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A Week in My Life: Steve Grainger, Managing director, Enigma Interactive

Steve - Enigma

Steve Grainger is founder and managing director of Enigma Interactive.

Established 25 years ago, Enigma Interactive is a specialist digital development agency.

Headquartered in Newcastle, the company works with clients including the likes of National Grid, Superdrug and NHS to strategically lead large-scale digital transformation programmes, design and develop class-leading websites, custom software, mobile apps and digital experiences.

Here, he shares what a recent week in his life looked like.

Monday

The sun is shining, all is well with the world, it’s the start of another week and I jump on the metro for the 20min trip into central Newcastle from my home on the North East coast. Enigma’s HQ is on Newcastle Quayside, so I’ve got the best of both worlds; beautiful beaches and cool café culture at the weekend and the hustle and bustle of a vibrant city during the week.

I’m always surprised that Newcastle still somehow remains a bit under the radar as one of the UK’s genuinely great cities, it really is a hidden gem. Even setting aside the friendliness for which it is well known, it has so much going for it. The city combines a lovely indie vibe, a buzzing cultural scene, great architecture, fantastic independent bars and restaurants, world class universities, and – most significantly for Enigma – a thriving tech and creative scene.

Monday mornings see our weekly production meetings take place. Enigma specialises in the design & build side of digital. We develop, manage and evolve the web and digital estates for clients whose digital presence is vital to their success. We’ve got long term relationships with many of these clients and act more like an extension of their in-house team than we do classic ‘supplier’.

The production meeting is our opportunity to look at schedules across the whole of the business, plan in new work and spot any gaps where we can get ahead of ourselves. We produce about £3m worth of design & build work a year – all in-house – so there’s a lot to manage. Demand is high and we’re currently booking in new projects 8-10 weeks in advance which can be a challenge to explain to new clients who are excited and understandably want things as soon as they can.

Today we’re looking to plan in two new projects, and are looking to pull a favour on behalf of a long term client who needs an urgent piece of work completing for an event that has just been dropped on them. Everyone is in good spirits and with some collective creative thinking we’re able to get everything squared away pretty efficiently.

Tuesday

Tuesdays are typically our team check-in days. We have 5 x Production teams, a centralised Design & UX team, and a separate core technology team. Although everyone within the business tends to interact with one another informally throughout the week, we’ve found that there is real benefit to carving out a little bit of dedicated time with each of the team leaders, just to see how the work is progressing, how the team is getting on, share the good times and pre-empt any potential issues that could crop up.

Quality is very important to us and the producers who run the production teams are really invested in the work they’re doing on behalf of their clients and genuinely care about their success. Working on projects where the team illicit that level of passion is one of the great aspects of the Producer role, but it can sometimes make it feel a little pressurised too. The check-ins are a good opportunity to help try and take away those pressures by providing a bit of extra early support, or simply be a sounding board for ideas. They are also a great opportunity to share the knowledge (and joy!) of any successes.

Enigma’s team is essentially 100% studio based, and whilst we do provide some degree of flexible working most people are in pretty much full time. Informal human interaction is hugely important in nurturing the collaboration and creativity that is such a key part to what we do, and we put a lot of effort into trying to provide a studio environment that really supports that.

WFH might be okay for more isolated roles and/or if your work isn’t that important to you, but if you’ve got a passion for what you do – and you want to create the best – then being in and around others with the same outlook, sharing ideas and experience, is ultimately always going to be more fulfilling.

Wednesday

I’m at Central Station, Pink Lane coffee in hand, ready for the 3hr train journey down to London for a client meeting. Our clients are drawn from throughout the UK so travel is a common, and enjoyable, part of the job.

Teams meetings, great for check-ins and the routine calls but face-to-face is still best for anything important or creative. Today is a spec review meeting for a new digital platform we’re building for a client. The project is a really fascinating one, and a perfect example of how digital can truly revolutionise sectors.

The clients we work with tend to be ambitious and actively look for opportunities where digital can give them a competitive advantage. We promote an ethos of working strategically – developing and evolving work to align with long term business goals.

This client is a perfect example of someone who has fully embraced that idea and has already seen some rapid growth as a reward. They’re not a household name, are still small and nimble enough to move quickly when they spot an opportunity, and are willing to invest in ideas they believe in.

I’m joined by one of our producers and our head of design, and we do a page turn of the spec together. This is the second generation of a bespoke digital platform we’re developing for the client and will build on the MVP we launched a few months ago.

The client has also brought in their digital marketing agency to the meeting. We don’t manage digital marketing services directly ourselves, we tend to be well place to forge good relationships with those kinds of agencies. We’ve worked with this particular company before and know that they’re one of the more thoughtful and considered agencies in that sector, so the client should hopefully be in good hands.

We all go for a quick drink together afterwards – a bit of social interaction really does help strengthen the relationship with the people you’re working with – before hopping on the train, arriving back into Newcastle for 7pm.

Thursday

The morning is spent catching up after the day out of the office. Then, at 12.30, there is a sudden explosion of various shades of lycra! We run in-house pilates sessions led by a great independent instructor and they’re proving to be a very popular addition to studio life.

The afternoon sees a visit from some students from a local school. We do a fair bit of outreach, and it’s nice to show the kids what a career in tech is all about, and hopefully encourage the next generation of digital entrepreneurs. We also do year long placements for students on degree courses, and the occasional works experience students from schools and colleges.

At 4.30 we have one of the highlights of my working month kicking off – a tech talk / show & tell by a couple of the team. We do these fairly regularly, with anyone in the business being encouraged to volunteer to do a little presentation on anything at all they think others would be interested in.

Subjects vary wildly, and whilst they often have a tech / digital focus, they’re also just as likely to be about the ‘Joy of Motorbiking’ or ‘Why The Bodyguard is the greatest film ever made!’ We do these in the atrium of the studio which is a lovely bright open space, and put on drinks and nibbles to foster the social aspect of the event.

Today’s is a pretty techy one – looking at a rapid prototyping tool that one of the guys has been experimenting with – and is truly fascinating. We’ve got a lot of developers in house, and they all tend to be creative tech enthusiasts. Being platform agnostic, we also tend work across a huge range of different technologies, so there’s always a lot of interest in sharing knowledge, and the sessions generally prompt lively discussions. Even though some of the presentations end up covering quite cutting edge tech, they are always pitched at a level where everyone can get involved, and this one in particular draws in a lot of interest from the designers, producers and marketing guys.


What I find really inspiring about these sessions is the pride and confidence that the team has about sharing ideas that they themselves have generated with their peers, and the respect with which these ideas are then embraced. These are people who aren’t waiting for the world to give them the answers, they’re out there finding them out for themselves.

Friday

Friday morning kicks off with a forward planning session for our Core platform. In addition to using many of the industry standard platforms such as Magento, WordPress etc, we also maintain our own high performance development platform which we call Core.

This powers many of the more ambitious digital systems we’ve created, and allows us to architect and develop complex systems whose requirements go beyond what would be achievable using an off the shelf base.

Today, we’re reviewing a series of ‘Foundation’ modules that we have created that sit ‘on top’ of Core and which are intended to facilitate rapid production of ‘best practice’ feature sets such as ecommerce, info sites, personalisation etc. My background is computer science, and whilst I haven’t actually done any hands on development for many years, being involved in development meetings of this nature is still one of the most enjoyable aspects of my role.

Later in the day, I do my weekly business catch-up with my client services director. He is fantastic, and takes responsibility for a lot of the operational aspects of Enigma. We’re supported by a senior leadership team who comprise some of the best people I’ve worked with in digital. They in turn have highly skilled teams that they can rely on. Successfully running a digital development agency of the type that Enigma is could never be the work of just one person, and if I was ever to give advice to someone setting out to do similar that would be to surround yourself with the best possible people you can find, and that’s certainly something I’ve been fortunate in being able to achieve.

Today is the last Friday of the month, and we close out the day with our company briefing. Drinks and snacks are all laid out, music is played (whichever team was in charge of the playlist this month appear to have gone for a mix of 1980s pop – clearly none of them are old enough to have been traumatised by this first time around) and a show-reel of some of the work in progress is played on the big screen.

Everyone gathers together in the atrium, and each of the teams do a quick update on what they’ve been up to in the last month, and what they’ll be working on next. We also cover any interesting company news and there are shout outs for anyone who has been ‘nominated for special recognition’ by their colleagues. It’s a really fun, social event to finish the week, and month, with. Seeing the entire team gathered together enjoying themselves is a great reminder of how lucky I am to be able to do what I do.

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