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Legalities were left outdated when the digital revolution took hold of electronic communications.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!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Sign-off – whose responsibility is it?

Digital projects – as with any other projects – are defined and split into stages of development. Now this can be true of the older waterfall approach to coding projects but also applies to agile development. The key point of sign-offs is that they have been linked to the payment schedule. Signed-off stages meant defined cash flow points for the business. That’s why they have been so important. But maybe this is being redefined.

If there is a project manager then often sign-offs would be part of their job spec. But it is amazing to see that the people responsible for sign-offs have proliferated. The relationship with clients is the important factor. And this relationship can be described in several ways: are the clients ‘clients’, ‘stakeholders’ or what? Is sign-off about money, satisfaction or quality?

Nadia Bianco sees sign-offs as a part of client management. She looks at sign-offs more as involvement and reassurance that the project is running smoothly for the client than money stages for the business in Part 1 Client Management (18.3.14).

JISC comes down heavily on the Quality Assurance side of the coin. They see the sign-off process as part of a Quality Audit system. Who signs off and when are important pieces of the audit. See the Personal Checking section (down the page) for this approach.

Ann Borg takes the stakeholder approach. Although her blog relates to designing training (and it doesn’t specify digital training development), the principle can be applied in a digital context too. She advocates defining the stakeholder’s sign-off role so that it is unambiguous as this will then make the process of sign-off smoother: Top tips to build and manage your stakeholder relationships.

So, whose responsibility is it in your company to get sign-off? What are they getting sign-off on? Why are they getting sign-off? It seems that the link to payment stages isn’t always the motivation now. Or, is this hidden by other factors?