A reader wrote in explaining their problem with the process at work. I’m posting the question and my response here, with permission.
I work for an online marketing company.
My boss (the founder) has a 4-week process for the sites we build:
Week 1) Collect information
Week 2) Build site
Week 3) Get feedback
Week 4) Launch
We use WordPress. He’s big on using themes we get from ThemeForest. He thinks that makes the process go faster. He’s pretty out of the loop. He has no idea how good websites are built. I’m the only one here who has more than a surface understanding of HTML, CSS, JS, and PHP. The other day he started an “Employee/Employer Relationship Evaluation”. He wants me to respond to him about my issues with the timeline, which I’ve voiced many times.
How can I respond to him?
He wants us to make sites in 4 weeks because it makes him money quickly. But it’s a drag to deal with in the long run. Do you have any statistics on how long people usually take to build sites, or how much productivity is lost when developers bite their nails all day long?
Let’s start with some stuff that I’m betting you don’t want to hear.
Your boss has started a company and, it sounds like, has run it at least somewhat successfully for years. He has employees, after all. He’s aware of your gripes with the process, and he specifically wants your feedback.
Kinda sounds like… a good boss.
It sounds like your gripe is that the process is too fast and produces poor websites. I can guess you’re not particularly happy with the work.
Something is at-odds here. We have a couple of missing details. Specifically:
- How’s the business doing?
- How happy are the clients?
If the answers are “Good” and “Very” – I’m afraid you’re the odd man out here. There is nothing inherently wrong about producing a website quickly for a client. If the business is doing well and the clients are happy, I don’t see a big need for change. It doesn’t mean the job is perfect for you, but you gotta admit if it works it works.
If the answers are anything else, it sounds like you could be just the remedy they need. Onto a more positive note!
Say the clients are happy but the business is struggling. Maybe the answer could be charging more money. A longer, more involved process, producing more custom, better websites. Maybe you could guide them there.
Say business is good the but the clients aren’t happy. Clients will become happy if the website you deliver delivers for them. Maybe a longer, more involved process, producing a more custom, better website will do that. Maybe you could guide them there.
If everything is bad… well, you can guess.
The really good news is that it sounds like you are very passionate about this stuff. Pumping out quick sites, as effective (or not) as it may be, doesn’t seem to be doing it for you. If this job doesn’t do it for you, that’s OK. Your passion will take you far. The market is pretty great for people with web skills.
A bit more on the pricing of websites.
Building websites as a business is a huge market. Here’s the kind of scope we’re dealing with:
- Websites that cost millions of dollars and take years and hundreds of people to develop.
- Websites that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars produced over months by a high profile agency.
- Websites that cost tens of thousands of dollars produced by specialized industry-specific agencies.
- Websites that cost a few thousand built by an agency with a 4-week process that delivers slightly customized WordPress themes.
- Websites that cost a 12-pack and a couple of late nights with your buddy who builds them for a living.
- Websites that build other websites for a low monthly fee.
There is lots of money at most of those slices of the market. It’s worth trying to get in on it. It’s absolutely doable. Here’s what you can’t do: serve all of them. You have to specialize. It’s too hard to operate when projects are unpredictable. Unpredictable timelines, unpredictable skillsets needs, unpredictable value, unpredictable billing periods. You make some of those things predictable, and you can operate a business.
This isn’t unique to the web at all. It’s probably more true in other businesses. Hamburger joints sell you hamburgers, not whatever meal you can dream up. Vinyl pressing shops have minimum and maximum runs. Print shops can do certain types of printing at certain scales and do certain bindery tasks. Chick-fil-a’s aren’t open on Sundays (wait, that one is just stupid).
You don’t like working at the burger shop, fine, go work at the four-star joint down the road. But they both deserve to exist.
As for what you tell your boss: honesty is the best policy. Do you have insight into the clients happiness with your work that he might not? Are you unhappy doing what you are doing? Do you have ideas that you think would be smart business moves? Any boss worth his salt wants to know stuff like that and will thank you for telling him.
I think it’s important to note that giving feedback, even well-intended constructive criticism, is an exercise of trust. We’d like to think that the presentation of a cogent, insightful idea will be given attention, respect, and consideration. That kind of idealism, unfortunately, can work against you.
When asked for feedback we’d like to assume that the person asking wants an honest answer. Why wouldn’t they, right? They are your boss and as an employee your feedback should be in the best interest of the company, even if not completely consistent with your boss’s views.
Therein lies the Admiral Ackbar moment. The question posed might be a trap. I’m not saying that we should always second-guess our boss’s intentions. Some want your honest opinion and are annoyed by hesitation. My advice is to take a moment to weigh possible outcomes, risks, and probabilities thereof.
I’ve been asked for feedback many times and unfortunately learned to take that thoughtful moment the hard way. Hopefully your boss really wants to benefit from your expertise. if not, just be ready.
This. I am 46 years old and have been working in tech in the professional world for 20 years. When I had less experience, I often butted heads with my superiors, thinking that I knew how to do their job better than they did. From these statements: “He’s pretty out of the loop. He has no idea how good websites are built” and “which I’ve voiced many times”, it sounds to me like you might think the same. The best advice I ever received in the workplace was simple, my job isn’t to make websites or to write code, my job is to make my boss look good. That is my complete job description.
I would be very careful at this meeting, since he already knows your opinion, I’m not sure what you could offer him that you haven’t said before. Apply to the four star restaurant, if that is where you want to work. In the meantime, be of service to your boss. Good luck.
I found this info graphic a few months ago when I was asking myself a similar question about timeline to design, develop and launch a website. Everyone has their own way of doing things but I find this to be a very useful thing to show certain clients who keep questioning why it takes so long to develop a website.https://www.wyro.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Web-Dev-Timeline-Infographic-V2.png
I agree with Chris here – it sounds like your boss has a system in place that’s working for him. Build quick, template-based sites for a profit. There’s really nothing wrong with that if the clients are happy and getting what they need.
As Chris says, there’s a huge range of web projects out there, and agencies working every level. What you might be coming up against is your desire to do more, which is awesome. You’ve seen what’s possible and you think you can provide a better service.
If you can’t convince your boss to invest more time and energy into project, perhaps it’s time to look around and find another agency who is pushing the envelope a little more. Or maybe do some freelancing and eventually start an agency of your own?
Agree with this. Nothing wrong with templates. Customers typically just want a house for their content. Their content is their product and the site has to present it in an adequate manner, or an exceptional manner.
I like to compare it to house building. People don’t really build houses, they piece them together. They pick up pieces from suppliers (2x4s, 8′ sheets of drywall, standard bricks or siding, standard-sizes of windows) and put it all together from a standard blueprint which is dictated by the requirements and lot size/budget of the person involved.
As unique as people think their house is, it has WAY more in common to their neighbour’s house than they think. More or less, houses are build from a catalogue of parts, despite the number of complexities that they have inside.
Of course there is a market for craftsmen houses, where the roof trusses are exposed and custom-designed, the kitchen is all handmade cabinetry, the windows are special-ordered, and the appliances… well those are still ordered from a catalogue. These houses are VERY expensive.
In the next few years, it’s a worthwhile bet that we will see MORE templates, not less, most web sites will be pieced together and not custom designed and built. Custom-coded sites will always have a place, but as the industry matures, you’re either building the ingredients for the site or you’re making sites for larger companies with unique data needs or specific transactional requirements.
Gary that’s not a template in your apology that’s a framework. Using WordPress templates would be similar to buying a dump truck to drive to work. I mean hey it’s gets you from point a to point b right? But is it ideal?
Analogy* damn it. I can’t edit my comment…
i Agree :)
All the “problem” sounds like “The crisis of middle age”, when you archived everything you need and there is no way to move on. But its not. I always face the same things: dont want quick sites – want perfect portfolio site, so other web devs could say Wow! Nice stuff here. Its like an art: nothing is perfect, till that did someone else – not you.
Unfortunately, I have experienced a few situations where client happiness didn’t necessarily mean much.
I know a few freelancers who do exactly that: buy a theme, customize, setup a website for a low-ish price; and their clients seem happy.
The truth is, when you look at what they got for the money:
– sub-standard HTML/CSS that make their site slow and probably make Google frown a bit
– totally useless gadgets like 5 different social buttons each with their 150+ko of js instead of lighter solutions
These clients are happy because they don’t know better. I am sure most (everybody?) here will agree that keeping your clients happy that way will probably:
1. not make you happy/proud
2. will come back to bite you in the a** either through past clients or future employers
I agree Nour. Chris says if the client is happy and the business is doing well enough then it’s okay to maintain the status quo. However I think it’s more complicated. Of course every situation is different. Chris makes the comparison to a burger joint. Sure, a customer may be satisfied with being served a reasonable looking burger but perhaps you wouldn’t be so happy if you knew that patty had been dropped on the floor or is full of pink slime.
The same can happen with hand rolled code as well.
– bad html, css and js
– not easily extendable
@skube: exactly how I feel.
@wgergreg: yes I agree but still, it’s not the same. In the situation described in the post, the employee might be MADE to put his name on low-quality work. In the situation you describe, the employee work sucks and he has only himself to blame for it. To use the food image that @skube used, would you be happy if you were a chef made to prepare fast food junk?
I was missing this aspect very much.
Quoting from the article:
1. How’s the business doing?
2. How happy are the clients?
If the answers are “Good” and “Very” – I’m afraid you’re the odd man out here.
Unless all the sites in question are only throwaway campaign assets, planned to have no more than – say – two months of lifetime, my opinion would be:
If one’s artificial schedule doesn’t even recognize the technical sides of websites, that in itself sounds scary.
I don’t see how it is possible not to sweep massive amounts of technical debt under the rug in each project.
This technical debt will bite someone sooner or later, e.g. when something needs to be adjusted, customized, but the lack of thought in the arcihtecture proves to be a serious lock.
On top of heaps of technical debt, for some time one may be able to keep up the good looks.
But sooner or later someone will start to get unhappy.
First it’s the developer who has the most survey over the impending doom.
Next it may either be:
the the business owner when they find out that satisfying seemingly basic client needs cost too much as it needs the technical debts to be resolved first,
or the client when they realize some of their requirements cannot be met, or are being unexpectedly overpriced.
I side with the frustrated technical person here, and expect that “customer happiness” in such case may be only apparent and short-lived.
I’ve dealt with manufacturers in China and would swear you were one of them with your ideology. You ask for something and may get a decent product, however there’s the likelyhood of substitutions and shortcuts to save costs and hope the customer will be happy. Well done.
“I don’t like our companies company’s process.”
Hoped it might do <s> (due to laziness)
Should be company’s not companies.
I’ve worked for a startup for some months but I was uncomfortable with their way to work. The boss wanted to use Slack for everything and no bug tracking o ticket systems was allowed… I tried to explain the problem but he was fine in that way so I’ve quit my job and now I work in a startup which have a great organization and where I like to work.
The story is: if you don’t like your job, try to improve it, if it doesn’t work, change job.
This isn’t a technology problem or a business problem.
It’s a people problem.
Reader, you sound a lot like me, an INTJ in Myers-Briggs typology. INTJs find broken systems and want to improve them. Maybe not INTJ exactly, but that wouldn’t be surprising, since so many of us are coders/engineers. At any rate you’re an Intuitive — you know it’s not the right way to do things, but you have trouble explaining exactly why. You’re a perfectionist, and you enjoy building systems that work beautifully without a lot of maintenance.
Your boss sounds something like an ESTJ. They don’t like the unknown. They like tried-and-true methodology. The system is organized, and it “works” to them, so why change it? They will listen to feedback, but they can’t parse your intuitive “this isn’t ideal but I can’t really explain it” reasoning. ESTJs will definitely ask for feedback, but they will unemotionally discard it if it doesn’t fit into their worldview. They are very stubborn.
If you want to stay at this company, here is my suggestion: Find an example of the framework you would like to implement at other companies. Your manager will need something concrete and there needs to be a proven track record of success. Only then will s/he believe you. Don’t be wishy-washy. Be direct and confident.
Another option would be to find a company that’s more aligned with your personality type. You might want a startup (but partner with an ENTJ type, if you’re an INTJ) where you can deal with the intricate details and have the other people focus on “people” — or a big corporation where you’ll be able to take an existing complicated corporate structure and improve it. The middle-of-the-road bread and butter agencies churning out tweaked WordPress templates are a dead-end for you.
Uhhuh, these personality types aren’t based on anything scientific. They are more like horoscopes than something that should be trusted on. So while I agree that this is partially a people problem, I wouldn’t use these personality types to describe anything since they’re not proven.
What makes these most like horoscopes is how all the texts really target your mind so that you feel good about yourself. Everything is expressed in a positive manner. It’s like filling up questions so that you’re told about things you like in yourself in a favorable manner.
Isn’t all that bad of course, these can help people identify what kind of persons they are and may work as a starting point for creating one’s own identity, but they’re not good for much more than that.
I hear what you’re saying re: lack of academic scrutiny, and I shared that belief for many years.
My arguments would be:
1) OK so horoscopes are based on complete B.S. Agreed? That’s an unfair comparison.
2) Personality traits have at least a basis in measuring and categorizing observable phenomena. It’s been shown using brain scans that introverts and extroverts have measurable anatomical differences in the brain and its responses. (e.g. Introverts respond to environmental stimuli differently than extroverts).
3) Personality testing is not perfect, but answering questions based on past behavior is a lot more convenient than giving everyone brain scans. It’s an imperfect shortcut.
4) The lack of academic rigor given to MBTI says more about the pressures of the academic world and its conflict of interests. (People are pressured into finding exciting areas of study that will get them funding and tenure, etc etc.)
5) “Everything is expressed in a positive manner.” Demonstrably false. Here’s a typical example of an INTJ profile: http://www.16personalities.com/intj-strengths-and-weaknesses
See how there’s an entire section called “Weaknesses” where it says “Arrogant”, “Judgmental” etc?
We both agree, however, that the MBTI is imperfect and it’s just a tool. It’s a good starting place, but it can’t fix everything for you.
I think we are more on the same page than not, actually.
Removing the MBTI language, what are your thoughts about the reader’s situation?
I admit I smiled (as a fellow INTJ) upon reading your answer.
I struggle with many of the same stresses in my own work as an INTJ working with a boss who is anything but intuitive or analytical.
In my boat, I simply try to do the best I can with the time and resources I’m given. It’s incredibly hard to do as a perfectionist, but sooner or later all perfectionists need to learn how to function in a non-perfect world.
The comment earlier about working to please your boss is pretty good. Yes, you want your work to meet your own standards and be proud of it. That’s great. But I think a lot of businesses would be better off if more employees put the same effort into making the business look just as good.
I would really like to see a follow up done on this. What the reader said to his boss, what the boss did, etc.
This is the same situation we have in our shop. We make small business websites using a theme comparable in quality to ThemeForest in WordPress. In our case, and I’m sure in hers, there is much more to the business model than just making the sites.
Digital communications is an iterative process, but so is the team building necessary to build the products. By all means she should tell her boss what’s on her mind. Neither of their versions of how to make websites is the best but each has its points. My boss and other colleagues and I regularly get into heated discussions about how to communicate with clients, the themes we use, the modifications we make and how to document them, the styling and more. The end result is always a better understanding by everyone involved of the other’s POV, and an improvement in our interpersonal communications and our product, but it takes time and occasionally there is heartache.
As Chris pointed out in his thoughtful reply, web design and development is a spectrum. All of us are expected to have jack-of-all-trades skills but our day-to-day work falls somewhere within where our organization is in that spectrum. Turn the argument around by taking the tact with your boss that your knowledge and skill set can improve your organization’s product and processes in time. Providing examples of things you’ve done on past or current projects and things your peers have done at other organizations will help.
The response is brilliant. I’ve been through the exact same process, except the business wasn’t that good. The company was a creative agency, so purchasing a theme with minor edits was never the case. They were complete overhauls.
After four (great) years I decided to quit my job. Now I’m stuck with Bootstrap. Another boss to convince.
THANK YOU! I couldn’t agree with you more sir.
The problem is you started with WHAT and not with WHY. I suggest you listen to a TedX talk by Simon Sinek titled “Start With Why”. If you want to convince your boss a different way of doing things is better. Start with why.
1) Why does our business exist? Why do we do what we do? This isn’t about making a profit. Profit is a result.
2) If we changed our process. How would that benefit our WHY?
What sounds better:
“Our current process is bad and gives poor results to our clients. Even if the clients are happy with the results, we could give them better products. Even if it is a bit more work.”
“Why do we do business? Because we want our clients to exceed in what they do. If we spent a little longer on each project, we could blow the client’s expectations out of the park. We don’t just want them to not have had problems doing business with us. We want them to want to do further business with us. People who want to do business will always tell their friends about you. This will bring in more business.”
Nobody ever told their friends about the average product they bought. They will almost always sing praises of the awesome product they received though.
I agree with all that except the statement:
“This isn’t about making a profit. Profit is a result.”
Unless you are doing charity work (or it’s a hobby), it had better be about making a profit at some level, otherwise you won’t have a “what” for long…
Profit is a result of business. You shouldn’t be in business to make money. Those types of businesses fail and they fail quickly.
Making money is a result of doing business. You’re in business to do business. If you aren’t in business to do business, you’ll be out of business rather quickly. If you’re out of business you aren’t going to make a profit.
Even Google, detailed in their book “How Google Works”, doesn’t chase profit.
“Build something awesome and figure out how it will profit later.”
Google wasn’t focused on making a profit.
Google was focused on making an awesome product and doing business.
By making an awesome product and making people WANT to do business with them, they’ve become one of the most profitable companies in the world.
I’ve nothing to add to Chris’ seemingly very thorough response. But perhaps in saying this, I’ve added something. ;)
Ohhh. This iS bad problem with your boss.
OK so the developers are biting their nails all day long?
I assume that means your company also maintains these “websites”?
So cost/benefit analysis. How much is the company paid for churning out the sites vs ongoing maintenance? If the maintenance of these quick and dirty sites is making the company money, then you are pretty much stuck slogging through the mud until you can find another job.
But if the company loses money on site maintenance, then you have an opening.
Also keep in mind the skills of the people around you. If everyone else on the team is only capable of hacking at wordpress templates, then fighting for Better is a losing battle, because you are the only one who can do Better.
(Speaking as someone who has scars from that particular battle.)
Hey Chris, Thanks a lot. To be honest, i am working with a bad company and i don like the boss but, i was worried how can i tell this to him. By reading your this, it’s helps me a lot’s of !
If you really are working for a bad company, it’s time to start polishing your resume. Life’s to short to be unhappy 40 hours per week (plus the baggage you take home because of it). After doing this for 20 years, and having been on your side and your bosses side of the fence, I would definitely read Dave’s comment below before you make any decisions. He really sums up what it takes to be a business owner and there’s a lot in there I wish I understood better when I was young. Sometimes who you think is a bad guy isn’t really all that bad.
One of the smartest comments I’ve heard along this line, that applies to most any business decision a person can make is
It sounds like the boss in this scenario has chosen the first two. That’s not a bad decision as long as, at the end of the day, the site meets the customers expectations. Customers generally don’t know the backend stuff, that’s why the hire it out. In their case ignorance is bliss.
I don’t think either party is necessarily right or wrong here. The boss is the boss. Since we have zero information about the company, it’s possible the owner could be a old laggard from the print world. He got into business selling websites with little coding acumen. Since that worked for them, why change it?
As someone who’s sat on both sides of the hiring table, I know from experience every designer tends to be very opinionated on the design side. But to run business that makes money, you need to look at management’s side as well.
Let’s say the company is paying you $20/hour, and you’re charging the client $4,000. That gives you an absolute maximum of 200 hours to get the work done, just over 5 weeks. However, that’s the boss’ cost just to have you work on it.
In that situation, the company needs to make money and still has to be pay taxes, insurance, overhead, etc. And not all hours in a day are billable. (For example, every time you do a google search to figure out a coding problem—we all do it!—that’s time that’s learning on the job and not billable.)
Say the company is billing out $100/hour (retail). It’s easy to think the boss is soaking someone and you can do a lot more work for a lot less and the client gets a better result. In reality, that’s not true at all. (If you’re a freelancer and you’re charging the same as what working full time would be, raise your rate immediately because it’s not going to be sustainable.)
If you’re going to have a discussion with a boss, you better bring up the compensation part and how the company is going to make more money doing it your way.
My opinion, although a bit principal and ideological, is this; honesty and transparency is key to any work-related relationships. What is also key is to do a job that makes you happy and motivated. Working with someone who is a backstabbing, dishonest and manipulating person would make overall life happiness deteriorate. Thus, voice your opinion in order to keep working with something fulfilling that you value in high regard. If the boss turns out to fit the above description, you are better off somewhere else. Don’t be modest about life, claim what is your share of it.
I think it’s great that the writer is very concerned with quality. As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t enough of these people in or industry. With that said, I fully agree with Chris. We should want to take pride in our work but, at the end of the day, we are not being paid to be proud. We are being paid to deliver a product the client wants.
An example that comes to mind is when I bought my Bose portable Bluetooth speaker. For me, quality is important and, after reviewing several options, I went with Bose. It cost me $200 for the speaker, but no one delivered on sound quality like Bose did. With that said, my best friend Steve decided to go with a $49 portable speaker. So which of us got the better product? The answer is, we both did. This might sound counterintuitive but, just as the with writer’s email, I’ve mentioned nothing about what the customer wants.
What you don’t know is that Steve plays volleyball three days a week. He also has small children. Because of this, he’s at the beach a lot and he has more than responsible adults touching his speaker. I bought a quality product that was right for me but, at $49, Steve has something I don’t …versatility. I cringe at the thought of a child carrying my speaker around or getting sand kicked in it. Steve doesn’t have to worry about that. Sure he’s given up a little sound quality but he’s traded that for something he values more.
We have to remember that our needs are not necessarily our clients needs. I love when I get clients that wants quality and I can really sink my teeth into a project, and experiment with new-to-me technologies (like SVG), But my fast, cheap, turnkey clients that just want “good enough” give me the ability to inject life-long knowledge of what works and what doesn’t in a must-be-efficient way. Both types stretch my skill in their own way, make me grow, and bring me job satisfaction …and I feel, in both cases, you can end your day knowing that you added value and be proud of the work you’ve done.
This is such a touchy subject because everyone feels they want input. I feel like changing processes are always worth trying. Failing is the best thing for a company, you learn 10 times more.
I disagree with the sentiment of “If it makes money, you’re the odd man out”. I’ve worked in an industry for 5 years with a client base that is behind the times, with a CIO that was behind the times, and co-workers that were unambitious.
Did the company make money? Yes. Were there good processes in place? Hell no. Was modern technology being used? Hell no. Was everyone else happy with mediocrity? Hell Yes.
This is my advice to the initial emailer: Run.
Skilled coders that can build custom WordPress themes from scratch are a sought-after commodity, and you don’t have to settle for anything less than the job you want. You don’t have to compromise your own internal quality integrity for the sake of ‘the team’. Let them do their ‘mod and run’ method, and go and find an agency that more aligns towards your standards.
The core point is 4 weeks is a long time to launch a simple re-theme & content, low-end website, which is what most web-designers with volume are launching, and what the mass-market wants (there is a reason < £1k sites are <£1k and $50 themes are $50)…
Perhaps if the mentioned employee, mentioned what they wanted to do with the extra time it would help more?
If it’s templates and layouts, or functionality; try to keep a library of plugins, type-set content-section templates, and code. We actually are in the process of giving clients access to a WordPress plugin allowing them to use our site as long as they are paying customers, politely letting lapsed customers know how we can help.
Basically, this empowers them, and ensures the hand-over is not the end of the project for clients without an ongoing budget for their digital (smaller businesses typically, but also people with tight purse strings).
By prioritising the ongoing capability as a current business customer, we hope to be staying relevant, in constant contact without the cringe-worthy emails, and helps us to make more content and tooling to feed all customers digital needs, while delivering to lean project requirements.
I would talk to your boss about this, it’s a solution, which will always gain more traction than pointing out another problem! He probably has enough of those, hence the quick-fire work-flow…
Intersting that many here feel as if your job is to make money for your boss, as if you’re not getting paid and he’s not working at all.
I think you need to see yourself as a team. You and your boss is in the same team, working together to build and sell websites all contributing with different skills.
There’s always room for education. For him and you. If you can educate your boss why you should build higher quality websites that takes longer time, he/she could educate you in how he’s selling the websites and you might find yourself building better websites and earning more money from it.
As long as you see it as “it’s him vs me” I don’t think you’ll ever be happy at any work place.