Thursday, 18 December 2014

Online retail and Christmas shopping: what’s occurring?

General Questions

Are you at the panic buying stage yet? Have you bought the majority of your own presents online? Do you expect better bargains online or in a shop? Do you like the traditional experience, look and feel approach, of high-street shopping? Do you research online but buy offline based on your research?

Professional Questions

Did you appraise your online retail clients of what was necessary for their online shopping sites to make the most of the November, December and January online shopping frenzies? Have your online retail clients been caught out with low stock, inadequate delivery mechanisms, off-putting customer service reputation, uncompetitive offers, and the rest? Are you and your colleagues running round like headless chickens to fire-fight glitches with online code and/or load-testing? Are all your online retail sites working well in the frenzy so that you can enjoy the Christmas spirit?

These are fundamental questions for now and the answers reflect what is happening with consumers. It’s important to remember you are also one of them. Your experience with online sites matters although you need to take your ‘expertise’ into account as possibly being ahead of trend perhaps. It’s wise to take on advice so see, Catching the Christmas Trade: 10 Tips for Online Shops, by Frank Breuss at Digital Marketing Magazine (4 December 2014).

With online shopping increasing 20% year on year but with Black Friday now out-performing even the Christmas rush, it’s a hard, competitive market. (See the Telegraph’s story reporting John Lewis Stores 17 December 2014).

There’s a lot to think about at a manic time for most. If you’re a stats person and you have clients across the retail sectors you might like to keep up with more general reports of ecommerce at

Happy shopping experiences – whether online or off!

Friday, 5 December 2014

Virtual teams and collaborative working

The communications landscape for all businesses has changed significantly since the electronic revolution. Our sector, iMedia, might well have been first to use collaborative working in a virtual world with cross-functional teams, but now this has spread into general business. We might have more experience of what it means, but we aren’t known for refining and sharing these insights. With us it has been more like the rest of our environment – try, refine and move forward.

It’s refreshing then to find that the virtual team dynamic is being analysed as part of general management and business. And, just because we have the experience, it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from others observations.

With this as the premise, here are a few links to some team analysis that may prove useful for your company – even yourself.
Pam Jones, 17 November 2014, Ashridge Business School, makes the point that although communication might be technology driven, it is ‘... the human aspect of communication that requires attention’. She offers 4 building blocks refined from top-performing team leaders. These are:
  1. Develop a clear communication strategy. 
  2. Develop a network of shared responsibility. 
  3. Building trust and belonging. 
  4. Growing and learning together. 
It may well be the fourth point that we have been doing on the fly, so to speak. It’s a bonus that she gives credit to dealing positively with conflict and cross-cultural understanding, both of which have featured in this blog as important aspects of team success.

Compass’ is a business whose job is to optimise team working. Hey! Yes, they exist! ‘Compass’ place the emphasis on choosing the right tools and techniques to suit the virtual team in question, but first they decide HOW the team need to work together. Then they choose the tools etc. They give six suggestions on how to optimise team working.

The Guardian’s Small Business Network blog, Successful remote collaboration: tips from those in the know 24th April 2014, takes a different angle. It recognises that remote collaboration allows many forms of meetings to take place thereby cutting travel costs and the time needed. Both mean saving money. This blog mentions technological tools that are available to help such as: SKYPE, Google Hangouts, Pop-up Office, Evernote Business, and Elance, among others. Their tips relate more to keeping the data shared between teams secure by auditing devices and data that will be shared. They take for granted that your company/clients are working openly through the cloud.

It’s a shame we may not have passed on our experiences. Such is the truth for many entrepreneurs. But you’re never too old to learn. (Don’t even think of quoting, ‘You can’t teach and old dog...’ back at us!)

Friday, 21 November 2014

Gone phishing!

I fear it's a fact of life that if you receive email you will receive junk mail of various types, ranging from the harmless but irritating to the downright dangerous: click at your peril!

Such things are very worrying for email users, because it can be very difficult to tell some of them from genuine emails. A sad but typical example has been documented by the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones, who managed to avoid falling victim to a PayPal payment scam while he was auctioning in aid of the Children in Need charity.

As a recipient you should be able to detect such things by carefully checking any links in the email. (Ideally you shouldn't click on links in emails but, hey, this is the real world.) Usually, by hovering your pointer over a link you should be able to detect the actual address to which it goes, not what the visible text says. If you are more adept you can explore what are called the long headers of a mail to see where it really came from and how it got to you. But some emails are sent legitimately from web servers or other addresses that may not have what is called a mail exchange (MX) record.

I am not a fan of HTML emails but they are here to stay with all the potential for trouble from hidden links and tracking images. I feel it's rather like insisting that telephone calls are sung, not spoken, just because it's nicer. With a text email, it's up to the mail client whether any link text is turned into a real clickable link ... usually triggered by an 'http://'.

Why is this relevant to us as developers and producers of interactive media? I think we need to think carefully about how our clients communicate when using emails to contact their customers, especially if they are asking for information. Our clients are not all banks (or PayPal) so the chances of a scammer sending out emails purporting to be from our clients are slim ... but do their emails always seem to be clearly from them?

Let me give an example. You may use a third party to manage a mailing list for a newsletter. Have you checked to see how those emails actually arrive? The 'Reply to' header may show your domain but the real sender address will be the third party company. The unsubscribe links may be to the third party company. All this is completely above board and I only mention it because there are genuine instances where some of the basic sanity checks on scam emails will fail with the genuine article. To ameliorate this you could be up front about it and say that your mailing list is handled by another company, which will explain the different email domain.

PayPal and eBay have a good technique. They always address you by name whereas phishing emails tend to start Dear customer or even Dear friend. The UK National Savings will send you an email telling you that you need to log onto your online account and read a new message: not particularly friendly but very safe. It's useful to see what other organisations do to help keep their customers safe online. Definitely something that's well worth doing and, coincidentally, good for business.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Digital Usability and Return on Investment

It’s been a while since we looked at this issue - September 2013 - and as in every digital sector, it has moved on leaps and bounds.

UX (User Experience) is now understood as a fundamental business concern for digital. Previously it had been a ‘take it or leave it’ addition. It was hard to identify in quantifiable terms how UX added to business benefits. This has changed too. It’s a discipline that has grown in knowledge that has been tied to business key performance indicators (KPIs). This is what has driven its recognition as a core component of any type of digital communication.

So, this discipline now has its own sets of awards covering various facets of communication. For example, UKUX Awards 29th October 2014 awarded in the following categories: Best Entertainment, Best Student Project, Best Not for Profit, Best Public Sector, Best Effects on Business Goals, Best Innovation, Best Learning or Education Experience, Best Information, Best Transactional Experience, Best Windows Phone App, Best User Experience, For more details of the winners and an explanation of why they won, see

It’s as well to note that a website or other digital applications may well not be able to show such business benefits straight away. It’s often in the refinement of the user experience in use that tightens up the experience and releases the business potential. This means ongoing observation. Will your customers pay for this? Do you have the expertise? Do you recommend that this happens? If you are not a usability company then these are questions you need to ask.

You also need to appreciate that the different digital offerings need different tests to demonstrate where they are not meeting customer expectations and what to do about this. There isn’t a one way solution! If you read Lee Duddell’s account of ‘5 Tips to Improve Mobile UX’ (20 June 2014) in ‘What Users Do’, you’ll see what we mean.

If you want to do some in-depth self-improvement (Professional Development?), there’s a one hour webinar, ‘How to Measure the ROI of User Experience’ by Dr. Susan Weinschenk, at ‘Userzoom’.

This is a field of expertise and unless it is our field of expertise, we can only appreciate whether our companies should be aware of the benefits it can bring, whether we are covering it with experts, and/or whether we have a duty to inform our customers about it. Yes, there’s so much to consider in projects, we know.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Training is the first to go ...

Once upon a time we used to hold training courses based on our book. Sometimes we'd do it for a single company, who'd provide enough people and a venue, and sometimes they were open to anyone. It was a fairly modest affair but even that stopped when the recession hit. So we don't offer it any more although we now have an online course providing an introduction to managing a digital interactive project.

With this in mind I was pleased to hear about the initiative by BIMA and TIGA, trade bodies for the digital creative industries, asking for the government to introduce tax breaks for small companies to invest in their talent by training it. To quote the BIMA blog:
We believe the launch of a pilot SME Training Tax Relief (TTR) scheme to promote skills, training, and productivity is vital to support the future of the creative industries, a sector worth £71.4 billion a year to the UK economy.
How might such a thing work? After all, what your company spends on its business can be offset against tax already can't it?

There have been tax initiatives to help research and development for a while now, and they presumably provide a model. The basic idea is that for every pound you spend on whatever the scheme applies to, you can claim more than that amount against tax. For example, to quote HM Revenue and Customs ...
The tax relief on allowable R&D costs incurred on or after 1 April 2012 is 225% - that is, for each £100 of qualifying costs, your company or organisation could have its Corporation Tax profits reduced by an additional £125 on top of the £100 spent.
There is a similar arrangement should you be making an accounting loss during that particular financial year.

This makes such a scheme attractive financially to a company. Clearly there will be strings attached. For example, in R&D, any intellectual property from the R&D has to belong to the company. With training you might find that it is a condition that anyone trained remains employed with the company for a certain time, so that both the employee and the company benefit from the training. As a slight aside, it has been suggested that training costs should be treated as a capital cost rather than expenditure, since the benefit can be seen to last well beyond the immediate period. At the moment, since as a small company you can offset 100% of capital costs (up to a limit) that wouldn't necessarily be a problem, but the revenue have said that such an interpretation would be 'difficult to imagine'. (See the document linked below.)

For the company, any tax relief will ameliorate the double whammy that (superficially) training staff has: you lose productive staff time and you have to pay for it. But training, especially if the courses include people from outside the immediate working environment, has additional benefits; bringing people together. It's the same with conferences: the time spent socialising is as important as the time spent in sessions.

A final hope, from me for obvious reasons, would be that online training would be eligible for tax relief as well as face-to-face training. This would be by no means a given, based on past experience, but for many activities such as programming, online training can be particularly productive.

As a final note, you should read this document from the revenue:
Sometimes, the government gets suggestions that employers should be given tax relief for the costs of training their employees. That surprises us, since except in cases where the employee has some link with the employer outside the employment itself, the disallowance of expenditure by an employer on staff training and development will be extremely unusual indeed.
See ... even the tax man says you should go for it!

[PS: Full disclosure ... I used to be Chair of BIMA]

Friday, 17 October 2014

Digital marketing and user understanding getting together

Apart from the blurring of digital roles like programmer, designer, and project manager, the blurring of digital marketing and usability specialists occurs but has not been recognised. The overlap comes from the interest in the users’ reactions to products and services that are offered electronically. Traditionally both professionals have employed concept testing to assess the reactions of potential users to an idea, new product or service. However, the market researchers keep a strong eye on the market conditions while the usability experts are biased towards the immediate user experience with the technology process. Both have merit, of course. Imagine a new product that the market seemed to want but it returns a poor result because of technology difficulties in users trying to buy it.

It comes back to the emphasis on which concept is being tested: the type of product or service, or how the user gets information and access to the product and service. We can see that the traditional approach to marketing and concept testing has a rounded approach covering the product, the packaging, the branding and the proposed advertising. []

More than this, the concept testing needs to take account of: the users’ needs for particular solutions, the clarity of the presentation of the item, whether the users are prepared to pay for the proposed new solution, how to move past the hypothetical to real responses. []

So, concept testing covers far more than you imagined? Quite right. But companies are expecting a blend of skills and experience in the job descriptions they are drawing up, such as a Senior Digital User Researcher.

You know these skills are in demand when a technological solution is offered to cover them; see the description of various online tools that are designed to test concepts at

The user perspective is noted much more strongly than it used to be. They are more vocal after all, and technology provides a means for them to voice opinions. How is your company dealing with this shift? Do you partner with a marketing/usability company that offers complimentary skillsets to yourselves that will serve your client-base? Are you conscious of the blending of usability and marketing insights? If you have a partnership, is there a bias towards the core skillset that might be limiting the research?

Searching questions for many iMedia development companies, I’d imagine.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

What’s in a name? Are you missing out on recognition and funding?

We often come back to the thorny problem of what this whole industry (is it even defined as an industry?) is called. Multimedia, Interactive Media, Digital, Digital Media, Mobile Communications and so on. Then the pieces of whatever it is – digital marketing, games, animation, digital effects, digital data, social media, e-learning, front-end, back-end, digital graphics, ?????. Where do they fit?

You may well react with a, ‘what the hell does it matter?’ attitude because there’s so much to try to keep up with that this seems nit-picking. But, if the government doesn’t recognise you and keep statistics on you, they won’t apportion any of their money to you. That’s the fundamental problem. Government makes decisions on where to place investment as a result of stats collected according to definitions of ‘industries’ and their contribution to the economy: data that is gathered adhering to data codes of standards. Now, if their definition of an industry sector is non-inclusive, businesses not defined in their definitions don’t get a look in.

Do you define yourself within the ‘creative industries’? Do you know what they are? Finally people are recognising that we in digital are contributing significantly to the UK’s economy. In fact, the DCMS (Department for Media, Culture and Sport) cited some key figures in January where the creative industries value added growth of 15.6% between 2008-2012 was almost three times the 5.4% of the economy as a whole. More encouraging, employment rose far faster in our sector – almost 8:1 ahead of the general employment growth.

The traditional definition of ‘creative industries’ included film, television, writers, artists, musicians, theatre and even antiques, but with the rise of cgi, digital effects, animation, digital games and so on, exactly what constitutes ‘creative industries’ has been under scrutiny (hurray!). The DCMS gave some credence to the wider ‘creative economy’ where the official figures state that 1 in 12 jobs in 2012 were in it and that IT, software and computer services account for 31% of employment within this.

Oliver and Ohlbaum Associates did some research for Google in December 2013 where they used a redefined stance on ‘creative industries’: The Internet and the Creative Industries: measuring growth within a changing sector ecology. Here the wider digital value chain is recognised as ‘enabling industries’ that serve the digital creative chain. Their research recognises variances of definition of ‘creative industries’ across Europe as well as realising that the contribution to a country’s economy might be from global recognition of worth as well as a country’s GDP. They give a strong recommendation on behalf of SMEs and sole traders so that their contribution is recognised in future as they have been poorly represented so far. They warn that if the influence of the internet on the traditional creative industries is ignored then the measurement indicators for these industries might well report a decline while the opposite is true. There are some great graphics used in this report and it’s worth scanning if you have the interest.

It’ll come as no surprise then that, with such a rapid growth of employment, a skills shortage is recognised: don’t we know that. The Landing organised an interesting panel event in Greater Manchester to look at this specifically.

But there are several initiatives that it’d be good to know about – namely,, and NESTA - an innovation charity that has funding opportunities for ‘creative’ businesses, among others. Things are finally moving in a positive direction. Keep shouting!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Risk management - a conflict for iMedia companies

Trying to get a snapshot of risk management in digital development proved difficult and confusing. I was looking to find information about specific risks in project development but they didn’t surface; what did is actually more strategic and thought-provoking.

There is a complete spectrum of risks for tech companies ranging from lack of innovation to the higher risk of insolvency because of not managing financial risks. It’s a minefield. You find examples of larger companies valuing the smaller entrepreneurial risk-taking tech companies because they themselves are too big and slow to evolve business solutions that suit the fast-changing consumer environment. They appreciate the iterative progress/test cycle and user-lead style projects that give faster results. Hence the Accelerator Centre in West London where 11 tech companies have been selected by Barclays Bank and Techstars to invent future financial services. Another such partnership is Centrica and Hive where ‘normal management structures don’t apply’. General Electric (GE) outsource innovation including offering open competitions for ways to improve their products. Get more information on these from the BBC Business News (9 September 2014).

So from risk takers and their culture to the more traditional ‘control risks or else’ cultures. R3 – an insolvency trade body – has reported that tech firms are at higher risk of insolvency because of their failure to ‘factor in the full costs of development or assess the competition’. Apparently tech firms in the North-East are most vulnerable which explains the news item in the Lancashire Evening Post, Tech Sector has high number of firms at risk (29 September 2014).

The key word from the last paragraph was ‘cultures’. The ‘soft risks’ or ‘culture’ of a company are beginning to get serious recognition as a possible financial drain – a hard risk factor! The Dialogue blog (16 September 2014) Soft risk: how culture can fail business, by Richard Finn, gives interesting examples of where a culture misaligned with business purpose has had serious consequences. This is BIG, since he calls for senior management to create a new senior management position (non-executive director) and committee to manage soft risks! How does your company’s culture line up? Richard cites six consequences of a ‘bad’ culture as: business under-achievement, poor products, poor service, damaged investor sentiment, reputation destruction, and talent flight. Well, I’m sure no company wants those.

We’ll end with a conundrum. As I said, this risk assessment seems to follow a circular path. Enter the larger tech company that is targeting bespoke development companies in the government sector: KnowledgeKube from Mercato Solutions. They cite bespoke solutions as costing more and taking more time to develop. They offer a platform and services approach that will drive down costs and give government departments more control. It sells itself on being able to ‘remove the risk associated with bespoke development.

So you see the conflict between the start of this blog where innovation and risk-taking are valued and this last example where bespoke development is itself risky and to be avoided.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Lolcats and the lexicon of being online

When we put together the various editions of our book, one of the things we included was a glossary. Abbreviations, acronyms and slang terms are a part of any subject and can often be used by specialists as a shorthand. Unfortunately, if you don't know the shorthand then this can make it impossible to understand a subject that you actually may be able to follow were you to speak the language. Hence glossaries.

Our glossary is getting a little elderly now, although it should still be useful.

An altogether more up-to-date and wide-ranging glossary was recently published by the Guardian, modestly called The ultimate internet glossary. It goes from 4chan to Zoopla (or is it Zynga) and includes lots of cats.

What is it about cats? It has been jokingly suggested that problems with the internet could be fixed if they took all the cats off it. This lets me mention Henri le chat noir and, en passant. (Wasn't Lolcats a song by the Cure? That's a QTWTAIN by the way.)

As with all things in life you can Google glossaries. They range from the technical (from and Matisse Enzer) to the basic but undoubtedly useful (such as this glossary for 'older adults' from the American National Institute on Ageing).

If you feel like contributing to the daunting task of keeping such a thing up to date then there is a Wikipedia glossary, however at the time of writing it is somewhat poor IMHO and in need of TLC.


Friday, 12 September 2014

Pointing the finger – blame and risks in digital project management

There are many aspects during a digital project that do not go according to plan; even if you had one. Project Management is about control but, particularly in digital projects, your clients and your team can often seem to conspire against the progress of the project. Your management, on the other hand, are meant to be there supporting you. If this isn’t the case, you’re in trouble. Are you in a company that has an attitude of ‘sacrificial accountability’?

It is common that if and when things go wrong, someone takes the blame and resigns from his/her post. I think that most people view this as acceptable when it is clear who has had the overall accountability during the time that the problems brewed and blew up. But looking for the sacrificial lamb is another thing entirely as John Linwood, ex BBC, found out. He was Chief Technology Officer for the BBC when the plug was pulled on a £100m Digital Media Initiative project. He took the BBC to a tribunal for firing him and won because they believed that the Senior Management were dodging the blame and placing it on Linwood.

John Gough in Avoiding Blame for Botched Projects, (undated 2014), summarises the Linwood story and points to internal company politics as a driver. We all know company politics and how it can invidiously dominate decision-making. How’s your company for this?

The risk of being sacked as the accountable one is real but companies are beginning to understand that they need to get on top of risks before they cause trouble. Enter the Digital Risk Officer. Have you heard of them or seen a job advert for one? You may well find you have to relate to them in your client companies. Apparently, these people will be hot news in 2015 according to Gartner research 2014 . Now this is in response to security issues and technology as companies realise that with the plethora of technology-driven channels of communication and the increasing use of them by the public at large, that the risks of service failures increase. It will be interesting to see if these officers are increasingly used as easy target sacrificial lambs by their companies when things go wrong! But if you meet them as part of the client-mix, you can be sure that they’ll make strong demands of you making your job more accountable too.

Now you’re in the mindset of blame, perhaps you need to become aware of a nasty blow coming from an unseen upper-cut! This has crept in from the side of a legal ruling about blame in a service contract. The original case was about pipes and little to do with digital project management. (See, The Best Practice Group, Your Service Provider’s Duty to Warn, by Alan Watton (23 January 2012) But as the ruling can be generalised to all service contracts, we need to take note. The judgement found that the contractor (expert) should have warned the client about the possible risks in the project because they as the experts were in the position to know the possible impact on the clients while the clients as non-experts – and the very reason for using the contractors – were not in the position to understand the impact.

The key concept is ‘a duty to warn’ about the risks pre-contract and during the life of the project and exists independently of written clauses. You have to account for what your advice does and does not cover. You have to be clear in writing about what your advice does not cover and what your proposed solution does not cover including any possible consequential impacts. Well, that’s a tall order in our uncertain digital world. You need to throw this concept to the legal bods who draw up your contracts as service providers. Now if you are too small to have a legal section, check if the templates you use for contracts cover this angle and raise any queries with your management.

You’ll probably do a lot of ‘warning’ without realising it. So, for example, if you recommend that your client should do some pilot testing with users to check the system out and assess its impact on the project objectives pointing out to them the pros and cons of this, then you are warning them of the possible negative effects/risks. If they take the decision not to do this, they accept responsibility and accountability. Likewise, you’ll probably be recommending various types of testing from stability to security, for example. You can indicate the pros and cons of all of them, so if the client chooses to ignore your advice - because of lack of budget maybe - then you have fulfilled the ‘duty of warning’ principle.
Blame is not a nice topic in any field. Better to be prepared though.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Prince2 and its relevance for iMedia now

Who would believe that it’s more than 25 years since Prince2 started making an impact on project management. Its original success, arising out of a commitment to train project managers from the IT sector, has helped turn project management into a recognised profession. That’s what we owe it. And, it recognises that as the project environment changes, its practices need to adapt. The present lot of project managers have more access to technology through social media as well as conventional media and they are deploying these to communicate with their global teams, stakeholders and management. This is a far cry from 25 years ago. This implies recognition of the expansion of the team, the cultural differences, the importance of managing stakeholders and communication with management. The role of project manager has changed with the times and now encompasses more upper management and business strategy, as well as the day-to-day projects. celebrated its 25th birthday on 15th August 2013 with a review of Project Management: Past, Present and Future, by James Hancock. He recognises the changes that technology has brought for the profession and that Project Managers utilise more technology now. But, just like the book, Project Management circa 2025 (2009) edited by David Cleland and Bopaya Bidanda, they all seem to miss out the role of project managers with digital (iMedia ) projects. The chapters in this book address the financial services sector, space exploration, Pacific, European, Indian and Arabic geographical areas, and give attention to the changing role for team management, competencies for project managers, and the impact of cultural and social issues.

No consideration is given to the developers of digital pathways that lead to the changes in the general project management role. Maybe this is because general project management is all about controlling risk factors in the general projects while digital project managers are risk takers themselves by the nature of the type of projects they manage. They still try to control as many risks as possible but when you are pushing the envelope there’s no safety net! General project managers would struggle with the black holes faced by digital project managers. They work from being able to predict the likelihood of risk from previous experience that has been codified from other projects. As an analogy if you have built one house, although there will be variations, a second house has many of the same processes. But digital project management can be like designing new bricks as you build the house. Fundamentals are different and unknown. Now this gives an edge to digital project management that will affect the competencies needed as well as the management skills.

What would you look for in a digital project manager? Maybe you’d agree with Access’s definition of, The Top 10 Skills You Need to be a Super Digital Project Manager – but maybe not as the role spans such a wide set of skills depending on the digital sector. It’ll make you think though, and the first three words, ‘Dark art, witchcraft, science’, are far removed from a traditional project management role and reflect the differences I have been trying to highlight.

The applicability of Prince2 to iMedia is something I've thought long and hard about. You can read more in a white paper on the ATSF web site.

This discussion in no way undermines the strengths of using Prince2 methods and processes. It is versatile enough to employ as needed to fit a project and many digital project managers now have this qualification. All this blog is doing is highlighting some differences in digital project management that can affect Prince2’s use in such projects. Any hints and tips for using Prince2 in digital projects would be fantastic – thanks.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Stakeholder Analysis - don’t forget it’s a continual process

At the scoping stage, you’ve done your initial analysis with the matrices and communication results for all the people who might influence the course of the project. Fantastic. Yes, it does help greatly. But, so many forget that this arrangement is dynamic. Various stakeholders emerge as the most important at different stages of the project. Don’t be caught out. Quite often you just need to flag yourself to ask the dominant stakeholders for a forthcoming phase if they want to be kept informed differently. They’ll appreciate the heads-up and the acknowledgement of their increased status for the phase, while you retain the good will ... and control.

The dynamic nature of stakeholder analysis and communication is neglected at the peril of the project. This factor is not really given the attention it deserves yet, even though stakeholder analysis is cited in many top project management jobs. There are a few who show the wisdom of experience and we should try and learn from them even if they are general project managers rather than digital project managers.
Take for example Omar Muhammad and Abid Mustafa in Managing stakeholders – going beyond conventional wisdom, Project Smart (27 October 2013).

They are experienced in delivering complex projects in the telecommunications industry. This means they are closer to iMedia projects than many. You need to take a view on what they say as to whether your own projects are as complex, but, I’m sure you’ll recognise several of the stakeholder issues they mention.

The first issue they address is the difference between a stakeholder’s motives and expectations. This happens quite frequently. Do you recognise someone blocking progress but you can’t identify who because all the stakeholders appear positive to your face? The article writers warn about different agendas shown in levels of management meetings where you might be excluded. The second issue addressed is ‘Not all stakeholders are equal’, and the writers suggest your team adapts their management style appropriately. The third issue is, revolving alliances. This explains that you become part of a shifting set of alliances between the stakeholders that happens over the course of the project. I reckon the underlying message is, ‘Don’t make enemies’ as you may need the stakeholder’s support in an alliance later!

Finally, Omar and Abid give some hints and tips on ‘picking the right fight’. It’s a shame that they don’t define what ‘acceptable levels of behaviour’ are for stakeholders. But this sounds similar to conflict resolution techniques that we covered in our team management courses. There, you agree boundaries of acceptable behaviour for your team at the beginning of the project that can then be used if a team member becomes so problematic that his/her behaviour is having a negative impact on the project. This is an extension of conflict resolution techniques for stakeholders where you pre-empt difficulties by instituting boundaries of behaviour. Essentially Omar and Abid recommend that you only pick the battles with stakeholders that you can win. Good luck with that!

Otherwise there are some free resources that can help you over specific stakeholder problems. Take a look at free-management – and their range. We’ll focus on the stakeholder one now. The book covers how to identify stakeholders, plan their management, manage their engagement, and control their engagement.

I can imagine that if you are only involved in the short, sharp end of iMedia projects that all this seems unnecessary fuss and a lot of time and effort. Those of you that have to juggle several stakeholders, possibly internationally, will appreciate the insights. Hope they help.

Friday, 25 July 2014

iMedia Project Scoping – getting it right

Project scoping for an interactive media project is such a minefield. There are so many ways of approaching this sensitive area that trying to be definitive is asking for trouble. But, scoping a project can only be avoided at huge cost so it has to be done. Now exactly how your company decides to do this, and why, are the crucial questions. Then, do you think they are getting it right, or, could the process be improved – helping you along the way?

We were reminded about scoping recently when we had to complete a 16 page Law Society questionnaire when we were selling our house. As we hadn’t sold for over 15 years, this form was pretty daunting. And, it is a ‘live’ form that grows a few times a year every year! For those lucky ones that are staying put, this form covers the following areas in varying detail: Boundaries, Disputes and Complaints, Notices and Proposals, Alterations, planning and building control, Guarantees and Warranties, Insurance, Environmental Matters, Rights and informal arrangements, Parking, Other charges, Occupiers, Services, Connections to utilities and services, and Transaction information.

This document forms part of the contract of sale, just as a scoping document forms part of the service contract agreement between you and your client. It is highly detailed because the solicitors have to address all aspects in order to act in your best interests (and limit their liability in any disputes arising over the sale). Did you know, for example, that there’s a question about Japanese Knotweed and whether you’ve had the house tested for Radon? Because both of these have featured in legal dispute cases, the questions have been added in. When legal cases are undertaken concerning houses, the law society monitors them and adds extra questions to their form according to the outcomes. So a centralised body does the monitoring and updating for lawyers – at a cost, we have to explain. In iMedia, we don’t have this luxury – yet.

Well, you can pay for scoping templates in iMedia such as found at econsultancy. £450 for Scope Statement for Web Projects or access some free, for example, Mashable’s Free Contract Templates . Will they help? This is the difficulty. Only you know what suits your market, your kind of clients and your way of working.

That’s why Kyle Racki’s approach seems to work. She’s pretty convinced that detailed scoping at the beginning of a project puts clients off. She prefers to try to sell her company and its capabilities first – avoiding time-wasters upfront, we are compelled to point out. Then once she has the business she then drills down refining the detail as in a scoping sense, we believe. See Kyle’s, Getting Started Writing Business Proposals, at proposify 3 July 2014).

Dominic St-Pierre, Improve your Web Design Projects with a Good Project Scope (8 July 2014) at Six Revisions, lists eight key areas to cover: What type of website will I be building for you?, When do you need to have this website completed?, What is your budget for the project?, Who is the typical user of your website?, What goals do you want to achieve with this project?, What types of content will be used in this project?, Can you show me examples of websites you like and don’t like?, What’s the message you are trying to convey with your website. Dominic does a great job with tips for ‘Project Creep’. Nice graphic. He also does well to point out what he calls ‘Negative Scope’ or what you are not going to provide!

Matt Heron in How to write a scope doc for a web project (16 October 2013) at The Phuse reinforces that it depends on the questions you ask whether you cover the best options in scoping. He lists five main areas to cover: What’s the goal of the project?, What’s the scope of the project?, What are the deliverables?, What are the requirements?, Who is providing what? Who is responsible for what?

Only you can decide exactly what works for you. And you can’t become complacent. Just as the Law Society frequently updates their questionnaire by studying the equivalent of lessons learnt from the courts, you need to update your process for scoping a project according to your experiences.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

How do you know a successful project?

The answer lies in what your tests will show at the end of a project. This implies that you defined what was necessary to achieve at the beginning of the project, of course. In our Chapter 9 on testing and archiving, Managing Interactive Media: Project Management for Web and Digital Media, we summarise that there are three main areas of testing.
  1. The project meets the business needs of the clients.
  2. The project allows the user to access and complete relevant tasks.
  3. The project is robust and reliable.
More simply defined this means that the business needs, the user needs and the technical needs have been addressed and assessed. Are you doing this?

There doesn’t seem to be one way of describing the business needs of a project. You’ll come across such terms as ‘risk assessment’, ‘requirements’, ‘project specification’, and so on. But we’ve seen that clients are not so hot on defining their requirements, mainly because they don’t understand precisely what iMedia can do for their business. Worse, they may think they do and be clear on what they want even though you know that so much more might be achieved. This is the dilemma of working in an unstable, evolving field. This is why you can get round some of this confusion by asking what their general business needs are and then explaining how an iMedia project can serve these core business needs. Clients do know their business, but are quite often just not able to extrapolate what a combination of business and iMedia can offer. You can be the intermediaries.

Pete Tong in his blog for ayrmer (20 June 2014), makes it clear that lining up with business needs is key to success. This company expounds a ‘well-formed outcomes’ process. This means that you know enough from the beginning to define the outcomes you’ll achieve and ones that will satisfy the clients.

Duncan Haughey, Projectsmart, in Requirements Gathering 101, gives 10 rules for success and number 4 is ‘Ensure that requirements are specific, realistic and measurable’. Now, ‘ measurable’ means you can test for them and demonstrate achievement or not!

Obviously our emphasis on the user (Number 2 in paragraph 1) lines up with all the aspects of usability testing. (See other appropriate blogs here on Usability.) Then technically (Number 3 in paragraph 1), we’d all agree on the reliability and robustness criteria. (See other blogs here on Testing). So we’re not trying to define what tests you should carry out; it’s more of a reminder of the big picture for all projects. Are you addressing all these facets in ways that both you and your clients are satisfied with the results?

Friday, 11 July 2014

What’s in a name?

It’s no secret that I love cross-cultural issues in iMedia. This probably stems from my origins in linguistics and English as a Foreign Language. So I was particularly intrigued in a detailed article about the challenges that asking someone to input their name can cause in data capture for an international (global?) audience. It is aimed more at web programmers and I’m amazed that so much of it makes sense to me as I’m no programmer. Furthermore, I see the article as a great piece of covert training for your iMedia clients. It’s perfect for explaining that those simple changes that clients suddenly ask for can be complex, and therefore expensive. They need to trust you to accept the vagaries of the costs of those seemingly small changes that crop up during a project. Trust in iMedia development is key to forming good client relationships. And we all want those.

What am I on about? Here are a few examples if you’re using data capture for names in any of your projects. If we are too rooted in our own culture then how does our name data capture work with cultures that traditionally use their last name first? Is the capture comfortable with hyphenated last names or even ‘von’ or ‘de’ (usually lower case) or the apostrophes in the shortened ‘de’, ‘d’’ or even ‘O’Neil’, and so on? How do we denominate the names used? Do we call them Christian or First name, Surname or Last Name, or something else entirely? How do we deal with nicknames or variations of names used instead of full names like ‘Dee’ for ‘Denise’ or ‘Joe-Joe’ for a child to differentiate from a father called ‘Joe’. Americans are used to using ‘Junior’, of course. And I haven’t mentioned non-Roman scripts yet!

Some cultures work with initials more than names. So in Hong Kong it is still common for Chinese to have a Chinese name but an Anglified equivalent where initials are common – like ‘D.A. Ho’. This all gets further complicated when the marketers want you to capture a name that the person wishes to be addressed by so they can send marketing mails. Some cultures change the form of address they use according to the person’s age or status and this is very important if you are trying to influence these people. Imagine, if you get the form of address wrong in the email, they are hardly going to be disposed to read the rest or be influenced by it! I can feel marketers quake if they haven’t taken this on board before.

If you expect me to give you the answers as to how to capture all the data and make it work for all your clients, I’m not! The article on the W3 web site is very detailed and comprehensive, but even so, it probably won’t cover all eventualities, I’m sure.

I had to come to terms with this type of problem when I created a database of first name origins. I quickly realised that I had to limit the data to mainly Anglo-European names and state this upfront. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to complete this particular project at all. Name databases need constant monitoring and updating because fashions dictate new names appearing and even switches between male and female names: such as Ashley which is more often female now but has been male in previous decades. Variations in names in spelling alone makes the database vulnerable, and new spelling forms appear quickly because people want to personalise their name by making it slightly different. Just consider the spelling variations and nick names from ‘Ellen’: ‘Ella’, ‘Elle’, ‘Ellie’, ‘Nell’, ‘Nellie’, ’Elen’, ‘Elin’, ‘Elyn’, ‘Elon’, ‘Ellan’, ‘Ellin’, and ‘Ellon’. Yes, I’m sure I’ve missed some!

If you are Anglo European and have a first name (Americans often have Anglo-European origins) then check out the name origin at as it might surprise you. Do let me know if the database doesn’t cover your Anglo-European name and I’ll research and add it.

So, lots more to names and name databases than you imagined, I expect. Data fields can be minefields, so respect your programmers.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

What do you actually do?

I have a terrible time with forms that ask me what my occupation is. I do a lot of things that (to a greater or lesser extent) earn me some money but I usually say that I'm an interactive media and database consultant. That works apart from when the form is full of drop-down menus and I have to fit it into someone else's idea of an employment taxonomy.

According to Richard Branson; when asked, Google's Larry Page said "I help people find things". Good description of the original core business there while not being particularly all-encompassing: but certainly short and very sweet. Richard didn't say what he does, probably because the list is too long, but he did ask for user comments. The first one on the page is one I particularly like: photographer Conni Freestone simply wrote "I capture memories & preserve moments". Lovely.

That got me thinking about job descriptions. What lies behind that shorthand title. The UK government, of course, has a standard list. They're very interesting to read, and well thought out. I looked at the one for web developer (a Word or ODT file).

There are skills and requirements, a brief raison d'être for the post and job responsibilities. This last list is particularly interesting because it contains these two items alongside the kind of competencies you'd expect for such a job:
  • Being involved in the wider web development community, identifying good practices we can adopt and sharing our experiences
  • Sharing knowledge of tools and techniques with the wider team, both developers and non-developers
So you're expected to keep in touch with the outside world and to share your knowledge internally. I approve.

Another set of sample job descriptions comes from Kate Matsudaira on the Dice web site (June 19 2014). These are more conversational than the British ones but no less interesting. The key, as Kate points out, is that "A great description can not only help boost the quantity and quality of your applicant pool, but attract candidates that are a good cultural fit for your organization.".

Similar advice comes from Business 2 Community (June 24 2014). They agree with Kate about including the company's culture in your thinking but also point out that you must "Use the most searchable job titles that the right candidates are most likely to search for". In other words, considering what the role is known as within the industry. I would add 'outside' as well - might as well cover all the bases - but if it's experienced people you're after then the insider name will be important. There is a slight risk, especially with new kinds of job, that the title might not have settled down, so do your research to find out. Ideally you should be able to ask your existing staff, especially if they have been "involved in the wider web development community".

So we come, briefly, to the Register ... a regular haunt of mine. They're looking for a sub-editor (July 3 2014), noting that "this is not a job for those with overly delicate sensibilities" but that the applicant should have "an affinity for the noble art of tabloid-style headline writing". That's my boy!

And finally ... what is the best job description? I once read a suggestion (I think by C Northcote Parkinson ... he of Parkinson's law) that the ideal job advertisement should only attract one applicant, and that person would be the ideal person for the job. This was illustrated by a sample advertisement for a security guard (or thereabouts). After several requirements it ended with words to the effect that candidates should attend for interview at a certain gym at 3 o'clock in the morning ... and bring their own boxing gloves.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Dissatisfied clients

It’s interesting that we recognise that dissatisfied clients are not good for business. We should really have some form of complaints procedure: but do we? How do you tap into your clients’ real opinions? Let’s hope you don’t wait until they just leave or not renew their contract with you.

It’s hard winning new business and worse if your reputation has been sullied with poor reviews on the increasing number of review sites aimed at specific service sectors including online businesses. See Choosing the right web design agency for your business, Mash Web Design, Adam Collins (21.6.2014).

Yes, some complaints are unjustified. The clients have not fully understood the nuances of what was offered and the consequences for their decisions despite you explaining. But, it is so important that you educate them until you are confident they fully understand the compromises they have made and the results to be expected. Very often the compromises are cost-driven of course.

However, we have to accept that there are ‘questionable’ businesses out there that don’t appear to care for long-term relationships with their clients and/or don’t provide for the changing and maturing needs of clients. The closest I got to finding specific reasons for clients’ dissatisfaction was the recognition of why new clients appeared when they had not been happy with their previous digital partner. So, companies like WOM web solutions are upfront and use reasons they have found for dissatisfaction to their advantage. They say,
... unlike typical web companies, we don’t move around or change our name to avoid the fallout from dissatisfied clients.
Other companies have won new business as a result of clients’ needs maturing, so that if they initially got a cheap quick solution for their presence online by using templates, then they progress from that position to want more. Brass Tacks Web Design highlights this dissatisfaction as a reason to move to them.
"...these templates can be limited in flexibility and originality and some people find themselves outgrowing the stock solution quite quickly. We also find that some clients coming from these providers are unhappy with the service they receive.
If you feel that your clients will tell you how they are feeling, think again. Stephen Attree from Myers, Listers, Price solicitors, in Unhappy Clients Don’t Complain … (5.6.2014), quotes stats from a survey that covered accountants, bankers and solicitors. Well, if people don’t complain about them, will they about iMedia companies? Hard to say. But Stephen is clear that the clients who don’t complain take their business elsewhere.

Naturally, there is the other side where you are the aggrieved party. If you are a freelancer have you felt ripped off? Have your clients refused to pay properly? Maria Brophy attacks this practice including reference to freelance web designers in How to Never Get Ripped Off AGAIN – for Freelancers (undated), She gives some sound tips for you if this is happening.

Business is not straightforward. There can and will be gripes on both sides. But, it is true that if you know about the gripes you can begin to address them in a variety of ways before you lose business over them. Listen to your people and listen to your clients.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Inbound Marketing - is it affecting you?

Just as you think you are getting to grips with the vagaries of your clients – including their marketing departments – you suddenly start getting new requests in new projects and radical changes wanted in older projects. It’s hard to adjust to the pace of change for all aspects of iMedia design let alone tune in to how digital communication is changing the way people interact with information. Once people’s behaviour changes, you can bet that marketing will home in on that and devise different strategies to attract potential clients’ attention.

That’s what inbound marketing is all about. It’s a reaction to people’s changing behaviour patterns particularly when they use social media channels. What’s more, marketing devises strategies and analytics to show that they are having better success than before with people’s behaviour. So not only do you have to change the style of interaction (interface and look and feel), but you have to check results in a way that your clients want and create reports for them. All these add to your time and cost of development. It’ll help if you understand what is driving your own clients to do this. A good intro to the concepts and stats of inbound marketing can be found at: Outsourced Marketing blog 22 May 2014, How B2B Inbound Marketing Compares With Outbound.

You just need to know a couple of basics. Outbound marketing tries to influence potential customers through face-to-face interaction, adverts, press, news stories etc. They are the more traditional approaches. Inbound marketing is more subtle. It doesn’t try to blatantly sell a service or product. It informs the potential customer about the service or product, it shows reactions from people who have used these, it makes sure more detailed information is available and ratified when a person is ready to probe for more, it builds the confidence in the brand and its online presence and waits for the person to be ready to buy. These changes in tactics line up better with the online behaviour of people who don’t want to have a hard sell approach. They can opt out of that easily online ... and do.

This is why content becomes so important. It is being used to influence a conversion process from fact-finding research ... to customer ... then to loyal customer. It reflects the journey a person makes from general search to trusting a company. The person is at a distance, so the interaction is different. Sites that reflect this journey approach can be seen at Discerning Digital, where they define the process as
  1. Attract
  2. Convert
  3. Close
  4. Delight
Mogility (28 May 2014) also reflects this conversion process based on customer satisfaction with every experience of the digital environment.

High quality content that is refreshed and kept current helps the conversion process, according to Parker-Wilks Marketing, and trustemedia.

Yes, it still is all about generating leads but in a different way. Julie Topka, 9 April 2014 in TME Marketing, cites 7 steps to the perfect marketing plan, that includes inbound marketing. Interestingly she encourages you to focus on prospects not customers although you have to have built quite a strong understanding of the niche of potential customers as your first task. Again, the good quality and applicability of the content features strongly.

Hopefully this intro to inbound marketing will allow you to better understand where some of the requests from your clients originate. Your clients, in turn, will build a better trust with you if you demonstrate understanding. Perhaps we can all learn from this inbound strategy?!

Friday, 13 June 2014

Assessing risks in digital projects - sort-after skill but elusive

If you look at the job adverts for any Project Manager/Team Leader in digital companies then one of the top ‘wants’ is assessment / mitigation / avoidance of project risks. Once you try to find a definition of such risks to check if your experience meets the need, you get unstuck. A definition seems to be the ‘holy grail’ for iMedia!

The problem at one level is that there is a school of thought that wants to define and control risks while the other approach appears to accept that risks are necessary and that without them you’re not innovating, not moving forward, not succeeding in digital. Where does your company sit on this fence? How do they define the skills they want for a Project Manager? Can you do both – control and innovate?

Naturally, you don’t want your projects to fail, so you need to define and control or avoid as many lurking pitfalls as possible. But each digital project will throw up some variations in delivering the solution and these need the innovation/creativity to provide the workable answers. It’s true that the greater the innovation the greater the risks all round. Others may well learn from your mistakes and reap the rewards on your innovatory shoulders – but can you afford this? Can you afford to take the hit from an innovatory project on the premise that you’ll reap rewards later? It’s a business conundrum. Most businesses take the view that primarily you have to meet your clients’ needs and your budget. If there are risks, your clients have to know them and accept them. Many clients don’t want you learning on-the-job at their expense. Research - well isn’t that innovation - is a costly item.

The UK government’s Major Projects Authority has estimated an increase of over 15% in projects at risk between 20012 and 2013. This is billions of pounds. It doesn’t define which of these projects have a digital component but you can be sure that many do. It’s a sobering thought.

The Technology Strategy Board have defined a need for an innovator centre that is meant to help digital companies experiment in an attempt to get ideas to market more quickly and cheaply because this will contribute to the UK’s economy. You may be able to take advantage of this. The centre is due to open later this year.

Risks in projects can come from a variety of sources, including the diverse number of people involved across clients and developer teams as well as the actual software and hardware components and processes involved. So it might well be that a Project Manager should coordinate risk assessments across the expertise sectors involved in the project. This might include a risk assessment from the clients as to how the project might be received by their company and end users.

Why should the expertise for risk assessment reside with one person when a digital project crosses so many functions? If any marketing personnel are involved, they should be made aware of the very high threat of risk as perceived in their area. 58% of European marketeers, in a recent survey about their fast-changing role in the digital environment, foresaw risks in success for them caused by lack of skills, confusion over roles and responsibilities in their company and resistance to new programs. See the ‘key findings’ section in Discerning Digital’s summary of the Five most interesting takeaways from the Adobe summit (21.5.2014).

Perhaps the most down-to-earth recent account of risks in digital projects that should help you define the areas you might need to include in Risk Assessment is at Simpleweb in their blog Risk Assessment: How to avoid a disaster when you’re growing rapidly (29.5.2014).

They cite:
  1.  Look for changes (including indirect risks)
  2. Avoid if you can, mitigate if you can’t
  3. Know your strengths and weaknesses (lead the tech, don’t let it lead you)
A good start, but not the whole answer. Anyone got any risk assessment forms/templates for iMedia?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Exceptional copyright ... and Werner Heisenberg

It's been good news and bad for the progress of the UK government's widening of copyright extensions. Basically, copyright exceptions are those things you are allowed to do with a copyright work without actually infringing the copyright. Traditionally this has been things like criticism and review ... and for reporting of news. In the UK it's known as fair dealing and in the US as fair use, although they are not exactly the same thing (but don't expect me to even try to explain the difference here ... even if I could).

I'll just remind you that when you publish something, or make it available to the public (again similar but not the same) you need to have the right to do so. On a web site you operate internationally by default, even if your intended audience is only in one country. So everyone building a web site needs to have some basic understanding of intellectual property.

There were five new categories of exception that were supposed to enter UK law this week.
  • Public Administration
  • Disability
  • Research, Education, Libraries and Archives
  • Parody
  • Private copying
Two of these have proved particularly bothersome to the copyright community (the last two) so they are being further discussed while the others became law on June 1st.

Private copying starts off as putting CDs on your iPhone but has wider implications such as making copies of your wedding photographs.

Parody is more fun.

The UK is not alone in having no parody exception. This surprises many foreigners, given our comic traditions. Generally, being able to parody something has relied on your ability to persuade the real rights owner to let you do so. I always think of the French and Saunders TV show take on Alien 2 in this context (although I have no idea how they got permission to do it). The basic premise was that if you needed some tough people to take on the alien hordes then you got them through the pages of the Spotlight casting directory. The joke-within-a-joke being that in media this is exactly what you do do!

I won't go into the basics on parody. I recommend the IP Kat for that (and regular reading too). Suffice to say that it has to be funny and has to be fair. But then Heisenberg enters the room.

In quantum physics, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle basically says the more you know about something's position, the less you know about its momentum/speed. I paraphrase this as meaning that the closer you look the fuzzier it gets.

As the IP Kat points out, adding a parody exception might not necessarily protect you from infringing moral rights or from an accusation of defamation.

There's a great French CD called 4 Beadochons dans le vent which is a collection of what sounds like Beatles songs but which put French lyrics to the melodies. The French lyrics sound rather like the original English. For example Assaut Sur Mon Grand-père to the tune of I Saw Her Standing There. Incidentally, Quatre Garçons Dans Le Vent was the French title for A Hard Day's Night. This hasn't (to my knowledge) been released in the UK but maybe a parody exception would allow it to be? Perhaps not, if it could be argued that the whole CD, with its Sgt Pepper parody cover design, was not fair dealing.

Clearly you (still?) need to tread carefully if you go down the parody path on your web site.


Just in case you didn't notice that a British judge asked the European Court to double-check that it was OK to look at a web site on your computer ... it is. The Register reports.

[As usual, nothing on this blog should be taken as legal advice. However much I think I know about copyright, I really know less.]

Friday, 30 May 2014

How are your teams doing?

Good team management is now recognised as a skillset that is in demand far more than it used to be. It’s recognised for increasing productivity, morale, entrepreneurship (through the cross-fertilisation of ideas), and retention of employees among other positive contributions to the business. IMedia team leaders used to just happen almost as accidents for people who had been around for a while and through the project mill. The idea that leading a team needed nurturing as a skillset was, quite frankly, not even recognised. All eyes were on getting the project finished on time and within budget; at any emotional cost. Please don’t say, ‘has that really changed?’, or that means that your business hasn’t bought into this ethos.

I admit that we have, and still do, place the emphasis on completing the job. As team leader/project manager you are not there to be liked but to get the job done. We have tried to place the balance on managing through natural difficulties arising with the cross-functional team without conflict, but we have always said that, in the end, you have to be prepared to sacrifice a bad player in your team for the sake of the others and your project. The key phrase is ‘in the end’ as we have always tried to help you manage through any team difficulties positively. (See chapter 13 in our book).

It is better to be liked, of course, but in some circumstances you have to take decisions that won’t fit well with some of the team. They may well be able to respect you for these decisions, which is a good thing. Being ‘liked’ can be interpreted in many ways, with ‘respect’ included.

So, with the background out of the way, what’s new on the team front? Well, the terms cross-functional, inter-cultural, cross-cultural, remote, virtual and high-performing now seem to be the norm when we used to have to define the terms to make sure they made sense. That’s real progress. There are now far more training courses on team management across a plethora of sub-skill development. That’s progress too. The recognition that high-performing teams exhibit behaviours that have not been accepted traditionally in teams is also refreshing progress.

Eddie Kilkelly in the HR Review blog, Building and nurturing high performing teams (29th May 2014), gives an honest account of what it is like as a team leader with a high-performing team. There are real ups and downs through the team-melding process that are seen as necessary stages for forming the levels of trust and empowerment of the individuals within the team‘s own culture. Hurray for Eddie stating that the introduction of new people into the team can be a set-back for the maturity of performance in the team. iMedia teams generally have to respond to many sub-contractors, brought in for their availability and specialist skills, coming and going over the course of a project. This makes it harder for the team to meld in a high-performing way and this has not really been fully recognised for iMedia teams yet. You should also note that Eddie warns of the over-complacency effect of high-performing teams that stay together too. He advocates trust and oversight as the key factors for a team leader based on three pieces of research. Here, oversight means that the team recognise their behaviour and performance are being fairly monitored. Without this, the team is not as motivated in terms of performance. Well worth a read, do follow the link.

As usual then, let’s get back to you and your position. Where do you fit in the team structure of your business? How well is today’s complex team management understood and given credit in your company? What team management training is embraced in your company?

Now, I know training is a luxury in SMEs and there are plenty of those in iMedia. So, don’t switch off just because there’s no money available for even more fundamental training for your company. You can be an agent of change using the little knowledge gained from reading this. Spread the awareness: that’s a big start. Put team management as a topic for discussion in any formal or informal get-togethers in the company. You can’t say ‘no’ to that surely?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Digital design – coming of age party?

It’s not often that you’ll get me to say. ‘what a breath of fresh air!’, but that’s exactly my reaction to the Design Commission’s new report, Designing the Digital Economy: embedding growth through design. innovation and technology, May 2014.

I think that it’s the position taken about technology and design that is refreshing. Designers are given credit for representing the people’s perspective (user experience) in the past in relation to tangible consumer products. However, there is criticism of their inert reaction to technology – a failure to embrace it in design terms. This is the gap that should be filled, according to the authors, and will stimulate the digital economy that affects people’s lives and working space while the ‘digital revolution’ is about intelligent connectivity through technologies. This stance is summarised by these quotes:
We have also found, that just as technologists would do well to align their practice with that of designers, the design sector should move out of its comfort zone and seek to engage with the possibilities allowed by the digital economy. Page 9
And, because of the inertia, they say:
Programmers and technologists are instead generating product ideas and moving into design territory, which risks undermining the classical design skillset and training. Page 42
Imagine my gasp of incredulity when the report backs the concept of interdisciplinary research. We have suffered tremendously because of the rigid classifications of ‘industrial’ industries. We have not known where to line up: creative, digital, technological, IT, or by sector, advertising, museums, libraries, web, mobile, and so on. The lack of interdisciplinary understanding and credibility has worked against us. We have moaned constantly about this in our book and in many of our blogs.

Hats off to NESTA for working with new metrics to put a monetary figure on the importance of the creative industries for the UK economy (See this quoted in this report, page 17). It’s a sad fact that the decision-makers only take note of financial data so the six times faster growth rate of the creative industries to the general UK, even during the recession (also quoted page 17) has made the decision-makers sit up.

It comes as no surprise to find that the complex skills needed in digital projects are in short supply. On page 28, the sort-after people are supposedly called ‘T shaped’. The types of skill are defined in the following:
... we heard from SMEs who struggled to find the ‘T-shaped’ people who could add real value to their enterprise. For the businesses we spoke to, this meant people with skills in both digital and physical making, as well as the ability to deal creatively with complex working practices.24 This shortage is obviously an ongoing problem for national policy relating to the skills base ...
A more in-depth assessment of the ‘T-shaped’ origin and skills is found in the highlighted section on Page 29 of this report. Here it mentions Microsoft’s Principal Scientist taking this ‘T-shape’ further. He looks for ‘T’ and ‘I’ skills where ‘I’ means innovation that can then be implemented by the individual in collaboration with a team.

The concept of big data is central to the report. As more and more data becomes available online in a supposedly open situation, the value of the data and how it can be understood and ‘valued’, is key to the future. This big data concept affects government, of course, as they are one of the biggest generators of public data. The report highlights missed opportunities and revenue streams from some big data and it sees an important role for designers conversant in digital to make better use of such data through design practices so it makes sense to the majority.

Coupled with this is a general education issue. People now lack the ‘critical socio-technical literacies’ to be able to judge what they are absorbing from such data exposure.

The report covers 4 main areas: digital design clusters, central government and the digital economy, education and research. I haven’t majored on these as I have cherry-picked what has seemed of most relevance to our themes covered in the blog.

I see this as an incredible step forward in thinking and mindsets that can only be good for what has been a misunderstood and under-valued section of UK society – the interdisciplinary workers in iMedia.

On the interdisciplinary note however, I must just say that the report itself lacks recognition of the broader skills relating to user experience that are already being deployed in iMedia teams. The authors seem to forget that the design gap they define has and is being filled by marketeers, HCI people, Information Architects, agency-led perspectives, e-learning experienced developers, and retail experienced developers - among others - who form part of and influence complex iMedia teams. They champion the users and affect the technical paths taken in applications. Yes, the report is targeted at design, but designers do not have an exclusive 'take' on users.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Salaries 2014 - where do you stand?

It’s about a year since we looked at salary surveys and what they trend for you. Overall the news looks good. But, it’s still problematic to decide what job title means ‘what’, and, where it fits. General salary surveys seem to have a bias on who they target to get the data based on job title. Now we’ve harked on for years on the plethora of job titles in iMedia let alone the spread of industries the interactive jobs fall into: IT, software development, project management, creative, design, marketing, and so on.

It is wise for people to take time to understand the salary trends in their area to compare how the company is doing in relation to their level of skills and experience. We try to look across several areas but really they may not fit your particular branch of expertise. It would be worth your while deciding on the industry sector your skills fall into irrespective of your actual job title. Often the sector might line up with the area of your qualifications, for example. Then you need to find salary survey information that lines up best for you. It’s not hard to get data through the search engines but restrict them to the UK and recent reports. You’ll be very impressive in your company’s annual review interview if you quote well-recognised reports and appear on top of your information. You’ll find it gives you more confidence in negotiating a raise, for example.

One of the key points to come through in many reports is that companies are concerned about retaining key experienced talent. Do you fall into that category? This gives you an edge in negotiating. It appears also that companies are becoming aware that it isn’t salary alone that aids retention. They need to have a pleasant, responsive and praising culture too. Does this fit with how you see your company? Do you feel valued? Location in the UK drives salaries as well. Do you understand how much your skills are worth around the country?

So, here are some pointers to salary surveys that may suit.
  • Monster, the UK recruitment company, still offer salary indications as long as you can find a job title that they use that might fit yours.
  • The Guardian Jobs section offers some stats that may help and they show the stats across the regions in the UK that might interest you.
  • Payscale gives slightly different information but also check regional differences. We put in the job title, ‘web developer’ for these searches, so you might want to change this to suit.
  • IT Jobswatch offer information too. Again we input ‘web developer’ as a target job title, but you may wish to change this and search.
  • Computer World has this IT bias in its survey but they have a broader base.
  • If you’re in Games development, Develop have a survey that might interest.
  • And, if you’re in marketing then Marketing Weekly might suit better.
  • If you’re in the mindset to compare your salary internationally – maybe you’re thinking about emigrating, then Robert Half does an annual technology survey of the US and Canada that is interesting.
Let’s hope you’re being valued in all senses of the word. Good luck with the hunt.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Fragmentions and the future of URLs

I read something recently, via Twitter, that made me stop and think. So I will pass it on to you; or at least those of you who haven't come across it already.

We start with the difference between a URL and a search engine (go on ... say 'Google') as a means to finding something on the web. As Kevin Marks points out if you want to refer to a piece of text (his example is a quote from Tom Stoppard) a Google search link is more reliable, long-term, than a URL. To continue with another quote from Kevin:
Tim Berners-Lee's invention of the URL was a brilliant generalisation that means we can refer to anything, anywhere. But it has had a few problems over time. The original "Cool URLs don't change" has given way to Tim's "eventually every URL ends up as a porn site".
This reminds me of the Gaiman/Pratchett theory that any music cassette left long enough in a car will morph into Queen's Greatest Hits. But I digress ...

In the interests of full disclosure I must note that I know Kevin as we worked together for years. He's a demon programmer now in California and that's the UK's loss. But I digress ...

Kevin's musings led to the suggestion that by extending the use of a hash (#) in a URL you could easily link to any piece of text on a web page, without having to specially mark it up. He called this fragmentions and it would look like this: piece of text

If you like the idea you can try it now. Open your copy of Chrome and search for an extension called Fragmentions by Jonathan Neal (or click on this link in Chrome). Then, when you've installed it click on this link to my Domesday Project page and you'll find it's jumped to a piece of text that says "The system was operated using a trackball". And I didn't have to mark up my page in any way. You can check.

The benefits of this become clear if you're an academic needing to keep track of references in web pages since you can use the ## fragmentions method to go to whatever part of the page you need ... assuming the text is unique ... no matter how long the page might be (and some academic pages are very long).

The Fragmentions idea apparently kicked off about a month ago and Kevin is now on phase two, with a plug in for Word Press (also by Jonathan Neal) and a suggestion that you might not actually need two of those # thingies after all.

With such a short life so far, and the possibility of further changes as it develops, Fragmentions might be a bit too much too soon for web sites you're building for your clients. But in the longer term it does address a growing concern over how best to provide meaningful access to a large body of work on the web ... and that wouldn't be a digression would it?

Friday, 25 April 2014

Update yourself on ‘Creative Commons’ licensing

Legalities were left outdated when the digital revolution took hold of electronic communications. Legal additions or changes to laws on copyright, attribution and ownership etc. have been slow to emerge. The world-wide nature of digital conflicted with country-specific laws. Legal traditions across countries restricted and controlled the use of media – using the equivalent of the ‘all rights reserved’ statement.

Enter ‘Creative Commons’ licensing (CC). This was seen as a breath of fresh air in a murky environment. It grew out of the ‘free access to assets’ mind-set that was prevalent in the online community.

So, what exactly is ‘Creative Commons’. Since it was introduced in 2001, it has grown to include all types of communication: audio, visual, and text. The definition is:
An organization that has defined an alternative to copyrights by filling in the gap between full copyright, in which no use is permitted without permission, and public domain, where permission is not required at all. Creative Commons' licenses let people copy and distribute the work under specific conditions, and general descriptions, legal clauses and HTML tags for search engines are provided for several license options.’
(From PC Magazine Encyclopaedia)

There are other definitions you may care to look up, but this introduces several concepts worth noting.

The definition mentions an organisation and this is Creative Commons itself, where you can get the best understanding of how the licenses developed, what they cover and how to use them. See The other concept worth noting from the definition is that these newer licenses work alongside, to complement, existing laws on copyright. They do not supercede them. They fill in the gap of use that digital access created.

Because CC licenses have grown to define various types of use and media, it is handy to get an overview of what is available so you can decide what might suit a particular client for a particular set of circumstances if they and you create new assets. Alternatively, Creative Commons allows you to search and use a variety of assets freely in your projects and this might be of value to you too.

Emma Crowley in the BU Blog, Getting to Grips with Creative Commons Licensing (15.4.14) summarises the current set of licences from Creative Commons using infographs. This gives you a great overview and will help you match the right type of license for the proposed use of your own and your clients’ assets. She defines the common features of all the licenses as allowing: copying, distribution, display, digital use, reuse in digital format, worldwide application, and lasting for the duration of copyright, but not allowing, revocation or exclusivity. She defines each type of the six licenses that form the Creative Commons group of licenses too from the most freely useable to the least free. You embed these licenses freely into your code where they are recognised by digital means.

You might be comforted to think that all your asset use problems are solved now: but not so. You really need to think through exactly where and how people might like to use your assets. Hugh Rundle in his recent blog, Creative Commons, Open Access and hypocrisy (23.3.14), notes a difficulty created for him by a request from a commercial publisher for use of one of his blogs. He chose to rethink and change the license, and in his post explains his thinking about just what non-commercial means to him. We have looked at the commercial/non-commercial divide in an earlier post, and it is one of those things that gets fuzzier the closer you look at it.

Another thing to remember about CC licences is that they can't be revoked and last for the duration of copyright. There may be circumstances where this isn't appropriate. For example you might offer free access to something as a 'loss leader' with the intention of commercialising it later ... or even just change your mind. CC doesn't let you do that because even if you change the licence type there is no way of knowing which licence your end user was subject to when they downloaded the material. None of this is a problem as long as you understand the licence.

So, maybe more types of license have to be created to cover more ‘use’ cases. Keep tuning in to!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Digital projects scope, feature or requirements creep – everyone's nightmare

A lot of people really don’t like the word control.

It has such negative connotations in general and it implies squashing creativity. When you apply it to digital projects - or try to - it seems to be top of the list in job requirements. We have to accept that in our creative industry control in projects is highly important for the sake of the business. To put it frankly, without control the money coming into the business disappears into the æther. You end up working for nothing if the client takes control of your project, if they insist on getting more than they had implied at the start.

We can see from the title that project creep has been called different things. We need to understand that just because our processes for development might have changed over a few years, project creep remains a big issue. So even if you have moved away from the old waterfall approach to defining projects (that arose out of IT practices with its requirements specification and functionality specification) to Agile responsive development, or anything in between, or composite of these: whatever you call it, project creep still exists.

Llew Jury implies the waterfall approach to project creep in his blog, Scope Creep on Digital Projects (17.1.13) but gives a clear case about scope creep. Frank Cervone is very readable about an Agile control process in his presentation Lightweight project management for digital development projects (17.1.2012). See slides 27, 28 and 45 particularly.

Back to control then or maybe we should be calling it client expectation management as per Frank’s definition. Whatever approach you use, you need some control processes in place. Now these have to be agreed upfront or the client will move into a push cycle without the fear of penalties: just what you don’t want. The answer has been different for the different development processes. The older style approach advocated the time, cost, qualitytriangle where you educated the client that if they asked for anything that affected any one of these parameters, the other two would have to change. This can still work across all projects although it may be implemented differently.

In Agile development the client needs to agree that the bite-sized pieces of development (called sprints) that they agree to will be paid for even if they change their minds about needing them. The work can be redundant or altered but the time and effort to produce them has to be paid for. The project manager or team leader in Agile has a responsibility to protect the developers from any interference from the clients during a sprint.

Yes, these links are oldish in digital terms but this creep issue has not gone away. We shouldn’t dismiss advice when we think it is a bit dated. We need to think it through and apply it to now. We are all a product of previous world-experience whatever we would like to think. Just to reinforce that this is still a current issue take a look at Rachael Greene’s, A Good Scope Today Keeps the Scope Creep Away (27.8.13), and some tips for avoiding creep from Tim Ballard, Feature Creep (12.3.13).

Then if you really want to get to grips with this nasty issue (especially good in prep for any job interviews in a digital position) there are a series of articles in the PM Hut’s blog on Scope Creep.

Sweet dreams!