Lots happened in 2013. On reflection I've got mixed feelings. It feels a bit like a 2-2 football game. Albeit one of those draws at a tough away ground that could yet prove decisive in the title run-in.
For now, though, there are the four strongest impressions I've took from 2013. I've tried to pull in one each from different aspect related to this blog.
I - Explore all design directions
My biggest project in 2013 was redesign of Nestoria. I've had to rifle through some dusty Moleskines but it seems that the kick-off with dynamic design duo of Leif and Kwong was back in January. Sometime in December, we finally launched.
To be clear - I'm very proud of what we've achieved. Now that we're home and hosed, it feels like we could have moved a marker further along had I've shown more leadership in the initial phase of the project.
I made all the right noises, I've said all the platitudes, I've tried to keep minds open and explore every avenue. Yet I have a nagging feeling that I have not done enough in this regard.
With my mind on resources and implementation, I allowed our design thinking be guided far too much far too early with what was considered expedient from the technical point of view.
Next time I will endeavour not to constrict design thinking in the very early
phases of a similar project.
II - Building is easy, testing is hard
Now when it came to implementation, it was all simple. We had specifications, we had assets, we kept engineers (special mention to amazing Savio and designers in a loop. So we just wrote some (responsive) HTML5 / CSS threw in a large dollop of JS and that's it.
Until it came to QA. There wasn't just one big thing, just many small snags. Our workflow could have been smoother. Our code control, development and staging set-up could all have been better.
For me, though, two things rankle most deeply: a tendency to swing between the polar opposites of under/over-testing and considerable under-estimation of the time needed to iterate on that 'feature complete' version.
In the end, I feel that we got there and that the product is better for it. We are already addressing some of the infrastructural aspects. Let's do better next time.
III - Sometimes manager gotta manage
One of my favourite career-building stories is that old chestnut told by Ben Hammersley on how to become a war correspondent (hint - go to war, correspond), somewhere at the beginning of this presentation.
It does ring true, doesn't it? Particularly in a startup. You know the stuff - people become what they pretend to be, ask for forgiveness rather than permission and folks always jump on each opportunity that comes along.
Except, it does not quite always work that way in the mundane world of line- management. You might believe that some people will make like gases and expand to fill up the vacuum within an organisation. You may even dismiss those that don't do exactly that as "B-players". Yet, based on my experiences as a manager in 2013, you'd be wrong. More to the point - wasteful.
Sometimes your job as a manager is not just to sit back and see if it happens, but create space for it to happen. Everything else amounts to breaking the covenant with the people that report to you and is little short of passing the buck.
IV - Berlin on the up
In 2013 I've spent a fair bit of time in Berlin. Having been visiting every few months during the last 18 months, it is clear things are happening out there in the East.
It's not a new story. As a startup-hub, Berlin has already arrived and it promises plenty more to come. Like with any scene, it's easy to get carried away. There are a lot, and I do mean a lot, of things to be improved.
In terms of depth, influence, maturity and capability, I still find it goes SF > NY > LDN > BER. Comparisons are inevitable, though little misleading. With all four hubs going strong, in 2014 it will be less about competing, and more about comparing and contrasting.
My feeling, and a very real bet, is that Berlin will be the Europe's San Francisco while London and New York match up.
I've heard it mentioned around and it definitely resonates true. London and New York are two Atlantic metropolises driven by advertising, communications, finance. Berlin and San Francisco are both a bit smaller, both gateways to the hinterland, with plenty of counter-cultural vibe, spare human capacity and comparably higher quality of life.
Whether that's good or bad - depends very much on what you're after. Where it
goes from here - we'll soon see.
Bonus - Blog more frequently, in smaller chunks
Waiting for one big push on the last day of the year is not productive, neither does it make for fun reading, I suspect!