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Always own your digital tool and service accounts

True experts express their aptitude through basics done well. If you’re operating business-critical custom or modified software, then you, the operator, must become the expert in it. Whether you’re kicking off a new digital endeavor or rethinking a running one, account ownership is the first basic you must master.

The creation of digital products invariably seems to require a suite of vendor-recommended tools and/or services. Some necessary and valuable, others less so. Paradoxically, many tools become some combination of both: useful early then useless later, or seemingly innocuous but linchpin necessary during a crisis.

Why own your accounts

Whatever tools and services you and your team choose, we recommend establishing the account yourself, rather than using vendor provided access for two key reasons:

  1. You control the work product. Continuous access to in-progress and historical work-artifacts is vital if you decide to change vendors, ramp-up internal resources, or pause a project. Vendor conflicts could mean losing work you purchased.
  2. You can see everything. The final, presented work from a vendor is rarely the whole story, and never the whole value produced. Design iterations, discarded options, early-stage code, etc.—all have potential future value that's lost if your access gets limited or cut.

This does mean you’ll be accepting accountability you might not have been aware of. However, that accountability should’ve been yours to begin with, and it defaults to yours when there’s a problem—your vendors do not operate your company.

Perilous avoidance

To product owners faced with deadlines, buried in requests, and propelled by action bias, something like account ownership feels frivolous or like tomorrow’s problem. Be warned: if taking control is on your to-do list, don’t let it fall off until it’s done.

We’ve encountered clients large and small who didn't establish their production tool and service accounts. Each ended up in some degree of stressful and costly fight to gain access to professional services work product they purchased. Even those with contractual protections in place found it difficult and time consuming to recover artifacts, notes, code, etc., and most lost access during the window where change monitoring became vital. All their pain would’ve been trivial to obviate.

Four classes of accounts you should own

Setting up and maintaining your own tool and service accounts can feel time-consuming and expensive, especially since these costs are commonly baked into your vendor’s invoices. At a minimum, with any project, make sure you own everything you use within these four classes of tool and service accounts:

  1. Code repositories. Your code is your project. Ownership and control of this key resource grants you maximum flexibility and project security. GitHub and BitBucket have free accounts to begin, and there’s a 90% chance your vendor already works with one or both.
  2. Documentation and issue tracking. Requirements, schedules, standards, roadmaps, bug reports, and remediation strategies are essential non-code aspects of every project. Owning these resources is vital for team transition and research, especially when vendors are idle. Industry standards Confluence (documentation) and JIRA (issue tracking) are free for the first 10 users.
  3. Designs. UX design is where most great ideas get documented and left behind. Iterations and design explorations that don’t work today may be brilliant down the line. The design system created by your UX team can help product managers iterate new ideas and save design effort across products and departments. Finished and approved work is a key artifact for marketing and testing teams. Ensuring all of your design artifacts remain available is a key success factor. Figma (owned by Adobe) is the current industry darling and has a free plan.

  4. Communication history. Key product decisions are made in ad-hoc communication all the time, probably more often than decisions made “officially”. Being able to search the chat archive for decisions and context is valuable for new stakeholders as well as busy team members (and lawyers in discovery). In this case, inviting vendors into your Teams/Slack/Twist instance is the best course of action, provided everyone is chatting there (rather than a private slack channel, for example).

Some tools and services support straightforward work-owner transition—a solid alternative for in-flight or former projects. However, not all tools/services make this possible, and not all vendors are willing.

Also recognize there are instances where ownership isn't necessary. Short-life projects rarely necessitate long-term account ownership. Time-tracking/work-logging services that produce weekly reports are a great example, as they’re meant for your vendor and not for you. Project management tooling falls into the same category—that’s an interface between your vendor’s project manager and their development staff.

If you feel like your project is out of your control or if you need maximum protection on a new effort, contact us today. Next Mile can help you regain access to key assets and reassert control over your digital future.

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If this speaks to a problem you’re facing, we'd love to see if we can help you further.