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fighting the derailer… and winning July 16, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Project, The Two-Year-Old.
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We recently got a contract for a big company previously based in Washington State that is opening a local branch. They want a completely new website, and they’ve hired us to produce it. So this week I had a meeting with the clients, the Two-Year-Old, and one of our graphics design supervisors.

Don't derail! (Photo by Louise Docker)

Don't derail! (Photo by Louise Docker)

And, despite all efforts to the contrary, the meeting went well.

It started with Bill — the GDS — making notes on what the clients wanted their graphical presentations to look like on-line, in their TV spots, and even on their building (yes, we do that too). Bill’s job is to translate client demand into something our artists can understand, and he’s very good at that and pretty much everything else he does except managing actual employees*. Bill did his part and then had to leave to work on some other, more pressing projects (this particular one isn’t due until August 31, I think).

So it was me, the Two-Year-Old (“2“), and Mack and Hope from the client company.

The meeting started promisingly; I took control of it from 2 to offer Mack and Hope a look at other designs I’ve done for clients, stressing that these were just examples and I could do pretty much whatever they wanted within their corporate specs**. They picked a design to start from, one with clearly-defined boxes “floating” on the background color of the site, because they liked the bite-size-ness of it. (It’s one of my favorite designs, but I think they picked it because it was so different from the other standard designs I showed them.) I’m not sure 2 liked it, but that’s okay, because it’s the client who has to be happy, not 2.

2 has this thing where everything has to have her stamp on it in some way — that is, she tends to take control of meetings, both internal and client, and impose her ideas upon them. She did it with the graphics even though Hope, the client’s marketing manager, had her own plan for the graphics. It turned out to be about a 60/40 compromise in Hope’s favor.

That’s when I knew I had to side with the clients, even if they made unreasonable demands — 2 has a habit of trying to do too much that clients neither want nor need and only agree because she’s so insistent.

Fortunately, Mack — the client’s local operations manager — is more like me, and Hope is even more like me than Mack is. They came in wanting streaming video, a CMS, several forms, two or three Flash animations, and incorporation into the rest of their corporate site***. 2, standing at our whiteboard, started drawing and writing textual cues for customers.

And to her not-very-well-hidden dismay, almost every suggestion I made was accepted by Mack and Hope even as she gave her “yes, well, how about this way instead”. I had already figured out via research what the clients wanted and was providing them not only what they wanted but giving them the opportunity to expand as needed. 2, by contrast, was giving them what she thought they liked. Thing is, 2 is a manager; she doesn’t deal directly with clients the same way I do, and as someone who’s been doing this as long as I have, I’m really good at divining what clients want and delivering products that go just beyond that.

Throughout the whole meeting, 2 kept trying to derail what the clients wanted and the three of us — Mack, Hope, and me — kept pulling her back on track. Honestly, I think the meeting would’ve gone better without her there, but I didn’t have that authority. In the end, we all separated amiably and Hope promised to stay in touch with me and back me up on any unreasonable changes that 2 might try to force through as we build out their digital business. That’s reassuring. I know she’ll probably not be as supportive as I might like when push comes to shove, but she’s made it clear that she sees what 2 was trying to do and appreciates it as little as I do.

Sometimes meetings get derailed. Sometimes you fight the derailer and lose.

At that meeting, we fought her and won. And it felt good.

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* Well, you can’t be good at everything, right? Unfortunately his lack of good management of people tends to make my life difficult.

** Their corporate office had e-mailed the official “you can do what you want as long as you also do this, this, and this” document to me last week. It’s surprisingly short.

*** Their Washington office works with our Washington office, which is fortunate because now I have code to copy, thereby saving me time.

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interdepartmental status meeting August 14, 2008

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Project.
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This morning at Corporatespeak Headquarters, we had an interdepartmental status meeting for a huge project we’re doing in Q4. Despite the two people running the meeting being ten minutes late, it wasn’t bad. That can be attributed to two things:

* only one person in the meeting was from the Executive Committee
* the meeting was chaired by a non-manager

Things got accomplished. Decisions were made. That Guy didn’t feel like he was wasting his time. All in all, a good meeting. And, bonus, there was no punch list issued at the end.