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Goodbye, 2014: Lessons Our Custom Dev Team Learned

Our team came a long way in 2014. Reflecting on the wins and losses helps us enter the new year ready to keep flying ahead, armed with valuable lessons on how to make our business even better. Here’s a wrap up of what I appreciated learning with our custom dev team this year.

  1. Agile development sprints truly make sense. Don’t over promise (or do set price work) and get stuck with a disappointed client running out of budget. Stick to what you know is true, and embrace your challenge to educate your clients on the value of working this way. Working on several membership sites this year, we saw the wisdom in this ring true multiples times.
  2. Training and education are important and take time. In your scope, allocate time for your team to create educational materials your client will need to really understand, appreciate, value and effectively use their new technology. For us, this means screencasting when new features are complete, or writing out development summaries.  Schedule time for this, and make sure the team knows it’s important.
  3. Make sure any product you work on has a solid vision & matches up with your business goals. Just because you build a client a great web application, and they love you, doesn’t mean you should throw your heart into all their products and be business partners. Evaluate each product your client brings you, and be willing to say no to work your team doesn’t believe in.
  4. Small tweaks add up. Don’t underestimate how pleasing a client adds time to your total work on your scope. Deliver core functionality & design promised, then estimate and prioritize tweaks, and let the client decide what you work on first. (They hold the purse strings.) By letting them determine priorities —Trello columns work great for this, they’re in control of their spending.
  5. Build your brand. If you don’t make time to take care of yourself, you’ll wake up feeling drained. Similarly, while it’s amazing to produce for your clients, take time to build up your brand, keep your website fresh, build up your team, and participate in the community. This keeps the “soul” of your company alive and makes your team feel reassured that your image and your identity matter. It’s important for their self-worth and for the self-worth of your company.
  6. Have a judgement-free zone, sometimes. While it’s essential to keep professionalism in our work relationships, it’s also refreshing and a lot of fun to share all of our crazy opinions and theories. Grabbing dinner together, having a weekly book club, and other non-work focused times let team members be completely themselves. This builds bonds that lead to feeling more united.
  7. Don’t get too segmented. Our company has three main departments—Custom Development, Support and Migrations. One lesson we learned was the importance of working hard to make our clients feel a smooth transition and brand experience across the board. We found this wasn’t just a problem of client perception; the core issue was within us. Our teams needed to be more congruent, and by working more closely across teams—being more connected on a company level, the client experience naturally became smoother. While small teams do work effectively, don’t overly segment departments.
  8. Don’t fear meetings. We’re in an age of “anti-meetings” in our industry. At times, we view meetings as a time-killing-anti-production virus. Meeting together regularly, even daily, to help each other know what everyone is working on is vital. At times, we’ve swung to the other extreme (to our detriment). Know where availabilities are in the schedule. Team lead communication can not be emphasized enough. Be aware of who has two extra hours to jump into a task. We found daily meetings, even scheduled for 5-15 minutes, are great to keep a pulse on our distributed work team.
  9. Pair, cross-train, unite. Everyone is a reflection of your team and your brand, which means everyone is worth taking the time to train, communicate with, and help. So take pride in everyone who produces anything, sends an email to a client, or writes paychecks.Your team is your army, and every member needs to march strong, be healthy, and feel valued.
  10. Let amazing people create. We have passionate people on our staff, and when we give them the green light, they produce beautiful work. Giving team members an extra few hours to go wild, add the extra polish, and make something stunning results in better designs, more beautiful code, and other pleasant surprises that come from giving smart, creative professionals room to run. Give the right people the opportunity to create great stuff, and they will. We’ve seen this over and over again this year at WP Valet, and our clients enjoy reaping the results.
  11. Be open. Some unexpected opportunities and partnerships knocked on our door this year, from teaming up with Peterson Media, to working with agencies in new and exciting ways. Stay open to new opportunities, and be willing to flex your business vision to incorporate the unexpected.
  12. Educate clients about off-boarding. Launches take time, effort & developer attention. Educate clients on what’s involved in QA, cross-browser checks and launch. Make sure developers have sufficient time for off-boarding (as well as clear process) and clients understand the vital importance of this phase. A smooth hand-off promotes good long-term relationships.

Those were a few impactful things I learned and plan to apply. We’re excited to take our growing team into a new year and keep applying our lessons to every client and team member we work with. Here’s to more fabulous projects next year!


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