Thursday, 19 December 2013

Agile revisited

Last week's blog from the British Interactive Media Association was on the subject of Going Agile. It reports on a masterclass from Jo Wickremasinghe and Jim Bowes, one of an ongoing series of events from BIMA.

We've commented on Agile in the past. One difficult perception has been how to reconcile the inherent flexibility (which is a good thing) with budgetary planning and hitting deadlines. Jo Wickremasinghe noted that an agile approach has flexibility to cope with big changes that can (and usually do) derail waterfall projects. Change a major parameter and how would the project cope? This becomes especially crucial where a project has a long time scale. (Cue notes about big UK Govt and BBC IT projects.)

You can build mid-term re-assessment into long projects. The European Commission did this with large long-term research projects, even allowing changes of consortium partners. In iMedia terms though this is rather like trying to dam the waterfall part-way down. Having relatively short and clearly defined mini-projects (ie agile sprints) and having the flexibility to plan individual sprints almost as you go along, as circumstances and stakeholder minds change, has to be a better way.

It is easiest if the project can be divided into constituent parts that can be sprinted almost independently, in any order. If you can make features functionally independent then you can sprint them individually. I am about to start on a project like this and even though it's being scoped and checked by potential users we know that real users only come up with good suggestions when they start to use the 'completed' system. Taking an agile approach means features can be released along the timeline, giving more scope for changes.

Moving back to the BIMA presentations, one of Jim Bowes's slides shows a product vision board. With this you can elucidate the target market, what they need, what the product is and what is the value of doing it. He boils it down to one sentence: "As a user I can do this and I get that benefit". For example, "As a user I can find the latest digital camera reviews so I can choose the right one for me".

I recommend checking back to the BIMA blog occasionally, and maybe their events will make it useful for your company to join, especially if you're London-based.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Educating clients – worth every effort

Often your client's way of thinking is a world away from your development perspective on what is right for them under the circumstances.

Does this statement ring true for you? Winning projects and keeping clients happy are not easy. You are often pulling in different directions, either because you know the technology and what it is capable of, you know they can't afford what you could really give them, or you know how their customers relate to technology and the client isn't the listening type.

Maybe you should consider educating your clients regularly by a drip feed of soft training advice. This is best offered when you're actually not in the throws of a project as they can react badly to such advice then. They are, after all, the clients and paying you to produce what they want.

We came across a few bits of advice that are really worth passing on. Avara - internet marketing consultants - list their five top tips as:
  1. Be careful what you wish for, (really telling the client to think carefully before directing you, the developer, to do something.)
  2. You are not your customer, (sound advice to get the client focused).
  3. Never use the words like/dislike with feedback, (difficult to grasp without the explanation but very compelling so take a look. They suggest substituting, 'that doesn’t work because...').
  4. There's usually a good reason, (this encourages clients to trust your experience before they comment).
  5. What do you want your website to do? (tips on how to get clients to give you clear statements of what they want by agreeing what they wouldn’t want).
How and when to get your soft training messages across might be the subject of some debate. Avara does it on their website. But perhaps you could offer to send through a bi-monthly short article link for your clients, written by you and of interest to you both. This might be a solution. (Or you could direct them to suitable posts in this blog perhaps.) You know your clients and you'll know what is right. The strategy might vary for different clients, but it will be worth it to save some of the differences of perspective that always lead to debate/hassle in projects.

Top marks to Avara for analysing the prime issues they have found problematic with clients and for translating these into a credible, non-threatening set of tips. Their 'related news, views and advice' are worth noting too.

How do you educate your clients?

Friday, 22 November 2013

Templates available for digital project management

Once your processes and procedures are defined, they can be codified into templates to help guide the next generation of your project managers. They should be refined according to your own business practices and experiences and then they act as efficiently and useful as they can be for YOU.

It’s so refreshing to find templates because they can save so much time and energy, as long as they really suit the way you work. They can cut out major headaches analysing what has proved most successful for you. The sticking point is suit the way you work. You still need to adapt them but they can be strong pointers in a right direction. They can serve as a sounding board for checking if you have analysed your way of working without missing out any of the stages.

Often the processes and procedures you are applying are rooted in your company’s high-level approach to managing projects and these in turn are often affected by your market sector. These approaches often relate to the methodology of waterfall, agile or Prince2 project management processes. Can you identify what you are using? Maybe your company uses all of these for different projects according to the client’s needs. Maybe you use a combination of these approaches in one project – this seems to be a trend because the different approaches have their own strengths and weaknesses. We can’t go into this here but you can look up our blogs on the three different approaches or take a squint at: Project Management Methodologies: How do they compare? by Jean Scheid (19/9/12).

Here then are some templates to look at. Some are free, some are not, some are market sector specific, some are software driven. But they do act as a high-level guide to managing projects. They can be used as a sounding board within your company and/or for refining your own processes. Get other people from your company to react to them. Start a business conversation with them. This will be embryonic training in the raw where you’ll do your own needs analysis. Good Luck.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Content marketing and the print versus infographics debate

We’ve all come across the mantra ‘content is king’ but have we really understood what that implies in the digital world? Yes, we understand that consumers skim and scan online information more than printed mediums. Their behaviour has changed, driven by the need to make faster decisions whilst faced with masses of available data. Another mantra we’ve come across is ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ but that has been hard to prove until now.

Enter the ‘infographic’: a structured visual analysis of a lot of information presented in a visual way. These might look easy to understand and relate to, but they represent a lot of hard analysis of data and the facility to represent this graphically. These are increasingly important skills that have been neglected. Infographics don’t come cheap but they can pay for themselves in the number of people who look at them, the time spent with them and the number of recommendations they get for others to look at them. All these aspects ring the bells for content marketers.

Take for example Accenture’s Infographic of their report for ‘Turbulence for the CMO: Charting a path for the seamless customer experience’, which is based on their survey in 2012 of CMO Insights. We’ll draw your attention to point number 3, 65% of CMOs say digital focus of the company is important but only 7% sat their performance is leading edge. And, point 5 where they want to drive digital orientation throughout the company but 16% meet internal barriers. Equally, apart from those stats and what they mean to us in the digital industry, the medium of the infographic itself is significant. There’s a good deal of synthesis of data presented graphically.

The principle that you need to ‘entertain and educate’ with your content was strongly expressed in the 2013 Content and Marketing Show as discussed in Quba’s blog 12th November, ‘Entertainment, Eyeballs and Personas: insights from the 2013 Content and Marketing Show’.

Doesn’t the concept of infographics (also referred to as data visualisations) meet this principle if handled correctly? Just look at the buzz around Time & Space Visualiser: The story and history of Doctor Who as data visualisations, a book by Paul Smith about Dr. Who that has been controversial for its comedic look and feel (infographic?). Isn’t it designed to entertain and educate?

Where is this leading? Well, Shell Robshaw-Bryan has strong views in her analysis of ‘9 Marketing Insights to Drive Online Success in 2014’, 28th Oct. 2013, where her 9th point emphasises creativity, agility and innovation are needed to grab and hold the attention of audiences. Would infographics fit here? Actually they might help answer some of her other points too – all worth noting.

The rise of ‘Instagram’ and ‘Pinterest’ as social media offshoots is causing a stir in marketing circles too. Instagram is more visually driven while Pinterest lends itself better to sharing visuals than Tweets allowed. There are interesting stats on these at Digit*ally, where more infographics are evident on the Content Marketing page.

However, to be fair, we will try to place the push for infographics in a wider context by mentioning that print content is not dead. Quocirca Insights, November 1st, cover ‘Print Renaissance’, in this digital world. Tangibility, Trust, Retention and Digital Integration are cited as strong reasons for not throwing print out with the bath water. After all, we are print-biased here, as you see, so how could we not promote the balance?

Friday, 8 November 2013

Language? What language?

A long time ago, in a locality far, far away, a group of sixth-form maths students were let loose on the local authority's mainframe computer. Since this was a time when the Beatles were still in the recording studio, there wasn't much choice of programming language. In our case it was FORTRAN 4. This language was designed to fit on punched cards and the syntax was geared to the restrictions that brought.

Actually, it was somewhat amazing that the local council's mainframe ran FORTRAN, since that was the language of the mathematicians and scientists (it had built-in support for complex numbers!). The 'proper' use of the computer was to 'count brooms' and run the payroll, and for that it would have almost certainly used COBOL. As I said, the choice of programming languages in the late 1960s was small. (See the Wikipedia history of them.)

Fast forward to today and while the boxes have shrunk the choice of languages has rocketed (and Fortran is still alive and updating although it has lost its capitalisation, as is COBOL).

I came across several surveys which rank computer programming languages. The way they define is broadly similar (some count SQL, some not ... something to do with infinite loops) but how they get the ranking varies. Here you can find out what's hot and what's not, and possibly tailor your training or hiring policies.

The TIOBE Programming Community Index for October 2013 uses a complicated analysis of appearances in web searches. Their top-5 for last month is C, Java, Objective-C, C++ and PHP, with PHP having moved up one since September to displace C#. Fortran (25th) and COBOL (20th with a bullet) are still hanging in there. also trawls search engine results together with Craigslist postings, Ohloh and Github. Their top-5 ranking is C, Java, PHP, Javascript and C++. The web site engine allows you to try different searches for the ranking, so that using Github alone you get a top-5 of ObjectiveC, JavaScript, Ruby, Java and Python ... reflecting the more hardcore nature of Github.

Finally (in my straw trawl) came Statistic Brain. This particular listing isn't bang up to date but it provides an interesting comparison between Craigslist (listing programmer jobs ie wants) and SourceForge (listing open source projects ie users). The wants top-5 are PHP, SQL, C++, C and JavaScript ... and the user list is Java, C++, C, PHP and Perl. Other lists show that Perl is losing popularity so that ranking should definitely have changed and C# or JavaScript would probably be in that top-5 now.

Do these stats fit your experience? If someone on your staff asks you what to learn next what would you say? A final word goes to Craig Buckler on Sitepoint. He looked at this very question at the beginning of 2013 and concluded
Ultimately, pick technologies which interest you and never stop learning. Programming skills are always transferable and it'll make you a better candidate when a suitable job eventually arises.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Interactive Media Awards: what do they tell us

The range and type of awards offered in the industry reflect the activities and trends of work. It’s a snap-shot of what’s going on and what is considered ‘good’. With this in mind, we’ve taken a quick look at some of the major players for the UK.

What’s readily apparent is the massive increase in categories that you can enter. This demonstrates the growth of interactive media use across traditional sectors. Imagine, The Interactive Media Awards now has 100 categories (and growing) that they divide into 25 per quarter of the year. If you can’t find a category to enter there for your projects, we’d be amazed. The award categories are mostly arranged around traditional content sectors of business, such as Bridal/Weddings, Government, Financial Services and Animals/Wildlife although some of the categories like e-commerce and web design/development seem more about the medium. Other awarding bodies choose to define the categories in other ways.

BIMA (British Interactive Media Association) has recently had its 2013 awards event and you can see that they divide their categories into Sector, Discipline and Premium with 24 subcategories. These cover:, Battle of the Brands, Business to business, Corporate, Education and Outreach, Entertainment, Leisure and Culture, and Public Life, as Sectors. Then Community Building, Content Marketing, Engagement, Games, Integrated Campaign, Mashups and Data Visualisation, Mobile, Multi-platform, Self Promotion, Social Media, Student, Tablet, User Experience, make up the Discipline categories. Finally Innovation, Minor Miracle, Agency of the Year and Grand Prix cover the Premium categories.

FWA (Favourite Website Awards) is based in Cambridge and runs daily, monthly and annual awards for web sites based on the judging criteria of creativity, originality, design, content and personality. The daily and monthly judging leads to a public vote for the Winner of the year. Their site is updated daily and they have lots of followers worldwide.

Only you will know what angle your company favours; whether creativity or transparent interface, well-structured content or in-your-face bombardment. So much depends on your clients, their needs, the proposed audience etc. That’s why defining categories for awards is no easy feat. Just think about what you’d put as criteria and categories. How would you set criteria that judges would agree on? It’s easy to write off these awards as irrelevant to you, but they pin down standards as a result of what they do – and you shouldn’t ignore that.

Look at some of the winners in the categories that suit your type of work. Do they inspire or frustrate? A good way to change perceptions if you don’t agree with the results is to back your own work and enter. Good luck.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Interactive media testing: who, what, where, how

As with all other areas of interactive development, testing has exploded into a specialism of its own, but this comes with some baggage because specialists expect some kind of career progression. It appears that the tradition for testers has been to transfer out sideways after a couple of years into development or project management. With the emphasis from clients being on proven performance of interactive products, myriad test results have become important in demonstrating your company’s worth. So a drain on your experienced testers is less tolerable now.

What do we know about testers? This is exactly what Chris George addresses in his posting at The Ministry of Testing in, Testing: an Obvious Career Choice (20.10.13). He’s realised that the many automated tests breed boredom and so testers move. His answer is to educate testers to demonstrate that there is a skills progression across sectors of testing by using a skills map. He has reached other conclusions too, so it’s worth a look at the map and analysis of his findings.

Rob Lambert at The Social Tester (18.10.13), seems to agree about boredom for testers and automated testing but his answer is to throw in challenges. This begins a dialogue on,’who are testers and what is their position in iMedia development?’

If you think you know about testing categories and what tests to recommend to your clients, take a look at Website Testing and the tools they review over 19 categories! We’ll let their list blow your mind! . Their checklists for testing are handy too. We lead you to their ecommerce checklist here, but there are others. These cover the ‘what to test’ and ‘where’.

Well, there’s just the ‘how’ to address now. Automation is rife as we’ve understood from ‘Testing Web Sites’, but there’s a mixed solution to some aspects of testing because user testing involves real people and real situations/cases. This has become partially automated too but that can point you to faster solutions for management and clients while taking you outside the purely automated box. User specialise in online user testing that gives you fast-taste feedback. Yes, they are pushing themselves and their service but their client reaction including large brands is enviable. See

Just to end on a bit of humour, Gerald Thulbourn berates PayPal (calls them ‘muppets’ repeatedly) for neglecting to do their own testing on some of their own sample code whilst warning others that changes they are making might affect their previous coding!

Friday, 18 October 2013

Funding and competitions for you

Last month saw the launch of a new set of funding opportunities for the creative industries from the UK Technology Strategy Board (TSB). The question has always been, ‘Yes, but what are the creative industries and are we considered part of it?’. Interesting point. In the past these initiatives have appeared to favour traditional visually-driven sectors. The definition debate continues across countries apparently. (See Wikipedia’s take on the definition debate as an introduction).

But because of convergence - and maybe even dominance - across the digital media sectors, the aspects that the strategy addresses have finally crossed over to more purist digital media. If you have got lost in the debate before, as we have, take a deep breath and be prepared to look afresh.

Listed on the TSB web site there’s:
  • £15 million for cross-platform production in digital media (although the slant appears towards film, TV, online video, animation, video games and special effects.)
  • £2.5 million for ‘Frictionless Commerce’ – collaborative projects covering digital transaction environments for content industries.
  • £2.5 million for hyperlocal media demonstrators for geographical communities
  • £4 million for location-based services for businesses to get their customers into the ‘here and now’ context.
  • £2.5 million for valuing and pricing digital assets in digital transactions.
  • £3.5 million for ‘big data exploration’ meaning finding new ways of extracting value from data.
  • £1 million to help Manchester creative industries cluster.
Well, it is in the right general direction, don’t you think? This funding and the competitions across these areas begin late 2013 and continue into 2014. For a stake in the first (and largest) and the second you need to register interest quite quickly in November. The others weigh-in during late 2013 and early 2014. Now, don’t forget that the project management of funded projects like these is heavy because there’s usually lots more admin than on strictly commercial projects. Also, UK government bodies often ask for Prince 2 qualified project management as a basis. Do you have people qualified in this? We’ve covered Prince 2 aspects and developments before so check out previous blogs.

If you’re tempted, good luck. Remember, you learn a lot along the journey which increases your skills and experience. We all need that.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Evaluation of web sites – what is this?

Evaluation is such a problematic word because it implies testing according to criteria but covers wider ‘softer’ issues as well. Everyone who looks at a web site tablet, mobile app, or any electronically delivered information, is subconsciously judging what they meet. Our problem as developers is to be on top of general evaluation criteria as well as be aware of more specialised market-driven information. Some aspects of evaluation such as accessibility are linked to legal requirements, so we have to conform to those anyway. We’ll not be looking at accessibility specifically here as we tend to treat evaluation for that separately.

Perhaps we should start with a definition of evaluation. It is about judging or assessing the value of something in a structured way. Under a general evaluation appraisal, we can find guides for assessing web sites that emphasise looking out for: authority, accuracy, reliability, being up-to-date, relevance to you, feel (University of Reading). The University of Berkeley, Evaluating web pages, offers similar advice covering techniques and questions to pose about web pages for evaluating them. So, we may have education graduates worldwide who have been trained to evaluate our pages. It might be useful for your clients to understand these general criteria as some of the criteria relate more to actions of theirs for keeping the information current.

But the great majority of people do not employ a common set of criteria when assessing information. They employ subconscious criteria according to their age, need, behaviour trends, and more. This is where market research extends the measures for evaluation. It offers insights of how to tailor the information and experience better for a particular group.

Then we get more precise guidelines of how to engineer information electronically for particular needs. Take for example Kantar Media’s September 2013’s publication on, Over 50s in the digital age, where they define the over 50s behaviour trends with electronic information giving valuable pointers of how to reach this group and how to engage them better. If you remain sceptical can you argue with Webcredible’s success results (if they are true, of course!).
  • 36% increase in made-to-order in online revenues for Laura Ashley
  • 50% reduction in mobile homepage drop-offs for Macmillan Cancer Research
  • 44% conversion improvement and 168% uplift in leads for Propertywide
  • 80% increase in hotel ‘look-to-book’ conversions for Thomson
Perhaps stats like that may influence your clients to agree to some market research, or it might help you define some criteria of successful evaluation for your own sites.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Parliament reports on the creative industries and on broadband

Today (Thursday) has seen two reports from the powerful (if somewhat mysterious) UK parliamentary committees: part of the checks and balances of our democracy.

The one that has made the news is on rural broadband rollout. The Commons Public Accounts Committee says that consumers have been "ripped off" due to government mismanagement and that BT, who are the only contender for the money available, haven't been transparent on their costs. The government and BT disagree with this of course.

Are you 'rural'? I find myself in a rural place these days. Whereas my previous Surrey homestead was within range of BT's fibre to the cabinet (FFTC) broadband with its tens of megabits, my current Northamptonshire ranch is totally dependent on copper, albeit with a respectable 6 megabits from ADSL 2+. That's not really my problem however, since BT's broadband isn't an option for me as they don't have a suitable home-office package (I need a fixed IP address) and my otherwise good provider (Demon) does not, as yet, 'do' fibre ... which is apparently leading to many customers jumping ship (if you believe the conversations on the user forums).

Personally I'm not surprised that BT were the only provider willing (or able?) to provide rural fibre. They are a very able company after all and this is 'what they do'. We also seem to forget that fibre is also the future of voice, since before long all telephony will happen over broadband IP circuits, and it's not just thieves who could make good money from selling old copper cable. Ironically, those odd communities who have jumped the gun and sorted out their own rural broadband (such as the innovative Rutland Telecom just up the road from me), will be excluded from any subsidised BT rollout since this is only available where there isn't already a broadband supplier. I'm not clear how this squares with encouraging competition.

We're in the business of electronic communications and the IT Crowd are encouraging us to put 'stuff' in 'the cloud' but you can't really do that unless you're well connected. When you're choosing where to move your office to, what are your priorities ... how far up them is access to fast broadband. Even in cities this is an issue since you may well have other Buck Rogers options such as wide-area ethernet. So there's always a choice ... of some sort.

Report number two comes from the DCMS Select Committee, chaired by the estimable John Whittingdale MP. They've just published a report on Supporting the Creative Economy and since we're in that economy I recommend you have a read (of the summary at least). It doesn't just deal with intellectual property (the bit I went to first) but also includes Olympic legacy (or is it 2012 sustainability?), piracy, taxation and education. Did you know that the IOC's contracts for suppliers forbad them from publicising their involvement? Neither did I. The report also fires two barrels at Google, asking why they don't respond as robustly to copyright infringement as they do to child pornography, and saying that the agenda underlying current government thinking on copyright is partly driven by technology companies including Google and "if pursued uncritically, could cause irreversible damage to the creative sector on which the United Kingdom’s future prosperity will significantly depend."

What is interesting to me is that the committee's stance on copyright often conflicts with that of the Hargreaves Report and they ask whether there is sufficient evidence to justify the new exceptions to copyright being put forward as well as the tendency for them to be bundled together so they can't be discussed independently. They ask the question as to whether the UK needs a champion for copyright but stop short of suggesting that the UK Intellectual Property Office be moved from the business ministry to the culture one. As the Music Ally blog says, "The report represents one long win for rightsholders in terms of convincing the Committee of their arguments. Whether it brings the changes they desire is considerably more open to debate." Spot on!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Usability, Return on Investment (ROI) and iMedia

From time to time we take a look at how usability features are progressing and take a view on their possible impact on the way we work. So here we are again. It’s been a hard slog for usability to make its mark. It’s taken stronger definition of the ROI for using usability principles to convince clients to invest in it. But now usability experts understand the key to defining the ROI, things are looking up.

Business Daily recently featured a concise article by Jon Celeste, Five Ways to improve usability in your web design on a budget (5.9.13). These are noted as: simplify your navigation, focus on readability rather than the ‘wow’ factor, break up text, be mindful of load times, and give every page a clear purpose. Jon uses this article to try to balance SEO spend with design spend to increase the effectiveness of web sites.

That’s sound general advice. In Venn Digital’s blog Lucy Clarke reports on Ad Tech (12.9.13), ROI and content marketing from a speaker she listened to. She points out that content is not a direct sales tool as such. It is a way of communicating with your audience where good communication equals brand buy-in and loyalty. Content should be spread across types of communication and will affect the SEO but that in the end understanding your audience first is all important.

The emphasis on knowing your audience is taken even further in the social media article, 7 Key Elements in a Social Media Strategy, by JKconsultancy in Business Zone (8.9.13). JKconsultancy recognises the importance of knowing the audience, but also looks at the reasons the people are using that particular channel – why do they commit time and effort to it? Then you need to mimic their actions to be part of the culture if you are to be believed. This means being sociable, being focused on what you want from the channel, building long-term relationships, dedicating time and effort, being prepared to share and follow.

Behaviour changes according to fashion. That means that to reach your audience you need to continue to monitor what is happening across technology as well as channels. Netimperative (12.9.13) draw attention to Brightroll’s 3rd annual UK Advertising Report where the rise in the use of digital video and mobile is featured. The key thing here is the switching of buying spend by advertisers from TV to digital video distributed via other more interactive technology channels. It is because they see the rise of people viewing in this way and can target them specifically. But, it’s no surprise, that they want to have better measurements of ROI from the use of video in this way.

As iMedia channels fragment across platforms, more can be gleaned about the users of each type. With this information, design and advertising can be targeted more effectively. It’s just a question of how, and how can this be measured?.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Metadata Report

I've written in the past about photographic metadata on web sites. There had been some grumbling in copyright circles about how metadata was routinely stripped from photographs, especially on news sites, denying a credit to the photographer.

News outlets are excused from a requirement to credit in the UK's moral rights legislation. This omission, which dates from the 1988 act, clearly predates the web and comes from an era where to give a credit would mean taking up precious page real estate (although this wasn't the only reason). In an online electronic world this should no longer be a valid reason since metadata can always be included in an image. I should note that the Guardian (if not others) do find space to credit photographers ... but what about web sites?

I thought it would be interesting to check out a few of the major news web sites to see whether any creator information was encoded in the images. I realise this is a straw poll and won't apply to absolutely every image on a site.
  • The Times are including their URL as source metadata but nothing else. They also include a text credit including one for the photographer.
  • The BBC news web site includes a creator metadata item as well as a burned-in credit.
  • The Guardian gives both text credits and includes a fair amount of useful metadata, although it's in a Photoshop namespace rather than the expected places so you may have to look at the raw XML to find it.
  • The Express occasionally has burned-in credits but I couldn't find any metadata.
  • I couldn't find any metadata in the images I checked on The Mirror web site.
  • Briefly venturing overseas ... Reuters and the New York Times do give good text credits as, usually, does the South China Morning Post but I could find no metadata in the photos I checked.
  • Finally the Daily Mail. Many of their online images not only include creator metadata but can also include a substantial amount more. This is on top of always having a visible credit 'burned' into one corner of the image. One image, illustrating a story about a child being taken away by social services, included a legal warning that the family must not be named and that the case was subject to court proceedings ... in the metadata. A front page story today about the raising of the Costa Concordia featured a large image from Reuters, with again a substantial amount of metadata which I assume originated with Reuters. Unfortunately not all the images on the web site (that I looked at) include metadata but I have to give the Mail credit for including such extensive metadata when they do include it.
So on the basis of this straw poll I believe that, in most cases, news web sites are finding space to credit the sources of their images on the page but few seem to realise the usefulness and importance of metadata. The Times makes use of it to point out that the image came from their web site, which is a variation on a theme, and I have elsewhere seen source or creator metadata that only said something like 'other' or 'record company' and agencies are mentioned far more than the photographers. So on the whole there is room for improvement.

We should all try to include metadata in images published on the web. I certainly try (and usually remember). I've looked at news here simply because of the moral rights exemption (which I'm glad to see most are ignoring) but if your web site isn't news then you may well have no excuse.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Dipping into Industry Insights

The beginning of each chapter in our book, Managing Interactive Media: Project Management for Web and Digital Media, started with an industry insight relevant for the chapter content. Re-reading them, they are still relevant. Where would you tap in to such insights today? Who are the respected ones? In what areas? I thought that things would have firmed up quite a lot over 5 years, but not so, apparently.

Because the iMedia industry (incorporating e-commerce) is still not recognised as a whole entity for its contribution to GDP – although digital platforms, digital media, digital marketing and social media have become more accepted as part of general business – it is still hard to find people to join the dots across the fragmented whole. After that, it becomes a question of who do you listen to in what area. Take digital/social media production, digital marketing, digital visualisation, digital usability, digital project management, digital law, digital testing and digital team management. Can you name a person or persons that you would choose to listen to in each area?

It was interesting to find that LinkedIn have developed their version of ‘the respected ones’ by choosing their ‘thought leaders’, as part of their initiative called the Influencer Program. Did you know about this? Ross Avner, from a digital gaming background, decries this as betraying the LinkedIn principles where readers themselves are meant to select by choice who to listen to rather than have others make the selection. See a list of LinkedIn thought Leaders at and Ross’s commentary, ’Thought leaders’ take LinkedIn away from its roots (4th September 2013)

Just taking a segment – mobile – the buzz of prediction of where this is going teases out quite a lot of insight sharing. The key is in watching and learning from consumer behaviour. Many involved are using different ways to try and interpret data about behaviour from multi-channel analytics, from reports on behaviour like the joint effort from the Mobile Marketing Association and Vserv. Mobi about mobile behaviour in South East Asia, or from interviews from leaders as in Marketing Week.

What do you think of these snippets from the interviews?
  • Orla Barrett (Styloko) ‘Technology can not only expand your customer base and enable market research, it can also improve the day to day workings of a business...’
  • James Foord (mySupermarket). ‘Convincing internal stakeholders that have not grown up with some of today’s tech is difficult as it involves investment and a leap of faith.’
  • Alison Sagar (Paypal) ‘As retailers think about how consumer behaviour is changing and how they can connect the online information they have about customers with their shopping behaviour in-store, technology – and in particular payment technology – can really help join those dots.’
  • Lorna Westwood (Pandora) ‘From an ecommerce perspective, retailers need to start developing a stronger mobile presence and a user experience with simple, secure payment options to take advantage of the potential of the mobile commerce market.’
  • Peter Wright (IKEA) ‘mobiles are becoming the primary platform from which to access information ...We therefore have to consider mobile commerce in all aspects of activity, ensuring that our ecommerce site is compatible with mobile devices, while also providing unique and inspirational content.’
And, on the question of ‘content’ what about the conjectures of why Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezo bought, a newspaper. Hamish McKenzie, 3rd September 2013, Pandodaily, interprets Jeff’s comments as an endorsement for talented storytelling whether print or digital. Let’s not throw the baby... Core skills are core skills?

Friday, 30 August 2013

Your projects and the client's business case

It is still proving difficult to get a precise understanding of how interactive companies are working with their clients to help achieve their companies' business priorities. The clients' business priorities drive their budgets which influence the range and type of projects they undertake. As business priorities shift, the type of projects you’ll get involved with will shift too. Have you noticed any changes over the last 18 months? If so, does the shift reflect changes in your clients' priorities?

You may be able to define things better if you are aware of how general business priorities are changing. Gartner research at the beginning of the year predicted 10 top business priorities and 10 top technology priorities. See Gartner Newsroom January 2013.

Steve Ranger at ZDNET (13th August 2013) notes that business intelligence and legacy modernisation have moved to the top technology places from 2012, while the top business priorities are delivering operational results, improving IT applications and infrastructure and reducing enterprise costs.

Of course, there may well be differences in the type of priorities across the size of companies and the sector they are in. This is borne out best by the explosion of social media projects, when defining clear benefits in business terms for social media involvement is not generally accepted as understood. You may get some help here from Elizabeth Hair's blog (14th August 2013), The Key to Social Media Measurement, where she defines different tools available across some social media sites and their main attractions. It might be just as well to realise that if any of your clients include people from marketing departments, they will be much more on your side if they know they will get business analytics from the project that will make their lives easier.

So, just how are you demonstrating that your project will meet some key business needs? What promises are you making and are you keeping them?

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The importance of being email

We're told (by Gartner Group) that 80-90% of an organisation's intellectual property is stored in or sent by email. That's an extraordinary amount. While an increasing amount of communication is using social networks email remains an important channel for a company, especially when you remember that email includes attachments. Might you need to produce them in a legal dispute, or if you want to sell your company? The longevity of email is notable as well, being just about the first mechanism for communication over the internet.

Do you archive your emails? And what does archiving mean in this context. I'm always reminded of the mysterious library in The Name of the Rose, where only the librarian knows how to find anything and the internal structure is kept deliberately obscure. Randy Murray's blog notes that organisation is just as important as preservation when it comes to archiving. (We might note that disorganisation can be a way of deliberately hiding something, such as a book placed on the 'wrong' shelf in a shop for later retrieval.)

Use of the Cloud quickly comes up in discussions about archiving. This isn't just for emails of course, but with tens of thousands of emails being received across some organisations archiving of emails isn't simply a matter of backing up a hard drive. Rackspace make a cogent case for Cloud archiving in their blog, and you might say "they would wouldn't they?". However, there are some useful thoughts in a video on the Computing web site. It's over ten minutes long but worth sticking with. One good point I noted is that while you might wonder how secure your data can be in the Cloud, have you thought through how secure it is on your premises?

Now go and check that back door.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Remote team working

The use of technology has led the way for people to communicate and work remotely. It has led to a shift in management skills because there are differences in managing people on site and managing people at a distance. The difference has not always been recognised, however ... to a company's detriment.

To manage remote teams – also called virtual, global and distributed teams – you need to recognise the changes. Team members can suffer from a sense of isolation, they can lack trust, their productivity can suffer; and if any members are the type that benefit from being given frequent direction, they can feel lost. Add to this any cross-cultural issues such as misunderstanding of spoken and visual cues (direct and indirect), difference in approach to people and their status, difference in approach to processes employed, and wrongly aligned expectations, and you can see that many issues can have an impact on a project where remote teams are involved.

It's not all bad news, though. Many team members enjoy the freedom they get from working remotely. They are happy to use the latest technology to communicate. They are used to cross-cultural issues and are tuned in enough to recognise possible miscommunication and check the right message has been understood. Yes, there are more opportunities for the individual pieces of a project that each remote member produces to misfit. But, the key lies in someone's ability to diagnose what is wrong and why it is wrong; and this means identifying miscommunication and why it occurred in the team with the implementing of solutions to counter it happening again. Our way is not the only way of doing things, so, if the result is fine and robust even though it appears that the process of getting there was different from expected, do we question it or learn from it?

Hilary Barr, writing for Insights, Getting the most out of a virtual team (24.7.13) gives some useful hints and tips on what to do to make your management of remote teams more effective.

Kevan Hall, writing for bdaily, Team Spirit in a Virtual World, (19.7.13) addresses the need for team spirit even in remote teams and gives suggestions of how to achieve this.

And, how is cloud working figuring in all this? Well, apparently it suits team workers because it offers improved collaboration, according to Onestopclick, Content Sharing in the Cloud Liberates Team Workers (2.8.13). It seems that many businesses still have issues with the cloud and what it can offer them, but, collaborative working outside a company firewall offers the main incentive so far.

As you know, I love cross-cultural issues. There are a couple of interesting articles on just this and what it means to international business at Expatknowhow in Intercultural Skills part 1 and 2 (9.7.13 and 23.7.13). Here the question is posed on whether your company actively screens candidates for cross-cultural skills when a lot of businesses say they value them. Interesting articles with some surprising stats about this topic and business in the UK.

These articles owe a lot to the British Council Report, March 2013, Culture at Work: The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace. This is a report worth reading especially if your company works remotely and interactively through teams.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

‘Milestones’ are these still relevant in your projects?

The concept of milestones in projects was used to demonstrate defined progress in a project to a client so that they would make a payment linked to that progress. It was all about cash flow for a company. Now, the problem seems to be that milestones are linked to the decaying waterfall approach to software development, which is being replaced by agile methodologies. This is in response to the drive for faster development where uncertain business needs dominate.

Agile works with iterative spurts of work called sprints. So are sprints the new milestones?

If you'd like a quick refresher on the difference between the two approaches see our previous blogs and Is agile so different? (8.7.13).

Because there are many sprints in agile working where clients are kept involved defining whether the sprint has moved closer to what they want, it isn't feasible to marry phased payments to sprints. As there were fewer milestones over a longer period it was easier to link them to phased payments. How do you get paid for your work becomes the crucial question? If your clients agree to working in an agile development process, they may be quite happy to work on a time and materials contract. That means you do the work, keep a record of the hours, the people used, their respective rates and bill the client regularly, maybe even monthly. Exactly how companies get paid for their work – time and materials or fixed price contracts - still seems to be a well kept secret in iMedia.

There are other factors to take into account about milestones or their equivalents. Is isn't just that milestones are linked to waterfall methods of project management but that many of these types of projects have not produced a product that satisfies the client. The business needs may have changed over the course of the project without the project being re-aligned. However, it is true that many clients are comfortable with the concept of milestones and expect them in your spec. Are you finding conflicting expectations? Do your clients want agile approaches but with defined milestones? How are you managing in the transition process?

Perhaps the answer might lie in a mind-shift. Recently there has been criticism that milestones have not been linked to a business outcome and that this is why there is a dichotomy between development progress in terms of milestones achieved and outcomes for tangible business needs. See as an example David Walton, Businessworks (13.7.13) Focus on the outcome in change management. Many iMedia projects are in effect change management projects because they change the way a business operates in some ways.

So the middle ground for whichever way your company works – and some companies use both waterfall and agile approaches depending on the project's needs – might be lining up so-called milestones with attaining a defined business need.

It seems that agile is gaining credibility in other fields now, not just software development. Meaghan Fitzgerald uses the terms agile and milestone without hesitating, linking them to marketing needs in social media. For marketing needs read business needs and she has a lot in common with what David Walton was saying. See Creating Stories for Social Media Activity in an Agile Marketing Environment, 20.7.13, 'The Top Floor Flat'.

Lots of grounds for thought?

Friday, 2 August 2013

Client Relationship Management and iMedia in 2013

It was problematic to research this topic for today's blog. There seems to be a lot of confusion about customer relationship management (CRM) and client relationship management – that's without adding in interactive media.

So, to make sure we're starting from common ground, we're defining the client as the people who are paying you and the customer as the people who will be using your application. It seems that this differentiation is fundamental for our working environment when it might not be for others. Traditionally the Account Manager (in an agency environment) and the project manager (in the software development environment) have been the key people to interact with the clients and they have had to develop strategies to balance the needs of the clients against the development company's needs. This job has often been split in interactive companies between the initial contact with the client – often managers/directors – and then the nominal head of the development team as the project moves to definition and production. These roles can have many titles, of course.

But, what is clear is that clients need handling and that the people relating to them need the skills to do this. And it isn't easy! Any hints and tips should be gratefully received because this is a hard job and most needed once problems arise. Handling client expectations appears very often in job descriptions. What this means in practice is that clients' expectations are managed from the beginning whilst trust in your company is being developed. Then, as the project develops, continued relationship management practices are employed. We've found three different perspective on managing clients for you covering a variety of sector development in small businesses, agencies, and for freelance developers.

Small Business Canada has a refreshingly no-nonsense approach to this in its article, Your client is livid! 5 lessons for Client Relationship Management. They realise that communication is the key. They recommend:
  • talking to the client because non-verbal communication like email/texts does not allow the full gamut of interpretation
  • keeping the client informed of all progress – good and bad
  • offering solutions – if things are wrong how will they be put right, how long will it take and the cost implications if any.
  • don't over-promise. When your company falls short of its promises, the trust disappears and so will the client.
  • add value. Suggest ways that may help the client achieve extra from their applications.
Joseph Liu, in Rethinking the client-agency relationship (17th July 2013), is also candid about his experience with the creative agency approach to development.
I've found that you can be clear about what you want without mandating how it has to be done. That you can disagree without being disagreeable. That you can be clear about your expectations while also being collaborative so that when things do get bumpy, the relationship is strong enough to handle 100 per cent candour in both directions.
For freelancers handling clients, you might prefer to look at How to manage difficult clients, at

They cover the thorny issue of firing clients as well as six tips on more positive ways of managing the relationship.
Well, it's a large topic that should stand alone without being confused constantly with CRM. Its importance for your business speaks for itself!

Friday, 26 July 2013

Localisation becomes a big issue

As the growth of global online spending increases, there is the recognition that people relating to services and products in their native language spend more. We'll all agree that there is nothing so off-putting as poor translation. It undermines the credibility of a site or app. If that is true for us English-speakers, it is also true for other languages. So, are you truly global? Are you aiming to reach non-English speakers? If so, how?

The whole question of what localisation is about has been analysed and examined in the last few years. And, unsurprisingly, the needs have increased across sectors and within development. See our earlier blogs for more on these aspects and Locaria, a dedicated localisation company, explains what it does at:

What's the fuss about then? We've already covered some of the basic issues, such as localisation doesn't just apply to words/text but to visuals and colours, but now the experience shows that apposite keyword use in different countries can affect the site's performance. It's not just translating the word again, but the gist according to the country's culture at a particular time. This is why you'll see some localisation companies linking themselves to SEO for different cultures. The games industry has woken up to the need for localisation to help sell their offerings in a particular country in a particular market and through a particular media channel. All of these affect the reception and spend. They have also realised that a game itself needs clear instructions in the native language to aid the user experience. Yes, localisation does cost a lot but you have to look at the return to understand the balance. We are talking global products and services here, remember.

It may come as a bit of a shock to you that experience shows that you'll save time and money if you plan for localisation in the development stage of the applications that are to be publicised internationally. You may well have to fight the fight with web developers and graphic designers because adding in globalisation can affect the design quite radically. For example, browsers seem to be poor in handling non-Roman character sets, especially if they read right-to-left. Text flow on the page can look significantly different when you move to, what are for us, complex character sets (ones that need double-byte encoding such as Chinese). See the Create an adaptable interface design section at Commercial Translation Centre's site. They highly recommend a fluid layout rather than a fixed-width design. With adaptive layouts already coping with mobile phone and tablet displays, can we consider anything to be 'standard' any more?

There's an increase in the number of jobs for localisers with iMedia experience. Companies dedicated to offering translation and localisation for iMedia have emerged. With the growing experience, the expertise on how to approach localisation professionally increases. Companies are also advertising jobs in this specialism as they recognise the need for a specialist to communicate with other specialists.

You know that a specialism has arrived when specialist tools are offered. Some have emerged for localisation and translation, but we haven't had any experience of them to comment. Have you? Finally, there are a few specialist training courses for companies that recognise their need for such services to iron out some of the problems that localisers find when they try to localise an application. SeeITR ( International Translation Resources } and their Best Practice Seminar on Software Localisation.

Monday, 22 July 2013

When web traffic hits eleven

There's the famous Spinal Tap joke, about the musician who believes that because his amplifier goes up to eleven (when the volume knob usually only goes up to ten) it is the most powerful. That iconic joke has become a shorthand with the same meaning as 'giving it all the wellie you can' and 'going for the max'. (It even has its own Wikipedia page.)

A web service I manage recently had a 'up to eleven' moment when I was called one evening recently because the system had stopped/crashed and it seemed that a lot of queries were coming in from one source. It turned out that one of the users of the service had decided to carry out an unscheduled load test and had inadvertently overloaded us.

This got me thinking out how to deal with spikes in web traffic: what causes them and how can you deal with them (and following on from Elaine's notes on testing last time). In the real (ie non-testing) world the kind of thing that generates a rush of traffic is something like a nationwide TV ad promoting the URL. It may cause an almost instantaneous rush of people to their computers, tablets etc, similar to the legendary burst of electricity when people all over the country put the kettle on during half time in the cup-final (it's a UK thing but I'm sure every country has its equivalent).

Of course even if everyone pushed the button simultaneously the requests would not hit the servers at the same time. Network latency tends to spread the traffic out over a short period; we can assume a bell-shaped gaussian distribution. Also not everyone will actually do the action at the same time which further spreads the curve. In the end what proves crucial is a combination of the peak traffic per second and how quickly you process that traffic. If the application takes time to process the requests (because it's consulting a database and making calculations) then several queries will be working their way through the system at the same time, all slightly out of sync with each other. If you have a bottleneck because you're not processing queries as fast as they're arriving, then initially your response slows down and eventually it may grind to a halt.

Some of this load is handled by your web server and some by any back end database. Either or both of these can be a bottleneck, and it can be especially difficult if both run on the same machine or virtual machine.

The Whitesites blog has some musings on How much traffic can one server handle (Feb 2013).

Using the cloud can help, as long as you know the spikes are coming, since you can spin up more capacity at relativly short notice ... but some notice is required. Doug Heise on theiMedia Connection discusses How to prepare your website for a traffic spike and goes further than the technical issues since some of the planning for such events should be driven by marketing. He notes that Gartner say Marketing budgets will exceed IT budgets by 2017.

Your hosting company will help, (as this post on Atlantica outlines: How To Find A Hosting Solution That Handles Traffic Spikes), I would add that the technical support engineers will probably know a lot more about how the equipment works at a low level and can use a variety of tools you may not have heard of to suggest how you can overcome speed problems.

Eventually it may come down to a cost-benefit analysis where you decide how likely it is that you'll be hit by spikes and can you afford to go off-line for short while if the worst happens. After all, real people don't usually behave like load testing programs ... do they?

Friday, 5 July 2013

A forage into testing for iMedia

As platforms develop and have widespread use, the need for robust applications increases. After all, you don't want Joe public's tweets turned on you for poor performance of an application! But as the complexity of functionality increases for the applications, the risk of 'breakdown' increases too.

This means that testing applications under real-use scenarios becomes more important. However, it is difficult to match the experience of a tester with useful tools of the trade, and account for the constant up-skilling they need to tackle emerging situations. Do you value your testers? You should. They are your quality assurers. They protect your reputation – if you let them.

How do you know you're employing the equivalent of a professional tester? Good question, and Epicentre: testing and support addressed this in (21st June 2013).

How vulnerable are different sectors of clients like insurance, law, healthcare, financial services, it, telecommunications, UK government, media and advertising for testing nightmares? See the white paper, Web Application Vulnerability Statistics 2013, Jan Tudor, Contextis (June 2013). You might find some surprising information that will affect some of your projects.

There may be a bit of friction between the developers and testers because they have opposite approaches to life and the universe. Developers code to get things working; testers work hard to break the code to ultimately strengthen the development. Easy to see the potential for friction. Ericka Chickowski goes further than this in Getting the Most from Web Application Testing Results, explaining that often the lessons learnt from testers are not implemented by coders because they can hardly communicate with one another. Is this a problem for you? Did you even know it might be?

We all want to improve the quality of performance, surely.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Pitches: the changing landscape for iMedia

The Pitch approach to winning new business has always been controversial, but it had become an accepted way of working – part of the culture of agency (creative) and government work. It looks as if this is changing, so is it time to evaluate your approach?

The rationale for doing ‘pitches’ from the client’s point of view, was that they got to see the capabilities and skills of several businesses before they committed money to them. In the spirit of ‘creative’ work, the client wanted to see the potential of the ideas for their business. The rationale for doing pitches from the company’s point of view was the possibility of winning lucrative and profile-enhancing new business.

But, in reality, how often does this happen? The criticisms of the clients involved in the process include: they just used the process to confirm their present provider and drive their price down, they used the process to pick up ideas that they then got a rival of ours to implement. The criticisms of the agencies involved in the process include: we saw the same old pitch from them, nothing new, they weren’t prepared well and seemed inexperienced, they just didn’t seem to take it seriously.

As for the pitching process itself, criticisms from the agencies about the process are: it involves a lot of time and effort that is unpaid and has risky potential return, we can’t dedicate a specialist team for pitches although we need to because we aren’t big enough, we dedicate specialist teams to pitching for new business but the return doesn’t warrant the use of resources. There are more of these criticisms at: MCM2’s blog, The Top 5 Worst Pitch Experiences (10.6.13)

These criticisms are finally having an impact on the way pitches are conducted. Will Burns in The Pitch and its Costly Blindspot (25.4.13) states that the process is no longer giving the clients free access to the ‘best’ ideas. This had been the fundamental principle for the process. He’s found from his research that agencies are saying ‘no’ to the offer to pitch. He advocates clients having help from a pitch consultant to draw up a list of agencies and then having ‘intimate’ meetings/dinners to understand the potential of the agency. This is far cheaper, allows access to the smaller companies, and takes the cost pressure off the agencies. What do you think about that? He advocates agencies getting paid for the work they do: no free pitches anymore. What do you think about that?

If you are still in to pitching, you’ve just time to get to a conference on 17th of July in Cardiff through The Chartered Institute of Marketing, entitled The Winning Pitch: Grow your Business.

Then you might also like a dedicated blog for pitching at ‘Winning Words’.

Friday, 14 June 2013

A question of balance: perspectives

The most powerful way to plan a project involves use of three equal perspectives: business, technology and customer. The customer perspective is often the most misunderstood and misused.
Scott Berkum, 'The Art of Project Management', O’Reilly, May 2005 (updated 2008)
The good news is that we are getting better at understanding the customer perspective and we can continue to learn from others on how to tap into the customer’s reaction. Sheetai Kumari gives us great advice in How to Develop Powerful Psychologically Optimised Websites, May 2013

Her tips include:
  • Identify Persuasion Triggers
  • Place Visual Anchors
  • Address Colour Psychology
  • Devise the Information Flow
  • Implement User-friendly Features
  • Use White Space
Sheeta wants websites to relate directly to cognition through cultural triggers. These, she says, need to be assessed as part of a communication strategy for website design. This is true for other forms of technology platforms too.

User Testing design ideas can resolve conflict in the extended development team and is recommended by Rick Whittington in his blog, How Usability Testing Can Resolve Internal Conflict, May 2013. We've all been there when the cross-functional team pulls in different directions with the technology limitations versus the design ideas, adding in the client trying to influence with their own perspective – a classic project management dilemma.

There can be some confusion for developers in exactly who the customer is for the project. Some label the client as the customer while others feel it is the end user. Where do you stand on this? We lean on the end user perspective.

Yet another take on lining up with the user is explained in Pixel Media’s approach where they state that Alligning content and Analytics to customer intent is key for them as a business.

Finally, just for some light relief, Wabbaly offers some very visual ‘tasters’ for what can be designed with the users’ life-style in mind. Enjoy.

Friday, 7 June 2013

iMedia Teamwork today and what it means for business

The nature of teamwork has changed over the years and today we are more used to virtual teams and cross-functional teams. These terms are now embedded in job descriptions and the skill of working in such a team or managing such teams successfully is sought after. Virtual teams mean a group of people who are brought together for a particular project but do not share the same physical workspace. This might include team members from other countries. Cross-functional teams might also be virtual teams but this term relates more to the mixed skill-set of the people brought together rather than their physical proximity.

In some of the latest team research from Ashridge ManagementIndex 2012-13, (scroll down the page to Published Research),77% of respondents say they are increasingly asked to manage cross-functional and virtual teams.

The benefits and limitations of such teams is analysed in an interesting research paper from Michigan State University which although from 1992, has been cited today at The Team Building Directory under the heading Resolving Conflict at Work. (The sub-heading Cross Functional sourcing team benefits and limitations relates better to the import of the article, we believe.) This paper actually goes further than the benefits and limitations because it looks at factors affecting the teams' performance. Now, these factors are crucial and perhaps more relevant for iMedia. In fact, the benefits are all conditional on factors – so that's a lesson in itself, isn't it?


  • If the team members are selected carefully, the team brings greater knowledge and skill together at one time and increases the effectiveness of the product.
  • If the client gives the right participation, then the product benefits as well.
  • If the team is given the right authority levels, then the product benefits as well.
  • If the team leader is effective, then the product benefits from greater team effort.


  • More time used in reaching decisions
  • Issues over team’s autonomy to make decisions
  • Interference from outsiders trying to influence the team
  • Lack of insight on whether the team is performing well
  • Over-domination of some team members
  • Lack of time

Factors affecting the team's success

  • Selection of the team – type of skill, personal chemistry (personality?), willingness to participate and ability to influence a section of the organisation.
  • Size of the team – the larger it is the more difficult to manage, of course.
  • Access to the right information, tools, materials, budget requirements, management support, client participation (note we have transposed the word client for supplier in this case, to make better sense for our industry.)
  • Recognition of the team’s role and their contribution to success. If there is evaluation by the company, perhaps annually, then their contribution in a team should count.
  • Assigning people to the team that have the requisite skills needed.
  • An effective trained team leader
  • Clearly defined project/task
  • Motivation of team members is significant.
  • Organisational readiness for cross-functional teams
This then leaves us with questions. Are your own teams being effective and efficient and if not why not? If the great majority of teams today are cross-functional and virtual, what conditions should management create to help these teams succeed? Does your company ask and listen to your teams about what they need?

Tough questions with no straight answers. But, only you can answer them for your own company. Do you want more successful projects might be your starting point?

Friday, 31 May 2013

Object-oriented media: has its time arrived?

Earlier this week I was in Amsterdam and came across a heron, sitting patiently on the top of a car on Lindengracht in the Jordaan. Since gracht means canal you are probably not surprised. However, this particular canal was filled in many years ago (after a riot over a game involving catching an eel suspended on a rope over the canal, since you ask) so this heron's vantage point was nowhere near water. Two days later I returned to the Lindengracht and the bird was again sitting on a car. Is this, I wonder, a triumph of hope over experience?

I've been hoping for many years that broadcasting would be able to embrace the idea of transmitting a programme made of independent component parts ... objects. Multitrack audio is an easy example to understand: mix the instruments (objects) in the receiver instead of the studio. A listener could change the mix if required, to give a different balance between voice and background for example. The intended, or default, mix would be transmitted along with the objects.

This concept has recently gained traction in BBC R&D with a great paper from Tony Churnside linking to an interactive drama based on their concepts. A special kind of radio receiver, a perceptive radio, has been developed which adjusts a programme based on what it knows of the listener's environment.

The idea of building programmes from objects isn't new but in the past the technology (ie computer power) was restrictive and there wasn't really a distribution channel. The basics of this are actually part of the MPEG-4 standard, although they seem to have been forgotten behind the bright and shiny new video codecs. At one time we would consider using objects to counter bandwidth problems: distribute relatively static components early and slowly ready in the receiver to be put together on-the-fly with low bandwidth dynamic information. This is like the sprites used in video games or symbols on a weather map. The same techniques would allow an end user to take some control over a programme.

It is this last idea that is still the most exciting to me. Is it still a triumph of hope over experience? I note that Tony links interactivity to objects at the end of the paper, so I think we're getting closer.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Your clients and how they brief you

Briefs have been problematic, leading to misunderstandings and breakdown of relationships in many projects. How do you try to avoid this? We've long advocated having a company scoping questionnaire that is devised by the staff from their experience and tailored for particular clients. We've also suggested that you make sure this questionnaire is updated regularly to keep on top of changes and innovations that the teams have come across.

However, some clients feel the need to use their own way to brief. They may have an in-house approach and this can make it difficult for you to influence exactly what information you get from them. The best way in this case is to marry your own needs by finding the gaps unanswered for your scoping questionnaire matched against the brief you are given. Many clients will see this as a professional approach and be happy to provide the extra information. Some may not be so forthcoming. Whatever approach is taken - to scope together or for the client to brief you - the clearer the information at the start of a project, the better for all, as we know.

Educating your clients is in your interest. So where might they find help with briefing? Can you point them in directions that will allow a better fit with the information you need. If they use briefs, do they have a mechanism for revising the brief? Here is where you might influence them for the future.

With that in mind take a look at some of the guidelines for briefs for iMedia projects. Which guidelines line up with your needs better than others? What would help you work better with clients? Do some raise issues that your own scoping questionnaires neglect? You might use the guidelines to drive change to your own guidelines. Some companies use their guidelines to drive business to themselves as well.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Using Prince2 and Agile simultaneously: symbiotic or chaotic?

Have these two approaches been causing your company friction? We've been concerned that they can seem to pull in different directions from a management point of view; but the business situation in iMedia - flexibility, fast-changing scope, and clients who want to see faster results - all play towards Agile.

It can come across as an us versus them situation between programmers and the rest of the team and management. Yes, you guessed it, it all comes down to control!

First let's clear up the Agile/DSDM approach conundrum. Agile techniques can fit under a Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM). DSDM has guiding principles that back iterative and incremental development: Agile seems to fit perfectly here. But DSDM goes further as it enshrines higher level management aspects like focusing on the business need, communication and quality: aspects of a project that fit with Prince2 methods. The linking mechanism may well lie in understanding DSDM.

However, DSDM, like Agile, is seen as an IT project methodology, whereas Prince 2 fits an international general project management image. There's the positioning of the relative approaches in a nutshell. If you work with clients who have a general business background they are more likely to relate to Prince2 principles which make overall communication easier in theory. If your clients are used to working with IT, they may well be au fait with Agile and/or DSDM approaches so communication at the product development stage might not be as big an issue as it can be. Doesn't it all relate to the project context?

If there is friction between your inter-team approaches involving Prince2 and Agile, there are pros and cons on both sides and both parties need to understand the core criticisms that can be valid. So, Agile methodology can be seen as: lacking discipline, lacking rigour, over-emphasis on product development, needing strong collaboration from clients, client-driven, putting over-reliance on visual documentation, nibbling away at the true project.

Prince2 can be seen as: over-bureaucratic, using linear development (a waterfall approach in IT terms), light on product development, a straight-jacket,over- business-driven, prefers non-visual documentation, takes too long to start, over-zealous about specification.

These can all be true depending on the context of the project, and projects differ as we know. Perhaps emphasis on one approach may be needed for one project and the other for another. What is clear is that unless your team are all pulling in the same direction, your project will suffer. The answer might lie in combining the best of both approaches because then they might demonstrate that ‘flexibility and dynamism can exist from within a structure of stability and control’. See page 8 of Agile project management: Integrating DSDM into an existing PRINCE2® environment, Best Management Practice White Paper.

This white paper is worth a look if your company is having bother with these aspects. Another perspective that reinforces the two working together can be viewed at Indigo Blue Consulting.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Orphans ahoy!

I've written in the past about orphan works. These are copyright things (works we call them in the rights biz) whose rights owner is unknown or untraceable. Now the UK Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act has been passed and the game is afoot. An act name worthy of Yes Minister's Department of Administrative Affairs and one I try not to say out loud. This, amongst stuff about landlords and whistle blowers, gives the government the ability to issue laws to permit the lawful use of orphans and said laws (called statutory instruments or SIs) will be promulgated later this year. The drive from Europe is to allow non-commercial reproduction of orphans to preserve them and to permit access. I know that the boundary between commercial and non-commercial is both hazy and full of large rocks but it does at least draw a line many people find reasonable under the circumstances. However, the UK plan for orphans goes further, notably allowing commercial exploitation.

This is proving particularly unpopular with photographers and illustrators and has even been called the 'end of photographic copyright'. I suspect the debacle will not be as dramatic as many fear but it has to be seen in the context of how photographs and other images are treated on the internet ... posted and reposted and along the way losing any information about their rights ownership. There's a good (and for once non-hysterical) roundup of the issues on the Register.

As designers, builders and managers of web sites we have a responsibility to treat the rights of things on our sites correctly. This doesn't just mean clearing the rights any more. We need to make sure that any images have suitable metadata embedded in them and that any program systems do not remove said metadata. For example, ImageMagick does not carry over metadata when you process an image to, for example, resize it. However, there is a PHP Metadata Toolkit (probably others too) so you can read the metadata and then reinsert it. But you have to actively make sure it will happen.

Remember, as I said before, some day the orphan could be yours.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Unhappy client syndrome - have you eliminated it?

Clients are your customers and they do pay (don't they?) to keep you in work and the company going. They can be demanding, ignorant of your business nuances, and fail to recognise that a project is a partnership so they have to participate to make it happen.

On the other hand, clients often still have gripes about their developers that sound believable: fail to meet deadlines, don't perform as expected, produce work that doesn't meet the business needs, don't listen, and so on. Why haven't we managed to sort out these mainly communication-based problems?

Well, communication takes time and effort. It isn't good enough to have your company processes outlined on your website and in a company brochure. Many clients don't read these or only glance at them at the beginning of the relationship. It may well be that your description is still pretty technical as far as they're concerned and they don't understand it. You and your people need to reinforce the principles as well as draw your client's attention to them when needed in plain English.

There is a gap between the specialisms of business and technological development. It has been closing and some people have managed to straddle them. (These are the people most in demand at the moment. See our earlier blog, The Thorny iMedia Salary Debate, 12th April 2013.) Misunderstanding is generally at the bottom of most dissension. A Project Manager will know full well that this is the case as most of their time is spent on exercising control to avoid this and mitigation to appease the situation, so that the team can get on with their work. A Project Manager/Account Manager is there to take the strain between client and developers.

Now if you feel that none of this applies to you, well done indeed. Perhaps your company receives glowing reviews from your clients. Do you know? Are you checking what people say about you? You may not be able to employ people full time to check out and report back on tweets, postings and electronic reviews like large businesses do, but you can schedule time to check the social temperature on your company from time to time. You might be pleasantly surprised and be able to incorporate praise on your own media platforms. If there are criticisms you need to look into their validity and decide how to avoid such negativity again.

There are companies that specialise in reviews, (just think of Tripadvisor), and this fashion is spreading into all areas. Just take a moment to think about the implications especially if you're an agency by looking at 5 places to look for client reviews and recommendations for a Website Design Agency, from WWDC (which web design company), 27th March 2013. They list themselves at the top.

Happy browsing!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Just the job

There's a cartoon doing the rounds of a man going for a job interview with Ikea. As he enters the room the interviewer points to a neat collection of pieces of wood and screws on the floor and says 'Have a seat'. On the one hand this joke is saying that Ikea means flat-pack furniture. On the other hand it's suggesting that to get a job at Ikea you have to able to assemble their products. Not quite as funny but possibly true.

It has been said (possibly by C Northcote Parkinson ... he of the famous law) that the ideal job advertisement will only solicit one applicant and they will be perfect for the job. In the case I read, but can not find at this time, an applicant for a position as security guard is obliged to attend an interview in the middle of the night at a gym and (the clincher no doubt) must bring a pair of boxing gloves.

Interactive media rarely requires boxing gloves (although we have heard stories of fisticuffs) but the challenge is the same: how do you fine-tune your job advert to get the best applicants and then how do you interview them.

Spool back almost a year to May 2011 and pity poor London agency Poke, who lost a copywriter to the White House (yes really). They needed a replacement in a hurry and crafted what Andy Headworth on the Sirona Says blog wonders might be simply the best job advert ever written. It certainly takes a while to read through but it's significant that the applicant is set a series of tasks building on the link to President Obama. Only at the end is the question posed: 'What do you think it takes to be a good copywriter at a digital agency?'. It's somewhat like Frodo Baggins fighting his way to the depths of Mordor and being asked 'What do you think makes this ring precious?'

Assuming you get more than one applicant for interview, the strategy will probably either be 'assume they can do the job because they've done one like it before', or 'they have the certificate', or 'test them to destruction'. All have their place, and we know of one person who was so good at the programming task he was set that he was hired before he left the building.

Does your company have a set strategy for recruiting and do you, like Poke, bring some fun into the process? We'd love to know. Of course, you may sometimes let staff interview potential employees.

Friday, 12 April 2013

The thorny iMedia salary debate!

This topic is always controversial even with well defined industries but we suffer from split identities even now. A lot depends on how you, yourself, define the job area you are in – IT, marketing, creative, business – not by job title either! The job title problem is ongoing for our industry and growing.

2013 has thrown up a few surprises already. In the US, salaries generally seem to be on the rise with hybrid tech/business skills commanding the most. But in the UK the trend still seems to be stagnant or downward. However, the salary surveys do not compare like with like and that's why you need to look carefully at the area the survey says it covers and whether it lines up with your definition of yourself.

Take Computer World's IT survey 2013, for example. It covers some of the iMedia jobs like the back-end database development, the project management roles and the hot tip business intelligent analysts. If you go to the link use the drop down menu for job title – very interesting, just for this. Yes, it's US based but gives a useful comparison based on job title, years of experience and location.

Robert Half International also covers this type of area in the Salary Guide for Technology (for the US and Canada). This has a useful Glossary of job descriptions too covering: Administration, Applications Development, Consulting and Systems Integration, Data/Database Administration, Internet and E-Commerce, Networking/Telecommunications, Operations, Quality Assurance (QA) and Testing, Security, Software Development, Technical Services / Help Desk / Technical Support.

Aquent (UK) worked with the American Marketing Association to produce their salary survey. If you're in marketing-related iMedia jobs then this might make more sense for you. Their findings are mixed, by the way. For a stronger UK perspective try Marketing Weekly and its survey with Ball and Hoolahan (recruitment specialists). They look at about 25 sectors and show comparisons on salaries since 2007.

Are you in gaming? Develop's salary survey might suit you more. But, they find the trend is down – sorry.

Back to America if you consider yourself creative. Robert Half International's Salary Guide Creative, looks at the following categories – Design and Production Interactive, Content Production, Advertising and Marketing, and Public Relations. Over 50 job titles are listed within these areas so it’s really quite comprehensive.

It might be fun to play with Monster's UK salary interactive advisor. We just wonder if it'll really recognise your job title! Good luck.