What does functioning as a Sparring partner mean at DotControl

DotControl scored great on the FONK150, including functioning as a sparring partner. But what does this score mean to us? We asked Michelle and Mels.

Picture of the autor Anne de Vries

Anne de Vries

Growth Marketeer

In our previous blog, we talked about what the 9,0 on creativity means to us. But we have more amazing scores that we want to dive in to! We rated an 8,3 on functioning as a sparring partner. In this session, we interviewed Michelle de Zeeuw, Lead Growth Marketing, and Mels Lenstra, our Head of Development. We asked them what functioning as a sparring partner means to them and to give examples of how it is implemented at DotControl.

What does functioning as a sparring partner mean to you?

Michelle: For me functioning as a sparring partner is very essential in client work. It would be bouncing ideas of clients, making sure you get to a common goal together and really brainstorming about these ideas together. And doing this is a functional environment.

Mels: I love how the dynamic between the client and us as an agency works. We could choose to have a very stereotypical client-agency relationship, but we like to have more of a collaboration with our clients. Here it is not the case that the client blindly follows everything that we do, but an actual collaboration. We bring their team through the journey that we go through in finding a creative solution. Instead of saying, “we will make a website, or we will build you an application and it is going to be this way.” The power lies where we combine domain knowledge with our technical, creative, measurement, and data knowledge. That’s where we get our energy from.

Michelle: Yes, I think it is very cool when the client can challenge us and that we can challenge the client as well. That makes it more of a partnership than a client hiring us as an agency and telling the client what they should do.


What do you think makes DotControl a great sparring partner?

Michelle: I think a good example is of one of my clients, ParkBee. We really come together at the start and at the end of the year to reflect and set goals for the upcoming year. So, we really brainstorm about ideas and put these in a timeline together. That, for me, is the ideal function of a sparring partner.

Mels: An example I have in mind of how to be a true sparring partner to your client is with DPG Media. We built a giant e-commerce platform for them. Each of the shops that exist on that platform has a home page. In this case, the client asked to dedicate a sprint to improve the home page, because that was what they were looking at when they opened the shop. That’s a very logical thing but being a sparring partner to me is challenging everything. And using data to validate assumptions instead of going with your gut feeling. We did that and found out that only 6% of users entered the website via the homepage. If this was only going to impact 6% of the users, it would be a shame to spend an entire sprint on that. Especially since the product pages covered almost 90% of the page views. In this way, you can challenge the direction of the client in a creative way using data to help out with the right prioritization of tasks.

Michelle: I think that is really cool with the disciplines that we have. You said data, which comes from the growth team. You guys look at the development and technical perspective, and then you get together and spar about things to get to these results together with or for the client.

Mels: Another thing I have in mind when functioning as sparring partner is really being creative. That is easy to say but not easy to do. Unfortunately, the stereotypical role of technical people like myself, in the collaboration with other teams and with clients is to say no all the time. We are the technical people who say that’s very difficult or that’s very hard or impossible. And that is sometimes it is necessary, and we don’t do that for fun. But what I like is to get involved with the creative team on a project and try to think of things that are possible. To raise ideas from the point of view of technology that are visible and perhaps even way easier to achieve. And then seeing where it can go. See how an idea, from a technical and nerdy perspective like mine, can grow into an idea that works and converts, sells stuff or informs visitors.


What do you think about sparring partners within DotControl and the teams?

Michelle: Within the teams sparring partners are very important. You can think of this inside the discipline teams. In the growth team, for example, we always have a duo working on a project. Meaning you can always bounce ideas and spar with each other on all kinds of solutions and how you fix that. But also, from a multi-disciplinary perspective, I think that is a very cool way to work together.

Mels: Yes, I think it is really important to have a culture where nothing is sacred. You can challenge everything of everyone. If everybody just has the assumption that everyone is in there with the right mindset of moving things forward and achieving the goals, if you get that assumption out of the way then you can challenge everything in a safe environment. Without the need to interpret things as personal criticism. You can improve each other and help each other if you are able to be open.


Do you feel there is a way we can improve how we spar in the upcoming year?

Mels: I do see one major point from my point of view, and that is simply making structured time for that. We have a pretty strong feedback culture in every discipline, but we tend to not make time to give and receive feedback between different disciplines. So, I think in improving collaboration between disciplines, it could definitely help to give some structure and facilitate it a bit more.

Michelle: Yes, like you say structure. It is important that we create a structure where first, the time is present, and second, that is in place. So, it becomes a standard process that you always go through. Now you see that for some projects it works and we do it. And by others, it might not work as effectively so we skip over that phase. If you implement it as a standard process, it becomes natural.

Mels: Basically, a retrospective outside of a standard scrum project. Just checking in with each other. We have been doing that lately, so that works! But I think we should structure that process a bit more, to make it a commonplace habit to have and build it in the company.