“What makes a great day at the office?”
If you ask people what they love about their work, you aren’t asking for a job description. You’re asking them to tell you about the spark that keeps them excited and engaged. When I questioned a handful of my Sparkbox colleagues, they all came back to a single theme: they like solving problems both individually and collectively.
At every level, solving problems is what Sparkbox is here to do. Here are a few techniques we use that might be useful to you and your team.
Force Yourself to Ask Hard Questions
We begin most of our projects with a discovery and strategy creation phase. We’re not just asking our clients about where they want to go from here (although that’s an important part of it.) We’re also asking them to back up and tell us how they got here. What problems are they trying to solve? What’s worked well in the past, and what hasn’t? What’s worth hanging onto, and what can be let go? If you’ve got a problem to solve, try to put your assumptions aside and go back to the beginning. It can be challenging, but it will open the doors to new insights and approaches.
Use a Different Lens
One of our developers recently talked to me about putting on a UX hat when addressing a development problem. Her deep experience writing code is an asset to any Sparkbox client, but she doesn’t see her job as exclusively code-related. She makes it a point to understand the client’s business goals and user personas and contributes to the success of the project at every level. Try to think beyond your traditional role: how might you view your problem through the eyes of a colleague in a completely different role? Would this influence your approach?
Build the Right Team (and Then Some)
I’ve spent time with our director of delivery as he assembles the perfect team for a client engagement. One of the critical pieces of this puzzle is thinking beyond what’s explicitly called for to anticipate future or unexpected needs. For example, maybe we’re tackling a development project that would benefit from a UX perspective. If you’re putting together a project team, think about the skills you know you need, and then imagine what else might be helpful. Are there folks you could borrow from elsewhere in the organization? Is there someone available who might offer a fresh point of view?
Every piece of work that we do at Sparkbox is regularly and proactively reviewed by others on the team. Code reviews. Design reviews. Strategic feedback. Team members are trying to identify errors and to make sure that there’s not a better way forward. Giving and receiving critical feedback is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly, and it can make all the difference. If you don’t have reviews and feedback built into your problem-solving processes, consider adding them. Subject your work to scrutiny and be open to making changes if there are ways for you to improve.
Try, Try Again
We’re big on iteration here at Sparkbox. It’s a good idea to have a plan—ask Erin about project roadmaps—but change is going to happen. We build iteration and testing into our processes so that we don’t lose sight of opportunities for improvement or refinement throughout a project. If there’s a better destination (or a more efficient way to get there) we want to be flexible enough to embrace a new solution. As you search for solutions to your challenge, be mindful that change can be a good thing.
Every project is different and every team is different, but you can always find new ways to tackle challenges and solve problems within your organization. I’d be curious to hear about what works well for you and your team.