We just launched a refresh of the content on our main site – do check it out! While the changes aren’t very drastic, they do reflect a significant refinement to how we do business and I wanted to take the opportunity to talk a bit about why we made them…

As any business owner will tell you, two years of running a business will net you a lot of learning, and that’s certainly been true with Terralien. As I’ve worked with clients and crew members over the past two years, I’ve been able to start recognizing some patterns in the requests that we get, and in the expectations that our clients have. In particular I’ve found that our clients highly value three things: insight, predictability, and transparency. Every successful Terralien project has had a high level of these three things, and every failure of any size has been lacking in one or more of them. I’ve come to realize that if Terralien can consistently deliver all three, we stand a good chance of making each and every project a raging success, which is of course our ever-present goal. So how are we addressing each of them?

In the area of insight one of the primary ways we’ve failed in the past is at the start. We’re not big fans of lots of up-front planning, but me whipping out an estimate in a couple of hours was not cutting it. Part of the difficulty is the snow-ball effect – if the project gets started off on the wrong foot, it’s a lot more likely that things will get worse than that they will get better. Thus we’ve started going through an explicit product outlining process with most clients where we spend some quality time understanding what needs building before we try to build it. As an added benefit, product outlining generates portable insight: clients can take what we learn and use it to get estimates from shops other than Terralien. Definitely check out the details.

Predictability is a real conundrum since we haven’t yet figured out how to predict the future, and reading “Prognostication for Dummies” didn’t seem to help much. Regardless of the difficulties, though, this is one of the most immediate concerns clients have, and every project starts out with the same questions: “How much will it cost and how long will it take?” While we can’t predict the future, past experience has taught us that we can almost always launch a useful product in about two months. We call these two month time boxes launch cycles and we’re finding they really help clients to both know what their budget will be for initial launch and to stay focused within that window.

Finally, there’s the all-important quality of transparency. Transparency isn’t so much about one big thing; rather, it’s about a lot of little things that add up to a big thing. If a client is paying us they deserve to know how the work is going and to feel comfortable with our progress, and there are lots of small ways we’ve learned and are learning to keep them in the loop. Most important is just making sure they’re comfortable telling us when they’re not satisfied so we can fix it, and I personally am learning a lot about making myself open and available to hear the concerns. It’s not always easy to do, but it’s always worth it.

We’ve really tried to capture the essence of these things in the site refresh, so please have a look and let us know if we’ve succeeded. Feedback is always welcome!

Posted by Nathaniel on May 5th, 2008

You can still contact Nathaniel at nathaniel@terralien.com