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Fight The System: Battling Bureaucracy

If you work as part of an in-house Web team, you have my sympathy. If that in-house team is within a large organization, then doubly so. Being part of an in-house Web team sucks. Trust me, I know. I worked at IBM for three years and now spend most of my days working alongside battle-weary internal teams.

Web designer trying to hang himself
Web designer trying to hang himself.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

It’s hardly surprising that most in-house teams are worn down and depressed. They face almost insurmountable challenges:

  • Departmental feuds
    Too often, a website becomes a battleground for pre-existing departmental conflicts. Political power plays can manifest themselves in fights over home page real estate or conflicts over website ownership. After all, is the website an IT function or a marketing tool?
  • Uninformed decision-makers
    Rarely does an internal Web team have the authority to make final decisions on a website. Instead decision-making happens higher up in the organization. Unfortunately, although these individuals have more authority, they do not have greater knowledge of the Web. Decision-making is often based more on personal opinion than the needs of users or business objectives.
  • Committees
    Committees are the curse of larger organizations. The bigger the organization, the more the number of people who want their say, and that leads to committees. Unfortunately, committees inevitably lead to compromise and design-on-the-fly. Both are the kiss of death to any Web project.
  • An inward perspective
    Becoming institutionalized is very easy in a large organization. Eventually you speak an internal language and think in terms of organizational structure. This proves problematic when communicating to end users. Not only do most large organizations have their own internal perspective of the world, some individuals even think departmentally, further aggravating departmental conflict.
  • Endless scope creep
    When an in-house Web team is constantly available, calling on their help is easy. This is both a benefit and a curse. The truth is that many Web teams are taken for granted, and websites that should never exist are built and launched because there are no constraints. Worse still, good projects can be drowned as “internal clients” keep demanding additional functionality that the Web team cannot block.
  • Problem people
    The bigger the organization, the higher the chance they will hire a jerk. If you work for a large organization, I can pretty much guarantee you have someone in mind as you read this. These people can really hinder the work of the Web team and prevent a website from reaching its full potential.
  • Glacially slow progress
    With endless red tape and painful committees, getting stuff done in a large institution can be nearly impossible. It is not unusual for projects to grind to a halt entirely because they become dependant on other systems or projects yet to be implemented. I have even seen something as simple as the roll-out of a content management system take years to implement.

With the odds stacked so high against them, I am surprised in-house Web teams get anything done at all. Their success depends as much on their ability to navigate politics and bureaucracy as it does on their skills as designers and developers.

But do not despair. I can tell you from the over-subscription to workshops I have run on the subject that you are not alone. This is a universal problem and one that can be overcome, as I will outline in this post.

Our Web design agency specializes in complex projects. During my time there, I have developed certain techniques that will hopefully help others keep their Web projects moving.

Let’s look at four areas in particular:

  • Improving how your team is perceived within your organization,
  • Overcoming politics and problem people,
  • Ensuring that a project gets approval from the powers that be,
  • Delivering work within scope and on time.

Let’s begin by addressing how Web teams are perceived.

Improving How Your Team Is Perceived Link

In too many organizations, the Web team is considered the lowest of the low. It looks like something straight out of The IT Crowd5.

This is all the more bizarre considering that websites themselves are perceived as being important. Somehow there is a disconnect between those who produce websites and the websites themselves.

This poor attitude toward Web teams boils down to two beliefs:

  • The Web team is a road block that needs to be detoured.
    Many large organizations find themselves frustrated by their internal Web teams, seeing them as people who constantly block their more “imaginative” ideas and set restrictions on what they can and cannot do online.
  • Web team members are implementers, not experts.
    Management perceives Web team members as “techies,” there to implement the ideas of others. They are in no way perceived as experts who are capable of advising on strategy.

Fortunately, much can be done to overcome these beliefs. For a start, improve your communication skills.

A disturbingly cheerful Web designer
A disturbingly cheerful Web designer.

Communicate Better Link

Most internal Web teams are terrible at selling themselves. If they were a Web agency, they would be out of business in a few weeks. Perhaps that is their reason for working in-house. But despite what you may think, most internal Web teams could desperately do with communicating and selling better.

To overcome the negative impressions people have of your team, you need to actively promote yourself and the work you do.

Here are just a few ideas to try:

  • Hold launch events.
    When was the last time you celebrated the launch of a new feature or the redesign of your website? Holding a launch party is a great way to shout about your successes, and it’s fun, too. Email colleagues, telling them how excited you are about the completion of your latest project, and invite them to celebrate with you. Everyone loves free food, and it’s a great chance to show off your work.
  • Publish a monthly newsletter.
    How will anybody know about the great work you do if you don’t tell them? One way to do this is through a monthly newsletter that features work you have been doing and cool stuff happening online. This is a great way to both increase your profile and educate people on the power of the Web.
  • Report successes to management.
    Management needs to be regularly informed on traffic levels, dwell time and conversion rates. If you don’t have any calls to action to track conversion, get some. If you have no way to measure success, then the team is simply a drain on resources. Demonstrate that you generate income, rather than just spend it.
  • Offer training courses and workshops.
    Part of your role as in-house Web team should be to educate those in the organization about the Web. I’m talking not just about technical training on using the CMS, but rather more general training about the Web and how it can benefit your business. Sessions like this not only educate internal stakeholders, but also increase your credibility and establish you as the expert.
  • Hold regular meetings with website stakeholders.
    Set up regular meetings with those who most often use the website. Talk to people such as the head of marketing, sales and IT. Meet with front-line staff who answer customer support queries or those who work with suppliers. These meetings build relationships across the organization and demonstrate that the Web team is always looking for ways to help the business.

By improving communication within your organization, you significantly improve the perceived value of your team.

Create Value Link

There can be little doubt that internal Web teams are undervalued. As an external consultant, if I say exactly the same thing to management as the Web team, management will listen to me and ignore its own people. This is largely because as an external consultant, the cost of my advice is more evident. They listen to me because they are paying me in a very visible way.

Of course, they are paying as much (if not more) for their internal Web team. But that cost is not as evident and so is not valued as highly. The way to increase the value of your team is to make that cost more visible.

People are less likely to ignore your advice or waste your time if they are obviously paying for your advice or time. The way to establish this kind of value is to cross-charge for your work between departments. Have an internal charge-out rate based on salary, infrastructure, training, etc., and then price any new work coming into the department based on that rate.

This not only makes your value obvious, it also makes “internal clients” think twice before asking you to build some ill-conceived project just because you’re “free.” Nothing will change perception more than making them pay for your time.

Man holding a briefcase of money saying nothing is free, not even your internal Web team
Man holding a briefcase of money saying nothing is free, not even your internal Web team.

Of course, you might not be in a position to cross-charge. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go through the process of setting rates and costing projects. When you receive a request for work, respond with a breakdown of tasks, how long it will take and how much it will cost the company based on your charge-out rate.

While not as compelling as charging for work, it still drives home the point that your time is valuable. It might also make them think twice before suggesting a project, especially if they know that pricing will be included in your report to management.

Finally, keep track of the time you actually spend on projects. This will help with scope creep (see below) and show management how efficient you are.

Of course, cross-charging can be perceived as another blocking tactic, reinforcing people’s negative opinion of your team. Therefore, balance this with a positive and helpful approach…

Be Positive Link

No offence, but most of the in-house Web professionals I meet are a miserable lot. Okay, that was probably offensive. Still, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. With so much negativity aimed at Web teams, some of it is bound to rub off on them. It is up to you to keep the website on course, and that involves telling people “No” or putting constraints on what they can do. The problem is that this damages relationships and eventually forces people to bypass you, often by outsourcing to agencies such as mine!

However, you don’t need to say no to people or even constrain them with rules. Take my situation, for example. When clients pay me, I don’t have the luxury of saying no. I have to be Mr. Positive, or they’ll just find someone else.

The next time someone asks you to implement a stupid idea on the website, try to be positive. Praise positive aspects of the idea (if there are any), and encourage the “client” to explain their thinking behind the rest. Often you will find something workable in the idea.

Even when the idea has no redeeming feature, there is still no need for you to say no. Instead, explain the probable consequences of the idea to the client, and guide them to the point that they reject it themselves. The problem with “No” is that it is a dead end. It leads only to confrontation. By focusing on the positive and educating the client on the consequences of their suggestion, you create an open and honest conversation.

The process of educating the client on the potential pitfalls of their suggestion also demonstrates your expertise…

Become the Expert Link

The ultimate aim of improving your reputation is to establish yourself as an expert. If people see you in that way, then they will listen to your opinions and follow your advice. But if your reputation is already damaged, coming to be seen as the expert is hard.

One way to be perceived as an expert is by association. This comes in two forms: referring to another expert or having an expert refer to you.

Referring to an expert is easy. If you have no credibility in the eyes of internal stakeholders, borrow the credibility of others. For example, the next time a client asks you to put all content above the fold, don’t just tut and say that it’s a stupid idea. Instead, refer to a study on the subject, such as one of the several by Jacob Nielsen. This lends weight to your argument and demonstrates that you are well read on the subject.

The second approach is to get an expert to back you up. Essentially, this is the very reason why I am hired by many Web teams. I am brought in to reinforce the arguments they have been making all along. Because I am perceived as an expert and support what the Web team says, I add creditability to the team and increase their expertise in the eyes of management. It’s ridiculous, but it works.

Web designer suggesting a better way of working
Web designer suggesting a better way of working.

Finally, don’t try too hard. A true expert demonstrates their knowledge but is not afraid to admit their limitations. They are confident enough to challenge wrong thinking, but not arrogant or aggressive. I speak with too many in-house Web developers who come across as sneering and condescending because they believe they are above everyone else.

While improving your reputation will go a long way to pushing your projects forward, it is not the only hurdle to overcome. No matter how respected you are, there will always be those with agendas that interfere with the smooth running of your website…

Overcoming Politics And Problem People Link

Politics are unavoidable in large organizations, and yet most of us consider ourselves above them. We claim not to play politics, and we moan about those who we perceive do. But in reality, we all do it. We all have an agenda and want our point of view to be taken seriously. To believe otherwise is naive.

Ultimately, having a holier-than-thou attitude to internal politics is damaging. If you refuse to deal with those who play politics and avoid pushing your own agenda, you will only damage the website.

To get things done in a large organization, don’t shy away from playing the political game. As the saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

While we’re citing aphorisms, another one is, keep your friends close…

… But Your Enemies Closer Link

One of the biggest mistakes people make with problem people is avoiding them. A far better strategy is to keep them close. The problem with avoiding your “enemies” is that you are entrenching their position. If they know you are hostile towards them (and trust me, they’ll know), then they’ll become even more hostile towards you. Eventually, the arms race of hostility will get out of control.

A better approach is to keep talking. Meet with them regularly. Ask them what they want from the website? Look for ways to build bridges. Listen to what they say.

Some individuals only want their voice to be heard. As long as you listen and make them feel important, they’ll go away happy. Also, let them win whenever possible. It may dent your pride, but that is a small price to pay for winning the war.

A client refuses to sign off a design
A client refuses to sign off a design.

On the topic of war…

Avoid Confrontation Link

When I suggest that you meet with problem people regularly, I’m not setting the scene for a monthly showdown. In fact, avoid confrontation whenever possible, especially when other people are around. No one wants to lose face in front of their peers, which is why people become entrenched in their views in group settings.

Instead, use the tactics I spoke of in relation to being positive. Use the question “Why” as a way to encourage people to think through their position. Encourage positive contributions with praise, and explain their consequences in the gentlest language possible.

Finally, when you are criticized in a group setting (such as a committee meeting or group email), take a long deep breath before deciding whether to respond.

In my experience, there is little point in becoming defensive or, worse, retaliating. Most of the time I don’t say anything at all. It’s amazing how often someone else will leap to your defence if given the chance. Better that they say how great you are than saying so yourself!

Of course, it should never come to that, especially if you learn to empathize with problem people…

Learn to Empathize Link

As Web professionals, we pride ourselves on our ability to empathize. We go to great lengths to get into the heads of our users and understand what they want to achieve and how to motivate them. We have become experts at nudging users towards the goals we want them to complete.

Interesting, then, that we totally fail to demonstrate this ability with our colleagues. Instead, we often dismiss them as stupid or “not getting it.” This kind of narrow-minded attitude causes many of the problems we encounter. Take the time to really understand your colleagues. What makes them tick? What problems do they face in their jobs that the Web could solve? What pet subjects could we use to nudge them in the right direction?

If we tried to empathize with our colleagues and understand their psychology, we would find internal politics much less painful.

A Web designer talking to a client about his problems.
A Web designer talking to a client about his problems.

Ensuring Approval Link

When working for a large organization, you constantly require the approval of others to move anything forward. If you want a budget for a new Web project, you need to get senior management to buy in. When you conceive an approach for a new design, it needs to go through marketing and the brand police. Sooner or later, everything you want to do on the website needs approval.

This approval process is often a nightmare. But it doesn’t have to be. Understanding a little about human behaviour (which you should already know) smoothens the way.

The first step is to identify key influencers.

Identify the Influencers Link

Every decision-making process has key influencers. Sometimes the influencer is obvious because only one individual gives approval. But it is usually more complex. Sometimes the person you are dealing with is not really the one with the power. In many cases someone else is, someone with whom you have had no contact. When dealing with committees, you will also learn quickly that not all committee members are equal. Some are senior, while others are simply more dominant or aggressive. The trick is to identify the key influencers.

But don’t assume that the key influencers are always the loudest or most senior. Sometimes it is those with the most connections or a close relationship with an executive. Identifying who can swing the decision in your favor can be tricky but is incredibly important.

A Web designer tries to identify who the real client is.
A Web designer tries to identify who the real client is.

Once you have identified them, the next step is to get them on board. This means dealing with them directly rather than wasting your breath arguing in a committee…

Avoid Committees, Talk to Individuals Link

The committee is the scourge of larger organizations. They stifle anything but the most conservative of ideas, they move slowly, and they undermine decisive action. Unfortunately, committees are here to stay, and there is little point to fighting them. But there is more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to run a committee. In fact, you can use one of the committee’s greatest weaknesses to your advantage.

One reason committees are so slow is because getting everyone in a room to make a decision is hard. In our case, this is a good thing. Instead of meeting the committee as a group, start meeting its members individually. Some of these meetings can be over the phone or quick chats. But with the key influencers, take the time to sit down face to face and properly discuss the project.

Meeting with committee members individually has two advantages.

First, it puts you in control. Losing control in a committee meeting is easy because members are changing your project on the fly. Design projects in particular suffer from this, with committee members making design changes as they will. But it happens in other types of projects, too.

Meeting with committee members individually prevents this, and you have the added advantage of being the only person with all the feedback and opinions. This puts you in control.

Secondly, it limits ego. In meetings, people become conscious of their position in the group. Some dominate either because they are more senior or simply because they like to talk the most. Others feel the need to defend their corner in some departmental feud. Still others feel they have not had their say and walk away feeling frustrated. Meeting with people individually prevents this kind of group dynamic.

While avoiding committee meetings is hugely beneficial, I am not suggesting that you not include stakeholders in the project’s process. In fact, collaboration is essential to a project’s success.

Collaborate Rather Than Seek Approval Link

Shutting out others from the decision-making process is tempting. This is a huge mistake.

The client locked behind bars
The client locked behind bars.

I am a big believer in collaborating with stakeholders and internal clients. By collaborating during a project, you change the dynamic of the relationships.

The problem with communicating with stakeholders only when you need their approval is that they feel no sense of ownership over the project. At best, they feel like an outside observer; at worse, they feel ignored. If you include them in the project as much as possible, then they feel engaged and have a sense of ownership. Then they are much less likely to reject project decisions.

Take the signing off of design concepts. Traditionally, this takes the form of a big presentation in which the design is shown to clients for the first time. This approach is flawed, because the client has not been involved in the production of that design. Consequently, they feel excluded from the process and disconnected from the design, leading them almost certainly to request changes in an attempt to regain control and feel engaged.

At our company, we take a different approach. We include the client in the process as much as possible. We discuss sources of inspiration, show them mood boards and sketch out wireframes with them. By the time they see the final design, they feel that it is as much theirs as ours. There are no surprises, and they are much less likely to reject it.

Taking them through this process has the added benefit of educating them about good design. This significantly improves the quality of any feedback they give. And getting the right kind of feedback is vital.

Control the Feedback Link

Whether you are showing stakeholders a design or asking for feedback on a proposed project, the way you handle responses is critical.

Clients with no mouths are asked for their feedback
Clients with no mouths are asked for their feedback.

Again, design is a good example of this problem. Too often Web designers send out a design for approval via email with the question, “What do you think?” Never ask anyone “What do you think?” It frames the feedback in entirely the wrong way.

“What do you think?” focuses the reviewer on their personal opinion. It inevitably leads to feedback like, “I don’t like the color.” As any designer will tell you, comments like this are useless. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether the stakeholder dislikes the color, as long as the user likes it. Moreover, you have no insight into why the color might be a problem.

Whether you want sign-off on a design or approval for an element, direct stakeholders away from personal opinion and towards relevant questions like, “What will the user think?” or “Does this meet our business objectives?”

For sign-offs, I regularly ask stakeholders the following questions:

  • Does this design meet your business objectives?
  • Does the design reflect your brand and website identity?
  • Does the design align with the mood boards we developed together?
  • Does the design reflect the wireframes we agreed upon?
  • Will this design appeal to our target audience?

This will go some of the way toward focusing stakeholders on the right issues. However, the odd individual will still come back with comments like, “Can you make the logo bigger?” or “Change the blue to pink.” With a little forethought, you can avoid this problem, too.

Focus on Problems, Not Solutions Link

Whenever we kick off a project with a client who has to sign off on work, we start by defining the role we would like them to play. Instinctively, people try to find solutions to the problems they perceive. Instead of explaining the problem, they make comments like, “Can you change the blue to pink?” But this gives you no insight into the underlying problem they see, which means you cannot suggest an alternative or even better solution.

Encourage clients, then, to articulate the problem rather than the solution. Instead of making do with “Change the color to pink,” move them towards, “We’re worried our pre-teen target audience won’t like the color scheme.” Once you understand the problem, you can suggest alternatives, like adding unicorns or puppies!

The desire to suggest solutions is so strong that people quickly fall back into the bad habit. But because you have addressed this behavior up front, reminding them of it and asking what the underlying problem is becomes easy.

Another tactic is to constantly ask why. This question has two benefits. First, it gets people to articulate the underlying problem. Secondly, it gets people to really think through their thoughts rather than give gut reactions.

Gathering good feedback and focusing stakeholders on what matters are important components in the process of delivering a project. Even the most supportive of clients, though, can delay a project when you allow them to move the goal posts.

Delivering In Scope And On Time Link

In my experience of working and speaking with in-house teams, scope creep is a serious problem. What starts as a relatively simple project quickly escalates into something much more complex and not necessarily better.

The Web designer was unhappy about the client moving the goalposts.
The Web designer was unhappy about the client moving the goalposts.

This happens for several reasons. First, the higher the number of stakeholders who are consulted, the more new ideas and requirements are introduced. This is especially true when it comes to integration. Unsurprisingly, large organizations want their departments to speak to one another. But this too often leads to dependencies that slow projects down or halt them entirely.

The second reason is simply that the client cannot think of everything they need in advance. As they become increasingly involved in the project, they see more that can be done. This is understandable. Your internal clients will not be as experienced as you in working on Web projects and so cannot be expected to think of everything up front.

The final reason is that, from their perspective, the consequences of scope creep are minor. The client probably isn’t paying for your time and is not responsible for doing the work. They have nothing to lose from adding more complexity to the project.

You, on the other hand, have a lot to lose. Scope creep leads to delays, which makes resourcing for other projects nearly impossible. It also leads to overly complex websites that are hard to use and tricky to maintain.

You can use a number of techniques to limit scope creep without constantly saying no to stakeholders. The obvious one is to cross-charge. Clients are much less likely to request additional work if they know it will cost money. While this technique definitely works, it can appear a little callous and so should be used only as a last resort.

The best method is to establish a structure within which to work.

Work Within a Structure Link

Structure is useful for setting client expectations. It establishes boundaries up front that all parties have to work within. A key tool for setting boundaries is a statement of work. This document outlines all of the work to be completed and breaks down the tasks and timeframes. This is the blueprint for the project.

The benefit of this document is that it makes it clear from the outset what is within scope and what is not. The client will often fail to clearly communicate some aspect of the project, and this will get picked up if it has not appeared in the statement of work.

The statement of work also sets expectations for how the relationship will operate. It puts you in control and makes clear that the scope is fixed and cannot easily be changed. By outlining timeframes and milestones both for yourself and the client, you reduce the likelihood of slippages. But outlining timeframes and milestones in the statement of work is not enough. You also need to establish the consequences of not meeting these deadlines.

For example, many clients believe that if they deliver content three days late, then the project will slip only by three days. For you, though, this delay affects other work that you have scheduled to follow this project. It is important that they understand that, given your other commitments, even the smallest delay could push the project back weeks.

The same holds true for scope creep. Adding complexity delays the project’s completion and thus affects other projects. The problem is that exercising this discipline can make the client feel constrained and perceive you once again as the road block. So, wield this weapon carefully. I soften the blow by talking about phased development.

Talk About Phasing Development Link

The last thing you want to do is crush your client’s enthusiasm for a new idea they’ve come up with. As I said earlier, you want to remain upbeat and positive. Instead of pointing them to the statement of work to show that their idea is out of scope, enthuse with them about the idea. Discuss it together and outline roughly how it would work. But then point out that implementing it now would impede the project’s development, but that it could be implemented as part of a second phase.

You will find that most internal clients and stakeholders do not really grasp the dynamic aspects of the Web. They perceive the Web like print, that once the website goes live it cannot be changed. We know this is not the case; one of the huge benefits of the Web is that it can be changed incrementally.

Get the client to think about the Web project as being rolled out in phases. Launching everything together is unwise for two reasons. First, users do not respond well to sudden dramatic changes to a website (see the Facebook redesign as an example). Secondly, you can never be sure that the functionality they are proposing is what users really want. By rolling out a smaller website, you give users a better chance to interact with it and provide feedback on any functionality they feel is missing.

Finally, phased development limits complexity. With complexity comes a greater risk of something going wrong or the project being delayed. Phased development allows you to test more manageable components and so be confident in what you are delivering.

Conclusions Link

No doubt, in-house teams face enormous challenges. But hopefully this post has demonstrated that overcoming these challenges by carefully handling internal stakeholders and your own department’s image is possible.

I am not claiming that what I have presented here is in any way a magic bullet. You will still meet individuals who refuse to cooperate or who throw their weight around. But by using these techniques, you should at least be able to lessen the load and start enjoying managing your website again. After all, nurturing a website over the long term is a job that many in agency positions, including me, envy. If only you would overcome the bureaucracy.

All images have been kindly supplied by Shuttershock.com6


You may be interested in the following related posts:

Footnotes Link

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  7. 7
  8. 8
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Paul Boag is the author of The User Experience Revolution and a leader in digital strategy with over 20 years experience. Through consultancy, speaking, writing, training and mentoring he passionately promotes digital best practice.

  1. 1

    The first half of your article is my work life in a nut shell.

    • 2

      Then you should think twice, don’t waste your rare life time and switch the company or where ever you’re working.

      I had to work in similar conditions for 2n’ahalf years and now I’m a Freelancer. As I worked there, I had regular working times and a regular payment every month. But the bureaucracy drove me CRAZY.

      Now it’s more work, it’s more stressfull, but believe me, it’s positive stress, it’s such an improvement I never thought of being possible. If you just give your best it wont be that hard getting orders. Just do it.

  2. 3

    Brilliant, if I wasn’t dealing with so much “Endless scope creep” from my “Problem people” I think I’d have read the article twice.

  3. 4

    Nice one, I think you forgot to mention the case when complex IT projects require an owner within the “IT crowd” and nobody’s willing to take the role :)

  4. 5

    Haha, I lol’d @those dry image subcaptions!

  5. 6

    Im pretty depressed and unloved at work…

    • 7

      Tachyon Feathertail

      September 6, 2010 9:15 am

      This is the reason why all of the obvious advice in the article isn’t so obvious, I think. People act in the ways it describes because they’re being devalued and dehumanized.

  6. 8

    Fantastic, I’ve been waiting for an article like this for a while. I work for a web team inside a large publishing company, I could cite many examples of “insurmountable challenges” myself!
    Still, that said, I am glad to be dealing with this kind of thing early on in my career and I genuinely think I’m learning some valuable lessons as a result. However, there are some great tips in here which I shall share with the rest of my team.
    Also, love the dead-pan image captions, loking forward to part two…

  7. 9

    Excellent article. So much truth and accuracy! Summarises my work life in words exactly. Might have to work on the ideas in the second half of the article…

  8. 10

    Really great article! You know how we feel and you have a cure for our problems. Some of your ideas are also applicable to a freelancer – business customer relationship.

  9. 11

    Hah! Describes my work place almost perfectly!

  10. 12

    Wow, reading this article was like reading my horoscope. Well, if horoscopes were ever actually accurate :)

    I have worked in house for two enterprise companies and the points your raised ring true in both. Especially when you talk about how internal web dev’s opinions don’t seem to count. I found it more than a little frustrating to have my suggested ignored (even laughed at!). Only for an external agency to come in and pitch the same ideas and get immediate buy in!

    Cant wait for part two…

  11. 13

    Great Article!

    “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, that´s so true and you can come a long way with this approach, but unfortunately not so easy to adopt in practice.

  12. 14

    Nice article. This article will helps those who are working in inhouse teams. Like me.

    Waiting for second part.

  13. 15

    Oooooh my – you have just described the company I used to work for. I should e-mail this on to them…

  14. 16

    I work on the web team at a newspaper… and this article sounds exactly like how the newsroom operates.

  15. 17

    Nail == totally smacked on head

  16. 18

    Man! This article it’s so true… i work in the communications departament of a government bureau in my country and it’s the exact same thing. As you can imagine, politics rule all and Departament feudalism it’s a pain in the ass.

    After a year of struccling and adjustements, i think i finally reached some point of “stability” between de evil forces and my work it’s a little more pleasent.

    Waiting for the second part. Great article.

  17. 19

    Very good article. It mirrors many problems of the company I’am working for.

  18. 20

    Our Web Redesign took Three Months to be approved…

    • 21

      We planned our redesign for 13 months… Higher ups changed scope after planning and we ended up redesigning one page in 7 weeks.

  19. 22

    pretty accurately sums up the lot of an in-house web developer..

  20. 23

    Very useful tips on a meeting i’ve today. Many thanks!

  21. 24

    Beautiful article! Thkz very much!

  22. 25

    It’s not just large companies, it’s small companies too.

    Where I work, I’m the only one who understands HTML, but have a coworker who believes she’s an expert on anything she gets involved in. She’s wanted to put a shopping cart on our company site but has no idea what’s involved but she knows she wants it and since she wants it she can’t understand why it just doesn’t happen.

    She also bitches about the website but has never offered any input in to the design of the site yet again she’s an expert.

  23. 26

    I’ve encountered this not only in my current line of work but many previous and unless your the type of person that can influence change it will persist.

    Fortunately I know of no bigger motivation to change something than when I hear someone say “thats how we’ve always done it”

    There is always a better way (as described by Paul) it just takes someone with the balls to show them how and equally the shoulders to take it if the doubting Thomas’s where right (They’ve never been right in my experience).

  24. 27

    I’ve encountered this not only in my current line of work but many previous and unless your the type of person that can influence change it will persist.

    Fortunately I know of no bigger motivation to change something than when I hear someone say “thats how we’ve always done it”.

    There is always a better way (as described by Paul) it just takes someone with the balls to show them how and equally the shoulders to take it if the doubting Thomas’s where right (They’ve never been right in my experience).

  25. 28

    Awesome outline of some very recognizable problems!

    It’s not easy putting obstacles that people usually only ‘feel’ as being a problem into words. But you sir, are spot on here! On top of that (Oh my!) you also gave some excellent guidelines on how to deal with them!

    Besides, it is not only useful for in-house web developers. When placed into another context it is also highly applicable to departments in different branches that suffer from the same distorted perception of them!

    I consider this top level management insights!

    Looking forward to reading part two!

    Greetings from Holland!

  26. 29

    “Most internal Web teams are terrible at selling themselves. If they were a Web agency, they would be out of business in a few weeks. Perhaps that is their reason for working in-house.”

    My reason for working in house in quite the opposite actually; I thrive in a fast-paced commercial environment and enjoy the challenge of helping to run a successful and aggressive website. The online marketing team I work with are web-savvy enough to understand my technical language without losing sight of their marketing objectives, and prefer to harness the benefits of website ‘restrctions’ such as SEO advantages to using HTML text rather then image based text.

    I freelanced for years before moving in-house, and in agencies I’ve seen many of the drawbacks mentioned in your article on a much grander scale than in my current employment situation.

    And for all of the people commenting on this to mention how it reflects their current position, here’s some free advice: If you don’t like it, leave; otherwise, spend less time whining about it, and more time selling yourself and making the most of what you have got. To get all metaphorical, a career is like a fire, you can moan that it’s not warm enough, or you can invest some time growing it and making everyone warm, but if you just can’t get it to light, build a new one elsewhere.

  27. 30

    I wish you had written this like 6 months ago, would have helped me so much! Before my current job (in a massive publishing house – I am the in-house web guy) I worked at a small web agency, while the pay was dismal the fact I was working on something different each week was wonderful. I was then head hunted into my current position and although the salary is incredible, the work is infrequent and dull. Needless to say this has caused much frustration on my part (added to the fact the head of my department and I don’t see eye to eye on anything and we both know it). Anyway, I will definitely take what you have put in your article and put it to use.

    Excellent article – can’t wait for the 2nd part.

  28. 31

    and there lies the true story. awesome article btw!

  29. 32

    haha, so many truths in one small article! I’ve found working as a BA with DubLi has really taken the sting out of so many of these issues, though – but even so I continue with my regular work so it’s not a thing of the past – yet!

  30. 33

    That’s really useful, thanks for the article. I can use your advices in my non-profit association, where it can be REALLY difficult to deal with people at times an communicate effectively.

    Thanks again !

  31. 34

    This article came at an interesting point in my work life. I have been battling the idea of putting in my two and going elsewhere. This article has definitely solidified my choice to leave, and given me wonderful insight into how to approach my next job.

    I am the in-house web guy for a large cosmetology institute, they have put me through some bizarre, downright frustrating situations, including outsourcing some of the design work I do to a third party, that third party was the woman I replaced. I ENDED UP HAVING TO REDO THE OUTSOURCED WORK, because she still wasn’t doing it right.

    Can’t wait for the second half!

  32. 35

    This is all so true. My current situation is similar. Very stressful, especially when you’re the one with all the knowledge yet your opinion isn’t valued. Fortunately I’ve already made the decision to leave, so the weight has been lifted. The time can’t come soon enough! Thanks for the article.

  33. 36

    *tear* I finally feel understood and empowered

  34. 37

    Office Politics was the reason that I ended up blogging about it on my own site. However, this is a much different take which I really appreciate. You discussed the major bureaucratic issues and gave excellent resolutions.

    One thing I didn’t see you mention, which would be nice, is the issue with marketing vs. IT. I’ve lived on both sides of that fence, and believe me, both sides need mending.

  35. 38

    Luckily for me and my fellow developers, I think this company is in a phase of change and I can see them being a lot more open to our suggestions and learning as opposed to us just being coding monkeys following orders since I’ve started here a few months ago.

    I’m definitely not one to let a job wear me down, though. If ever I feel undervalued, I will leave. Already had 1 job like that, it’s just not worth it. Especially when you sure as hell aren’t being paid enough.

    • 39

      I do also intend on sending this article around and seeing if some other developers want to pitch in on some of those techniques for improving communications. Not only do our issues lie within just the head honchos, but the designers who hand us project and the programmers who systematically destroy the page layout (lol).

  36. 40

    Yup. You’ve worked for a big company alright…

    Incredibly insightful, I’ll be punting this around my team and already looking forward to part 2. Great work.

  37. 41

    Very interesting article…very practical and real illustration.

  38. 42

    its very much true and the solution you pointed out is great too. Being a web designer from a last 8 years i faced this problems a number of time. what happened sometimes is your creativity and skills are suppressed under some non-creative and copy cat people. Any ways great article thank you very much Paul

  39. 43

    Brilliant article, thanks so much! Can’t wait for Part II!

  40. 44

    I was software developer in my company and all was cool and then I became web-designer here and my life became this hell. Is there a point to try what recommend when you anyway have to quit.

  41. 45

    Why am I getting this error in all browsers except IE when viewing this article?
    > HTTP/1.1 504 Gateway Timeout

    • 46

      Oh, that’s easy. Because IE is the beast when it comes to browsers. Crème de la crème baby, lolz

  42. 47

    Emanuel Fernandes

    September 9, 2010 1:37 am

    This is a very insightful and realistic article. I’ve been in a similar situation, then I changed department and things are changing a bit. All of those problems are even difficult to deal with, when you are alone in the department trying to call attention for those situations, as happened to me.

    What I’ve painfully learned is that, we will never change stuff the way we want, and is just better not to give much importance to it. Just be a diplomat, try to change some stuff, but don’t expect to change the world, as you cannot. And don’t care much about your position. Make your informed advices, and if it works great, otherwise, let it be. You’ll have more chances in the future :)

    There are more important things in life than design and getting annoyed by your work….

    • 48

      Stop caring. I’ve heard that before. Spend two weeks of 12 hour days, but don’t get annoyed. Right.

      Someone has a job, not a career.

    • 49

      True this is one approach that has worked for me when i feel like i’m being stepped on or just plain ignored i disconnect myself from the process then when i feel better i charge back in.

  43. 50

    “Of course, they are paying as much (if not more) for their internal Web team” – This statement doesn’t apply to Nokia globally. Being working here as a regional manager for OVI Music store for several years I get paid less than what the cleaners get paid in the office. Large companies know that you need a good record in the resume and they will use that. And yes, often my job involves working after hours and on weekends, I don’t get paid anything extra for that. My co-workers get the same money you would get for working at McDonalds.

  44. 51

    Spot on! I remember when we launched our company website a couple of years ago. As the only one working in the web department at that time I was bullied by the CEO, marketing guys, the economy department and various people in the organization who all would like to express their needs.

    I ended up doing 109(!) design proposals for the website before we settled for something that management would approve. You can imagine the cost of having the top people within an organisation spending hundreds of hours trying to be web designers.

    One of the worst proposals I heard from management was “Couldn’t we have like a runestone [] in the upper left corner. We work with translations, so this would be nice to have.”. Looking back at it makes me laugh. :D

    Our website is really, really bad by the way. Not thank’s to me. And yes, I’m thinking of leaving this company and start freelancing…

  45. 52

    No wonder freelancing is so popular. Eek!

  46. 53

    To alleviate the position of the team, we’ve opted to put a buffer (myself and our project manager) between IT and all the departments. All change requests go through us and we sort based on immediacy and projected ROI for a given request. Of course, the requester has to quantify this.

    There is to be no direct e-mail contact between the departments and IT, reducing stress there, and the (not so) odd aggravated response. We’ve been serious with all heads of department that they would honor that agreement and thus far they have (mostly).

    Meanwhile this arrangement allows us to see the bigger picture and combine change requests that would benefit multiple departments or see where they would bite each other. This is much more desirable than a back and forth every few months where department A wants the word X to be used for all instances of n, and then department B wants the word Y to be used. Next quarter, rinse and repeat. This also gives us a canned-response repository on evergreen questions and demands.

    Our new challenge, between handling disappointing people who ALL think they have priority, lobbying for our favor or trying to go over our heads, is applying Block-Fu on stupid change requests swiftly and stopping people from A) Signaling a problem (great) B)Suggesting a very unworkable solution creating more problems (not so great) to that and expecting us to implement B as to their exact specifications. We actually employ people who can THINK about the best solution (hint: it’s not you)

    I’m trying to cheer-lead and evangelize that the people in IT have actual skills in their field and let them work their magic as they see fit, and that they are NOT actually remote-controlled keyboards. Since I also do Webanalytics my trump card is a nice graph showing “Sure, director, we can do it your way, but the A/B test showed that will cost you $70K a month. How do you want us to proceed?”.

    It’s not perfect by all means, but it’s the best solution for our situation at the moment.

  47. 54

    Wonderful article.

    I work at and lead the web marketing strategies of a decentralized, non-profit, academic medical center. A trifecta for web communications gone wild.

    Most compelling is your point about empathy. Politics at large organizations don’t affect just web professionals. Imagine being a well respected attorney at a private practice and taking a job in the office of general counsel at a large org? Both legal and marketing are seen as cost centers — not revenue centers — thus amplifying the feeling of being taken for granted (the Kinko’s copy shop syndrome) and creating the “us vs. them” mindset.

    Truly understanding your clients’ worldview and empathizing with them is the key to success in these types of organizations.

    A great proverb for the dilemma we face as web designers:

    “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

  48. 55

    I think you nailed it very accurately.

    I pretty much try to go through the approaches you are mentioning here. I’m fortunate enough to work with great people in all departments of the company I work for. However, due to how busy people are already with their schedules, I’m finding quite hard to come up with an approach where I can help them and educate them on my field and trying to reach them and failing is a bit frustrating. I haven’t drop my guard, and I’m finding interesting the possibilities and scope that solving these communication issues entail.

  49. 56

    It’s a good idea to send those “jerks” in your company this article. They will have a chance to understand how tough it is to be a designer and hope that they will be “better jerks”.

  50. 57

    wow Paul you worked for ONE company for 3 WHOLE years as an in-house designer? Gee I guess that makes you an expert. I’ve worked for four in-house, and worked for 3 consulting companies as well. I can tell you I’ll never do consulting again as design by commitee there is much worse. The type-A OCD consultant crowd trying to out-genius each other in these environments invariably produces crap. Ill never work through a consulting firm, OR as an in-house perm employee again – they both suck. My advice for anyone listening is 6-month to 2-year contracts directly with the client company (not thru a consulting firm, but thru a contracting firm) You’ll be perceived as being more in-house by the client, and not have to run every idea by the entire consulting firm. More freedom of creativity, and also the short contracts let you get the heck out of there and not deal with maintenance work.

  51. 58

    Very interesting and useful article. thank you so much

  52. 59

    This whole article is so true judging from my experience

  53. 60

    This is exactly what happening to me. I’m the only one that works on the website and graphic design and trying to explain to all the department heads everything and everytime is a pain. If i have an initiative to do something new or different so many people have a say in it it always ends up in square one. I have been trying to apply all the advice in the article we’ll see what happens. What worries me is that i really don’t want to change jobs my resume is plagued with 1 1/2 years jobs which i have eliminated the one i have lasted the most was 31/2 years. I’m trying to see this as an opportunity to hone other skills as (Patience and how to more effectively manage morons HAHAHA). Before this job i had been freelancing for close to 4 years but the economy got so bad that i had to get a fulltime job.

  54. 61

    Wow, I thought you were writing about my current work place. This article really answered a lot of questions for me, because I couldn’t figure out why things are the way they are. Another thing to add is that outside agencies are taken more seriously than in house departments. Even though most of us have agency experience, plus the fact that we are cheaper, faster, get less time on projects and in most instances produce superior design work, but we are never taken as seriously as the agencies. Even when we fix the agency coding and copy mistakes, it doesn’t usually matter. Although we have had our victories, we actually got one of the agencies fired, because we kept kicking their error riddled files back to them, which caused them to go live late. This was one of the few times they actually listened to us, when we have them by the balls!

    Not all places are like this. One major company I worked at, we had to do everything in house. We pretty much had creative control and were able to say no to silly projects. This created a better work environment, gave us more time on projects and we were taken seriously.

    My current company is a competitor of my above company. We are an in house agency and we have to compete with outside agencies. Our departments are like clients, and it is a complete nightmare. The biggest problem is that out bosses hardly back us up when we do try and push back. It’s almost like they don’t want to upset the cart, because they are focused on moving up and don’t want to make enemies. We have some really high end brands, and it breaks my heart, because some of our marketing people seem intent on destroying them. It’s everything you said in your article and more. I have tried many of your suggestions and am exhausted. I am actively searching for a way out and will hopefully jump ship soon.

  55. 62

    very interesting article. thank u very much :)


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