By Steven Wirth
Read time: 5 minutes
Website design and functionality are more important than ever before, yet despite the changing work environments we’ve all experienced this past year, one thing remains the same—clients expect digital projects to be on time, on strategy and on budget. Let’s rewind back to March 2020. Our digital team was just finishing our final in-person scrum without knowing it was our final in-person scrum. For a team that relies heavily on visualization and collaboration, we found ourselves alone, working from home and with just as many projects (if not more) as we had before the pandemic. As a digital producer, this meant finding new ways to keep our team connected while working from home and continuing to deliver best-in-class web work.
Fast forward to the present. Our nimble team has conquered the work from home dynamic and the challenges that came along with it—notwithstanding the bumps and bruises we experienced (and learned from) along the way. Even in a post-covid world, many companies will operate remotely or in a hybrid format. That’s why it’s critical for marketing decision-makers to rethink how they manage these critical web development projects, now and in the future. Here are four ways our digital team found success while working remotely (and how others can too).
Identify the tools for your success
Project management has always been critical, but it is especially critical when the team is working remotely. Having the right tools in place to ensure each team member is on task and communicating effectively when you can’t physically walk over to them takes discipline. A year ago, when the work from home era began in response to COVID-19, many teams struggled to get organized in the new environment. Long before the pandemic began, our team adopted Jira, an agile project management and bug tracking product. Jira helped our team members keep tasks and the status of these tasks straight. We also knew that project management software can save teams hundreds of hours (specifically, 498 hours per employee per year). By using Jira as a way to visually keep track of the process, what is completed and what is next, the team can work accountably and effectively.
This isn’t a Jira ad. There are plenty of other great project management programs out there like Asana, Airtable, Basecamp, etc. When choosing the right tool for your team, make sure the software you choose offers the features your team needs to succeed. For us, this was the ability to create customized workflows on a client-by-client and project-by-project basis.
Effective communication is key
Ensuring your team understands the projects at hand is essential. A lack of communication can lead to a disconnect, frustration, rework and deadline crunches. All of these things can often be avoided by clear, frequent and consistent communication with the members of your team. Despite this, research shows that 20% of remote workers claim communication is the biggest struggle when working from home. The digital team balances off each member’s expertise and if one or two people are holding up the process, the others can’t move on. Effective communication means everyone knows where we are and what comes next.
While Jira was a huge help, our visualization solution was two-fold. One was high-tech software, the other was a whiteboard. Each day, high-priority tasks were sorted by a digital producer, placed on the board and reviewed during scrum. Next, a photo of the whiteboard was shared on Microsoft Teams to ensure our priorities could be visualized. We’ve done this every single workday since. As many digital producers know, daily scrums are a crucial visual way for digital teams of all sizes to stay organized and on-task.
Whether a whiteboard, a corkboard or sticky notes, all digital PMs need to find what is effective for their team and stick to it. It helps to ask questions like “what did we do yesterday? What needs to be done today? What will we do tomorrow because of what we can accomplish today?” Of course, these priorities can change in an instant but the whiteboard, and the digital scrum that accompanies it, sets expectations and rallies the team toward a common goal.
Prepare for crisis before it happens (and yes, it will happen)
Preparing for a crisis is a crucial part of every job. From outages to bugs, it’s important for digital project managers to have clear, agreed-upon roles and goals for each team member during a crisis. Whether it be a bug, fraudulent purchasers or a cloud-based server outage, having a plan in place means less time reacting to a crisis and more time fixing the issue at hand as quickly as possible.
For example, demand skyrockets in response to the pandemic. This crazy-high demand led to some unexpected challenges for one of our clients – few products left in inventory and even less server bandwidth to handle the dramatically increased site traffic. But, due to preventative planning and quick thinking, our team had the tools and systems in place to quickly, confidently and effectively overcome these challenges.
Find your goalie
Websites today are complicated ecosystems consisting of many moving parts—and pages. Keeping track of every add-on, fix or Ecomm bug can leave developers feeling flustered. And a flustered developer is a less efficient developer. That’s why every great remote digital department needs a goalie. While they may lack padding and a helmet, they take all the pucks, or in this case the ad-hoc requests, issues, questions and more. As the goalie for HY, my job is to organize and prioritize these requests, assign those tasks in a logical way to the person with that area of expertise and the bandwidth to take it on. Do this and your developers can focus on the task at hand while your goalie helps advance the team forward toward the end goal for each project.
While working from home for the past year has created many challenges for many companies, creating a more nimble digital team that can adapt quickly to the digital environment and overcome obstacles with precision and grace is now a requirement. While much remains unknown in terms of our return to the office, the skills that our team developed during this weird year will hopefully help your team become stronger and more resilient for years to come.
About the Author:
As a Digital Producer at Hoffman York, Steven wears many hats, including Project Manager, Certified Scrum Master, and Jira Administrator. He believes that leading a development team’s day to day workflow isn’t much different than managing a kitchen: orders come into the kitchen, a ticketing system prevents orders from falling through the cracks, a team prepares the food following a set of strict requirements and everyone works toward a common goal: getting the order out of the kitchen hot and fresh (and accurate). It’s the “common goal” part of the equation that he believes provides the most value to our clients and he strives to instill this belief via his project management values.
Prior to HY, Steven spent many years working as a tax software developer before making the leap into the advertising world and managing digital development projects at Leo Burnett in Chicago.