Around the Switchyard office, the idea of T-shaped Professionals is part of the culture out of necessity rather than a theoretical leaning: we’re a small, active team and every project we undertake gets a touch from each individual at some point in the process.
Experience has shown us that, regardless of how air-tight we try to make our project management and internal communication tools, new decisions that effect design or development are made throughout the project lifespan. The better each member of the team understands the whole, the better our product and the faster we can act on those decisions. I’ll admit that we’re not perfect at this — it’s hard work that takes time.
I’ve listed out a roadmap that we’ve begun to implement internally:
One of the reasons Sam, Joel and I started Switchyard was that between the three of us, every aspect of our output had a founder who was definitively responsible. Regardless of the team producing the work, all technical work fed upstream to Sam, all account and operational work led to Joel, and I was responsible for the ultimate quality of our creative work. While that ultimately hasn’t changed — and our team remains small by design — we have discovered that giving clear responsibility for major milestones to other members of the team spreads project ownership in equal measure.
Scores of successful entrepreneurs have said the secret to their success is hiring people smarter than themselves, and I consider myself fortunate enough to agree: our team is brilliant and brimming with new ideas, so it only makes sense to share responsibility and allow every individual experience the thrill of seeing their work firmly in place when a project launches or a billboard goes up or a business card rolls off the press.
Shifting roles is the latest entry into this roadmap, and the least tested. We have faith in the ultimate success of this step, though, because everyone on our team has a range of skills and interests that add value to our process. Every day, the art of designing a web interface gets closer to the art of developing the front end technologies that bring the interface to life. Art directors in our field have to stay abreast of web technology or risk falling behind. Front end developers need to understand current design movements or find themselves out of step. We’ve found that with our internal team and contractors alike, designers who have technical chops or at least a close working relationship with developers are faster and more apt to push Switchyard’s body of work forward.
Encourage Research and Playfulness
This may be the most difficult step to pull off, given how billable work has a way of flowing into unscheduled time like water. To make this work, it seems the only real solution is to treat it like billable work, schedule it and protect it with your life. That goes for both management and designers/developers: if research and on-site growth are important elements of your company growth, treat the time with the respect it deserves and empower employees to protect that time
Define (Don’t Avoid) Meetings
We’ve enjoyed some success in this step, and the rules of engagement are fairly simple: every meeting should have a designated lead who arrives with an agenda and an airtight understanding of what decisions need to be made while we’re all gathered. This isn’t anything new, but we learned early on that it’s entirely possible to err on the side of dismissing the value of meetings too easily. Meetings are, after all, the easy mark of efficiency-minded teams. We point at bureaucracy and laugh about “organizing a meeting to plan when to meet about scheduling that important meeting.” When Joel, Sam and I started Switchyard, meeting was a bad word.
Today, meetings (especially internal meetings) are no longer anathema: they are short, sweet decision-making gatherings that give anyone on the team power to surface and answer questions that have them stuck.