WordCamp San Francisco 2013 Liveblog: Grant Landram

WordCampSFThis weekend, I’m virtually attending WordCamp San Francisco. Which means, I am watching the wonderful livestream from my chaotic, toddler-infused living room.

I’ve already blogged about yesterday’s talks from Natalie Maclees and Tracy Levesque, and today I hope to write up a couple more.

I was really interested to hear Seattle-based Grant Landram’s talk entitled “Bridging the Chasm: Working with Non-Technical Stakeholders.” Here at WP SuperGeek, we are very interested in how to talk respectfully to non-technical clients, making sure they understand their website and the process of creating it.

Unfortunately, I missed the very beginning of Grant’s talk, but luckily he made his slides available on his website so I could catch up.

He began by talking about how important communication is, but also how it’s difficult. He gave some example quotes from clients that demonstrated a project where communication had perhaps broken down. For instance:

4 months into the project, I realised the client didn’t know that the top level of menu items represented pages that needed content.


The site [beta] looks great, but we don’t think we should need to use widgets for the blocks of sidebar content throughout the site.

He then outlined four things that can be done to help bridge the chasm between the technical and non technical stakeholders in the project:

1. Understand our stakeholders

Understand that there are both non-technical and technical stakeholders in every project. There is a continuum of technical ability, from “Grandma” to Nacin (one of the lead WordPress developers).

2. Use visuals and metaphors

Stories are better than pictures, and pictures are better than words. Where possible, it’s good to try to use analogies to explain technical concepts. I’m a big fan of this idea!

Grant gave an example of a very useful analogy to describe the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org:

  • WordPress.com is like a hotel: you can do some customisation, but largely you’re under their control, whereas
  • WordPress.org is like a house: you get blueprints (the WordPress core), and you find real estate, and can customise it however you like.

Nice, huh?

3. Schedule regular check-ins

Prevent prolonged misunderstandings by scheduling weekly meetings to check in with the client about the website project. Make sure you have questions for them as well, so the interaction should be pretty balanced. Make sure you understand their questions by clarifying with language like “When you say this, do you mean…?”

Having regular project check-ins can help to smooth out any problems towards the end of the project.

4. Build a lexicon

(A fancy way of saying “a list of words”!)

It can be a great help to create a list of words for having a useful conversation on technical topics. Try to identify the 5-10 concepts that are most central to the project, create a list of these with definitions, and share with the client. I love this tip!

I loved this talk, because it didn’t just deal with the technical aspects of how to do something fantastic with your website. It focussed on the relationship and communication between the developer and client, which is definitely something I can get on board with!

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