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  • July 21, 2011

Save Ferris!

I’m not gonna lie. On a bad day, I can be a bit like Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Note: If you were born after 1986 or just don’t like movies and don’t get the reference, Decorative Illustration Cameron is like Eeyore. If you don’t get that reference, there is no helping you.

As a project manager here in our Philly office, a main part of my job is constantly monitoring our budgets, timelines, and resources. When I’m not eyeballing that stuff, I’m listening for issues that might pop up internally with the team, or with our clients. What I’m saying is, I’m used to handling issues, and in fact, I’m a total Ferris on a normal day! But…if something goes wrong and I haven’t had my coffee, I can turn into Cameron. I fully recognize that my coworkers can feel the effects of my attitude. It usually takes me a few minutes of internal rationalization to get over it. Sometimes it takes a quick realization that I am just outwardly being a jerk to someone I genuinely like and respect (sorry guys). It can be really difficult, but I try my best to not display a negative attitude when issues arise. I have to remind myself that it’s better to shield the team from negativity, because it can get in the way of really good, creative work.

The Unexpected Parade (Of Changes)

We all want everything to go as planned on our project work. Together, with our clients, we build a project plan we’re all comfortable with, so each next step should go according to plan. We have a scope, plan, and a process to fall back on, so why should anything change? Well, projects always change. A new idea comes up, a client finds out that a business goal is changing, whatever. We have to adapt and change can be hard.

Sometimes we roll with late changes, sometimes we push back, but we always resist the knee-jerk push back; we talk about the change(s) and discuss what we feel is best for our clients and their site users. We build websites for users and take project stakeholders’ goals into account when making decisions of all kinds—from architecture and design to code and development. If a change seems really questionable, we take a step back and ask the appropriate questions and address them. This is why we need to be flexible and nimble in web design.

This is where it gets fun. An unexpected change on a project hardly ever comes without some sort of groaning. It’s a truth about the way we work. We bond over the rough moments just as much as we do over the triumphs. It’s part of what helps us grow together as a team, I think. Challenges build camaraderie, and unexpected changes help us refine our internal processes. There is opportunity in every curveball.

Late changes are like the car crashing through window scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Without the chance to actually stand up to his dad, Cameron may have never recognized his own strengths. As web designers, we’re the same. Give us a problem and we’ll solve it. It might get a little messy and confusing or upsetting for a bit, but we will most certainly stand by our recommendations and figure out a way for our clients to understand our point of view, or at least discuss it with us.

Unlock Your Inner Ferris

Being a Cameron can be tough. On the one hand, it’s valuable if you are identifying issues for the sake of the team or the project. On the other hand, no one wants to hear a negative spin on a situation, or a problem without the hope of a solution. What it comes down to is your delivery. Have something negative to say? Think of a way to say it that isn’t going to completely wreck someone else’s day or trash the seventy hours of work they’ve already put into it. But be clear, be yourself. Imagine the most serious, low key person in your office or team. Got them? Now, imagine them bouncing off the walls like Ferris Bueller, cheerleading you and your colleagues. Creepy, right? Be yourself and say what you mean in plain words. Just be sensitive to context and people’s reactions. Teams have to resolve issues together.

Harness your inner Cameron and surface your inner Ferris. That’s right: Be approachable. Feel free to be goofy, but honest. Disarm others’ reactions to “bad news” and admit that you are about to be a downer. Maybe even carry a sad trombone. Okay, maybe don’t do that. No matter how you communicate, realize that your attitude at work matters as much as the quality of your actual work output. Being a Cameron might satisfy your urge to vent, but it won’t help anyone unless you communicate in a way that shows that you’re looking to help solve an issue. Trust me, it will put everyone on your team at ease if they understand that you are bringing up issues to help the team, not bring them down.

Here’s the best thing about Cameron: he ended up having a great day off, right? Well, maybe aside from the whole car thing? He let loose for a day and realized that he actually could have fun and accomplish something. Hey, you’re probably not in the movies, but I’m pretty sure you can do the same.

Are you a Cameron or a Ferris? What are your tips for keeping it real while not being a jerk?

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