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A focus week got us our new (WordPress) website

Stefan Velthuys Avatar

We never actually set up a WordPress site for required.com. In the beginning (2013) we just had a couple of static pages with our team and some projects. Not even Git or any other code versioning. We knew, this had to change.

We started a new version of required.com, set up a git repository and started writing some content. Then we had to shift our resources on to some client projects. Eventually, we were able to have a minimal setup with some (static) pages, the git repository and a deployment workflow. But we never found the time to really focus on our website and do what we do best:
Design and develop a great website on WordPress.

From a design point of view, I was never happy with the state or our website. Neither were the developers with the technical aspects. And from the business side, it was just weird, that we didn’t have our own website powered by WordPress.

We started several attempts to change that. But every time we tried and made some progress, we got interrupted by more urgent matters like client projects or other internal work. Even when we as a company went on a retreat in a nice city and wanted to focus on our own projects, we weren’t able to get the ground running. There was always something, someone (maybe even we ourselves) stopping us from focussing on our own website.

Introducing our focus weeks

Although we liked the idea of creating our website on a company retreat, I knew that all of us together will never be able to solely focus on our website.

I always believed that you produce your best work when you really can focus on a single project or a certain topic.

That’s why I’m starting the so called focus weeks at required and I hope, we will continue to use this new tool in our belt.

The idea is simple:

  1. Assemble a (small) specialized project team
  2. Send them away
  3. Let them focus on their project

To better understand our idea, I’ll explain in short, why these 3 point are important:

1. Assemble a (small) specialized project team

Usually in projects, there are several people & roles involved. Depending on the size of the project, there might be a project manager, a senior developer, a visual designer, a frontend specialist, and sometime many more.
But to get started, especially on the web, you don’t need a person for every role. One Person can take on several roles. In our case, we just needed 2 persons from 2 different backgrounds: design & development.

With a small team like this, you can move quickly and communicate directly.

2. Send them away

Silvan at work
Silvan at work

There are always distractions in the office. Although we are a remote company and aren’t together often in our office (we do have a small one, just in case), distractions can come in the form of Slack notifications, Basecamp messages and emails.

So to really free up our minds, we decided to spend a week away from all of it. We set up autoresponders on our email accounts, delegated our daily responsibilities to the other team members and informed clients that we’ll be away for a week. Just like you do when you go on vacation.

3. Let them focus on their project

Velthy at work
Me at work

As I’ve written in the previous chapter, distractions come in all forms. And since the team members know that we are not really on vacation, the temptation is big to ask for help here and there. But for the focus week to work, the whole team is needed. Those working on projects and that handle the daily business, should try to keep the interruptions to a minimum.

What to consider

It’s very important to set clear goals. We had to define what we wanted to produce in this relatively short time of 5 days.

So, how did this work out?

As I’m writing this, Silvan and myself are in Valencia, Spain on our very first focus week. It’s the evening of day 2 and the current progress exceeds my expectations. You are reading this post on our new website – based on WordPress – on our new blog, which means: We achieved our goal!

So, if you’re seeing yourself in a position like this:
Wanting to get something done (mostly those pesky internal projects), but not being able to get the results you wanted:

Maybe it’s time to assemble a small team, pack your bags and get shit done.

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