A brand new studio, but it feels really quiet. Nick is on holiday for the week. Matt Jones was in New York participating in the Microsoft Research Social Computing Symposium earlier this week, which focussed on “city as platform.” He’s currently in San Francisco with Jack, who is also on the road, working with Bonnier and Kicker on the next stage of Mag+. That’ll start ramping up more for us next week. Jack was in the studio on Monday putting up shelves. There’s a lot to do to settle into a new space, but wow it’s such a treat. I feel like I can stretch out here. There’s three times the space, it’s warmer, and it’s bright.
Tom is in the studio this week. He’s working on Ashdown, our UK schools project with Channel 4/4iP. He’s been extracting grades from tens of thousands of school inspections so we can start displaying a measure of pupil well-being, among other things.
Matt B is also here, sitting a couple of desks to my right, just outside the room we call “New Statham” (don’t even ask). He’s working on Kendrick, and the idea there is to learn from our on-phone prototype to completely map out the every screen and final visual designs of the beta version of the app. (Kendrick is a collection of iPhone apps for language learning, and the core team on that is Nick and Matt.) There are some features we’re leaving out of the beta – such as the first-run experience – but otherwise it’s about beauty and polish. It’s looking lovely, but there’s a risk of some screens being a bit too polished in a Bang & Olufsen stand-offish kind of way. More popular and approachable, with maximum beauty!
And it was Kari Stewart’s first day as studio manager on Tuesday! She’s making an enormous difference already. There’s a lot of admin she’s picking up, and the big thing we’re tackling together is how to a. provide a view of capacity and activity of the studio coming up; and, b. track projects so that we can build up a record of how we’ve done on each — frankly how much each project costs.
So I’m wanting to focus on project accounting and management accounts in the next couple of months. Are long consultancy jobs really profitable, given they mean principals are out of the studio and unavailable for even ambient involvement in other projects during that time? Are we good at estimating? It’s a concern of mine that, as BERG grows and the number of concurrent projects increases, we could accidentally paint ourselves into a cash-flow corner. Management accounts are about building ways to make these things visible. The financial accounts, projections, weekly catch-ups and ad hoc notes have previously been more than enough… but not so much now, and definitely not in another 3 months. There’s one or two larger projects I want in, so we need to de-risk growth.
My sister works at a medium-sized civil engineering firm, and they grade their projects (A, B, or C) in three ways: how profitable it was; how easy the client was to work with and how much they enjoyed the project; its strategic importance. I’d like to be able to do something similar.
And how can all of this be done with the minimum of overhead, and without distorting or risking what is a super pleasant working environment? I’m not keen on rules or explicit processes. I believe this kind of structure has to be thought of ecologically — how can it be included such that supporting it is still the easiest way to work, and that it naturally encourages good decisions without being an imposition, in the ecology of the studio itself?
A simple example, previously, has been putting the new work pipeline on the wall, and updating it every week. I’ve not pasted it up in the new studio yet, and that’s a problem. But just its presence kept us thinking about keeping the pipeline healthy and moving. So that’s the sort of thing I mean. But this is potentially a lot more heavy-weight, so I need to move with consideration.
I’m still learning what kind of tools are good for these needs, and really still figuring out what our needs are. But that’s the big picture of what Kari and I will be working on, in addition to the day-to-day studio life-support systems. Given that, I’m really curious to know what other people use for planning and tracking, so I’ve been asking around, and spotting other people’s work practices is one of the reasons I like reading weeknotes. Your own comments and thoughts are very welcome!
So that’s my week, in a nut-shell. I’ve been able to be much more involved with Tom and Ashdown, and Matt B and Kendrick, and I’ve really enjoyed that, and there’s a whole bunch of meetings and talking on the phone. I get to show off the new space and recent work, so it’s all good stuff.