Transparency at Kula: How much is too much?

This week’s introduction of the new Basecamp—Kula’s project management tool of choice—presents an interesting decision for us. We can switch to the new or stick with Basecamp Classic. We like a lot of what we see with the new Basecamp, but here’s the thing:

There are no private messages.

Basically, in Basecamp Classic, we can restrict access to certain messages so that just Kula sees them. In the new Basecamp, every message is visible by everyone on the project—clients included.

A quick look at my Basecamp dashboard shows we sure like private messages here at Kula. But what do we use them for? The last five private messages in my dashboard (as random a sample as any, I guess) are:

  • a note from me to Pam about translation requirements on a site we’re building
  • a note from Pam to Chris about changes required to an email template
  • a note from me to Laura with some feedback on a content plan she’s creating
  • a note from Chris to a bunch of us detailing his initial thinking surrounding a new site design he’s working on
  • a note from me to Laura with feedback on landing page copy

The first two messages are communicating information the client is already quite aware of—nothing new there. The last three messages are all a bit of work-in-progress… stuff that we’re working on that’s not ready for prime time just yet. I’ve often joked that the work we do is like sausage—it’s best not to see how its made. And the last three messages are just that… sausage making.

But why is seeing the sausage being made bad?

When I look at the work the Kula team performs every day, it is the work of craftspeople. They have an intimate, expert understanding of their craft and they work hard each day employing it, getting better, making the mistakes that need making, learning, doing… and, to me, I don’t think it’s all that different from the fine craftspeople at, say, NovaScotian Crystal.

And every summer, what do we see on the Halifax waterfront? Visitors and locals alike lined up to catch a glimpse inside the door of the NovaScotian Crystal workshop, eager to see how it all gets made and to watch the work in-progress. If somebody thinks the work looks messy… that beautiful crystal cannot come from such a rough, messy process… I’ve never heard them say it. And what if they did? I doubt they have a better idea about how to make crystal. Again, not that different from creating stunning websites. Got a better idea about how develop x or create y? Then take up the mouse and have a go—I know I can’t do it.

So where does this leave us?

My guess is, this is likely more about us than our clients. They’re smart… they understand that there’s hard, messy work behind what we create. But in agencies, we’re just not used to working like that. In agency life, the tradition has certainly been to largely hide the creative process, with the client only seeing things after a certain level of polish has been achieved. The big reveal, etc.

The more I think of it, the more I think the old “big reveal” way of working is out of step with the level of craftsmanship Kula seeks to bring to the web and the marketing programs we create. And beyond that, the fact that we’re a touch uncomfortable about making such a move to full transparency is likely a good indicator that we’re knocking on the door of something worth doing.

What do you think? As a client, would the mess scare the hell out of you? If you work in an agency or as a freelancer, does this feel like lifting the agency skirt a touch too high?

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