Interview with Grant Klein, Boomworks
What’s your day job?
As Co-founder and Managing Director of Boomworks I work closely with our management team to make sure the company continues to deliver on the promise we make to everyone that works with us – staff and clients. The more invigorating side to the equation is talking about the work and sharing some of the great things we do with new clients. Reading legal documents tends to fall on the less exciting side but is equally critical to the business. That said, if the coffee machine breaks down, that tends to take priority!
What type of projects does your company work on – how long do they run?
Boomworks deliver user-centred solutions. We know that the user experience results from the response to the sum total of the aesthetics, interaction and functionality of a site, so user testing and research is fundamental to the majority of the projects we undertake – from Digital Strategy through Interface Design all the way through to complete developed solutions.
Our projects come in all shapes and sizes, so in any one week we may deliver a functional enhancement to an existing site, create some new graphics for a campaign or are deep in a 12+ month online business transformation program. It’s this scope of work and variety of projects that keeps us focused.
How many projects would you have running at a time? How do you manage multiple projects?
For a smaller agency, we can quite often have a large number of projects running concurrently. We utilise regular team stand-ups and client WIP meetings to make sure everyone is aware of what is happening and any delays, potential shifts in priorities or available opportunities that will impact our plans are discussed across the team and taken into consideration. This can make updating our resource schedule like a huge game of Tetris, but being flexible to change is an important part of being a modern digital agency. No one day is the same, but we thrive on that.
How did you get started in digital?
From an early age. As soon as I figured out what my fingers were I was pushing buttons and flicking switches. Getting my hands on a Vic20 was the next logical step. From there it was a case of picking up a raft of transferable skills and qualifications and pushing them to the limit. I have also been very fortunate to meet those “right people” they speak of at the right time, which in one case brought me to Sydney as the Internet business was starting to find its feet. I found my feet along with it and then came the formation of Boomworks. That was about nine years ago now and the business has grown steadily since then.
What’s your current favourite book, website, blog or source of inspiration for your business?
There’s probably many but one of them is “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig. This is a book I stumbled across as a young motorcyclist, thinking it was going to be about how to fix my bike without going crazy. I have returned to this book numerous times over the years and am always surprised to find how relevant it is to the modern context.
Beyond that, the awesome folks at Boomworks are a constant source of inspiration and drive me to make Boomworks worth coming to work for and ensuring the business offers the platform for development and career stimulation. The digital sphere is probably one of the most dynamic sectors and the fast pace of change means that we never have time to rest on our laurels or become complacent.
What’s the agency structure? What’s the ratio of project managers to developers/producers? What’s the ratio of account managers to developers/producers?
We try to keep the hierarchy flat at Boomworks, and perhaps surprisingly given our growth across the years, we’ve managed to maintain that flat landscape. The structure consists of an executive team, department team leads and team members. Our teams are defined by a range of skillsets typical in a digital agency and include project managers, user experience designers, visual designers, interface developers and application developers. We look for deep skills in each area of the business, rather than people who are too broadly skilled in many areas.
The nature of the project will impact what any one project team looks like, but it would be typical to see a PM working with one UXer, one visual designer and one interface developer and potentially another two or more application developers if we are delivering an end to end solution.
How many staff do you have in total? What’s the mix of junior to mid-level or senior staff?
23 at present, with a steady stream of work experience and intern folks coming through, not to mention an influx of children during school holidays. We have a pretty even mix of mid-level to senior staff. It feels like the right balance of age and experience and youth and slim pants.
Have you introduced new roles/job titles in your business – is the nature of your business changing?
Printing business cards at Boomworks can be a stressful time as we have to sort out what titles we should be using. In reality it feels like the base skills are transferable and adaptable to a number of purposes, but we title those skills depending on what the market understands at the time. We’re not really into titles for titles’ sake.
Applying these core skills to the ever-changing digital landscape is fundamental to the survival of any modern agency.
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?
If there was a single answer to this, I would figure out how to bottle it and sell it, at great profit. Accurate scoping is certainly a great place to start. Making sure everyone (us and the client) are clear on what each party’s responsibilities are will give you the best foundation to deliver on budget and quality expectations.
At Boomworks we make every effort to try and find the balance between delivering the highest quality work and doing so in a timely manner. Our approach is, if you’re going to invest hours and blow the budget, do it being awesome, not banging your head against a wall.
What tools do you use to manage time and job tasks?
A series of online tools – Jira for issue tracking, Projector for time and cost tracking and invoicing. I’m anti-red-tape, so it’s about finding the right balance of data capture to stay informed and on top of things and not just gant charting for the sake of it.
Any suggestions on dealing with difficult clients?
At Boomworks we tend to look at client relationships as a long term prospect rather than as a single project. The nature of the work we do requires an amount of immersion in business needs and customer behaviours, so our clients tend to respect the investment we have made in them and therefore the solutions we deliver and so work with us for a long time.
When a difficulty does arise it can usually be solved through better communication. I’m amazed that with so many forms of communicating at our disposal, you can still manage to get your wires crossed or make incorrect assumptions. However, a commitment to resolution without compromising on quality, means the clients knows we’re performing with the best of intentions.
Ultimately, it’s about staying calm, communicating, and then putting the issue behind you and moving on.
Sometimes for the good of the business you need to know when the client relationship is not workable, and commit to the value of your staff and the quality of your work and part ways.
What’s your or the company’s biggest challenge currently?
Making a decent ginger beer.
What particular skill set do you look for in your new hires?
Boomworks Team Leads, rather than the executive team, take the responsibility for assessing the skill level and competence of potential staff. I get involved toward the end of the process as a final view of whether someone will fit into the broader Boomworks culture. You can’t underestimate the value of going on instinct.
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?
Aside from the formal individual half yearly check-ins and the annual professional development reviews, each department has a monthly lunch enabling Team Leads to get more direct feedback. Lunch in general is an important part of the Boomworks culture and when we designed the new office space, one of the most important parts was the communal kitchen and lunch area. We have always provided lunch in the office and this provides a great opportunity for everyone to get together and generates a sense of community amongst our team. The sense of belonging to a team is important and means we can share and work towards a shared vision for the business. Alignment of goals has proven very valuable in the way that we operate as a team.