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Red & Green Buttons

(This concept is, at worst, stolen and, at best, adapted from Seth Godin’s article entitled “Understanding critical path.”)

It’s important to know who has the most important job at any given moment. This is an essential part of being on a team.

For The Wonder Jam’s team, sometimes Developer Matt has the most important stack of projects, and in other moments it’s Designer Erika or Project Manager Dayna.

Recently, Matt had a big stack of websites to build—Allie and Erika had finished the design, all the words were written, and the clients had already approved everything.

When that happens, I message our entire team and alert them: “Matt has the green button. If he needs anything from you, respond promptly and drop what you’re doing.”

Two weeks before this, Adam had the green button. The week before, it was Allie. Then Erika. Then Caitlin. Then Matt. (It’ll be Dayna soon.)

It rotates. Just because Allie is the majority owner of the company doesn’t mean she always has the most critical job and that she can’t stop what she’s doing to help someone get something done.

Another fact: If Allie were to always be the most important piece of the production line, that would mean she would also be the biggest bottleneck.

The bottom line: on a well-functioning team, the person (or people) wearing a green button should alternate. Even Lebron James passes the ball sometimes.

A few examples:

When The Wonder Jam first started, Adam would sweep the floors of the studio, make coffee, and run errands so that Allie could stay focused on design, photography, and client relationships. This wasn’t Adam’s ideal job description, but that’s the way it had to be, because Allie had the green button.

But sometimes, Adam would be giving an important presentation, so Allie would go pick up lunch, offer a client coffee, and tidy up the studio.

Then Matt joined the team, and then Erika, and then Caitlin.

The whole team developed a process for Allie, Adam, Matt, Erika, and Caitlin to a) contribute their expertise to a website and b) make the process very efficient (therefore, a bit more affordable/profitable for the client). The key was realizing when you had a green button and when you had a red button.

Here’s another example: Sometimes Erika and Allie are both working on websites and then—POOF!—they hit Matt’s part of the assembly line simultaneously. Now, Matt has four websites to produce over the next week or two.

As we got our system of red and green buttons down, we started to realize that our clients should probably be aware of this, as well.

Sometimes the whole process grinds to a halt because we’re waiting on a piece of critical information or approval from our clients.

Guess what? Our clients are busy business owners who have their own businesses to run and operate, just like we do. And if we’re really going to build a website that works for them— a website they understand how to leverage in the future—then it’s imperative to include them in the process, as well.

Our clients need green and red buttons of their own. If a client delays delivering their hosting or social media logins, this can bring a project (that we’re doing to help them!) to a screeching halt. But if we delay sending a client homework to prepare for a meeting, this may leave them feeling unprepared and frustrated.

There are times where we look at our clients and say, “anything you need to get your thing done, you let us know” and other times where we say, “anything we need from you to get your project done, you should drop everything and respond.”

It’s a give and take with our clients. When we all collaborate together in this way, our projects flow—along with our creativity, fun, and momentum for our client’s brand.

The red button and green button principle looks different in every company, and changes through varying contexts. But whether creating software, operating a salon, renting an AirBNB, making custom suits, or pulling off a killer book launch—you’ve got to pay attention to whose work is most critical at each juncture.

May 31, 2019
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