I started writing this after taking a glimpse at my sign-off post last year reflecting upon 2020.
I thought that this would be a blog post that would be done in an hour or two, but re-reading my own words from last year highlighted that I have much to say in this years sign off, and once again, I've been too busy focusing on the now and moving forward than to take a moment and look back. This is now the perfect time to do so.
Quality checking and outward thinking were both points that I mentioned last year and they've been the cornerstone of the business for this year too.
Change has happened in almost all areas of the business, and with me now taking a much more birds-eye view of the day-to-day operations, has allowed me to identify areas that could do with improvement, implement change and monitor the results. I'm pleased to say, the results are positive! So let's get started with my 2021 sign off, and look at what we've been doing this past year with quality.
Previously, I considered QC (Quality checking) as a negative.
On the face of it, QC was time being spent that was never catered for, nor could you bill a client for it, in short - why should a client pay for something that should have been done correctly in the first instance? My view on this has taken a complete change, and I'm going to share with anyone reading this, why.
It may seem simple, to just take a design, and then code it. "Make it how it looks in the design" - right? That's something that I and many others have said before and that is how many other website businesses operate. However a realisation in 2021 is that in all honesty, we don't build websites - we build software.
Anyone that knows GEL Studios, is aware that we don't use templates or website builders, we create everything from scratch. The benefits our clients see, and the longevity of our solutions by taking this approach are second to none. However, the way we handled our projects when creating these solutions was incorrect. The result was a culture of design vs development (Dev). Dev working their hardest to deliver what design gave them and design having to spent countless hours checking everything. In an aim for everything to be "correct".
"Correct" - what does that mean? Does correct mean "Like the design"? Looking back, taking this view was a mistake, however now realising that, has presented to us a massive opportunity.
I've often said that when a design is complete - it's a 2D picture. You can have many pictures (i.e desktop view, tablet view, mobile view) however they are mostly static. True, tools like Adobe XD allow us to create some basic interactions and solve a few User Interface scenarios, but until the solution is in your hand and you're using it - it's still just a fancy set of blueprints. This line of conversation over the course of several months, projects and analysis led us into a few new terms that we now utilise in every project - routed from - software development. Our new approach has now become:
- Quality checking - Ensuring the developed solution meets the requirements of the project, from a design/responsive/basic functionality perspective
- Change request - If we feel an optimisation can be made whilst using the solution (as a result of it now being developed) we will raise this to the client. If they approve, we'll implement it
- Functional tests - Stress testing any and all scenarios related to logic created, as though we're trying to break it. Ensuring advanced logic is working as expected
- User tests - Ensuring common scenarios and user interactions with the solution are working as expected.
By breaking QC down into the above four areas we have reduced the time we spend quality checking; and increased the value we bring to the development of the project and the ongoing value of the solution to the client.
One hidden gem of going through this exercise was that we can now identify a specific piece of ongoing work, which we once again - can further add value to moving forwards. Automated user testing. I won't go into too much detail now about this (more information will be coming soon) however a common support request we get asked a lot from our customers is things like "A customer has tried to purchase/contact/do something on our site and reported issues - can you check it?". Often this is a result of a change from a third-party library or a content update that has had undesired consequences.
We are now actively working on a solution to offer to our clients - where the "purchase/contact/action" can be automatically and continually tested. This will ensure that the solution is working as expected. What's more, if an issue is found, it's automatically logged to our support team to be looked into. Automated user testing with pro-active support where needed. If you'd like to know more about this, please reach out to me directly. I can see this being a big thing for us to roll out to our clients in 2022.
It's safe to say this journey of understanding of what QC means to us and our clients has been profound for us in 2021. Despite many of these processes only recently come into play, the results we are seeing are great, and the bottom line means we can deliver solutions to the same high quality that we hold ourselves to much faster!
When we started learning about how much time we spend, and on what, I was always very conscious about the negative impact this could have on creativity. This was clear last year.
The goal of tracking time was to not only ensure that we're working on the right things, but also as a means to see where we could continually improve. i.e if a lot of time is being spent on x - then x is where my focus needs to be on to improve it. In essence, that's exactly what the whole journey of QC has been about.
Starting out the year, all working times were expanded to include contingency - something we never did before. Just to give everyone enough room to breathe.
Once we had this starting point of being able to simply focus on the task in had (instead of the clock) being honest, there wasn't really too much to do. New ideas came to the table, good questions were asked, team collaboration has increased even further. The result, 2021 has seen some of the absolute best pieces of work come out of our doors yet - and that progress shows no sign of slowing down.
So why have I brought up this topic of outward thinking - if everything is great?
For one, I wanted to make a short paragraph to publicly congratulate each and everyone in the team for their outstanding efforts and contributions this year. You have all been AMAZING, and constantly gone above and beyond. The second, is to share with everyone that our main goal for 2022 is...
This word will come as no surprise to anyone inside of GEL Studios. If 2021 was the year of us learning to take the time to think of new ideas and new ways of doing things, then 2022 is the year that we take those ideas by the reigns and get them done in the right way.
Covering both internal and external activities, ownership is our single main focus in 2022 with a goal to further empower my team to deliver great work - every time. This will include things such as:
- Ensuring when handing a piece of work over to a colleague or client that everything is as it should be
- Equally important, when accepting a piece of work from a colleague, ensuring everything is as it should be
- Ensuring new ideas/ways of doing things are proactively shared to the team
- Working on something and think that it needs explaining? Create documentation to assist others in the team.
Above all else, I want the team to feel an immense sense of pride about the work that they do, so we've now created a monthly show and tell meeting where they can share and discuss work or ideas. All facilitated by...
A new, dedicated creative space.
Conversation is at the very heart of everything we do. We've witnessed this across all areas of our business, so when the opportunity came to expand into the "unit next door" we jumped at it.
My aim, is that unit 7 will be a space for more conversations to happen, be it for meetings, branding workshops, or as a space for our clients or friends of the business to just come for a change of scenery. It's fully equipped with:
- Boardroom style seating for 10,
- Break out area with sofas,
- State of the art video conferencing equipment,
- 75" 4k television,
- Fibre broadband,
- Premium coffee and water on-demand,
- Two 85" whiteboards.
It really is the perfect place to "create" and let the mind wander. The best bit? I want to offer this space to our clients and freelancers - complete free of charge! I look forward to seeing how the team and our clients use this space moving forwards. With the expansion of the team, this also means that we can create more space in Unit 8 for our ever-growing team.
One of my favourite parts of running GEL Studios is getting to work with the team and seeing them develop. This year there have been several promotions that I'd like to share:
- Having now worked for us for just over three years, Elisha has now very much left the role of Junior behind. She can now tackle all the things needed to plan and design a website from scratch, and that's just the tip of what this amazing lady does at GEL Studios. At the time of writing this I know she's just finished single-handedly planning and designing one of our biggest websites to date for one of our biggest clients to date - no mean feat. Watching you grow into this role Elisha, has been an absolute pleasure, congratulations on the promotion.
- Nate joined us just over a year ago, and the difference he has made in that time has been profound. One of Nates first goals, when he joined us was to enable me to step back and do more "managing", and he's enabled me to do just that. We've been in a few tight spots with deadlines and project changes this past year, and every time Nate has worked the problem, seeing them as opportunities, not obstacles. I applaud you Nate for everything you've brought and are bringing to our business. I want to publicly congratulate you on your promotion to Dev Team Lead.
Welcome to the Team.
August was a great month, as two new team members joined us.
Heading up a brand new position of Digital Marketing Manager - Lewis Moran has joined us to extend our range of services into the Marketing realm. Lewis' experience enables us to now offer services that were so often asked of us, and until recently we weren't able to provide. In the time we've worked together, we've built our marketing offering from scratch and are now already working on some amazing projects delivering SEO, PPC and Social media activities with unrivalled results. This has grown so much, so fast that we're already recruiting for a Junior Marketing Assistant to assist Lewis. I've thoroughly enjoyed working with you Lewis to get this off the ground and I can't wait to see what you achieve in 2022.
Our second new recruit - is Justin Slabbert our new PHP Developer. Justin joins us after a complete relocation for himself and his lovely partner Claire, from South Africa! Having done a relocation myself many years ago, I know first-hand how stressful if can be to do such a daunting task. Justin - I want to publicly thank you for joining us at GEL Studios, relocating, and then going through all the isolation period also before you could even move into your new home. Professionally, Justin has already made a big impact in the team, taking ownership (see I told you that word wouldn't be unfamiliar to anyone inside of GEL) of several projects that required immediate attention. I very much look forward to being part of your relocation story, and working with you of course also!
2021 has been a year of change and for me to summarise:
- We've acted on what we've witnessed and what we've been told. The differences are clear. We continue to be one of the best agencies in the South West measured by not only our clients' satisfaction but the results we are able to obtain for our clients across the board
- We've changed our services. For too long, we've been witness to our clients having bad experiences with marketing agencies and as a result, we've now expanded into Marketing, not out of requirement but because we know that we can do things differently, and better than our competitors
- We're changing our day-to-day operations, aiming to become B-CORP certified in 2022
- Sponsored Swindon Town Football Club and have enjoyed sharing the tickets with our clients
- Launched another pro-bono website project.
A massive thank you goes out to my team for all the hard work you've done this year. In all seriousness, me thinking of things to do, and them actually getting done are two very different things. Thank you for trusting in me and being along for this crazy ride, that crazy ride of running a creative agency. Maybe that could be the title of a book... Food for thought...
To you all, have a great Christmas break and New Year - see you all in 2022.