The bigger the digital project, the more common it is to have multiple teams from different companies working together. In this article, UX Designer Tiina Viljakainen shares her experiences with such situations – using the work we did for Suomen Kuvalehti as an example.
Digital projects can be complex beasts. It is easy to see the appeal of having more than just one team for a project. Different companies have different talents and competence and this can benefit the client significantly. However, the bigger pool of talent and competence can also lead to a silo mentality and difficulties in project management. Everyday communication might get convoluted, delegating tasks unclear and the agile approach forgotten.
At Taiste, we've been working on many projects where several companies and multidisciplinary teams cooperate. During these experiences, we have learnt a thing or two about what makes them go smoothly. Here are some of them:
Get everyone at the same table. In a team of multiple companies, it is important to join forces right away: gather all the information, knowledge, ideas and passion for different areas of expertise – and blend it into one clear vision and shared goals.
Decide on where the discussions will happen. Projects nowadays have at least one communication channel, but is it the one that everyone uses regularly? It's essential to make sure that everyone knows where the online discussions should take place and then stick to that tool to avoid chaos.
Communication is not just a channel – it's a skill. Listen to others and seek to understand where they are coming from. Different perspectives from people with different professional backgrounds are necessary and add depth to the work. Take pride in what you do, and let others do the same: They are specialists in their own fields. Join the arranged meetings, comment and share your knowledge. If you are not able to do these things for a project, delegate and/or take time to share your input in some format. This will help everyone, including yourself, to do their best work.
Different perspectives from people with different professional backgrounds are necessary and add depth to the work.
Trust the process - and the roadmap! Every project has moments when people question whether everything is on the right track. But being consistent with the work will eventually get you there. It is much easier to rest easy if you have a carefully planned roadmap and a schedule.
Atmosphere matters. Creating a good and relaxed atmosphere is paramount. Make sure everyone feels safe to speak their mind, ask questions and make mistakes. This also helps lower the threshold of communication – essential when people work in different physical locations and for different employers.
One of our projects that was exceptionally successful from a multi-disciplinary standpoint was the new online experience we created for Suomen Kuvalehti, one of the most highly regarded magazines in Finland. Publishing high-quality journalism every week, the magazine has a long history of over 105 years.
It's always a bit uncomfortable for a Finnish person to claim they have succeeded in something, but luckily this is something that multiple teams make easier – I can just compliment our partners!
In the project, we were responsible for designing the service and its UX & UI, as well as partaking in qualitative research. The other operators were Digitalist, which was in charge of quantitative research and building a large tester pool, and Aste, managing the technological solutions. And last but not least, we had professionals from the client's side: editors from Suomen Kuvalehti and operational people from the publishing house Otavamedia. And to add to the challenge, the project took place during Covid times – everything had to be done remotely.
It's always a bit uncomfortable for a Finnish person to claim they have succeeded in something, but luckily this is something that multiple teams make easier – I can just compliment our partners! They excelled in all things mentioned previously: taking care of the communication channels and meetings, and sharing knowledge and skills in a nice and respectful atmosphere. This resulted in the project being completed on schedule and meeting its goals. Moreover, at each stage we held on to the philosophy of putting the client first, always making decisions based on what would be most beneficial for them.
This kind of project (especially in full remote working mode!) demands a lot from everyone, making the client's role essential. Here are some things that Otavamedia and Suomen Kuvalehti did right:
• There was a clear Product Owner who worked in the team and was able to make decisions or direct them to the right people quickly.
• The internal team had different skills and clear responsibilities. This way, everyone didn't have to take part in each and every phase of the project. Rather, their expertise was used effectively.
• The client took part in and enabled low-threshold communication. If a task seemed to not be the best use of our time, it was easy to bring it up and save the hours for more productive work.
• They delivered things as promised (Editors are great with deadlines!).
• They were proactive and took part in workshops. For example, as we were working with the content hierarchy, it was helpful to have the actual editors there with us.
• Even with a fair amount of challenging consultant work, the project was free of micro-managing. For this to be the case in projects with multiple teams, a high amount of trust needs to be established so that everyone can focus on what's important.
With careful planning, adept project management and a philosophy of close cooperation, multiple teams can create even more meaningful and valuable results than a single one could. I hope to get to participate in more projects like this in the future and hope this blog post has offered you some pointers for any similar journeys you might have in your professional life. The bigger the number of cooks, the more it matters that they all have a similar soup in mind and are aware if someone else has already added the salt.