WD World

12 Team Management Takeaways from a Trip to the Netherlands

As an active member agency of Taan Worldwide, Warren Douglas has the amazing opportunity to visit with and learn from our sister agencies around the world. Earlier this month, Warren Douglas CEO Doug Briley and I jumped on the chance to hang out with Netherland-based X-INGREDIENT to observe their software engineering and web development processes, and talk shop. Here are 12 takeaways from observing and interviewing the X-INGREDIENT team during my week-long stay.

  1. Cultivating your team is paramount to success—In our industry, we tend to get stuck in highly-specialized roles; the term “Subject Matter Expert” further contributes to solidifying swim-lanes. Encouraging developers to be creative and designers to explore the tech medium they’re designing for can help produce T-shaped skillsets, new ideas, and diverse perspectives. Building knowledge breadth is equally important to building knowledge depth.
  2. Building diverse skillsets within smaller teams just works—Smaller teams and broad skillsets go hand-in-hand. When you’ve got a project that requires specific knowledge that no one on the team has yet, it’s easy to roll up your sleeves and gain some new skills through research and practice.
  3. Learning is the fun part—Not only is learning new skills often a necessity, it’s arguably the funnest part of the job. It’s important to give designers and developers the time required to learn, explore, and sandbox. That time and experience will be invested back into all projects they touch in the future.
  4. Guiding helps more than demonstrating—It’s probably quicker and easier to show a team member how to do something, but it’s more valuable for the learner to be given just enough information to puzzle through a solution on their own. Senior team members should encourage self-direction, and step in to help at the last responsible moment.

  1. Failures are expected, but require learning—The fear of failure should be taken off the table by giving failure a specific place within your agency. The most important part of failure is the learning that comes from it. But, if the same mistake continues to happen, then there’s a serious problem (lack of learning) that needs to be addressed.
  2. Small giants produce amazing work—Maybe not exclusively nor universally so, but smaller, high-performing companies often have less bureaucratic hoops to jump through, fewer walls to break down, and more freedom to explore. This often translates to faster velocity and quicker learning for more iterations of work and improvements.
  3. Proving an idea is more important than perfect code—It’s better to build now and clean later. It’s easier to demonstrate the value of a work in progress than it is to get people excited about the preparation necessary for an ideal environment setup.
  4. Some frameworks are idealistic but not very realistic—It’s important to strive for efficient processes, but it’s best to avoid rigidity and dogmatic adherence. Even if you don’t think it’s the perfect approach, when you’re limited in terms of options, time, or resources, you need to do whatever you can to help produce great results.

  1. Some challenges are universal—No matter how many people are dedicated to reaching an ideal state for a company, it’s extremely hard (maybe impossible) to entirely achieve. With how fast our industry changes, an “ideal state” will always be a moving target.
  2. Maintenance will never be fun, but it will always be necessary—I don’t imagine that I’ll ever meet a developer who would say, “…but what really excites me is the chance to maintain projects that are already well-established.” Time-boxing maintenance items can be a good way to help reduce the feeling that maintenance items are getting in the way of developing new solutions.
  3. Hire for potential, not the skillset on a resume—While it’s important to hire people who can immediately support an agency’s needs, it’s more important to make sure that a new hire has the potential to contribute to more aspects of the agency than their own personal swim-lane.
  4. Culture comes from the people—The people you work with have a huge impact on the experience you have at a company. Something as simple as eating lunch together regularly can help build interpersonal relationships, and when you feel a sense of camaraderie with your colleagues, you’ll better enjoy the 8+ hours that you spend with them every weekday.

Getting to see the internal operations of a sister agency is a wonderful experience that helps generate new ideas. It’s refreshing to see how another agency handles collective challenges, and great to experience an environment that feels familiar but looks so different. It was an amazing chance to get to hang out with and learn from our Taan Worldwide partner agency X-INGREDIENT, and we’re looking forward to applying our learnings as we constantly move the Warren Douglas team forward.

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