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?