Interview with James Witika, Friday Media

What’s your day job?
My business card currently says Chief Operating Officer, but my day generally consists of:

General Manager / Web Developer / Project Manager / Team Manager / Business Analyst – I wear all sorts of hats throughout my day.

What type of projects does your company work on – how long do they run?

With Friday Media’s recent absorption of Lambda Software (the Hannan Group’s custom software arm), it’s incredibly broad.  Currently, we’ve got projects ranging from simple social media apps to custom business critical software. As a result, project lengths can be anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of years.

How did you get started in digital?

Growing up, I was always dabbling with computers in one way or another. My first taste of programming came with my Commodore 64, which I wrote BASIC straight into the command prompt and produced some shockingly pixelated graphics. I evolved to the Amiga 500 and created animations using Deluxe Paint and music tracks using Soundtrack. Eventually I moved to an IBM 386 and played with a lot of game mods (for games like Doom and Duke Nukem). It wasn’t until 2000 that I began working in digital as a web and multimedia developer for a South Melbourne based design agency. 13 years later (and a lot of long nights) I’m still loving it!

What’s your current favourite book, website, blog or source of inspiration for your business?

Strangely enough I don’t actually have one. I’m surrounded by technical people whom are always sending me links to various things either super nerdy, super creative or super gadgety.  I rely on my team quite a bit for inspiration. Recently I’ve started to get into Gizmodo Australia, but I’m always looking at how things are being done when I do anything online so I’m constantly learning.

What’s the ratio of project managers to developers/producers? How do hire – and what specific skills do you look for?

In my world, most of my developers are project managers as well. Some do more project management than others, so I’d say its about 3 developers: 1 project manager.

I like to expose the developers to project management and time management so they can get a better appreciation for the solution as a whole. It also helps them take ownership of their work when their head is on the client’s chopping block (I think everyone should experience this part of the project).

How many staff do you have in total?

17 all up.

Do you outsource or use contractors?

Given the complexity of our projects, it’s just not practical for us to do so.  Our low-cost website brand Friday Lite does however, as it’s necessary in keeping the solutions as affordable as possible.

Have you introduced in new roles/jobs title in your business?

Not specifically. Sometimes it’s tough to put just one title on a card, especially when members of my team often have a wide range of responsibilities (much like myself).

How do you keep hours and costs on or under budget? How do you maintain profitability on each and every project? Is it a result of project management processes, good budgeting, or initial scoping?

Ultimately, it’s a combination of the three.  We use a custom resource management system, which we developed in-house, to track all aspects of project performance.  It enables us to really drill down into each project and identify exactly what areas aren’t going to plan.  As a result, we’re constantly tweaking our scoping, quoting and management processes to keep things where they should be.

What tools do you use to manage time and job tasks?

A custom system we call “Spicy Millennium” – that’s all I can say…

How do you manage the business development process? Is that handled by the project manager or as a separate function? Any suggestions on dealing with difficult clients? Has the way you charge clients changed – are you looking at a performance model?

Each client has a dedicated account manager (in most cases the BDM who created the opportunity with the customer).

The project manager handles the day-to-day communications with the customer during the course of the project, whilst the account manager will touch base monthly to make sure the customer is happy. The project manager is the primary point of contact and the account manager is the next escalation point for the customer. Upon completion, the project manager performs a post project analysis and shares his report with the customer and the account manager. The account manager will continue to liaise with the customer to maintain that relationship and facilitate future opportunities.

In terms of dealing with difficult clients, we’ve found honesty and transparency are the best policies.  If you foresee an issue, address it with the client as soon as possible. The most important thing is to set the client’s expectations correctly at the start and ensure you can deliver on those expectations.  Try to avoid being too rigid and don’t be afraid to push back when you need to.  For every important issue, ensure that it is in writing somewhere.

In terms of the billing processes, we’ve been creative from time to time, but most projects seem to fall into the traditional waterfall or agile methodologies.  We typically split our payments into phases; commencement, continuation and completion.  Thus far, our customers have responded well.

What’s your or the company’s biggest challenge currently?

1. Rate of change for web technology 2. Project profitability

What particular skill set do you look for in your new hires?

Given our need for developers who are also capable of project management, a good balance between technical and interpersonal skills is the key.  Developers who are comfortable explaining complex concepts to clients save an incredible amount of time.

How do you ensure that your team is performing well, and focused on the same goals? Do you have any special team activities that you do to maintain a good culture?

Although it’s cliché, communication is key.  Both the sales and development teams catch up regularly to discuss individual progress and collectively solve any immediate issues.  We also regularly get together as a whole to discuss overall direction and any other issues.

Given our size and the way Peter Hannan (our managing director) likes to run things, the Hannan Group is really like one big family.  It’s quite a casual office environment to work in, but everyone knows what’s expected.  Beers on Friday are pretty much a must…

Is the nature of your business changing? What do you see coming up in digital?

Mobile is without a doubt having a significant effect.  A lot of organisations just aren’t aware of work (or budget) required to make a solution properly ‘mobile-friendly’, which pushes us to not just educate and set correct expectations, but really emphasise what’s key to conversion.

Digital behavioural modelling is another area to follow.  More organisations are considering the ways in which they can use visitor behavioural data to improve the richness of their digital experiences.  The technology required is still in relative infancy, however, it has the potential to drastically impact the quality and relevance of online interactions.

About Claudia Sagripanti

Involved in the evolution of mobile marketing and advertising from the early years, including co-founding Mobile Marketing and Advertising Awards, founding chair of AIMIA's Mobile Industry Group, development of mobile advertising guidelines for industry as well as commercialisation strategy.