Power to the people

Call me obsessive, I sometimes like things to be done my way. After years of working on my own, it is a real challenge to work as part of a team.

Robert Lindsay as Citizen (Wolfie) Smith

(For the non-Brits (or anyone too young to remember), the picture is actor Robert Lindsay in the BBC's 1977 sit-com, Citizen Smith written by John Sullivan who went on to write Only Fools and Horses. (For trivia buffs; one of the episodes (27 September 1979) was titled 'Only Fools And Horses'.) Citizen Smith followed the activities of the Tooting Popular Front, a feeble but ambitious organisation led by a would-be revolutionary Marxist, Wolfie Smith. Wolfie has always been one of my personal heroes ;).

Ed: Just get on with it Comrade!

It has been an interesting five months. As I wrote back in June, our business has changed a great deal. We have been lucky enough to have worked on some amazing projects but one of the most interesting and challenging aspects for me personally has been working with new people.

I've been working on the web for over nine years and since 1998 running my own business. Well, I say business, but in all reality up until fairly recently it was a small, personal affair. I am very lucky to have found a 'hobby' that earns my living and grateful that people knocked on the door and asked Can you do ____ for me?. I worked at my own pace, in my own way and had complete control over the work that I made, right down to every last white-space or semi-colon. When I began working with web-standards and accessibility and re-discovered how to code HTML 'by hand', I became even more pedantic about code layout and other such 'geeky' details.

I always organise my own CSS files in a certain way, and I am nit-picky over code details. For example, I always layout a CSS rule like this,

rule { color : #333; } 

rather than this,

rule { color: #333; } 

Call me obsessive, it's just the way I like it. Sometimes there is not a logical reason for my obsessive/compulsive details, it's just a personal thing.

Today things are a little different, I work with other people in the team who sometimes have different opinions or ways of working that are different to mine. I'm not a natural manager, certainly not a born leader, so I have found it both interesting and challenging to balance my own wish to 'do something a certain way' with the needs of the team and the business.

I still think that attention to detail, right down to the leanness and structure of a CSS file, is important. But now I have to resist the urge to dive in and change things to my way, just because I want to. That is not to say that the guys work to a different standard - they don't, are very focussed and do a fantastic job. They sometimes just do things differently. Pete likes to indent HTML, I like it left aligned. Does it make a difference to a site? No. It's just a me thing.

After so many years of working in my own sweet way, it is a challenge to accept that work 'with my name on it' is sometimes not done completely 'my way'. I am sure that I will find it easier over time. I am also very aware that, despite what I might like to think, I am not always right. Other opinions and methods really matter, they add to the overall mix and make for a better job.

What about you?

What experiences have you had in either working for/with people or of encouraging others to work in the way that you would like them to? I also wonder if there are any cultural differences between say the ways that European and American teams interact?


Replies

  1. #1 On October 27, 2004 11:56 AM Gazzer said:

    I ran my own business for a while (until that September 11th business) and when I began employing people I found it really hard to adjust.

    At first I pushed my employees to work my way, mainly because I relied on those functions built in to Dreamweaver (there, I've said it!) to get by and if they wrote code by hand I couldn't always be sure how to work with it later.

    Eventually they convinced me that hand coding was cool and clever and I went away and learned my trade from the ground up. Seven years of relying on visual programs and then learnt to code from a book - back to front or what?

    Now I really enjoy working in a team, albeit a very small team. We have differences about layout similar to those you have already mentioned, but we just accept that we have our individual styles. There are times when it is beneficial for all team members to work the same way and in these cases we agree on a style and we all stick to it.

    I really only started to learn about coding when I let go of the reins and let someone else steer for a while.

  2. #2 On October 27, 2004 12:26 PM Chris Hunt said:

    I've looked once, I've looked twice, I've even looked at the source. But I can't see any difference between

    rule {
    color : #333;
    }

    and

    rule {
    color: #333;
    }

    Maybe I'm not obsessive enough?

  3. #3 On October 27, 2004 12:28 PM Jon Hicks said:

    "I always layout a CSS rule like this,

    rule {
    color : #333;
    }
    rather than this,
    rule {
    color: #333;
    } "

    That makes such a difference! ;o)
    Now is it only me that can't see the it?

  4. #4 On October 27, 2004 12:49 PM Ray Atherton said:

    After the word color, and before the colon, is an extra space.
    More legible that way, seems to me.

  5. #5 On October 27, 2004 01:05 PM Dale Cruse said:

    I find that working alone, I can have control over virtually EVERYTHING - including tiny things like spacing in CSS, as described here.

    However, when working as part of a group, that type of control just may not work. If you're the team lead, you can specify how things will be coded and to what standard. If people don't follow the standard, you have the right to correct it or have others fix it.

    Then again, when you're just a cog in the wheel, your individual standards may have to be put aside for the benefit of the larger picture (and if you want to keep your gig).

    Just do what's appropriate based on the situation. And I don't think that concept has any geographic boundaries.

  6. #6 On October 27, 2004 01:12 PM Phil Baines said:

    Ahh yes, I understand how hard it can be when techniques and practices differ with people. At the moment I am the team member that is believed to have the most knowledge on web standards (CSS and stuff), so i pretty much get to tell my partners a little much of how I 'feel' about certain web standards issues as well as just giving them the facts.

    Organisation is my blight. I really love good organisation. Project Notes, well organised client materials, and stuff like that. Unfortunately not everyone has this inclination to be so organised. And like you, sometimes my methods for organising things have no real logic behind them (like your 'border : value' thing), so insisting that others using can come over as a bit pretentious. Other things however, I just know make more sense, AND THAT EVERYONE MUST TO IT MY WAY! ;)

  7. #7 On October 27, 2004 01:15 PM Phil Baines said:

    "If you're the team lead, you can specify how things will be coded and to what standard. If people don't follow the standard, you have the right to correct it or have others fix it." -

    Yes, but every good team leader needs to remember to value his/her teams opinion on things. I personally think that the team leader should always have a good arguement if he/she is going to tick off a team member for not doing things to his/her standard.

    But that might be because I am not the team leader. :) yet.

  8. #8 On October 27, 2004 01:23 PM Malarkey said:

    Wait a minute!

    Did Phil Baines really make two comments there or is someone trying to hijack his badge?

    (checks IP address) OK, same guy... phew... one Phil Baines is enough for me, thank-you.

  9. #9 On October 27, 2004 02:17 PM Phil Baines said:

    Hey, don't complain, I nearly made three of 'em.

    I Keep thinking of things to say after I post. It's really annoying. Now that you have posted inbetween I can say what I would have said in my third post.

    "Now is it only me that can't see the it?" - No Jon, I can see it too. But I did have to look back and forth between the two statements more than twice.

  10. #10 On October 27, 2004 03:06 PM Derek Featherstone said:

    I've always struggled with this one... It isn't that I'm always pushing for "my way or the highway", but I certainly do have a vision about how things should be done.

    Honestly, I haven't come across this as much for my work, but more often when I'm working elsewhere on subcontract. -- and sometimes it works both ways -- I see things that I should be doing that I'm not, and things others are not doing that they should be (at least in my opinion...)

    In the end, it becomes part of overall efficiency for the entire team and the company... knowing where things are, how to get at them, and knowing that "this is the way we do things" makes the team more interchangeable, doesn't it?

  11. #11 On October 27, 2004 04:00 PM Gordon Mackay said:

    “I also wonder if there are any cultural differences between say the ways that European and American teams interact?”

    Sure there is, after communicating with Kindler Chase a lot I have learned to speak fluent 'merican :)

    I now know what a “ sem-eye colon” is :D

  12. #12 On October 27, 2004 09:18 PM Warren Black said:

    I did often wonder if Stuff & Nonsense was a one man band or a team - the site doesn't seem to mention anyone but you Andy!

    As an owner/manager of a small web design company, I've looked forward to your original promise of articles about the business of web design - more of that please! :)

    I've often struggled with not forcing everything to be my way with the team - they would probably argue that I rarely succeed!

    I'm such a perfectionist - plus I feel that everything that goes out of our studio represents me, personally, so I think I'm too much of a control-freak most of the time.

    I think there's a very fine line between Creative Director and Creative Dictator...

    P.S. I'm getting a wierd underline hover thing going on on this page in Mac Safari, in case you don't know....

  13. #13 On October 27, 2004 09:20 PM Warren Black said:

    Hey! How do I get a little flag? I want a Northern Ireland one! :D

  14. #14 On October 27, 2004 09:49 PM Malarkey said:

    I did often wonder if Stuff & Nonsense was a one man band or a team - the site doesn't seem to mention anyone but you Andy!

    That's because it's MY site, mine, yes mine I tell you!
    My site, mine... AND I give out the badges too! ;)

    Actually I've had a few emails about the badges... Brit Packers get the Brit Packer badge, except me (mod badge) and Phil Baines 'cos he's Welsh. (When Phil grows up he might get a Brit Packer badge too ;) )

    It's done through the MTSwitch plug-in that Dan Cederholm talked about yesterday, plus a bit of devious MT template twisting and a sprinkling of CSS. Certainly not perfect but it seems to work. It's just a bit of fun really... as it's my site. ;)

  15. #15 On October 27, 2004 10:27 PM Adam Pink said:

    Our little band consists of three and our roles overlap enough to know what each other is on about but differ enough for each of us to feel like we matter.

    I have not always found it easy to let others do something that I know I can do better or faster myself. But I think as I have got older I have realised the value in bringing on successors. Truth is, as soon as you do start imparting what you know to someone else you start growing more yourself.

    One thing I do know though I like being a team player sooooo much more than being a solo player, especially the office darts matches to see who makes the tea :o)

  16. #16 On October 27, 2004 11:20 PM Daniel Oliver said:

    I find the same problem. I also have little things that to me, matter. I like to have spaces also between CSS rules etc. I like to present my code in a way in which it is easy for me to go back to in the future. When I see people doing things differently to me I cringe. I don't know how they can work like that and no doubt others will think the same about my work. No doubt a lot of their cringes aren't because of indents, spacing etc it's more then likely to do with the horrid code :-)

    Although saying all that I haven't really done much to my blog and how that has been done. But for all my other sites, that I start from scratch, this sort of thing I find quite important. I don't really know why I haven't gone through my blog to be honest. Just lazy I guess. But I have only just recently noticed my petty little things recently.

    I am quite young and have only recently started working with others on projects and I have already had quite an impressive amount of discussions with others about how things should be done. Either that or I just make the changes as and when I get the chance. I hope I grow out of it.

  17. #17 On October 28, 2004 01:47 AM patrick h. lauke said:

    i had a similar experience about a year ago when i finally got an assistant at work. initially, her way of coding and writing markup was quite at odds with mine, and - without sounding like a completely pompous git - quite bad and inconsistent. i didn't force her to adopt my way of working, but - lucky for me - she actually started to take more and more cues from my previous and current work, and - which i found really refreshing - questioning my every choice (to see if it was maybe purely stylistic, or if there was some reason behind my madness). but you're right, it does take a bit of readjusting when you see somebody else's work, and - behind the scenes - it's not quite like you would have done it...the temptation is great to just jump in and do all the tweaks again to make it "yours".

    having said that, it's a fine line between allowing different team members a certain amount of flexibility and personal expression, and letting them do whatever. i find that establishing a few good practice rules (that *you* have to stick to as well, of course) and official ways in which it should be done is essential for longer term maintainability and efficient collaboration among team members.

    i could have sworn d. keith robinson had written something about it, but can't seem to find the blog entry off hand...

  18. #18 On October 28, 2004 01:48 AM patrick h. lauke said:

    ps...what's with the badges? i want one too, dammit! ;)

  19. #19 On October 28, 2004 10:09 AM Dave Foy said:

    I have a real 'love/hate' relationship with solo working. I basically work on my own (though 'the wife' also works with me half the week too), and like to think I prefer it and can do everything by myself. However, I often subcontract bits of work out to good friends, and although I know that it's better all round if I don't shoulder everything myself, I find it really difficult to not want to say, "Look, give it here and I'll do it myself!", even though they always do a great job.

    I think the worst thing for me is maintaining a sense of perspective if I spend all day working on my own. Just having a team to share ideas with and keep things in perspective is something I could really do with sometimes. Those days when everything seems too much for one little guy!

    Anyways... great post Andy that touched a nerve... and can I have a Brit Pack badge? Pleeease??! (Don't hold the fact that I live in Hull against me - I remember your Hull disaster story very well!) : )

  20. #20 On October 28, 2004 04:33 PM Mike Stenhouse said:

    I think that coding style matters up to a point... I like to be able to scan through the CSS so I want everything to be indented and separated into logical blocks of rules with comments. And indented a little bit more. I've been fortunate in that up until now I've always been the one to start projects, so I can lay things out the way I want and get other people to follow suit. If you're working in a team it might be an idea to lay down some house styles before anyone starts work, just to keep things consistent. Oh, and properties all on the same line really wind me up! Highly strung?

    The same goes for Photoshop files. I like all my layers organised into folders, with sub-folders and sensible names. If/when you have to hand off the files everything makes sense and there are less 'where the bloody hell have you put...' calls in the following weeks. Learned that the hard way.

  21. #21 On October 29, 2004 01:36 PM Jonathan M. Hollin said:

    I too am very picky about my "style" and cringe when others don't work in accordance with "the way".

    This is probably my biggest problem when working on colloborative projects - I often end up spending more time editing existing code to fit my "style" than I do on writing new code.

    Dammit, why doesn't everyone work the way I do? I know my way is the right way! :-)

  22. #22 On October 29, 2004 03:49 PM Paul Nattress said:

    I'm used to working in a team but it's always a pain when I open up a CSS file that a colleague has coded and it isn't laid out the way I'd do it. I spend most of my time reformatting the file, which of course then narks the guy who created it.

    We all have our little ways and as coding is such a solitary job, we feel the pain when someone comes in and "moves the furniture".

  23. #23 On October 29, 2004 03:50 PM Paul Nattress said:

    By the way Andy, I'm a Geordie so if you have any black and white flags...

    :)

  24. #24 On October 29, 2004 07:49 PM Neil Whiteley said:

    The need for coding conventions is a subject that has been around for quite some time, particularly amongst the mainstream software development community. Anybody who has worked in large teams on complex projects will understand the need for such conventions.

    Now that Web site development has moved out of the bedroom and into a, team based, professional environment, the same need for common coding conventions and practices has become essential. Team members come and go but the code remains and has to be maintained. If everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet it becomes more manageable.

    It matters not who defines the standards, as long as its syntacticaly correct and everybody tows the line. There is little room for personal style in large team environments as the code is not personal, it belongs to the team and could be worked on by any team member at any time. Its a great help if you don't have to interpret somebody elses style within an already complex situation.

    I now work alone a great deal of the time but still impose a set of conventions on myself mainly due to habit but because I know that at some point my code will have to be picked up by somebody else.

  25. #25 On October 29, 2004 08:39 PM Neil Whiteley said:

    p.s. You've started something with these badges. I'll have a "skull and crossbones" please mate!

  26. #26 On October 29, 2004 08:47 PM Neil Whiteley said:

    There is a good book on coding conventions by Steve McConnell called "Code Complete" (Microsoft Press ISBN 1-55615-484-4).

    The book is geared towards conventional software development but many of the sections, particularly those concerning naming conventions, layout style and commenting can be easily applied to (X)HTML and CSS.

  27. #27 On October 29, 2004 08:54 PM Malarkey said:

    @ Neil Whitely:

    Thanks for the recommendation, it's on order from Amazon right now. For anyone interested, here is the link to Steve McConnell's book at Amazon.co.uk.

    Oh, and Neil, this one is for you ;)

  28. #28 On October 30, 2004 11:20 PM Andrew Krespanis said:

    Differeing coding styles can sometimes be enough to have a team at each other's throats. I've been working on a large team project for nearly a year now and the only way we could come to an agreement about the coding style was to all sit down and weigh up the pros and cons of different people's styles.

    In the end, we decided to go with a tab indent for each propery/value pair but no spaces around the semi-colon -- spaces were left out so as to save space. (If you saw how much CSS is in this thing you would understand!)

    Oh, btw - your badges look so cool I did up a an Aussie one too... Not that you need it, but we often feel left out all the way down here :p

  29. #29 On November 1, 2004 11:10 AM Paul Nattress said:

    I'm due to write a style guide as part of the redesign of our company website. As well as laying down standards for content and graphics, I'll also be including coding standards. (The main target audience of the style guide is for external web agencies.)

    If any other company has a style guide, it may be very useful to include examples in there for your team to follow.

    Even if you're in an agency, I can't see why you can't have a style guide for your house style, more so for coding standards than visual design and content standards. If you have to sub-contract work out, it will be a good guide for contractors.

  30. #30 On November 3, 2004 04:11 PM Michael Ward said:

    I'm pretty obsessive about my code, but as long as I can see that others are making an effort to create clean and semantic code then I'm more than happy � esp. after seing some of the code produced by some people!