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Mastering Technical Collaboration for More Innovative Digital Products: A Conversation with Eric Müller, VP of Engineering/CISO
By Emily Giddings
October 18, 2023

Revolutionary products aren’t developed in siloes. If they were, everyone with a good idea would be successful. True product innovation is born out of collaborative, communicative, trusting teamwork. In a recent interview, our VP of Engineering/CISO, Eric Müller, shared the collaboration tactics that have earned Presence’s reputation for crafting exceptional products without exhausting our teams. 

The Importance of Flexible Technical Collaboration

Since 2013, Presence has partnered with companies to bring their business needs and innovative ideas into digital reality. From the beginning, Eric has shaped the collaborative culture underpinning our success. “At Presence, we treat collaboration as an art and a science. We work tirelessly to develop trust, hire adaptable talent, balance workloads, and maintain standards for seamless communication.” As effective leaders know, it takes more than project management systems to deliver real innovation; it takes creative, communicative team dynamics. Consultancies that default to one partnership framework, without regard for the client’s business needs or market outlook, are less likely to deliver innovative, appropriate solutions. Since our engagements run the gamut of complexity and scope, we’ve developed a flexible working process that adapts to each client’s business needs and working styles. “Because our people are true experts, we can drive projects forward using whichever collaboration method or tech stack our partners want.” Adaptability has proven to be one of the keys to successful technical consulting.

Collaboration Channels Pave the Way

Collaboration is like a well-designed highway; multiple lanes and signposts are necessary to keep traffic flowing. For over a decade, Presence has curated a proven set of tools and cultural norms to ensure smooth sailing. Eric shares that “Slack channels, daily stand-ups, Architecture Review Boards, and regular 'brown bag' sessions are just a few ways we've made silos obsolete. We share conversations and ideas across our product and engineering teams.” Cutting across projects, especially in DevOps, opens channels for team members to reach out, ask for help, and share knowledge. He continues, “While we use these channels to accomplish work, we also use them to be human, learn about one another, and discover unique perspectives.” It’s these communication rituals that help Presence’s external and internal teams form professional, supportive, and effective collaborations.

Knowledge-sharing and Adaptation are Critical

Eric explains that while knowledge-sharing happens across all teams, Presence keeps senior leaders at the helm of every project, “Our senior team members engage closely with clients, making our Architecture Review Board (ARB) the nexus for knowledge-sharing and discussion.” In general, an Architecture Review Board is a group of experts responsible for ensuring that the architecture of a software system or an enterprise is aligned with the organization's strategic goals and objectives and that the resulting systems are robust, scalable, and maintainable. Presence’s ARB doesn't just rubber-stamp decisions; it functions as a dynamic forum for queries, challenges, and continuous learning to foster a smarter approach to problem-solving. Eric notes that “our unique practice of adapting to each client's requirements rather than imposing a standardized process sets us apart from agencies.” While Presence brings expert product and development experience across multiple domains, we bring fresh eyes and an open, flexible mind to each project so that we can co-create truly innovative digital solutions with our clients. 

Tools, Practices, and Adaptation Strategies

“When it comes to tools, we're not rigidly attached to any; we’re capable with all of them.” While Presence uses industry-standard platforms for project management and collaboration, like Slack, Jira, Confluence, and Zoom, we’re known for being tool-agnostic and highly adaptable to whatever our clients prefer. This helps us navigate whatever mid-project changes arise, and they often do. 

“It’s the nature of consulting that teams must adapt quickly to project changes, and sometimes the changes are significant.” Eric shared numerous examples of these mid-project shifts, including “One client hired us to do all the work in Python. During the course of the engagement, they hired a new Head of Engineering who wanted to move everything to Node, and we did, no problem. Another example: we were working inside Google Cloud, and our client decided they wanted to switch to AWS for additional functionality. We had to adjust and switch everything to AWS. We just made it happen. We adjust. We roll with it. Our teams are flexible like that.” Shifts like these happen constantly in consulting. For consulting firms to consistently deliver reliable, innovative digital solutions, it’s a strategic advantage to be flexible with tools, practices, and processes that facilitate adaptability. It results in happier clients and better products. 

Using (and Being) Agile

While Agile has many elements, Eric champions the daily stand-up as the key to unlocking high-performing team dynamics, “This ritual isn't just about updates; it's about sharing ideas, perspectives, and personalities. It’s how we connect as people and as professionals to move projects forward.”

Transparency, Trust, and Avoiding Burnout

Eric’s insights on workload management come as a breath of fresh air in an industry known for its long hours. His secret? “Stick to a 40-hour workweek and genuinely respect personal time.” Eric says, “Trust and transparency aren't just corporate jargon at Presence; they’re important and earned by consistently standing up for the team. You don’t ensure it; you have to earn it. The biggest way to do that is to stand up for your team. They have to know you have their back. Trust doesn’t magically appear. It’s something you earn.” One of the ways the Presence leadership team earns trust is by honoring vacation time and encouraging people to be truly “off the clock.” Eric says, “If it’s truly important, I have your number, and I can call you,” but most situations can wait when projects are proactively managed well. Thanks to perspectives like this, our company culture promotes healthy work-life balance and benefits from engaged, refreshed teams that bring focus and creativity to every project. 

Solving Problems Together

Collaboration isn't unilateral. As Eric explained, client collaboration means more than just fulfilling a brief; it’s about diving into the problem together and emerging with tailor-made solutions. “We don't just bring solutions to the table; we think and work in partnership with our clients, actively involving them in problem-solving and decision-making.” Presence involves clients in the project development process as much –or as little– as they want to be to achieve truly collaborative, custom results. 

Dedicating Employees to Projects

One of Presence's differentiators is our commitment to dedicating employees to a single project instead of spreading people across multiple projects. Eric emphasized that having our team members focused on one project at a time has resulted in “superior quality delivery, as each person can devote themselves to understanding the client's needs.” Additionally, Presence intentionally hires and trains employees for strong communication and adaptability so that they are set up for success within collaborative external and internal team environments.

Enabling Secure Collaboration

If there's one thing Eric loves to emphasize, it's our rigorous commitment to client security throughout all collaborative processes. “Educating teams on the importance of security means everyone is on board with keeping projects air-tight while maintaining collaboration and communication. We’re not only SOC2 compliant, but are continuously monitoring and upgrading our security protocols.’ As Eric puts it, “We take our client security really freaking seriously.”  Some security measures Presence takes include keeping client assets in secure areas, keeping employee computers secure, and sometimes even isolating teams and project assets for the highest security projects. Presence constantly reviews security policies and engages in regular internal audits. For clients, we advocate for secure practices; "We encourage our partners to utilize quality tools, penetration testing, and security audits, and are happy to educate their team on best security practices.” Even in highly collaborative environments, security is paramount.  

Quality Products Require Quality Collaboration

For tech leaders keen to reap the benefits of stronger collaboration, the lesson is clear: build a thriving team with transparency, adaptability, and trust, and watch how this transforms your outcomes. For Eric, “Ultimately, it's not just about creating a product; it's about crafting an experience, an understanding, and a partnership that transforms challenges into opportunities, ideas into innovation, and projects into business success stories.” Effective collaboration is at the core of what makes Presence not just a full-stack product consultancy but a true partner in solving business problems with powerful digital solutions.