Throughout my professional career, I’ve seen many digital teams fall into the same ruts. An overblown creative experience eclipses the strategy and user-experience, which results in a non-performant (and often over-budget) project. Or the flip-side; creative plays too little of a role in the engagement, which results in a strategically effective, yet lackluster product. Or perhaps a scenario in which all teams are forced to work in a parallel execution in order to meet an aggressive deadline.
You get the idea. There are countless opportunities for disaster in scenarios like these, and although they might result in frustration, finger-pointing, or a general lack of cross-team harmony, there’s no one person or team to blame. More often than not, this is simply due to an overall lack of coordination and understanding across teams.
This is one weakness that our digital teams set out to conquer from the first project we took on as a company. And through cross-team iteration, we’ve worked closely together to establish a common ground between creative vision and effective execution.
Here are 3 pillars worth establishing for guaranteed success in a given project.
1. Foster the Right Environment
The perfect project team is comprised of a balanced consideration between creative and technology. Creative works closely to execute upon an established strategy. In the technology realm, developers and engineers work together to bring that strategy to life.
If there was a spectrum between creative and technology, every organization would land somewhere in the middle, often with a considerable lean to one side. For some digital teams, technology is given the spotlight and in turn, designers are taken less seriously. On the other side of the coin, some organizations are more creatively driven, with the actual execution being an afterthought. In either case, the final product suffers and members of the team feel slighted and will grow resentful.
This is an unhealthy way to grow a digital team. Whether intentional or not, a separation occurs that inevitably inhibits a large teams ability to operate in a collaborative and efficient manner.
The most successful organizations are those that understand the importance of an equal balance between their teams. Every member of every team should have the opportunity to get involved in any step of the project process and be heard by every member of the team. A project is like a machine and the teams that build that project are its parts. In order for that machine to run smoothly, all of its parts must be finely tuned and working in unison.
2. Establish Cross-Team Alignment
When one team does not understand how another team’s process or tools work, there becomes a great disconnect. Here are a few examples of common disconnects:
- UX Designers not understanding the capabilities or common patterns of a CMS platform
- Front-end developers not understanding basic operations in programs like Sketch, Photoshop, or Illustrator
- Web designers not understanding the basics of CSS or how a DOM is structured
- Back-end and front-end developers not aligning to address the architectural demands of the project
Now obviously, a team member can’t be expected to be an expert in multiple subject matters, but there should be a considerable degree of understanding and visibility into that subject. Developers should be fully aware of the strategy that drives architectural decisions just as much as designers should understand the platforms in which they’re designing for.
If each team is working independently with no awareness of the approaches other teams are taking, success will be difficult to achieve. Instead, encourage teams to work closely together so that these important bits of understanding are spread about naturally. Host regular working sessions and multi-team knowledge-transfers surrounding a given topic.
Beyond positioning the greater project team for success, disseminating cross-team knowledge empowers any one team member to become a crucial part of the project lifecycle. This is an especially great opportunity for less-experienced team members.
Simple…and perhaps a little cliché, but it can’t be stressed enough! If something is important, over-communicate it — even if it seems implied. What might be redundant or obvious to you might not be so to another team member.
Most fire-drills that happen are the result of a lack of communication. And in most cases, communication doesn’t happen because the information that should be communicated is already assumed to be understood by other team members.
Unfortunately, no one can read minds (at least not yet), so it’s best to get the team into a cadence or rhythm where communication happens routinely. Agile workflows with daily meetings are a great place to have these conversations. It’s also an economic use of time since all team members are involved in the conversation.
No one team is perfect and even if all 3 of these pillars are already in action, there’s always room for improvements. The best time to explore improvements is at the end of a sprint or project. If your team doesn’t have an occasional post-mortem or sprint retrospective, get them together soon and give everyone a chance to speak to the aspects of the greater team’s workflow that have a potential to be improved upon. And be sure to put action items in place so that the next project runs smoother than ever.