A while back I wrote a piece about the introduction of Slack to our business. We took to it like a duck to water and since writing that article, Slack has become such an integral part of how we operate in ways we never anticipated.
At the start it worked really well for internal communication, different channels for the more common discussion topics, direct messages, group messages and sharing company information amongst the team. Channels for the various projects we were working on started to appear organically as developers started using Slack to run communication amongst their respective teams. Internal emails all but disappeared and suddenly it was just too easy to share all sorts of information to everyone or just a few.
While this was all going on, we did a bit of a survey amongst some of our best clients — we wanted to know how we could improve the service we provided to them. One of the most common themes that came through in the feedback was the desperate need to know “what’s happening on my project right now”. They didn’t necessarily want to know what was left to do or how much budget had been used — don’t get me wrong that information is important, but nowhere near as critical as the need to know what was happening right now! Despite our intention to provide our clients with as much information as we could as frequently as possible, we were still falling short.
So one day we decided to try opening up a couple of these project channels to our clients. We did this cautiously as we didn’t want to cannibalise Tasman, our incumbent project management tool and we didn’t want developers feeling overwhelmed by constant interruptions from clients asking “what’s happening on my project?”
Since those first few Slack channels for clients back in October, the improvement in the relationships has been transforming. At the beginning we had a fair few doubters amongst the team, those that thought it would be too much and just too interruptive... and sometimes it is, but we’ve found there are plenty of ways to manage the notifications to get clear air.
With most of our customer-base in cities other than ours, the ability to get that easy, conversational style communication happening with our clients is a challenge. When clients aren’t sitting in the same office as their developers, despite best efforts, the reality is they have no idea what’s going on. Slack has filled that gap in an incredible way. Our clients now have direct access to their developers.
"Regarding Slack, this is my first time using it and its been great for this sort of application, keeping track of dialogue and working like an interactive checklist so that everyone is on the same page. Having all the history in the one place makes it easier than digging through email threads to remember where you were up to, and for actioning changes quickly it has worked well for us." - Mindi Rose — Design and Industry
There’s something about Slack that feels more like talking or texting which is very low-overhead. Email has an implied need to add structure and care to the crafting of words and more often than not this is too much for most developers to do frequently.
Slack is more like chatting and it’s a game changer. Frustration levels have plummeted, clients are totally part of the development process all the way through and they love it! This has paid huge dividend for our developers too as their client relationships are so much stronger and more positive.
Almost every active project has a client channel. They also have a team channel that we use for more technical conversations and management of the deployment of new development. We’ve linked Slack with our code repository to automatically post announcements about changes ready for review, and deployment to production. Splitting the project channels in this way, ensures our clients know when we're talking with them and not just amongst ourselves which is important if we want them to stay engaged.
I get that this is a pretty big rave about Slack, and that’s because it’s become such an powerful tool for us. But it’s also about the way we’ve chosen to use it, we’ve taken full advantage of its ability to fill a big gap in our business that previously we had no answer for.