Like a lot of of organizations in the WordPress ecosystem, Pods, where I work, started using Slack soon after the WordPress project did. Slack is an amazing asynchronous communication tool. While Slack’s main focus is chat, it also has great integrations and a simple file management tool.
Over the last few months, I’ve been experimenting with a “joshpress” Slack for client work and its been great.
My initial experiments have gone so well, that I am going to require all new clients to communicate only through Slack, once we’ve passed the original scoping and negotiating phase. I’m tempted to replace my site’s contact form with an invite to my Slack.
Doing for-hire programming work is a relationship. Like all relationship a precursor to success is communication. Having a clean, efficient, cross-platform, and easily searchable medium for communication takes much of the friction out of communication.
Communication is the fuel that powers relationships. Ease of access to the right information makes communication a stronger, more powerful fuel for the relationship.
Before I start doing actual work on a project I will have gathered a lot of information. I have an email where we agrees on requirements–for me and the client–and timeline. In addition there are access credentials provided by the clients as well as any mockups and other guides for the project.
Having to find all that information in one place, instead of scattered about various emails is great and is one of the many places that Slack’s file creation and searching shines. Once I set up a private channel for a project, the first thing I do now is add files for requirements, timeline and various access credentials.
Now all of the information I need is in one place. As the project goes on things change. Now its easy to change or add the requirements, or add additional information. In addition, any conversations about the project are in one place, not spread across multiple email threads.
Recently I got in over my head on a project. Way over my head. I made it clear to the client that I needed to bring in additional developers and was lucky that both the client and the developers I wanted agreed. Since we were already using Slack–the client and I–for the project’s communication, so I just added them both to the Slack channel and they were in the know.
Compare that to the idea of scaling a two-way email-based communication to include two additional people. Getting all the right history to the newcomers and ensuring that all emails get replied to all… I can’t even.
Also, in two minutes I had Bitbucket notifications going to everyone every time there was a commit. That’s another important part of collaboration made easy by Slack.
In 2015 I’m trying to avoid working on projects as the only developer on a project. It takes more effort to collaborate, but the results are worth it. I want to work with others, not just because it is more fun to work that way, but so I can do better work and work on more complex projects.
What If They Will Not Use It?
One of the many, many benefits to positioning yourself as an expert, not a commodity, is that you do not have to act like a restaurant employee, bending over backwards to every client request. That doesn’t mean not being nice or accommodating, but it means that your clients should be buying into and buying your way of working. If they do not, then that’s too big a red flag to get past.
In my opinion, being organized is important to getting work done properly and maintaining a good client/ developer relationship. If a client doesn’t value organization or trust me to choose the best tools for communicating me, than I do not want to work with them. If they do not trust me on such simple things, than what’s going to happen when a judgment call is needed on something complicated and complex?
I’d feel differently if Slack were not so easy to use, and didn’t move seamlessly from the browser to mobile so effortlessly.
Email Is A Problem
If you ever want to create a startup, one of the pieces of advice you will get over and over again is “find a problem lots of people have and lots of people will want your solution.” It’s great advice. Many startups are trying to tackle the problems caused by email. There are lots of tools that aim to solve it, even as tools like Inbox by Google and Mailbox by Dropbox are doing a great job of reducing the problem.
Slack isn’t the only solution to the email problem. Asana is another good solution that I like, but do not love. Slack can’t replace the kind of project management that larger scale projects need, that a tool like Asana provide. But, I think Asana can be too much, and lacks a good discussion system, which sometimes is all you need. Plus, Slack integrates well with Asana and other project management systems when you need them.
So far, Slack is helping me out a lot with client work, as well as with other types of projects. It’s worth considering for solving the problems that communicating with your clients via email causes.