However, this ‘paradise’ isn’t what a lot of people get to experience, and often their team environment results in a lot of resentment and confusion in-house, and a project outcome for the client that isn’t as good as it could have been.
So what’s the problem here? Many digital teams are not assembled specifically around the client or project need, and often internal hierarchy gets in the way of doing the project well. The roles aren’t clear, open communication isn’t valued and only some of the team are focused on the user experience.
Over the years at Deckchair, we’ve learnt the hard way how important it is to build the right team. We have ended up in horrifying ‘designers vs. developers’ scenarios where the form and function are lost through bad communication and the dilution of ideas.
We’ve assembled the ‘wrong team’ for complex projects and found the world falling apart around us as we have nightmares about when the project will finally be delivered.
In recent years we’ve reaped the benefits of getting a great team in place; that wonderful feeling when everyone is pulling in the same direction and you manage to deliver something exceptional, in time and on-budget.
Katie - you’ve been an account manager at several creative agencies. What do you think is key to cultivating a good digital team?
Janusz - with your experience at running a development-led agency, was there anything ‘missing’ for you, that would have made a better digital team and hence project outcome?
Sonja - you’re often brought in to advise or create the content - how could your role in the team be better implemented?
At Agency UK, what makes the best digital teams is when everyone takes ownership, throughout every part of the process. For example, when the UX team member stays involved past the UX phase and continues to give advice to the rest of the team. When the designer is reviewing wireframes they are already thinking about how they can bring them to life and is giving feedback to the UX person. And, when the developers are part of the process the whole way through, they are often more motivated when the project gets to them.
A digital team should be proud of their digital product, therefore for me, they should all have a vested interest in every part of the process and the outcomes. It makes working together a lot more enjoyable and far more easier. Especially when you come up against enough blockers as it is. When you know the team are all on board and everyone is working towards the same thing, that’s when I love my job!
However, there is a second part to my answer.
The buck doesn’t just start and end with the team themselves, it also comes down to the environment they work within and the agency culture. A digital team should be given the opportunity to work together and be allowed time to take part in review sessions.
It is important the agency encourages this. Even sitting the team together as a project team. Communication is key, therefore if a team are sat together they hear all conversations from every angle of the project.
If the agency environment isn’t set up to allow this, often this is the first thing that will make the team fall apart.
The project team should consist of specialists and experienced generalists. The specialists should be experts in their field, thought leaders if possible. They should absolutely know their portion of the project inside-out. If they are a developer, they should have 5 years plus experience in their chosen field and be certified to the hilt in their chosen language – understanding the theory and application of best practice.
The experienced generalists should be experienced in all facets of digital design and development. These are the strategists, able to understand the challenges and opportunities associated to each individual field (e.g. the interplay between technology and user experience) and be able to create a synergy that draws from the experience of the specialists.
The project needs an a effective and efficient project manager. Great communication skills come as standard, however the ability to deliver a project on-time, in-full and to specification is critical to the successful delivery of a digital project. I once heard it said that ‘perhaps the hallmarks of a successful digital project is that both sides (client and agency) walk away only mildly disappointed’. I don’t think either side should have to settle for this – both sides should walk away from a project happy. The project manager therefore should be delivery focused, ensuring that the agreed ideas, functionality and creative are delivered on time, driving the delivery process until the end, ensuring productivity is maintained throughout.
Senior Account Managers, working alongside the Project Management team are necessary to keep the client onboard, to understand their desires and translate these to the delivery team. However an Account Manager that ensures the project remains within scope and that ‘expectations are managed’ whilst maintaining a positive working relationship is equally as important.
Great question as ever Becky. Like you we’ve had some brilliant experiences as part of a cohesive digital team, and some absolute shockers too. So what makes a solid digital team? Here are my thoughts.
We’re brought in as the message and content strategists on a digital project. The most enjoyable and successful projects we have been involved in have been part of collaborative teams – groups of specialists who willingly work together for the good of the project, all driving towards a shared goal.
Our best clients recognise that the digital world is becoming ever more specialist and pull teams together accordingly. They shun the ‘one generalist agency can do everything’ approach in favour of bringing together people with niche skills in their areas of expertise.
How do you pull these high performing digital teams together? One way is to find an expert you trust and then seek referrals from them to other specialists they respect and enjoy working with. I’ve screwed up in the past putting at team of genuine experts together who are brilliant at what they do but distrust or dislike another member of the team and so find it impossible to collaborate. However good they are at what they do this never works in my experience!
Brand + UX + content strategy + design + development + PR + copywriting + SEO (I could go on!) – there are a lot of specialist skills involved in launching a new digital product or business. And there is a lot of potential cross over between these specialisms too. Brand and content strategy; content strategy and UX; UX and web design; copywriting and PR – there are blurred lines all around. The best projects, clients and providers welcome this and willingly collaborate, putting egos aside, learning from each other and not fighting for position and status.
It’s also down to good leadership from the client perspective. We’ve been lucky enough to work for some superb client leaders. When I think back to our most successful projects there’s been a culture of trust, enthusiasm, appreciation, openness and a willingness to learn, all driven from the top down. Happy, excited clients make for great projects don’t you find?
So I guess in the best digital teams there’s a high level of trust and respect between partners. We have a fantastic client in the US who believes that “the soft stuff is the hard stuff” (http://thegetrealproject.com/) when it comes to business. Expertise is of course important on any digital project but it’s also the soft skills – trust, respect, lack of self-orientation, an ability to listen and communicate – that set the best digital teams apart.
I’d love to hear the hear the experience and views of others on these points.
What makes a good digital team is synergy. Working together to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of the individual elements.
Respect and communication are key. When each member of the team understands their individual responsibilities, as well as the common goal and the importance of working as a team, success is much more likely.
At Six, getting the delivery team involved from inception has been crucial in delivering successful projects and having great quality products and happy clients.
We also put the user at the core of what we do, whether design or build.
As a creative agency that prides itself in getting under the skin of clients and stakeholders, we have been ensuring each member of the digital delivery team has a thorough onboarding process when getting involved in a project, so the ‘background’ information isn’t just sitting with client services. The more involved the delivery team feels, the more of a sense of belonging they achieve and the better the quality of the work we produce.