Bringing Balance to the (Work) Force

Bringing Balance to the (Work) Force

Bringing Balance to the (Work) Force

From early in life, balance is a key attribute we strive to accomplish. From learning to sit and walk, to juggling sleeping with waking hours, we figure out how to navigate the world. This carries through to school years where our parents help us learn to balance learning with creativity, exercise, downtime, and family. The endeavor to balance doesn’t end there. Striving for balance is a life-long pursuit and an essential key to success in business and life. 

First, let’s explore what balance truly means. 

We define balance as “a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” While this definition of balance is great for a scale or a seesaw, balance in life doesn’t always mean equal. It doesn’t mean to have everything all the time. It means you have to work hard to make space. To tackle the items that are most impactful and of highest priority. To focus on the correct proportions. 

As the Director of Mobile Delivery at Shockoe, along with being a wife and mother of 3 boys, striking a work-life balance is familiar territory. There is always the tug to be everywhere and do everything. The struggle is real, and not just for someone in my shoes. Most people I know are trying to strike the right balance in their lives across multiple fronts.

Let’s dive into some activities to undertake to help you achieve the correct proportions in both your life and business.

Setting Clear Goals

Establishing what is most important and the ultimate outcomes desired are sometimes the hardest part of balance. Internal reflection is tough work. Sitting down with yourself to understand who you want to be when you grow up or what you ultimately want to accomplish in life is not for slouches. But understanding what brings you joy, what leaves your cup full, the mark you are trying to leave on the world, will clarify what really matters to you. Marissa Mayer, Former president and CEO of Yahoo stated “You can’t have everything you want, but you can have the things that really matter to you. Thinking in that way empowers you to work hard for a long period.” 

In “The Myth of the Nice Girl,” Fran Hauser — a long-time media executive, startup investor, and best-selling author — recommends choosing the four most important areas of your life and place them into a four square, one area in each square. Then determine the top 2-3 priorities and goals for each area. This exercise helps narrow focus. What’s great is that you can revisit this list — and should! It also lends itself to helping with the next step of setting and maintaining boundaries.

Structure and Boundaries 

Review your commitments and ensure that you are focusing on activities that directly correlate to your new list of goals. If something requesting your time doesn’t align with your goals, you don’t tackle it — you create boundaries. This may lead to tough conversations or even some soul searching, but will ultimately ensure you’re spending the time you have on the most important activities. 

“Burnout is about resentment. Preventing it is about knowing yourself well enough to know what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful.”  Marissa Mayer  

 

Structure is about making the activities you undertake, and the ways you spend your time, routine. It brings consistency and reliability to your day. The great part of having a more scheduled lifestyle is that when something has to shift or expand, it’s clear what it will impact and the tradeoffs that will need to happen to accommodate.

Moving with Intention

Tailoring your tasks to the top-most goals and priorities, while purposefully planning and executing on your day, allows you to move into the space where you can commit to carrying out aligned activities. This ensures that you are getting the most out of your time and efforts. This purpose driven approach of bringing focus to your tasks helps get away from just “going through the motions” and instead build habits around the most important things, minimizing the noise and distractions.

One trap many people fall into is focusing on where you are not, rather than where you are. To dwell at work on the toddler who cried as you dropped him off, to be thinking of the big presentation tomorrow when you are helping with homework. One of the best pieces of advice I have ever heard was to be in the current moment — be fully present and invested in wherever you are. As noted in Star Wars: Episode 1 by the character Qui-Gon Jinn “Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” This is true for Jedis and for us regular folks, and can help you remain present in the moment.

Continuous Prioritization

Understand what is most critical and take the time to ensure you prioritize it accordingly. Sometimes the focus will be work heavy, sometimes it will be family heavy. Revisiting the steps needed to achieve your goals will ensure you are consistently pursuing the correct activities. It also provides a mechanism to rebalance when there is too much focus on one area or if tasks are creeping in that are in parity with your desired end results.

As life moves forward, taking a step back to determine if your defined goals are still the most important is critical for alignment and prioritization.

Now let’s unpack how these key tactics can apply to business situations.

  1. There is an old adage that you can only pick two — fast, cheap, or good. The interdependence of time, scope, and cost—known as the triple constraint — highlights the impacts of project demands on each other, along with quality. Prioritizing the critical activities with the project’s end goal in mind helps maintain the alignment of work and is a key component of Agile method. A key factor to success is learning to handle curveballs sent your way to ensure you continually balance these three constraints. Understanding how these dependencies impact each other and solving for unintended shifts in these dynamics is the foundation of delivery success.
  2. Change is inevitable, so maintain a fluid approach and be adaptable. If the goals, structure, and boundaries are clear re-prioritization is crucial, yet doesn’t have to be painful. Willingness to shift and adjust, along with the ability to execute on these adaptations, drives success. This applies to a myriad of business situations including shifts in resources, adjustments for client satisfaction, and interpersonal communications.
  3. Ensuring a happy, healthy team by helping others find a balance. As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben espoused “With great power comes great responsibility”, and that truth that applies to management within companies. Work-life balance is important for everyone. Determine what drives your people and their satisfaction. Is it snacks in the break room? Flexible schedules? Clear expectations setting? Use this information to help facilitate a workplace that provides for these needs.
  4. There is a balance found between executing on current responsibilities while still allowing to expand accountability. Mentoring is a great way to provide growth, ensure the focus on top priorities, and garner feedback if needs are being met. Working with people — both inside and outside of the company — to understand strengths, determine opportunities, and enrich skill sets is a valuable undertaking. While we often see the mentor as the person providing the information and knowledge, the arrangement is often beneficial for all participants.

Why balance?

Learning to juggle the demands of personal and professional is necessary for a well-rounded life and long-term success. It increases productivity, reduces stress, and narrows focus to the most important activities. It makes the space to conquer the tasks that really matter.

Like what Misty has to say?
Come see her speak at the RVATech Women’s conference tomorrow, Oct 17, 2019! 

She also wrote a free guide on Unifying the Customer’s Experience

 

Misty Smith

Misty Smith

Director of Mobile Delivery

Equipped with 20 years of experience in the development, implementation, and management of projects, Misty keeps a grounded approach with an eye for exceptional work. Tech-savvy and flexible under ever-changing demands, Misty now applies her expertise as the Director of Mobile Delivery for Shockoe to help crack the complexities in today’s technical landscape.

Improving Task Management While Covering Your Rear End

Improving Task Management While Covering Your Rear End

Improving Task Management While Covering Your Rear End

I am awful at a lot of things. Baseball is one of them. Fighting games like Street Fighter is another. The only thing I am awful at that has really bothered me to any extent is my time and project management skills.

When faced with a large project and a list of tasks, I used to not know where to start. I would jump around from screen to screen, working on one thing before the next, then maybe go back to the screen I was working on before because I forgot something. Eventually, I got fed up.

Tired of being so anxious all the time, I took everything bothering me about my misgivings and did away with the excuses. I asked myself, “what would a project manager do?” Here’s how I fixed (some of) my issue, made my life easier and covered my behind by applying our project process to my day-to-day life. It’s only five things, stay with me here.

Find a tool you’re going to use every single day

It doesn’t matter if it’s an app, a notebook, or a series of messages sent by carrier pigeons. As long as you have something that you can refer to when you complete a task, and you know it’s something you will use over and over again, you’re good to go. 

I take notes in an app called Notion, which allows me to make task boards, lay content out differently, add images, edit from anywhere, the list goes on. While it’s not free, the important thing is that it has everything that I need to make a to-do list of sorts. If you’d rather use sticky notes or the same pocket-sized notebook that you’ve been using since college, that’s fine. Whatever works for you. 

I’ve found that the easiest way to change your habits is to slightly tweak the habits you already have. It’s the same idea as picking up around the house as you go along to avoid a larger cleanup process later on. Baby steps. 

What I do:

Every day I come into work, I open Notion. I have everything laid out on a calendar, and can add new pages for each day. I also have each page tagged with the project that it’s related to. If I am working on Valacta and I have a meeting with them, my page can immediately be attached to that project.

For EVERY task, write down the requirements. And then check them. 

When you add a task to your list, make sure you write down or otherwise have a record of the requirements that would go along with that task. Designing a login screen? Write down the fields, text, and any visual assets that need to go into that screen. Need to take out the trash? Jot down each room with a garbage bin and get to work. 

What’s important from this self-created inventory is that you have a detailed record of what was asked. Even better? Now, you can go over that list with someone else and verify that everything written down was accurate, asking questions along the way. In a work environment, you would go over this list with your actual project manager. At home, you could go over the list with your significant other, your roommate, your cat, or just read through it again and check for yourself. 

What I do:

If you’ve used Trello, JIRA, or other project-based task management software tools, this might seem familiar. I start with a task board that has three simple columns: Not Started, In Progress, and Completed. Whenever I have a new request, I create a task card with a detailed description in the Not Started column, to be moved forward later. 

Ah, the feeling of crossing something off of your list. Of moving the ticket to the Completed column. Of that distinctive checkmark motion. Very few things are as satisfying as completing a task. One of those few things just so happens to be crossing that task off of a list. Make sure you do so and take a moment to pat yourself on the back. No, really. Do it. It’ll feel great.

Something change? Back to the task board

Whenever something you’ve completed has been marked as complete, and then it gets sent back to you with edits or new requirements, that’s perfectly fine! No one gets every single thing perfect every single time (if you do, you aren’t reading this blog).

A trick I do to track changes on a task card is to add all the client feedback as a comment. Unlike descriptions, adding a comment will keep track of when they were submitted. With edits to an established task, knowing exactly when something was submitted is more important than I have space to type here. You want to be able to turn back time and see what comments were made by whom and why in case there’s ever a question of “why did you do this?” It’s happened before. It will happen again. Being ready for it is the best defense you can ask for.

Trust the process. When that doesn’t work, iterate on the process. Never beat yourself up

Like I said before, no one gets every single thing perfect every single time. Moreso when it’s the first time you’re trying a new process or tactic. Not everything will go smoothly. Heck, maybe everything will crash and burn. 

As hard as it may be, it is worth it to step back and take a look at what worked, what didn’t work, and what you can do to fix it all the next go-round. If something I said doesn’t fit your style, but it inspired another idea? GREAT! Take that idea, run with it, and share it with the rest of the world. Why do you think I’m here writing this and you’re there, reading it? 

Nelson Johnson

Nelson Johnson

Experience Designer

Experience Designer Nelson W Johnson can often be found spending his time drawing, hosting a gaming podcast & hanging with his cats. With a passion for technology and an obsession with floral shirts, he loves finding design solutions to users’ technological woes.

From Creative to Tech: 5 Lessons for Mobile Development Project Management

From Creative to Tech: 5 Lessons for Mobile Development Project Management

shockoe-project-manager-Rebecca-mobile-development-project-managementMy journey into Mobile Development Project Management was almost accidental. I started my career in television production, first as a producer on a reality TV show and then jumping into production at a large advertising agency, helping to create television, radio, and video projects for national brands. But after six years of production, I started gravitating more towards the internal management of teams rather than organizing shoots and productions. I decided to give project management a try, and from the minute I felt the warmth in my heart of seeing my client’s multi-media campaign scheduled out across all deliverables, I knew I was home.

When I made the jump to a tech firm six months ago, I discovered several stigmas placed on project managers at creative agencies:

  • They don’t know agile, having worked in a decades-old process that is viewed as slow, clunky, and requiring several layers of approval.
  • They’re only used to working on large, expensive projects, and are unable to follow a tight budget.
  • They’re “snobs” if the work can’t win a snazzy industry award that looks good on a shelf, they’re not interested.
  • They don’t know digital or tech, and they can only work on traditional media (TV, radio, print).

But while there’s some truth and mostly fiction in all of these stigmas, I believe that my experience at that large, clunky agency has given me important lessons and ideas that I incorporate into my mobile development project management on a daily basis. And as more advertising agencies move into 2018 and beyond, agile is becoming more than just a buzzword; consultancies must incorporate more SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) mobile project management techniques in order to stay competitive and meet their clients’ needs.

With that, here are five lessons I learned that can be helpful to project managers and team leaders in advertising/marketing and tech:

1. Process should help the work get out faster, and evolve and improve it over time
Agile has become something of a buzzword in advertising, and for good reason. Clients are getting frustrated with the time and cost it takes to get work done. But consultancy creatives have several fears about the agile process: that you can’t quantify the time it takes to get the “big idea,” that clients won’t be able to see work in progress throughout and envision the final product, that daily stand-ups would become too much of a time-suck, and that traditional teams should be structured as a copywriter and art director. A large hurdle for an advertising consultancy to get over is to view the work as an evolving piece, and not a finished product. Sometimes that means releasing something to the client or the public if it’s not finessed to the nth degree, or if it has minor bugs. If you’re constantly updating, engaging, and storytelling, then the focus is more on the brand’s journey over time, and less on one 30-second TV spot. Consultancy teams would also benefit from the structure and accountability that a daily stand-up can provide. Responsibilities are made clear, each employee is accountable for the progress and completion of their own work, and the small team is united in their singular mission of getting the work done. And while Project Managers in both industries keep a full list of functionality or deliverables, tech PMs have more of a voice around Sprint Planning, and work with their clients and team members to determine priorities around features, and keep a fluid backlog of “nice to haves” depending on time and budget.

2. Design should improve the experience, not just impress other industry folks
Software Development Life Cycle Mobile project managementAwards are a necessary evil for any consultancy. They’re motivating for employees and serve as PR and sales tools, attracting new clients and making them aware of the consultancy’s work. But one criticism of a creative consultancy is that work is often done for the sole purpose of winning an award, and not serving the consumer. Yet tech companies may often lean in the opposite direction, where design is sacrificed at the expense of functionality and performance. There is a lesson to be learned from both. There is always a place for impeccable design, but its end goal should be to improve the user experience and solidify the consumer’s impression of the brand. As a project manager, that means involving UX/UI designers and developers throughout the lifespan of a project. My most successful projects have started in a room where a designer and developer are both throwing ideas up on the board, and continue collaborating on functionality, navigation, and UX throughout the process, even in QA. But that’s not meant to undercut the importance of a developer because all the smoke and mirrors in the world can’t hide something that doesn’t actually work. This is why in the agile process, we’re not presenting a PDF to the client, we’re presenting a functioning piece of technology. The code isn’t just the “back end” it’s as much of a client-facing deliverable as a design presentation and needs to be as clean, thorough, and documented as the slickest consultancy deck.

3. Strategic Planning can set a foundation for development too
The best advertising campaign is built upon a solid strategic foundation, and a mobile app or tech project should be no different.Functionality shouldn’t be added just because it’s a hot trend– it should make sense for the overall brand and their consumer, and deliver on a business problem the same way a piece of advertising would. One takeaway that a tech company can glean from a creative consultancy is the importance of a creative brief that’s rooted in the overall brand strategy. If the design is always driven by strategy in addition to the normal technical requirements, your projects will never feel like just a string of new functionality with no big picture in sight– which is frustrating for UX/UI designers and developers alike. While sometimes our clients in IT aren’t privy to the marketing plans and decisions of their brands, it’s our jobs to help them create a strategic plan and roadmap that bridges that relationship and creates consistency across all platforms.

4. Saying “Yes” doesn’t mean “Yes, right this minute”
Mobile Development AgencyIn a company meeting recently, our COO Alex was answering questions about timesheets, and stated, “Your nights and weekends should be your own.” I was immediately shocked and felt like applauding (ok maybe I did a little bit). That a statement like that would be shocking speaks to the culture of creative consultancies– you’re expected to be “on call” at all times, and you almost wear your late night and weekend work like a badge of honor. But why? I admit I’m still a bit stumped on this one. Could it be that creatives maintain that conception is not a science, and they can’t predict when lightning will strike? Or that good ideas don’t come until 3 a.m.? Or that marketing clients operate on faster timelines, with emergencies and last-minute media placements popping up quickly? Either way, I have seen some differences after working at a small tech company. UX/UI designers, developers, and project managers all employ “heads-down” tactics that help them to make better use of their time during the day. Also, daily stand-ups and using tools like JIRA and Slack help teams keep tasks prioritized and get work done quickly.

5. But saying “Yes” isn’t a dirty word either
Mobile Development Project Management Creative and Tech One frustration I hear about project managers in IT and tech is that whenever a new idea is raised, the first answer is “No, it’s not in scope.” But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being an consultancy producer and project manager, it’s flexibility. Saying “yes” is now innate for me, but how do I make sure that we’re protected as a company and not giving away work for free? It’s still a tricky line to walk, but by ensuring my estimates have room for any bugs or issues that naturally occur in development, I can give us and our clients enough space to get it right, not just done. At that point, a new ask from my client begins a conversation: Is this the right piece of functionality for this release, and will the timing work? Will it make this release that much better, that it is worth the extra hustle? With those questions answered, now we can address the budget: How are we doing overall on our hours? Do we have room to add in extra work, or would this addition cause us to go over? By treating a new ask from a client as a conversation and opportunity instead of a disruption, we can reach the goal that’s shared by creative and tech project managers alike: to create work that we all can be proud of.

 

Note from Editor: 

Our team is all about sharing our “lessons learned” and techniques, here are a couple of other blogs that we think you may find interesting:

Ensure Success with the Right Mobile App Delivery

4 Tips in Designing a Retail Inventory Management App

5 Ways Shockoe Supercharged Mobile Workflow

3 Tips to Start Using Motion in Design

Project Managment’s Story: Chasing Waterfalls with Agility

Project Managment’s Story: Chasing Waterfalls with Agility

Project Managment’s Story: Chasing Waterfalls with Agility

At Shockoe, we have the unique (and awesome) opportunity to work with a lot of emerging technologies and methodologies, which is why I’ve always preferred to work for start-ups. There’s less of “This is how its always been” and more “This is new…how can we try to use it?” This is exciting and challenging in a fun way. Not only is my team embracing the latest and greatest in how we build mobile apps, but also in how we manage projects.

If you’re on the project management career track, “Agile” is one of those buzzwords you hear a lot. Even though the idea/methodology is not new, it is currently very ‘hot’.  A lot of companies are trying to move from a Waterfall way of running their projects to being Agile. Most of the clients I’m working with at Shockoe have told me “We are used to being a Waterfall organization but we’re trying to embrace the Agile way of running a project”. That, or even if they don’t plan on moving away from Waterfall, they’re interested in our project process and are intrigued to see Agile in practice.

There’s a lot of benefits to being more agile. The big one (for me) is better quality end-results.  This happens because you are not saving testing to the end, but instead incorporating testing and then adjusting based on those tests throughout the life cycle of the project. Secondly, there’s more wiggle room for change. In the waterfall world, if you’re saving the testing until the very end of the project and your business/product owner during testing realizes a bunch of things they didn’t consider and now want to be changed, you’ll find yourself out of either time and/or money.

Running our projects using Agile lets us reduce risks to the quality and getting last minute change requests. However, getting our clients to move at the same pace as we want to can sometimes be challenging. Right after the project kick-off, we’re basically ready to go. This can be quick for some of our clients, who find themselves waiting on the Change Review Board or internal PMO to green-light the project.

What this means is there can sometimes be some initial lag time, which usually gives us time to do “Sprint 0” which is when the initial designs and technical architecture documents are created – so once the client tells us they’re ready for us, we can hit the ground running. This is a good way to mix the Agile principles of continuously analyzing, developing and testing throughout the life cycle of the project, with the Waterfall ones of having a plan set forth before you start creating anything.

This has helped ensure that we’re able to deliver what we set out to, and in a way that makes our waterfall clients comfortable with the process, while still allowing for agility in our project management practice. We have so many examples, this is just one, of how we’ve been able to successfully marry our agile practices with our waterfall clients, and delivered a high-quality product that everyone was proud of.

Want to stay connected on all things mobile?

 

Sign up for the Shockoe newsletter and we'll keep you updated with the latest blogs, podcasts, and events focused on emerging mobile trends.

 

Key for Success: Begin With the End in Mind

Key for Success: Begin With the End in Mind

Key for Success: Begin With the End in Mind

“Begin with the end in mind” is the 2nd habit of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The driving rationale behind this habit is that if you envision what you want in the future, you can work and plan towards it. Utilizing this approach when managing Mobile App development projects is a central tenet to Shockoe’s project success.

We begin vision casting with our clients early and often. Project initiation is where the nature and scope of a project is determined. Although we become well versed in what you DO and what kind of systems and information you HAVE, what we really like to focus on is where do you want to GO and where do you want to BE. We help our clients learn to dream again.

Planning a project involves determining the time, cost, and resources needed to deliver a project successfully.  If you are clear on where you want to be, you can plan the project efficiently. Clarified purpose and common goals can then be communicated to the people involved. Clear goals, along with well planned tasks to align with those goals, help provide the proper motivation to tackle the project.

As project execution occurs, the coordination of the resources and deliverables against the planned activities will be closely monitored. A clear destination will allow you to accurately measure the steps you are undertaking. It will also allow the team to course correct quickly if they are not headed in the right direction.

It has been known to happen that (on occasion) the client’s vision of the future will change. Change is a normal and an expected part. Consistent, continuous communications will allow the team to understand the adjusted goals and assess any impacts. It will clarify the new version of the future and expectations can be set with regard to what will be required to now accomplish this revised vision.

With the end — the client vision and dream — in mind, Shockoe helps our clients plan and navigate into a future clearly driven by these goals. We always begin (and continue) with the end in mind.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Want to stay connected on all things mobile?

 

Sign up for the Shockoe newsletter and we'll keep you updated with the latest blogs, podcasts, and events focused on emerging mobile trends.

 

Dear New Client . . .

Dear New Client . . .

Dear New Client

We are so glad you have trusted Shockoe to help accomplish your business goals.  We understand that for this particular project, you need to design and build a new workplace productivity mobile app for your employees.  Here are some highlights of what you can expect throughout the course of this project.

Project Set up and Kickoff:  The kickoff meeting will provide an opportunity for all team members to meet, review the project scope, timeline and processes, and discuss any anticipated challenges.  Topics covered will include milestones and key dates, responsibilities, recurring meetings, status reporting, how we will work together, and contact information.

Discovery:  Once we’re out of the gate, we will interview your stakeholders and subject matter experts to deepen our understanding of your business model and goals for this project.  A Shockoe user experience strategist will lead this effort and may suggest activities such as market research, competitor analysis, identification of user personas, or a heuristic evaluation of your current application.  Along the way, we will document your requirements and create user flows and user stories.  Typically, a user interface designer is involved in this phase as well so the transition to design is seamless.

Design:  Once we have outlined what your new application needs to do, our design team gets to work.  These folks are the masterminds of creating a top-notch experience for your target audience.  They start by creating mockups (wireframes) that show the key elements on each screen and how a user progresses from screen to screen.  These mockups are easily transformable into clickable prototypes if desired for review by your team or to conduct usability testing with a sample audience.  Beyond that, we bring your screens to life with a style guide and high-fidelity designs.  Together these paint the picture of how the application will look and feel and will include actual colors, fonts, and images.

An agile-like process:  Typically, at some point between the transition from Discovery to Design, we will start to employ an agile approach to the project.  The goal is to share our work early and often so that you have visibility along the way.  Together we can determine the right amount of upfront user experience planning that’s needed before we move into iterative sprints.  Sprints are typically two week intervals where we identify an area of the app on which to focus, we wireframe it, apply the design, and build it.  The sprint culminates with a demo at the end where we share our work and gather your feedback.  Everyone looks forward to demo time!

Development:  The scope of the project determines how many sprints are needed.  No matter how many two-week intervals are involved, the process is the same and all members of the team know what to expect.  Each sprint includes sprint planning, development of the relevant user stories, a day or two of testing and issue resolution, and finally, the sprint demo at the end.

Testing and launch:  After the last development sprint ends, we spend a couple of weeks regression testing, which is thorough testing of the entire app to ensure that all functionality is working as expected and that there are no display issues across supported devices.  Any issues identified are resolved and then the app is turned over to you to perform user acceptance testing.  Fortunately, you will have had access to the app at each sprint demo when the QA version of the app is uploaded to Shockoe’s server for download.  This testing at the end of the project is an opportunity to execute all test cases and confirm the final product is ready.  Beyond that it’s just a matter of planning for submission to the app stores.  Shockoe can either help you through that process or submit the app on your behalf.

We are with you throughout the life of the project and let you know what to expect at each step of the way.  We find that by the end of a project, our collective team has bonded in a way unlike no other.  We are working together to produce something that will make people’s lives better in some way.  And that’s a great feeling.  Thank you for letting us be a part of it.

Let’s get started . . .

The Shockoe Team