For all the indispensible digital producers, developers, architects and everyone else who make the web happen.

For the late nights and the early mornings.

For the team players and arse-kickers. For the creatives, for the techies, for the bring-it-all-togethers.

For the go-live, for the can-do.

For the heroes.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pitching ideas effectively

I'm not a huge fan of buzzwordy acronyms - they were done to death by the middle management of the mid-naughties and we're still suffering a bit of a hangover.

PDCA is just common sense - though possibly not to everybody(!) and the concept of 'SMART objectives' is undoubtedly valid, but I'd question its use as a mnemonic. More than once have I sat in a meeting (or a pub!) with colleagues trying desperately to remember what each of the letters stands for.

Anyway, I don't go dishing out managementy initialisms willy-nilly, but as it happens there is one principle that I tend to stick to. (There I go again, completely contradicting myself).

It applies specifically to those crucial moments in your career when you're pitching an idea and have only limited time to convince people that you've come up with something special and they'd like to come on the journey with you.

Less importantly, the letters are SSS: Simplicity, Superiority and Sustainability.

During my career I've led on projects where I've had a clear vision of what needed to be achieved and a good idea of the best way of achieving it.

But ideas existing in my mind alone aren't worth the synapses they're fused within. I've also had to convince senior stakeholders of the merits of the idea.

These have included not just the standard boardrooms full of suited directors, but also tricky customers like senior Police Officers and NATO star-ranked Military personnel - often highly skeptical, sometimes cynical people who take a lot of convincing.

Being able to sell an idea isn't enough - the idea itself has to be just as good as the pitching. And that's where SSS comes in. (See, I'm sounding like a super-size serving of salesman-spiel already.)

Something else to think about: Pitching isn't always just about pitching upwards to your directors or outwards to companies whose business you're looking to win.

It's also about getting your team on side - don't arrogantly assume that everyone will blithely follow you into battle just because you're their manager. Pitching ideas to your team is important because you want everybody to buy into the idea, and you want them to feed into the concept and improve it.

And, yes, sometimes someone in your team will have an even better idea than yours. Get over it.

So, onto the Triple-S.


Don't make the mistake of pitching an idea that is any more complicated than it needs to be. Put Occam's Razor into action and keep it simple.

This has two main advantages (and countless supplementary ones).

Firstly, people are often suspicious of things they feel they don't understand or if they feel something is being presented in a complicated fashion so as to pull the wool over their eyes somehow.

And secondly, many folks - often entirely correctly - conclude that the more complex something is, the more scope there is for something to go wrong.

So present the base concept as simply and lucidly as possible. By all means go as deep into the detail as you have to if somebody asks a specific question, but otherwise, stick to the fundamentals.



It's a loaded word with somewhat negative connotations, so I woudn't recommend using the term 'superior' in a pitch, but superiority in its purest sense is what we're really driving at here - being quantifiably better than the alternatives.

(And it's not like you'll be exposing the Triple-S philosophy in your pitch, so you won't be spreading the negativity of this S-word.)

No matter how slick your presentation style, you'll eventually come unstuck if the idea you're pitching is not fundamentally sound. To make a compelling case, the idea needs to be better than the alternatives (and the alternatives include maintaining the status quo - change for changes sake isn't a reason in itself).

If you're in a silo, get the hell out and look around as far as you can see. Refining an idea, and the way in which you're going to pitch it, involves weighing up as many other options as possible.

(This, of course, brings us back to the importance of pitching within your team before you unleash it upwards and outwards.)



Having a great idea and being able to sell it in the heat of the moment when the adrenaline is pumping is fantastic. No, really, go you!

But you'll almost certainly need a longer-term, both to convince all but the most excitable and impressionable audiences and for your own credibility.

I'm sure there are some very convincing salespeople out there in the technology wholesale business who managed to shift non-HD LCD TVs even as they were becoming obselete, but their reputations with the retailers they managed to hoodwink would have swiftly eroded, and few would have bought technology from them again. Once bitten...

And so it's better to think through your ideas and how they fit into the future so you can be completely honest about it when you pitch.

Yes, some solutions are only for the short-term. That's fine, if that's the requirement. Go ahead and pitch them as such. But don't try to fool someone that your not-easily-upgradable Drupal 6 solution is going to last for years when version 7 is already out and 8 is in the pipeline.

Instead look for opportunities to be flexible and future-proof and highlight these when you pitch, along with the ways in which this can save the customer money. It'll likely add to your overall credibility.


And so, there we have the SSS philosophy for pitching ideas. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A plea to Google

Whatever you do, don't look at the source!!!

(Cue for everybody to go and look at the source, obviously.)

It shouldn't be this way, but I get awfully worried about potential employers, employees, clients, partners etc. looking at the source of my blogs and coming to some dodgy conclusions.

Specifically, I'm worried that somebody somewhere will think that I can't even author basic HTML and have no regard for semantic, standards-compliant markup. (Which in truth is something I care passionately about).

Time to blame the tools

It's not my fault - the HTML rendered by Google Blogger is absolutely appalling!

Don't get me wrong, Google have done many great things for us, but the WYSIWYG interface for blogger creates shocking code. Especially if you're pasting in text from Word.

I know you can go straight into an HTML editor, but the problem is that all your good work gets undone, almost immediately, without your permission as soon as you switch it back to WYSIWYG (and sometimes even if you don't!)

And this is truly worst-of-breed stuff.

In an interesting discussion on the Web Standards Group on LinkedIn, I recently wrote:

"Standards in hand-coding have never been better. The problem is that so much content these days is created using in-browser WYSIWYG editors that suck horribly and generate appalling, unsemantic and often invalid HTML.

Not all CMSs are bad, but every CMS that fails to implement a good quality editor and parser contributes to this problem. Consequently, we're heading backwards.

Google's Blogger tool, for example, is used by millions. But it's horrible. The bloated, meaningless HTML it creates is like MS FrontPage from 1998. Even if you do it perfectly in HTML mode, any further changes in the WYSIWYG editor can reintroduce non-semantic markup.

Us experts know how to mark up semantically. What the industry needs is tools so that 'normal' folk can produce it without thinking about it."

Google are giving us the exact opposite though. Completely against their 'don't be evil' ethos.
 Even the rightly disparaged and discontinued Adobe Contribute (which I had the misfortune to have to use a few years back) had the facility for locking off hand-coded sections so that machines couldn't tinker with it.

But Google goes right ahead, taking out the semantic XHTML or HTML5 and replacing it with all manner of bloaty <span>s and <div>s, inline styles and empty tags that come about just because you have the temerity to delete a line break.

Thank God I only use this for my personal blogs, because I don't consider Blogger fit-for-purpose software for use in a professional context.

On the professional side, I've been using Sitecore for over a year now, and as CMSs go, it has it's plusses and minuses.

But what it does do is respect your markup - and that's a lesson I hope Google learn soon.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The good, the IE6 and the IE6

So, as a mammoth project is fast approaching the money shot.

Soft launch a few weeks back, hard launch next week with military and government bigwigs set to attend the event. What is there to be depressed about?

Well, since we soft-launched, Google Analytics has been the bearer of some fairly distressing news.

Internet Explorer 6.0 46.54%.


See, our site is primarily aimed at a military audience, and the MOD's internal systems, unbelievably still use IE6.

I'll do everything I can to try and persuade them to change their ways.

Meanwhile, here's an article I penned for A List Apart last year. They didn't publish it, but I got an enouraging rejection letter at least.

And the fact that almost 50% of people accessing my site (compared to about 1% of total web users) are still using this 12 year old browser means that, amazingly, it's still relevant.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Launch post

One reason why I haven't spent any time on this blog is because I've been working pretty much flat-out without an extended break at home for many months on end,

Since the Summer my production management skills have been put to the greater good, building a brand new financial capability website for the UK armed services.

A few weeks back we made the decision to put back the launch (which had already been delayed a couple of times nefore I even joined the project team.

Now, I know there are launches, and there are launches. This is the latter - without saying too much about it our hard launch will be awash with very senior military people, government ministers, maybe even the odd Olympic gold-winning celebrity.
Now I know it's always frustrating when launch dates shift. If you're working on the customer side it messes up your plans to move on to other projects, and if you're a hired hand you might have been lining up your next contract or planning a holiday and now have to re-plan everything.

And an inevitability of delay is that you'll have to live through the original launch day, perhaps thinking 'hmm, we were supposed to be going live right about now'.

But I will say this:

In my 15 years in the digital industry I've worked on many projects where the launch day changed and never once has there been a time where we've spent that day - the ex-launch day if you will - sitting on our hands wistfully thinking 'I wish we hadn't delayed the launch because we're ready to go now!'.

By contrast, the prevailent emotion is usually one of relief. 'Man, imagine what it would have been like if we'd stuck to the original launch. We'd have been working through the night! The enhancements to the css to improve the display on mobile wouldn't have been ready. Those changes we made to improve the IA would never have happened!' And so on.

So, frustrating though it is when we have to put launches back a few weeks, it almost always feels like it was exactly the right decision to make.

And right decisions are good!