that attendees, as well as others not in attendance, can see what was discussed.

Bonus: A Free Tip on Slides


In another life, I was an A/V guy at a convention center. That means I have seen A LOT of slideshow presentations. For the best presentations I’ve seen, the slides provide evidence for an idea or punctuate what the presenter is saying.

In the worst ones, the presenter was using the slideshow as a crutch and had made it THE presentation. This is typified by lots of text on the slide, or the presenter reading exactly what was on the slide.

To avoid transferring attention from the presenter to the presentation or showing a lack of preparation and understanding, keep onscreen text to a minimum and use slides to support your presentation rather than BE the presentation.

The Web Design Project Management Toolkit

The Web Design Project Management Toolkit

“How did we get here?” Have you ever been in the middle of a project wondering this very question? It’s not uncommon for things to change along the way no matter how much time you’ve put into planning out every little detail of a website design project.

It’s inevitable—technology changes, needs change, new feedback comes in—any number of things can impact the direction of a project at any time.

The takeaway here is not, “well, if it’ll get derailed why put so much effort into planning up front?” Proactive web design project management is still important. It’s more about having an effective toolkit, knowing how to use it (and when), so you’re able to ride the ups and downs and keep the project on course as you steer toward the horizon.

The Web Design Project Management Toolkit

We talk a lot about the importance of website planning but it’s this planning that allows you the opportunity to develop a toolkit that works. This toolkit may include many things but should always include these 6 basics to answer your Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

WHAT (PROJECT SCOPE)

What are we doing within the scope of work for the project. Have a clear understanding of what is and isn’t included and how to handle items that fall outside of scope.

WHY (PROJECT GOALS)

Clear and measurable goals indicating whether the project is a success once completed. When changes to the plan need made, refer to these goals to ensure the ‘Why’ will still be accomplished.

WHO (TEAM RESPONSIBILITIES)

Identify teams, roles and responsibilities for each person involved in the project. Reinforce the ‘We’, we’re all in this together and each have a critical part to play, we will tackle challenges and celebrate wins together.

HOW (BANDWIDTH & BUDGET)

Breakdown of how the budget will be used. Determine when and how to measure this along the way to ensure you’re on track at each phase.

WHEN (MILESTONES & SCHEDULE)

Outline of key dates for milestones and deliverables so everyone knows what is due when. Know if your due date is fixed or flexible. Identify where it could go off track and discuss with the teams ahead of time particularly around feedback and QA dates.

WHERE (ORGANIZATION)

Where are things stored and captured so they are easily accessible to everyone: communication, important decisions, discussion notes, files, etc.

Full Steam Ahead

With your toolkit in place, create a rhythm throughout the project to continually review and evaluate the health and progress of the web design project. Most importantly, be sure to schedule enough time for these recurring tasks and keep your eye on the compass—you’ll reach your destination in no time!

To Agile or Not to Agile? Is That Really the Question?

To Agile or Not to Agile? Is That Really the Question?

Our search for the ideal process reinforces our belief in the value of clear communication and collaboration.

Choosing the Right Process

Before joining Solid Digital I’d used a variety of project management methodologies from Waterfall, Waterfall with Scrum, Integrated Project Management and a variety of other hybrid methodologies. At Solid Digital we primarily use Waterfall, Agile, or a hybrid methodology.

Looking to gain a clearer understanding of Agile project management and it’s own subset of methods I set out to a panel discussion “Beyond Scrum: Finding the best flavor of Agile for your team,” hosted by the Technology Association of Oregon.

I expected to hear a clear list of qualifiers indicating when to use Agile and what method of Agile to use for different types of projects. I’m sure you can guess, this isn’t what happened at all. It turns out everyone has the same struggle.

With the variances in every project, from technical complexities to internal and client teams along with the experiences and expectations each person has around running a project, the options are endless. Trying to find a one size fits all solution is impossible. You can “templatize” and outline project management process all day long but in the end it comes down to what works best for the group to get what needs done along the way.

That’s when it finally clicked, I didn’t just need the right project to fit the mold, modifying the process to ensure the best results is a natural and necessary part of the process.

Flexibility FTW

At Solid Digital we build in that flexibility, we ingrain this into our culture and ask ‘do we really need this?’ for every process that’s documented to build a culture that empowers our team to fix what’s broken, change what needs changed, do what works to get the job done. We have a set of methodologies we turn to and during our planning phase we curate them to meet the needs of our client and projects.

Bottom Line

We want our clients to know what’s happening at each step of the way, to be able to communicate the details to their stakeholders and to rest assured we’ve got the details covered.

In the end it doesn’t really matter what project management methodology got us there.

Scalable Web Design Project Management Without Sacrifice

Scalable Web Design Project Management Without Sacrifice

Sometimes a growing brand will reach out to us with a more modest budget, so we’ve developed a tightened, repeatable process for smaller websites to help these clients take advantage of our high value design and development, without sacrificing our excellent service.

Hi-Touch on a Limited Budget

In addition to TV and streaming applications, complex web applications, and mobile apps, we do plenty of web design and digital marketing work. In most cases, we’re working with mid-market businesses with big ideas and budgets to match. However, sometimes a growing brand will reach out to us with a much more modest budget.

In an effort to provide thoughtful service while acknowledging a need to minimize the burden on internal resources, we’ve developed what we’ve dubbed Template Web Project (TWP)—a tightened, repeatable process for smaller websites to help these clients take advantage of our high value design and development without sacrificing our excellent service.

What We’ve Done

Needless to say, we’ve launched our fair share of WordPress websites; and over the years, we’ve learned a thing or two. What we’ve done with TWP—based on our years of experience (read: trial & error) in managing web design projects—is create a reliable, repeatable WordPress website design & development process that standardizes as much as 80% of a web project while still allowing room for extensive (and important) customization.

By forecasting important milestones, potential headaches (and opportunities to save time), we’ve done just that.

Template Web Project (TWP)—a tightened, repeatable process for smaller web sites to help these clients take advantage of our high value design and development, without sacrificing our excellent service.

 

 

TWP is a Jira Project template that consists of over 90 tickets of tasks and stories, pre-estimated and assigned to the appropriate sprints. This allows a Project Manager to easily and quickly roll out a project plan without having to distract team members with long, repetitious project planning meetings.

We know that some tickets won’t be needed, and that others will be, and that’s ok, because we’re still saving time on 80% of the project planning process. It also ensures that no important steps are not forgotten.

Results

Since adopting TWP we’ve enjoyed smoother launches and tangible time-savings, which means we can spend more time concentrating on the great work we do and making our clients glad they chose Solid Digital as a web design partner.

The Dangers of Distraction (Part 2)

The Dangers of Distraction (Part 2)

In which Craig the developer drops some poignant knowledge bombs on Oscar the PM. We also learn Shakira’s music doesn’t lend itself well to productivity.

“Hips Don’t Lie” or “Knowing Your Team”

In which Craig drops knowledge bombs on the mind of Oscar, and talks about optimal work times for each developer. 

Dear Oscar the PM,

First of all, have you seriously not watched Westworld? I mean… I guess that’s not weird but… Seriously?

Secondly, and most importantly, thanks for reaching out. Too many project managers don’t take the steps to begin a dialogue with developers to try and make things better.

In answer to your question, No you are not doing anything wrong. As a project manager you check all the boxes needed for us to work on projects and complete our tasks. You engage the client in all communications, you never commit to a feature without first checking with us, and you know enough about the team to know who should be working on what tasks.

The “weird vibe” you are getting from the developers is most likely due to the 3:30pm “Shakira Time”. And while I share the opinion you brazenly wrote on the conference room whiteboard: “There is never a bad time for Shakira”, some of the developers find it distracting when you walk through the office playing “Hips Don’t Lie” from your phone.

Developers aren’t like PM’s. We don’t switch to something else every 45 minutes, and it takes us a while to ramp into the task we have on our plate. Every time a dev is distracted from his work, you can safely assume you have lost about an hour of development. We focus on one thing at a time, and our job is hard. We build complex things, and devote so much of our brainpower to the task at hand that when we are torn from our objective it takes a bit for our brains to get back to where we were. It’s like being 4 steps away from solving a rubik’s cube then someone mixes it all up again when you’re not looking. To put it simply distractions are the bane of a dev’s existence.

Being considerate of a developer’s time and when their “optimum work time” is, is one of the best things you can do to maximize our effectiveness. Stacey, for example, is at her absolute best around 9:30 am. She gets in at 9, checks her emails for about 5 minutes and then according to her it’s “headphones on and Cradle of Filth time”. I’m pretty sure that’s a band… I really hope it’s a band…

Bernard, however, writes his best code at about 4pm. Once he gets going, he’s almost unstoppable and I’ve seen him slam out 15 template integrations in a matter of hours. Sure, some of that may be the 27 energy drinks he’s drank throughout the day… The point is, every developer has a period of time when they’re “in their zone” and to maximize a team’s effectiveness, a great PM should know when those times are and protect them.

Hopefully this helps ease any tension you may notice between yourself and the team. I would encourage you to reach out and check with each developer to see when their “zone time” is, and ensure that even Shakira doesn’t distract them during that time.

Hope this helped!

Sincerely,

Craig the Developer

 

Conclusion

As a PM it is important to keep the following things in mind throughout the lifespan of a project:

  1. A ten minute distraction for a developer, is potentially an hour of lost work.
  2. Knowing your team’s “prime dev time” and protecting them from distractions during that time, can be a huge move towards coming in under budget.
  3. As a Project Manager, reaching out to your team to address concerns, and to have open discussion on what can improve from within the team is appreciated from both sides (PMs and Devs).
  4. Cradle of Filth is an actual band.

The Dangers of Distraction (Part 1)

The Dangers of Distraction (Part 1)

In which Oscar the PM regrets “Taco Night” and has a heart-to-heart with Craig the Developer. Also, Westworld is mentioned.

As a project manager, how can you most effectively utilize the time and preferred workflow of your team? Craig and Oscar participate in a modern day parable of the dangers that distractions have in a project, and how knowing your team can lead to coming in under budget.

“My Day as a Ficus” or “Reaching out for Understanding”

In which Oscar the PM reaches out to anime action figure connoisseur and lead developer, Craig, in an attempt to clear up any potential “weird vibes” that may exist between Oscar and his team.

 

Dear Craig the Developer,

Some might say that this sort of conversation deserves to be held in person, but I am reasonably intimidated by the amount of action figures on your desk and fearful that you will bring any of them up in conversation.

As you know I’ve been a project manager here at Hypothetical Ink for a few months now and have had the pleasure of managing a couple of the projects you have been on. While your performance has been far more than adequate, and we have come in early and under budget more often than not, I feel a sense of unease from you and your compatriots.

At first I had thought it due to Monday’s “Taco Night” (I realize now, I should never have ordered the mystery meat). As the week went on, however, I felt the discomfort between myself and the developers grow. I decided to take the matter into my own hands on Thursday, lingering by the water cooler dressed as a ficus. Adequately concealed from recognition, I was able to overhear some of your conversations with the other developers. Unfortunately, all these conversations pertained to either computer hardware or something called “Westworld”.

So as I am unable to unravel this mystery through my subtle office subterfuge, I would like to simply ask you.

“Am I doing something wrong?”

Sincerely,

Oscar the PM

To be continued in Part 2