Episode 32: From solo to working as a team

Venn diagram of 3 designers collaborating

Episode 32: From solo to working as a team

In this episode, we discuss our learnings and experience from working as a team, after decades of working solo. What are the pro’s & cons? What tools do we use to collaborate online and remote?

Full Transcript of this Podcast Episode


Jackie Hey everybody, it's Jackie D'Elia with rethink.fm and I am here with my co-hosts, Cathi Bosco and Monique Dubbelman for another exciting episode. On this episode, we're going to be talking about how, how we've evolved from working independently on projects, as you know, solo designers, developers, and how we've collaborated together now at UXATT and what this experience has been like for us to work together, and some of the pluses, the minuses, the advantages, etc. So we're going to kick off the discussions in regards to this. Monique, do you have anything you want to Cathi? Go ahead?

Cathi Oh, yeah, no, I, this is a topic all near and dear to our hearts. We're all really enjoying collaborating. And we have pretty rich backgrounds, you know, as independent contractors and collaborating with dev teams and working with teams, but leading the design as opposed to engaging with clients as a team of UX designers, and we're able to do so much more research. And I mean, it's like, two times two is four, four times four is 16.16 times 16 is whatever.

Monique Exponential!

Cathi Yeah, it's the exponential insights and learnings that make it so rewarding to me personally. How about your Monique.

Monique Yeah, so actually, it's our second anniversary around the time we record this, I think.

Cathi Oh!

Monique Yeah, time flies!

Jackie Woohoo!

Monique I've been looking for collaborating in a team for ages. I've been like working for companies at companies. But as an entrepreneur, solo, I've been working for 10 years, or eight years until I started working with you two. And the thing is, once you reach out to people and say, like, are you looking forward to collaborating? Or do you want to join forces, you know, and bring people a broader spectrum of knowledge, they go a great idea! But when you're the one asking that, it's like, you're sort of like the one people look at like, not tell me what I should do. And that's not really collaborating. That's like you telling other people what to do, or expressing your ideas. And what I found hard about working for myself, and what's giving me a lot of gain is like getting feedback, but also finding inspiration, reflection and a different perspective on the things you do otherwise, it will be me like, is this a good design? That's a good design! And then move on? Is, is that a good design? It may not be but who you know what should I do? And yeah, that's that's been really worthwhile.

Cathi Yeah, you go screenblind to your own work sometimes, and you stop seeing, like, all of the ways you could improve it, and you just bring different experience and background to it. Like, you know, Jackie, will bring suggestions to a design or a research study or some project that I really hadn't been exposed to before. You can't know all the things. Like I don't know, all of the ways engineering fits into building a product necessarily, because Jackie has so much from an engineering background. She makes our work so much better. You know?

Monique Yeah, definitely. I think there's, even though we're all generalists. That has a negative connotation, not for me, but some people think that you kno, nothing about a lot of things. But I, I see that as one of the core values of doing usability studies, research, UX design, that you have, like a broad perspective, a broad umbrella. But we all have our specialties there where we can add value to each other's work. I think maybe people don't know that. Well, they can probably tell by my accent, but I'm on the other side of like the Atlantic, I'm in the Netherlands. And even having the international perspective, like how does this work on your side of the pond? Or how do people in Europe perceive this or how would this work if it's not in English? Those kinds of insights, I always saw this as as a handicap that I wasn't a native speaker. But yeah, for the past years, I've, I've been starting to see this as an advantage and also being able to bring that perspective in in a team.

Jackie One of the things that I really like about us working together is we can handle larger projects and scale up and provide a better outcome for clients because of our shared experiences, right, and our shared expertise that we have, we don't have - we have overlap between us. But we definitely have, you know, the trinity of the three corners that we cover. And that enables us to really provide a much better product for the client. So in the past, for me, areas where I'm not strong, I would limp along as I went through the project. And the areas that were really good for the project were the things, maybe my design and development side, right. But my project management side and some of the other things that and research, right, so I wasn't very strong on that either. In the beginning, I would neglect those areas. And because I just didn't have that expertise. Working together, we all bring those pieces together. So we take the time to do the research, we take the time to do the project management and the budgeting and get us through the project in a much easier way for the client.

Monique Yeah, I think it's good to bring up a misconception that people have about hiring a team, that it will be three times as expensive if you hire three people instead of one. And we had that with one client, right? Where we, that was one a client of you, I think, Jackie, or maybe my client, I can't remember. But one of them, we presented the team and said like, Oh, you know, you get three of us now. And then they thought, oh my god, that's gonna really like raise the costs of my work. So we really had to explain that it's not going to be that we do everything together with three of us and the things we do together, we get them done faster, right? So it's not that if it would be me by myself for four hours, maybe the three of us can get that done in one hour. And that will be three hours altogether. So you'll have like one hour benefit. And that's because we we Yeah, we get better velocity, we get quicker decision making. Sometimes we don't. And that's I think one of the things we have to learn together at some point. Because you keep feeding each other with new ideas, like, you know, oh, we could do it this way. You could do it that way. But I would do that with myself as well, to be honest, like keep bringing in new. Yeah.

Cathi Yeah, that's part of the process, though, right, working through iterations. I think that we're pretty- I have to compliment us in this way. We're pretty conscientious.

Monique Someone has to do it. Thank you.

Cathi Yeah, we're pretty conscientious about our billable time. If we feel like we should be in a more efficient mode, or if one of us just wants to sit in on a session that could be managed by one person, we typically would just charge for that one person. You know, I think we're very generous with their clients with that. And that kind of transparency we have with our clients as well like, what's billable time what's not billable time? And, you know, we're all classic overachievers. So we might want to participate in ways through our work that we can't necessarily bill the client for. But it levels up our own skill sets and our culture and velocity.

Monique Yeah, yeah, I think as well, continuity, like velocity. I could just go away on vacation for two weeks and come back and see all the work done. You know, before...

Cathi I like that,

Monique I like that a lot.

Cathi Do you enjoy? [Laughter]

Monique I'll put in my next, like, time off note after this recording. But yeah, it's it's good that things don't stop and are still on your desk after you get back. That's from an internal perspective. You know, for me, it's easier to take time off and know that other people pick the things up that need to be done. But from a client perspective as well, like the work goes on, right, it's not dependent on one person's availabilities. So, and that's why. So one of the things I find important when we pick up new projects as a team that in the beginning, we all try to be in the meetings and read the documentations all three of us to bring that flexibility to a client, right because if one person if it's a small project, then it wouldn't make sense but with larger projects, You really need to make that investment early in the in the project because that way it's easier for others to jump in when we need to speed up our work or when we need more resources, right?

Cathi Yeah. Yeah, when we scope work and contract work, there has been understanding. But I think the discovery work we all have to have eyes on and understanding too, because that sets the course for the whole project.

Monique I think it also helps us too in budgeting, and when we're all three of us participating in the beginning, it makes it easier for us to gage for future projects, you know, we do we do some research on okay, how did we do on the last project? Where were we under estimating, or over estimating in our budgeting efforts? And I think the three of us together in the beginning can really help bring some perspective of how much time we need to budget for each of the areas in the project. Because typically, the projects have you know, that those three areas where we have project management and research, design, and maybe development, maybe not, that's not really a requirement, we, I've had some clients that I've worked with for a long time that I'm still working with. So in those cases, yes, we do a refresh for them, we do things like that. But having that scope for all of those areas and being able to formally put it down on paper, because a lot of times I would just estimate based on what my gut said or what I thought. And as the projects get bigger, these things become much more difficult to manage, right, and really drilling down and identifying tasks to do.

Jackie Yeah, and who does what and who's taking over. And we've - one of the things I did want us to talk about was is some of the tools we're using, and some of the ways that are making it easier for us to work together. I always wanted to work on an A team, right? So and I can remember talking to one of my walking buddies about this years ago that it would be great if there was a team that you could work with, we really had great synergies and we could really scale up and work better together. And Monique has been really helpful for us in getting more organised as far as our internal how we how we work internally together and how we account for everything. And Cathi's done a great job with all of the work that she's done at other agencies, and she brings all of these perspectives in so that all together really makes it easy.

Monique And Jackie, you are much more organised financially. And that's the good thing about working as a team.

Cathi Let's have a laugh about our financial meetings.

Everyone [Laughter]

Monique No, but you can divide the tedious tasks, like in our case amongst three, three people like it's not that you have to do it all yourself. Well. We're also like independent contractors outside like the teamwork we do. So we do have some responsibility to that point. But yeah, our financial meetings, okay. What do you want to say about that.

Jackie Funny, they're funny. Yeah,

Cathi there's usually a lot of conversation about baking and cats and anything we can do to put off the task of defeat the financial book work.

Jackie But we do make it? We do. Monique has us on task. We have a financial meeting every month. And it's always right, right around the first of the month. And we go through our finances, we go through our budgeting we go through our projections. And that really helps a lot. My background, you know, I'd run a couple of businesses for in the past. So I'm really fluent in the financial side of managing the business. So that has been helpful for us right in that regard. But we all have the strengths that we're bringing to the table. And I think we were just very lucky that Cathi and I had worked together initially, for quite a few years, actually. I was doing development work and working with SVG animation work. Yeah, adding that to big sites. And we have a lot of fun, sort of doing those fringe tasks around the site development.

Jackie So Cathi and I knew we could work together and then when Cathi and Monique were at Pressnomics, they decided there was a need and we were going to try to fill it and I got a I text, a message that says, you know, we're doing this and do you want to do it too, and I was like, Okay, I really don't know what what we're going to do,

Monique it was this European joining us... So and then me and Cathi have also been working on the WordPress design team, sort of like not maybe together but alongside each other. And we've been Yeah, we got to know each other through that. Right. So that's helpful. So is there an advice like we were lucky, like, we were a good match we like, as, as people like, I think the first thing is that you need to be able to say everything to each other, right? Be totally transparent, feel comfortable in sharing, not only business stuff, but also personal stuff. Like, if you don't have that feeling that you're, you're able to be who you are to say whatever you want. I think that's a red flag of not being in a team with someone. Do you agree?

Cathi Totally. I mean, the first year we were together, I think I was during our first year, I had to go through chemotherapy, at work. And like, my human experience, sort of dominated a little bit, although I worked through it, you guys were so supportive and flexible. And we have to deal with people as human beings first. And so I'm really grateful.

Jackie Yes, that was a challenging time. And we were really happy to be there for you and help you as best we can. We're all far away from each other, but just to be there for you. And it does, we are very fortunate that that we were able to have that synergy together and work well. I think some of the things if you are on your own and you're looking for a team and you want to you want to work on a team is, you know, get to know some of the people that you're thinking about working with and get to see if you have similar work ethics and how you interact with clients together and just get a feel for that person. We're all different. I mean, and we will joke about this because and this is Monique knows this is sent with love. But Monique is very direct. So, for us, we joke about the rating system that we get from Monique, we do something we you get, I will say I'm gonna probably get a seven on this, it's a one to 10 scale, no one ever gets a 10. So just put it that way.

Monique But I gave you a nine and half!

Jackie But we're, we joke about this and we laugh about it. But one of the great things is, you know, Monique, say to be direct with us. And it's very helpful for us. And we can talk to each other and be really open and honest with each other, and in a constructive way. And so look for things like that. And then look for skill sets where you're not where you don't have everybody has the exact same skill set, unless you just want a design shop and you want to all just be designers or you want to you know, but you if you're going to run an organisation, you need to have coverage for the whole area in your business. So from project management, finance, doing the work, and being able to cover that and how to deal with clients, all of those factors.

Monique Yeah, and I think also, a good tip is probably not to go full force straight away, I think we sort of build up, you know, on sharing and doing things like gradually, in the beginning, we had our own resources. And at some point, we said that that's one of the big advantages as well, like we consolidated like all memberships and software and things into team accounts that we can now share. But we didn't do that in the first month. Because you know, obviously, you still want to see how things go. And then if you have to, like revert all these things. So take it easy, if you want to start a team, right, get to know each other, don't like throw everything overboard, straight away. Also, I think don't see it as a side thing, take it serious that that's where your attention goes, because we also have our own clients. And that's I think that's one of the things we - that may be a next step. But as long as you have those, you can't put enough energy into building a team, right? So you really need to allocate time to work on that as well. And not see it as something that will happen... automagically, that sounds good.

Cathi Well, that's so true. You need healthy boundaries professional, excuse me professionally, but also, personally, like for me, I'm friends and I'm pretty transparent about you know, my treatment last year and all that, but like some people want a little more personal privacy and you don't have to, like choose your healthy boundaries of where you want that to go. What's right for me might not be right for someone else or vice versa. Sometimes you just you just want to work. You don't want to be focusing on your personal life. So there's a balance there for sure. It's interesting, I get to work on a lot of different design teams because I work on different projects. without disclosing those design teams, I get to take the best from those teams and how they're working and what they're doing and how not what, where, why and how of those teams and bring them to us. And I'm not saying I'm the only one that brings good ways to our team, I'm just one of three. But it's really interesting in our field as UX designers to go in and see how other teams work, and how they review each other's work and how they grow and learn together. We are a type of industry where you have to be doing the work and, and working at it on a regular basis to be successful at it. It's not like you can just put that pencil down for six months and walk away and come back necessarily, in my opinion, things are changing, things are improving and shifting. And it's fascinating to see how other teams work.

Monique I think that's that's with like, a lot of jobs in tech. I guess. I think it's just the industry we work in. On the other end, you bring stuff to those teams that you get from us, right. So it's mutual.

Cathi it's very mutual. That's right. That's right. Because of my teamwork with y'all, I am able to contribute at a higher level to projects and other teams than I could on my own. Without a doubt, without a doubt.

Monique It's why I like going to meetups, when they were still happening live. I'm not so good in online meetups. And yeah, so maybe we can discuss our tools a bit.

Jackie I think we should, yeah, let's let's cover some tools that that we have found that really help us collaboratively work because we're not in the same city. We're not even in the same country, and in Monique's case, so. And we have a time difference, right? Yeah. And we have a time difference. And that's another thing to consider when you are thinking about teaming up is where people are located. And we I'm a morning person, Cathi's a morning person. So and Monique, maybe not so much. I think you've mentioned so , if you live here in the US and I lived in the Netherlands, we would like half an hour a day where we could talk.

Monique It would be in the night, right? When when you when I would still be awake. And yeah, anyway, this works well for us. But also, that's one of the things we need to learn. We, we are a remote team. And that means that we don't have a centralised office that wasn't even possible during COVID, which took most part of our work time together, right. But I think one of the things we're getting better at and should get even more better at his work a-sync. It's so much nicer to share screen and talk to things together as you would on while you're in the same office. But a lot of things can happen a-syc, we do that as well, right? We the way I like what we do is record videos for each other with walkthroughs that you can watch at your own time. And also maybe slower for review. That's that's one of the tools I like using it's Cloudapp that helps you share your screen and record quick videos to explain things to each other what you've been doing.

Jackie Yes, that tool is also helpful for clients too where you want to show a prototype or you want to quickly just show something and not have them actually walk through. So a cloud app lets you do that really easy share a link and you're good to go. We love Harvest. Right? I know, we use that every day. And Monique introduced us to Forecast which is from Harvest. And we use that for allocating our time every week and what availability we've got to work on specific projects and budget.

Monique Yeah, it's more like planning right planning tool. Yeah,

Jackie We use Google suite for all of our files, community, you know, folders, documents, spreadsheets, all of those things.

Monique It's not my favourite tool, to be honest. But the alternatives are not my favourites either. It's just we always struggle to find things back. It helps for me integrating it on my desktop, and I have a folder in my finder where I can just access my Google Drive. But yeah, it's always a struggle to find folders and files in Google Drive, I think but it's it's the best of what's out there. I think for now.

Jackie We love Calendly we use that quite a bit.

Monique And we started integrating GitHub when we teamed up with developers right in our time tracking so a good thing is I Github and Harvest integration where you can open the tickets in Github and we use tickets for design work as well not just for development or pull records. But you can open a ticket and then start tracking and register the time you've been working on a ticket. I like those kind of integrations.

Cathi Part of GitHub is really nice working through sprints. I like that.

Monique Yes, yeah, that's what we, we started using Notion. I'm still as a sort of Knowledge Base for sharing links, reading stuff, seeing videos. It's quite a task to get that working and being able to tag it and find things back in Notion, and it's still under review, if that's going to stay until maybe we find something easier. And we use slack for a quick communication and fun parts as well. Right. But we used to share links in Slack, but they just ended up being a big list of links that we don't review. So.

Cathi would say that's one of the things that differentiates our teams from other teams I've worked with. And that is that all three of us are really avid learners and teachers. And not all UX designers are so committed to spending such a large percentage of their time to learning and teaching. So Notion's good for that. But it's hard for that.

Monique Well, it's just not out of the box, you need to really, and I'm like y'all said I'm, I think it's my my sign, right. I was born under under Virgo, which is sort of like organiser plus. And I like getting things organised and find them back. So I'm, yeah, I'm working on Notion to sort of build a knowledge base where we can review information about how to do things, because yeah, it's like development, you don't know everything from your head, you need to be able to look them up again. So what else do we use?

Jackie We love Figma! Oh, well, yeah, Figma's more for client work. But we even use it internally for things too. And Miro, we'd like both of those. we'd prefer if those two companies merged, so everything would work seamlessly together. But that's, that's what I'm hoping for.

Monique That's a matter of time. Right? You predicted that last year?

Jackie Yeah, we'll see.

Monique And I thought I had a nostalgic week, because I've been running into old correspondence with friends from the 90s. I even ever a letter here ready to send to a friend, because I was like, oh, all this computer work. And it was so good in the 90s, where you weren't available all the time. But I love my digital work as well. And I would have never been able to team up with you across the Atlantic. Right? If it wasn't for Zoom that we're using as well. Slack, remote work async work. Clients that also understand that that's a way of working, because let's not forget them. If you have a client who will require in person meetings, within 15 minutes drive, that would not happen. So yeah, I value that the time we live in now, facilities, and also the COVID year has sped up development of some tools to work remote and a-sync and collaborate in documents.

Cathi For sure, really impact impacted the digital evolution of things and moving things faster forward. Intense.

Jackie So do we have any last tidbits that we want to share before we wrap up?

Cathi I love you guys!

Monique Would you ever want to go back to working solo?

Jackie No, no, not at all.

Monique No. If you find the right team, it's it's I look forward to every moment I have with you. And now we get to the cheesy part. But it's true. You can stop listening now.

Jackie That's it? Yeah. If you can get something like we have consider yourself very lucky and blessed. And, you know, dive right in. I, I wouldn't I wouldn't change anything. I liked the way that we ramped it up. And I like where we are right now and the work we've got coming in the future. And I think it's we have great potential here to just continue to scale and grow. And as we would scale and grow as we wanted to be because all of us are at stages in our lives where we like our flexibility. And having the three of us gives us that ability to do that. So that's another thing to consider. We do not want to work 16 hours a day. None of us do.

Monique But everything's for sale. So please reach out. I mean, we're not against offers that make our lives happier. Definitely not. I'm very direct. I thought I'd put it into practice just at the final moment here. And yeah, maybe one thing of advice I want to leave here is that I've been looking very hard for a team like this. And maybe that's why I couldn't find it because I was looking too hard.

Cathi Wow.

Jackie That is very true. I mean, this thing happened by accident. It really did. It wasn't intentional.

Cathi I think it was very intentional. I was very intentional.

Jackie But, but when you walked into that room, you were not planning on doing this, because that's what I mean is that it just happened.

Cathi I can honestly tell you the first time we met Monique, you and I sat in an audience as she was giving it a talk at WordCamp US and she was talking about UX stuff. And I could tell that we could help each other.

Monique I think we always said that like it's, yeah, it's at some point, if we could work together, but the time wasn't right back then

Cathi It wasn't right then. But I've always felt, I've always felt it. I've also had, like, it's not like the first time I've worked on a team. I've had other companies in an app that we built with a doctor and I've had other teams I've worked with, that haven't had this sort of cosmic thing. So you know, not your your first attempt at collaborating may not be as successful as we've been. And it wasn't my first attempt either. So it takes some trial and error to learn how you could do it better. How you select people better to collaborate with. It's not easy. It seems easy, because we're so happy, but it's not.

Monique So it's easy when things work the way they should, right? That's like with software. I mean, you don't experience friction, let's have that sort of metaphor down and you don't experience the friction, then you don't notice that it's really good. Right. But if you have the friction, you know, you know just when it's bad, and that's the same with collaboration. Is that a good closing?

Cathi Thank you!

Jackie I think that's a good closing. All right. Well, that wraps it up for this episode. Thanks for joining us and we will catch you on the next one. Bye!

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