Culture is a word that is simultaneously over-used by companies (especially tech companies), and over-looked when choosing business partners (like your web design agency). Even if all other things are equal, having a compatible culture with your web agency can be the difference between the success and failure of your project.
Culture mismatches - What can go wrong?
At the beginning of a project, everything is fine...great even. You're both in that "honeymoon" phase. Everyone on both sides of the project is excited about all the new and wonderful things you are going to build together. Unless you aren't a cultural match. Then things go south pretty fast. Communication is difficult. Your processes and workflow styles don't mesh well. They just aren't "getting it" (and behind closed doors, they're saying the same thing about you). After a few weeks, the project implodes and nobody wants to finish it...at least not with each other.
Yikes. And this may have nothing to do with anyone's competence or motivation level. You're just not a good fit for one another. So how do you avoid this project destroying fate?
First off, what is "culture" exactly?
"A way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)"
Easy enough. But some companies are surprisingly bad at describing their own culture. Before you can make use of the rest of this post, stop and ask yourself if your company can describe its own (and come right back).
OK, I assume you passed that test. Moving on. Here are some practical questions and tips to decide if you are cultural match with a Web design agency before you sign that contract.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Can you describe your own company's culture? (See above)
- What is your understanding of web design, web development, and digital marketing, how much education do you need?
- Will this firm be patient with you and educate you when you need it?
- Are you willing to being educated?
- What kind of investment is the agency willing to make in getting to know you, your business, and your goals? Or, did they just ask about features the website/CMS should have?
- Did they ask good questions about your users and seem like they are really trying to understand their pain points so they can provide the best solution possible, or are they just trying to close a deal?
- What kind of involvement do you expect to have?
- Hands on, hands off? Some firms don't work well when they are micromanaged by a client, some firms need to be micromanaged.
- Will this agency be compatible with that?
- How open/transparent is the firm?
- Do you feel like they are hiding things from you?
- Do they use technical terms to make what they are doing sound so complex that you are discouraged from asking too many questions?
- How do they talk?
- Do they use the same types of words when they speak as you do? Are they casual, uptight, or full of techno-jargon? Are they too fast, too slow?
- Can you trust each other?
- Trust is one of the single most important ingredients. If you don't trust them, you won't be inclined to take their advice and let them make the best solution possible.
Questions to ask them:
- How do you work?
- How will you communicate progress to me?
- How will you solicit feedback from me?
- Can I talk to some of your other clients about what it's like to work with you?
- What five words best describe your culture, core values?
- Don't just weigh the firm's technical ability and portfolio, If you aren't a match culturally, the project can still go up in flames.
- Make this a topic during the "getting to know you" (sales) process. Both sides should be prepared to describe it and compare how much they have in common.
- If possible, visit one another's locations, take a tour, meet other employees who might give you a feel for both cultures
- Know what words describe your culture. Do they match the web design firm's words?
- Trust your gut. If something feels off, it probably is.
It's OK if you're not a match. Seriously.
What did your mom tell you after your first breakup? That's right: "There are plenty of other fish in the Sea". Just as there are lots of other partners who you might click with. Don't be discouraged, be thankful that you decided to consider this factor up front before you jumped right into a serious project with real money and effort at stake. Both parties (but especially you) will be better off in the long run.
If you read this and think Aztek might be your match, we'd love to hear from you!
Photo Credit: "C3 '09 - Mismatch" by zenmasterdod is licensed under CC BY 2.0