Guide for New Developers

Hi guys

I wanted to put in a post here, because I have been working extensively with people who really want to break into web development, from those not yet doing it professionally, to those looking to grow from Junior Developer, and those who I am (in my spare time) mentoring. I find myself giving similar advice quite frequently, so I wanted to summarise here;

It takes time, patience, and passion

I know when I started my career at a trainee, and even before that, I had to put in my own time. What my first job gave me was exposure to a real-life team of developers, who gave me some great advice; some of which I still lean on today.

Your job may entail HTML, or you may be doing spreadsheets as I was, or you may be doing testing; but if you’re surrounded by developers who have lots of real world opportunity to learn. Take advantage of those developers, good developers love sharing their knowledge.

Don’t get distracted by shiny new tech, nail the basics

I read lots of CVs sent to me when I am recruiting for new roles. The worst thing you can possibly do is list lots of awesome new stuff on your CV, when you’ve yet to nail the basics.

The reason for this is quite simple; if (as the ops guy) I can’t trust the quality of your code on basic jobs, you’re never going to get the opportunity to demonstrate your new tech.

If you say you know it, either honestly say you’ve got “some exposure” to it, or a sentiment to that effect, or know it to the level where you’re comfortable demonstrating your knowledge in a competency test.

Learn from reputable sources

Any developer will laugh at this, but if you’re new to the industry you might not know; pay no attention to W3 Schools (or W3Fools as it’s often, less than affectionately, referred)

Depending on what you’re learning Codecademy is a good bet, as are Laracasts and Vue School – if you have someone to whom you look up, who is guiding you on your journey, give them a shout and see if they’ve heard of the site.

On the same token, be wary of Stack Overflow, Reddit, and other community sites. Firstly they can be absolute flamefests, especially for new developers. Secondly, you don’t necessarily know the experience and background those developers had, and even if it sounds impressive, it can be deceptive.

Understand the importance of commercial experience

This sounds really harsh, but I don’t mean it to. You may well have built something amazing in your spare time, but unless it’s reached commercial success and has been run as a commercial development projects; the experience isn’t necessarily that relevant.

Commercial development is far more than writing code. It’s writing it, maintaining it, ensuring it’s stable, robust test processes, client/stakeholder requirements, technical constraints, commercial and time constraints; and so much more.

Don’t be offended if someone discards most of your “spare time” experience.

Everything is a learning opportunity

Failed a technical test? Great! That’s better than passing it when you were sub-par, make notes in the test of what you didn’t get right, make sure you know it next time. Often it will open up a new avenue of knowledge you’ve yet to gain, and that’s a good thing.

Learn raw first

Before you try and learn Vue or React, learn JavaScript. Before you use a plugin, make sure you can code it yourself. Before you learn Laravel, understand PHP and OOP. Otherwise you don’t really know how to achieve the things you’re trying to, you’re just getting someone else to do it. That’s fine, until you can’t use your favourite plugin for some reason, or until it breaks and you don’t understand, at a fundamental level, why.

Finally, don’t give up

Learning tech comes with a cycle “this looks amazing!” – “I nailed it!” – “oh, wait a minute, maybe not…” – “What is wrong with this thing?!” – and if you persevere “this is so much more awesome than I realised!”

So don’t give up on your career or learning tech. Keep going, and know when to ask for help. Nothing worth learning is easy, progress does not come for free, and you’re building a career. So take a breather, get away from your screen.

Caveat: Burnout is bad!

Burnout is a real thing, and is bad. If you’re finding yourself getting stuck and frustrated avoid staring at your screen for hours. Go and do something, anything else. Swim, gym, walk, sleep, listen to music, get away from your screen.

Also, do make sure you leave some time at least every week to do something “just because”. Don’t obsess over the code, it’s not going anywhere, burnout will reduce your cognitive ability, and will make it harder for you to solve the problems you’re having.

Why pessimism is critical to technological success

Hello everyone,

The point I would like to make in this argument is to combat the negative light in which technical leads can appear, when being openly pessimistic. I want to dispel any concepts or perceptions that this is because the person has a negative outlook, wants to block progress, or anything similar; because ultimately that’s not (usually) the case.

Side point: Some “old hat” IT professionals can be negative and resistant to change, usually with years of experience to back it up, sometimes this can be overbearing, this article is specifically related to programming and web development, as opposed to IT infrastructure.

You may not realise it, but you’re pessimistic, too

This isn’t some “glass half full” spiel. When your technical lead is being seemingly resistant to a project or a technology, the likelihood is that they simply cannot promise results. That’s where the pessimism is, however, whether you realise it or not, in some way you share this pessimism, as I am about to demonstrate.

Form Validation (this one is for the techies)

Why do we bother to do any form validation? Because we assume, at some point, the user isn’t going to get it right. Either intentionally/maliciously or accidentally. In this scenario are you assuming your end users are either evil or incompetent?

Testing Cycles

Excluding User Acceptance Testing. Here we are testing for bugs. Does that not mean we’re assuming at least a small piece of oversight or incompetence from our developers? That’s fairly pessimistic too.

Security

It’s not often I’ve come across someone who has deliberately disregarded security. But the nature of considering security concerns by default, means you’re assuming someone out there is going to want to do something malicious to your website/software, right? Fairly pessimistic assumption of the human race (and the bots it creates).

Why your tech lead is being pessimistic

The tech lead has more in depth responsibilities, I’m saying tech lead, but depending on your organisation this might be DevOps or Architecture or Infrastructure. These people must by the very definition of their roles, be pessimistic.

When you sign those contracts, high five the sale, those people go to work. They’re usually committed to an uptime guarantee, a maintenance SLA, and various other contractual obligations. They must be able to deliver (guaranteed) or risk breaching contracts.

A very wise man once said to me “Computers will do exactly as they’re told, no more, no less”, based on that quote (by Jon deVries, if he happens to stumble across this) – we must know precisely what instructions to give the computers/servers in order to make them behave, within a margin of usually 0.1% or 0.01% – else we fall foul of our SLAs.

The considerations, therefore, must cover every eventuality, potentially for a very long time (or the duration of the contract).

So why can’t they just be optimistic?

Well, imagine this scenario

  1. Project manager/salesperson: “Can you make a change to this page?”
  2. Developer: “Sure! Sounds easy, I’ll do it straight on live”
  3. – They hit the wrong button, delete the wrong file, delete and sync the whole directory and kill the whole website, maybe irreversibly –

Optimism = sentences like “It will be alright!”

Sentences like “It will be alright” = complacency

Complacency = downtime

In Summary

Your tech lead, architect, DevOps team, or other technical influencer are not being negative. The pessimism you may experience is an absolutely necessary part of their role, without that pessimism they simply couldn’t possibly be competent at their role.

So be nice to them, they’re likely doing their jobs, rather than being negative, resistant to change, or trying to block sales. They’re humans, dealing with humans, but accountable for the behaviour of computers; which by their nature are not very reasonable.

Layering Software Design

This is a quick-ish article about layering software design, and how to achieve layering in ways which are consistent and useful for the maintainability of your source code. I have seen it done badly I have also seen it done very well, but I thought it was worth covering. Throughout my career I have seen lots of software designs, great. Flow charts and diagrammatic representations of software designs. At this point I think “Great, I can follow this!” – and then I see the code, and the layering is impossible to decipher, and is seemingly only existent in the designer/architect’s head.

Consequently, I thought I would do a quick article on layering your software. I appreciate there are lots of articles around the SOLID principles, and various other related topics, and I urge you to read about spaghetti code and lasagne before reading this article.

This article is aimed at people who have a decent understanding of Object Oriented Programming, but who are in the process of learning about software design and separation of concerns. Alternatively, it may also help those who have large, unorganised code bases to manage, or large projects to design and build.

Quick notice: I’ll keep code samples to a minimum and as concise as possible for the purposes of readability, but said code will be in PHP

The Problem

What we are trying to do, when creating layers of software, is create manageable code, the concerns of which are as separated as possible. Often we are trying to achieve this by defining parts of our application, usually referred to as layers.

Then a professional of some description (software engineer, web developer, systems architect, etc) creates a drawing of the different components to the software and how they should interact with one another. “Excellent!” they exclaim, and off the various developers go to work on their layers. Unless you’re in a strict environment quite often the developers work in isolation, and agree on integration points (or these are predetermined, or predefined).

In my experience, what normally happens at this point is that we have a load of principles designed, and off the team go to carry out the development on the product itself begins. Let’s make the assumption we’re talking about a content management system.

Then the code happens, bug fixes, amendments, changes in specification, and then, eventually… The product is finished! And by this point the design and architecture are forgotten, balls! Nowhere to be seen throughout the codebase.

The Solution

If you’re already in this situation you have a slightly harder job, because you need to understand the intended layering first, and then where you need to get it to. In its simplest form, given these kinds of problems I would be creating layers as they’re required (ones that do not exist) or modifying all code within them, and its usages, to fit into layering practice.

An Example

Let us say that we have a CMS, which currently has a whole bunch of mail() (for non PHP-readers the mail function is documented here), PHP function calls; and we need to enhance the emailing functionality. The specification at the time of creation:

  • CMS must be able to send emails at appropriate times (fulfilled, it does send emails when it needs to)

The new specification:

  • CMS must be able to send emails at appropriate times (fulfilled)
  • We must take new GDPR regulations into account and only send emails to the users which they have approved
  • We must categorise emails at high or medium priority, medium priority messages must not be sent outside of 8pm and 7am, whereas high priority messages must be sent immediately

Likely future specification:

  • In the same instances, we may wish, based on user requirement, to send SMS instead

The way I would look to solve this problem:

  1. Create a Notifications layer through which all systems notifications are sent (end user code sample below), this notification will understand context, so that decisions can be made with regards to type of delivery
  2. Find every instance of mail() in the codebase, and replace it to use my new notifications layer

Userland Code Example

// Create an instance of the notification
$notification = new MessageReceivedNotification($currentUser);

// Set the message which the user has received
$notification->setMessage($theMessage);

// I would normally chain this on, but have not done so for the purposes of readability for those who do not write PHP 
$notification->send();

The Outcome

Now I have a layer in place for all notifications, the next thing to do is make sure that all developers working on the system are aware of this layer, that it is well documented, and everybody knows not to use the mail() function. All notifications now go through the new layer, and injecting new functionality into that section of functionality is a much easier process.

The Prevention

Ideally, you don’t want to end up in that situation in the first place. What you need for this is not only a design of how the layering works, but also a set of rules or standards which ensure that the layering is used in a way which prevents this issue in the first place.

We’ll take the example of a CMS again, with some examples of layers which are required:

  • Notification Service
  • Data Layer
  • Permissions Layer
  • Controllers

And here are some ways that you might introduce that layering, so that functionality can be easily implemented throughout your design.

Interface Facading

Particularly on the Permissions Layer you might want to use the facade design pattern to give a simple interface to interact with the Permissions Layer, this could be further facaded to use helper functions (code samples below). This means that all functionality relying on the facaded layer only ever need to worry about the facade, with no knowledge of how it works, but also that in order to check the permission status you will always use the layer, preventing the problem described above. You may decide that, for the purpose of this shared functionality, you want to make this layer interface through a singleton, particularly if the class itself is doing very little besides providing anaemic functionality to other classes.

class PermissionChecker
{
    public function checkPermission(string $permissionName) : bool
    {
        //  Return true/false based on whether or not this user can carry out this permission
    }
}

function checkPermission(string $permissionName) : bool
{
    $checker = new PermissionChecker();
    return $checker->checkPermission(string $permissionName);
}

Inheritance

Another common way of managing this layering is to ensure that all appropriate functionality extends a base class (inheritance), which encapsulates all the layers shared functionality, again this could facade through to a library of classes. A good example of this would be a Notification Service or Data Layer.

abstract class Model
{
    public static function find($recordId)
    {
        // At this point I am going to fetch a record based on its ID, I can choose to implement caching or other functionality here
    }
}

class Post extends Model
{
    // This class specifically represents the post records, if we're assuming the active record design pattern
}

Data layering is the most obvious to introduce, particularly as most frameworks will have already included this. The important part of the layering process is to understand what else needs to be layered, and consequently how this should occur.

How do I know what I need to layer?

This is impossible to answer really, as you could be programming a blog, or the software behind the next space shuttle launch! The following are not hard and fast rules, but a guideline which you could choose to follow. I personally would consider layering if:

Don’t forget, layers can exist within layers. Your data layer may have layers for caching and database transactions, for example.

  1. When the functionality is reusable (like models)
  2. When the functionality could require modification, which would need to affect everything within its remit (like notifications and adding user preference functionality)
  3. When the functionality is grouped, and might need modification or replacement later (like cart calculations functionality in a commerce system)

How should I invoke my layering?

That very much depends on your use case, personally I tend to consider it like this:

  1. I use inheritance when each instance makes sense to be its own entity (such as a notification, or a record in the model)
  2. I use facading when I am hiding a library of functionality (access permissions works in this case, as you may have a number of functionalities in here, such as super-admin-detection, permissions grid management, IP whitelisting, and infinite possibilities in terms of security management)

Hard Fast Rules (which don’t exist)

Of course, hard fast rules do not exist and every use case has the potential to need to not follow these guides. However, I follow these rules to layer my code properly and ensure it is truly layered/modular.

  1. Do not directly interface with any class which is part of the package/library, that is not the interface or Facade itself
  2. If working within a modular system, never use code which belongs to one module within another (unless it is predefined that this module is dependent on the other)
  3. Particularly within modular systems, having code in separate repositories and IDE projects can help ensure you don’t accidentally use code which is within another module
  4. The moment you think “Gosh, I hope I don’t have to change this later!” you either need to reconsider your base design, or you need to introduce layering there
  5. Follow DRY (don’t repeat yourself) – if you’re copy and pasting code you could almost definitely do with encapsulation, at the very least, but potentially your code should be in its own layer with an interface to allow your modification

Summarised Points to Take Away

  1. If you draw a design, and you have a layer, ensure some kind of physical representation (base class, interface, facade, etc) of that layer exists
  2. Ensure if you’re using layers they’re well documented, and everybody knows they need to use your layer, and how
  3. Layers are important for injecting new functionality later, and preventing the duplication of code

Thank you for reading!

6 tools I couldn’t live without

Hi everyone

So today I thought I would do a quick post, as it has now been just over a year since I started as the Senior Systems Architect at Speed Agency. We’ve had an amazing year, seeing the design, development, and delivery of a number of bespoke systems, including our own modular content management system. Of course, to achieve all this we use a whole bunch of tools. Here I thought I would summarise my favourite;

#1 Digital Ocean

Now, I know there are competitors out there, however I haven’t used them. The reasons I love Digital Ocean can be summarised here:

  • We run a very strict set of processes with regards to the deployment of changes to our live environment. The snapshot functionality means I can have a single (or multiple) staging environments built in next to no time
  • Their customer service is absolutely top
  • Their availability is high, and their prices very reasonable
  • The server monitoring is really pretty damn good, especially as it’s essentially a free extra
  • And all the usual stuff to do with Volumes, Floating IPs, etc.

More information about Digital Ocean

#2 Status Cake

I’ve used a number of different suites to monitor uptime, I’ve never found one which is better for configuration, server and website monitoring (amongst other things). Also, very very few false negatives – which are a nightmare to manage if you’re handling SLAs on uptime!

Track your uptime and server statuses with Status Cake

#3 Packagist

I’ve done a blog article on Packagist before, however I have to say I love it. The power of managing modular code and dependencies through Composer, added with the closed-source nature of private packagist is just great.

Find out about Packagist

#4 GitLab

We started using GitLab for managing issues and our Git repositories. I’ve got to say, whilst it might start to fall down against its Goliath-size counterparts (such as Atalassian’s BitBucket + Jira haymaker of a combo), it has lasted us very well, it’s a great system to have, it’s open source, easy to use (particularly if you’re familiar with GitHub) and has been a great toe-in-the-water for this style of project management.

Learn more about GitLab

#5 Confluence

I’m a true nerd for documentation. I love it. I mean I love it more than I love flow charts, which is really saying something. Confluence is phenomenal. For managing, exporting, modifying, discussing, sharing, and structuring your documentation this is the absolute bee’s knees. Seriously, if you need to document your source code, project paperwork, or anything in the software development arena, sign up for it, right now, don’t even hesitate.

I don’t know why you don’t already have Confluence

#6 draw.io

There is a standing joke in my office, in which I am referred to as Sheldon (though my computational personality tends to find me also referred to as Laurie Bream) – this is because of my absolute adoration for flow charts. From processes to systems designs to user-workflows I absolutely swear my draw.io, which allows you to draw these diagrams, export them as XML files for later, and export as a number of useful formats (PDF, for example).

Get your workflow on with draw.io

In Summary

Tools and software should make your life easier. The above 6 things have made my life infinitely easier, and helped me structure, grow, and enhance my team’s capacity and capability by providing smoother, more efficient processes and workflows. I can’t take all the credit, of course, all those tools were at some point referred to me by a colleague, friend, Search Engine, or somewhere; and none of them would have any effect if my team didn’t take the whole hearted approach to adopting the things that I have mentioned above. Every team has a critical mass which makes systems effective, and my team are the best at adapting to our ever changing requirements.

I’d love to hear what tools you have which make your job easier, I can’t promise I won’t think “oh, that’s a good idea!” and consequently adopt the tool myself 🙂

Until next time,
Johno

Edit: Considering this is essentially 6 links I thought I’d best state – there’s no commercial interest in this post, I’m in no way endorsed by those companies, have no affiliation, no referrer links or anything included!

Understanding and Utilising the Expertise in your Project

So this is a topic I thought I would touch on, having worked in lots of environments, on lots of projects, with varying different sets of priorities; I have noticed a few different things; with some very common characteristics across almost all development teams.

The first is that there is a two fold problem when it comes to expertise:

  1. Expertise is never a clear cut, black and white line, every professional, in every role, has a varied set of skills
  2. The second is often the expertise people hold is often overshadowed by personalities on projects

The downside to the second point is that one can end up being entirely neglected as an asset to their project simply because their personality is not overt or extrovert; their voice not strong enough, of their opinions not heard. This can only ever be detrimental to the project, because those skills and expertise are there for a reason.

Project Archetypes

As I say, all projects are different; however, let’s assume a large website build, with complex functionality and integrated partners. I’m making this assumption for the purposes of the most complex project and set of people and expertise possible.

So, let’s look at our archetypes – I’ve given them all abbreviations to try and make this mammoth article slightly shorter.

Please do not be offended by any of the below, these are fictional characters on a fictional project to illustrate a real world point.

The Client (TC)

  • Role: The role of the client is, on behalf of their business, to get the best possible product that fits the requirements, needs, considerations, and budget for that project
  • Strengths & Skills: Nobody knows the inner workings of the business or industry like the client
  • Weaknesses: Will not always understand the implications of their requirements or changes

The Project Manager (PM)

  • Role: To bring the whole project together, encourage collaboration, and efficiency
  • Strengths & Skills: Overall knowledge of the project, from conception to delivery and beyond
  • Weaknesses: Jack of all trades, master of none; often won’t understand the low level detail of the technical elements of a project

The Critical Third Party (CTP)

  • Role: To provide the TC a third party (this could be anything from accounting software to CRM integration)
  • Strengths & Skills: Integrating their software with development teams, understanding their product, offering, and how it adds value to TC
  • Weaknesses: Usually relatively inflexible in terms of integration and capability

The Technical Lead (TL)

  • Role: Ensure the competent and efficient technical delivery of the project (technical development, testing, and delivery)
  • Strengths & Skills: Technical information, planning, and development; and understanding of the easiest route to delivery from a technical standpoint
  • Weaknesses: Sometimes seemingly inflexible, not always empathetic

The Lead Designer (LD)

  • Role: Ensure the deliverable is aesthetically pleasing, on brand, and agreeable by TC
  • Strengths & Skills: Design, brand, understanding and communicating TC’s voice by multimedia means
  • Weaknesses: Where displaying output of integrated data, doesn’t always understand technical implications of design decisions

The UX Expert (UX)

  • Role: Optimise user experience of those using the project, usually with the aim of increasing conversions, a champion of the end user(s) and customer
  • Strengths & Skills: Understanding the impacts on the user of decisions made elsewhere in the project
  • Weaknesses: Can become frustrated at the undervalue UX often receives (and is often brought in late to the project)

The Data and CRM Expert (CRM)

  • Role: Capture as much data as possible for usage by Marketing
  • Strengths & Skills: Understands every single data capturing opportunity
  • Weaknesses: Wants to capture data at every single opportunity, often to the detriment of design and UX

The SEO Consultant (SC)

  • Role: Understand the impact of all technical changes to SEO, advise on SEO strategy
  • Strengths & Skills: Search Engine Optimisation, getting traffic to the website
  • Weaknesses: Very specific skill set, often without wider technical understanding

Collaboration without restriction

As you will have noticed from the above, there are a lot of seemingly key players in this project. Consequently, I have drawn up a couple of pointers which I feel may ease the collaborative process on a project of such scale.

Understand the goals

The project should have a single, clear cut goal. Let’s say it is an ecommerce website complete rebuild and redesign it will likely be something like “increase sales by 25%”, the rebuild having been necessitated by slow page load times due to an outdated database structure, for example.

Now everybody detailed above is going to have their own set of goals. SC will want completely SEO optimised pages, and content population. UX will want a quick route from product to checkout. CRM will want to capture as much data as physically possible. LD will want the design to be beautiful, on brand, and pride of place in his portfolio. TL will want easily changeable code, efficiency and security in their code and servers.

The trick in this stage, is to understand what everyone (not just PM and TC) want out of this project. That way we can predict bumps in the road, and we can work around them before anybody has put pen to paper, code to IDE, or design to Illustrator.

Understand the dependencies

Now we understand what everybody wants and needs, we can see what dependencies there are. Likely dependencies are front end development being blocked until design is signed off. TL is likely to block integrations and development until specifications are signed, but TL is likely to be blocked on a database front by CRM until they have decided exactly what data they want to capture.

In my experience most of this will be blocked, in the first instance, by TC and PM who will need to agree and outline finalised scopes and specifications; once these are signed off the first few parties can get started in their tasks.

Understand the phases

Now we know who is involved, what they want and need, who is blocked and what order things need to be done in. Now we need to draw a plan, the phases, and who will be involved in those phases. There is no sense in a free-for-all as work will need to be redone, and there is no sense in having every party in every meeting. The popular opinion here is that it keeps the project together, working in the right direction. My professional opinion here is that, unless broken down into phases, this is a wasteful usage of time. LD doesn’t need to be in a meeting where the sole concerns are CRM, UX, and TL are discussing how and when to capture data. PM and TC should be actively involved in every phase, however, to ensure consistency across the project.

Stick to the plan

Now we have a plan, most likely with phases, timescales, and tasks down to a granular level. This has been drawn up lovingly and attentively by PM, in conjunction with all parties. On paper it will work. It is now the job of everybody to understand it, they understand the implications of the work they’re doing; so now it’s a case of move forward and don’t look back. That’s what post-go-live is for.

Understand Perfection is a Myth

Perfection is a myth. In digital it’s just not something which is possible. Browsers and devices constantly evolve. As do user journeys and user expectations. If you aim for perfection and refuse to settle for less you will never go live.

Let’s say phase 1 was to understand data capabilities, that’s been and gone. Everything has been discussed, agreed on, and is either in progress or is complete. Don’t revisit those decisions, stick with them. The consequence is we go off plan, which will cause confusion, inefficiency and definite delay; though the cost of that delay will never be crystal clear, as we’re now off plan, and away from estimations.

How you can help the large scale projects you’re on, by following these 5 simple steps

So, from working on lots of projects, here are my top tips for working in big projects.

Step 1 – Voice Your Concerns, Reasonably

There’s always a workflow or a process to follow, if you have concerns, especially those outside of your core skills and expertise; voice them. However, be careful to voice them reasonably. Don’t be deterred if you don’t get the answer you want, but also don’t be unreasonable with your fellow collaborators; their skills are not your skills. Their understanding and expertise is not the same as yours, sometimes, you will have to be told “no”.

Step 2 – Communicate for Value

This point follows upon from something I touched upon in “Understand Perfection is a Myth” above. If you are not adding value, or are not going to add value, you shouldn’t be in the meeting. If you have nothing to say, say nothing.

This does a couple of things, in practice. Firstly it cleans the lines of communications, everybody is only speaking when they have something valuable to contribute. Secondly, it makes it more likely that you’ll be listened to when you do speak, because your track record will be of only speaking when you have a strong and/or valid point.

Step 3 – Understand the People, and the Scope of their Expertise

This is a controversial one, mostly because it assumes people know what their own expertise is. Also because it means each of us as individuals acknowledging what we don’t know. SC may know one or two bits about User Experience design, but nowhere near as much as UX does, therefore it’s not really within SC’s scope to enforce decisions upon UX. Similarly TL knows nothing of brand, so beyond technical consultation should not be enforcing their views on LD during the design phase.

Your expertise is the reason you were brought into the project. If you were brought into the project as the Technical Lead, you should only insist on enforcing your viewpoint on Technical matters, unless explicitly asked otherwise.

Now I understand that this is starting to sound very much “stay in your box”, which is absolutely not the point I am making. The point I am making is when you stop valuing the experts, they lose initiative on their own ground. What that means, for your project, is that maybe TL stops making recommendations about how to keep the page speed down, because SC has made their recommendations which have been listened to over TL (and page speed is TL’s expertise).

It means LD starts doing as he’s told because TC and PM have decided that they’d rather pixel-push the design, than let LD use his area of expertise.

From what I’ve seen, letting people overrule the experts, you end up with a bunch of people capable of making changes, whilst 1 or 2 extroverted figures dictate everything. I’m open to be correct on this, but I’ve never seen it go well.

Step 4 – Empathise & Sympathise, understand Pressure Behaviour

This is the difficult one. Everyone gets a say on everything. Now everyone has to redo all of their work. All the while PM and TC are getting very excitable about how late their project is going to be, or perhaps TC is insisting upon the deadline, which PM knows isn’t necessarily possible.

Now everybody is stressed, everybody is under pressure, and everybody’s behaviours will change. It becomes “every man for himself”, this leads to some really negative behaviours in terms of what’s best for the project.

The first, is inflexibility. “Why should I do that? I’ve done my bit!”. The second, is irritability. “Why are they changing it again? I’m tired of this now!”. The third, is disrespect “Why is UX telling me about my database design, why doesn’t he stick to wireframes!”.

None of these behaviours are important. The bit that is important is that none of them are helpful for creating the best project for TC and PM.

By the time you’ve gotten to this point, it’s too late. Unless there is essentially a blank slate to work from, starting over from the first phase again, the project is doomed to be “just good enough” to get it past PM and TC and go live. Future collaborations (v2.1) will forever be tainted by this project, relationships will be ruined beyond repair. Nobody wins.

How to say “no”

This section is really founded on the principle of understanding the expertise, and respecting it. Sometimes, you do have to say no.

Approach one – “I appreciate your opinion, but I must say from a [insert skill] standpoint, it is not the best way to proceed, because of [reason]”

This approach is asserting that you value the input of other members of the team, but this is within your skillset, and it is a bad idea, which must be justified. If you can’t justify your reasoning, are you being inflexible because you don’t like the idea of someone else contributing?

Approach two – “That’s not viable given the limitation”

This is a great idea! I love it! (Or perhaps, this is a terrible idea, but it’s not viable either way). However, we have to have this done in a week, or the budget is £Xk too small. Value the input you’ve received, but not everything we want to do, is possible. That’s the basis for this particular approach.

Approach three – “That’s not in scope right now”

This is a bit of an extension on the second approach, really. This is very neutral, it’s not a good or a bad idea (unless you want to specify) but the project relies on clearly defined scope, specification, timelines, and such. Adding new things in will always impact deliverables.

This is not the worst thing for TC or PM, it’s the best thing for your current project – which is the one you must concentrate on. Rome wasn’t built in a day, if Social Media Login is a new piece of scope, it’s a great idea, but it has to wait until the completion of this project.

Celebrating the successes

It is so important, when working on a large collaboration like this, that successes are celebrated; and that personal recognition given to the parties responsible. LD had as much to do with database design as TL had with the stunning new logo alterations.

TC and PM can always take a slice of the credit, but if they’re seen to soak up all the glory, it will never be very good for the wider team. Collaboration is about accepting and appreciating the diversity that everyone brings to the table.

This vitally includes celebrating even the small successes, and attributing that credit to where it belongs. Saying “we need a logo” and then taking credit for the new design is akin to having a photo taken with Anthony Joshua, and saying that makes you the second best boxer in the world.

Continuous Collaboration

You now have a successful project under your belts, but it’s digital; it will need revisiting. You have positive foundations to lay your new project on now. There will be a sweeter taste in the mouthes of everyone who has worked on a successful project, with respected and appreciated professionals, where collaboration was free flowing, and so was respect and consideration.