As Plank enters its 3rd decade, I’ve been focussing on what success means to our clients and to our team. It’s not always the same thing, but they’re two sides of the same coin. My commitment this year is to dig into that definition so that we can better recognize success when it happens - and make it happen more often.
That begins with being more open and honest internally about our expectations, assumptions, and the way we approach our work. It means being equipped to make small tweaks and adjustments everyday, and being flexible to change.
Last December, I attended Operations Camp in Southern California: 3 days with 30 people who do what I do. There was a lot of discussion around success. It’s a way-finding star for how almost all agencies make plans and choices.
What is success?
One of the most compelling questions that got bounced around the room was “Does your team know what success is?”
- A happy client?
- Launching on time?
- Making a profit? How much?
- Making the world a better place?
- That warm project glow that you can’t define?
- Making technical progress? Creating something cool?
- Writing beautiful code?
- Keeping our technical debt low?
- What about bug-free work?
- Work that will endure longer than average?
- Work that we’re proud to show off?
- Award winning work?
- Projects that leapfrog us to more successful work?
- Being a hero to our clients?
- How about being happy to come to work in the morning?
What about success for clients? These definitions are easier to pin down as they are often discussed from day one. It is a powerful question to ask — “What is the one core problem we’re going to solve that, if done well, will make this project a success?”
What isn’t it?
On the flip side: what success “flags” have we previously used that we should be careful about and avoid?
- We’re only successful if the boss sleeps at night.
- We’ve said yes to everything.
- We have too many horses in the race.
- We’ve only planned projects around production, without taking into account success goals (ours and the clients).
- We have one employee who’s so senior, they could do the job all by themselves.
Start with the finish line
I believe you should have clear goals. We used to joke about the PM Triangle - the mythical fast/good/cheap trifecta held up like a PM’s holy grail. The model falls short of measuring success because it quite simply doesn’t define what success actually looks like.
“The Project Management Triangle is used to analyze projects. It is often misused to define success as delivering the required scope, at a reasonable quality, within the established budget and schedule. The Project Management Triangle is clearly insufficient as a model of project success because it omits crucial dimensions of success including impact on stakeholders, learning and user satisfaction.” — Wikipedia
How can we identify our success tent poles? How do we create a common finish line? Starting with our tagline is a good one.
“A creative agency for meaningful digital projects.”
Three words stand out to focus on: Creative — Agency — Meaningful.
Are we being creative?
Creativity works its way into almost everything we do. I can confidently say we’ve always had a strong, sensible design style, which we built on last year with a new addition to the design team. Of course, every member of the team works their creative muscles to come up with the best way forward. Can we be more creative and still retain a rock solid foundation? Can we experiment a bit more? Hell yes.
Is our agency viable?
I believe that staying in the game for 20 years speaks for itself. We’re known for our long client partnerships, and for producing work which will stand the test of time. We’ve created a company that has always valued our employees, constantly looking to them to help balance the problems we attempt to solve for clients with sound advice that we can stand behind. We’ve built viability as a success flag. That’s not to say we can’t do better, and as each year goes by, we try to make improvements to the financial and operational nuts and bolts of keeping a solid footing.
Is our work meaningful?
I believe our work has become more and more meaningful. One of the core focusses of Plank is to help Canadians shepherd our wonderful shared culture into the future. This is often through helping traditional arts & culture organizations navigate and understand what is true and what is hyperbolic in the digital world. We can advise on what will give them real value, and how to avoid flash-in-the-pan solutions.
Success starts at home
We recently sent a survey around the office to get a sense of how each team member feels about their place at Plank - whether they’re supported in their work, if our tools and processes are working, if we’re heading in the right direction as a company. We compared the responses to the results from 2016 and were very encouraged to see a rise in satisfaction in all areas. It’s not perfect, but it’s good to see that the efforts we’ve made to be more successful have affected all corners of the room at Plank.
I also asked in a less formal poll in our Plank Slack — “Could you give me a brief couple words, or possibly sentence or two about what YOU think success is at Plank?”
The responses that came back speak to the points I’ve made above about clarity of communication, support, respect, and work we can be proud of. A couple of examples:
“To be successful at Plank means going home at the end of a day confident that clients know where the project is at, that it’s going in the right direction, colleagues feel supported, and I know what the next day of work consists of.”
“To me, success at Plank means meeting deadlines with quality code and having strong team communication while becoming a better programmer and helping the company grow.”
It’s encouraging to see that our ideas of success are aligned. But that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Continuing and growing our success means keeping the conversation going, honing in on what we are doing right, and learning from our failures.
For more thoughts on success, here’s a playlist of TED Talks on the subject.