Learning from your clients

I like to think over the almost 12 years we’ve been in business now, we’ve learned a few things along the way, and many of those insights have come about from things that we’ve done with our clients.  They have shaped much of what we do – without them, after all, we wouldn’t be here – and in return we deliver sustainable solutions to them.

Last week, Benny and I had the opportunity to work pretty closely with one of our clients, Peter Neville from the Department of Health.  We were locked up in a room for a week (well, to be more accurate, I flitted in and out but based myself in there for a large part of the week) and worked primarily on a single project.  My role in Gaia Resources as the Director means that it’s very unusual to have more than an hour on a single task before I get pulled off it to something else (either by a colleague or a client), so having a primary focus for a few days on a single thing was both refreshing and challenging.

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Benny and Pete deep in the detail of a task

We’ve done this a few times before, as Benny wrote about back in 2012 when we had Ben Richardson from the WA Herbarium in to work on the image management application we wrote for them.  We’ve also recently done it on another project, which had our client flying in from the east coast for a week, and again for a large grant proposal we were working on, where again, our client (or in this case, potential client) flew over to spend time with us in our Leederville office.

Working on one project with a client right there, giving you immediate feedback, can be a rare thing in the software engineering game; you might be seeing them for sprint demonstrations and planning every two weeks (if you use Agile methods), or even over longer time periods if you use Waterfall-style methods.  So to have that immediate feedback is both a challenge and a blessing – it is easy for you all to get distracted off down the rabbit hole but it’s also great to see a lot of smaller things get knocked off immediately.

So, what did we learn from this?  Well, working right next to someone, and having discussions over coffee, lunch and the like all give you an chance to re-calibrate your own view of the project – and to our surprise quite often that was different than our client’s view.  On long term projects, like this one is, this is a danger – but it certainly means that this sort of one-to-one time is highly valuable and it will be something we will be trying to schedule into future project plans.

On a personal level, getting some time to work on a single project reminded me how to be more disciplined, to be more careful about how we communicate (and specifically, to outline our assumptions), and to see if we can repeat these sorts of events again in future projects.  And I also got some independent confirmation that Babylon’s coffee is still by far the best in Leederville!

Here’s hoping we get to see you soon in our office?  Or invite us over to yours!


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