The Best-Kept Project Management Secret.
Benefits Of Adopting An Agile Approach In An Agency Setting.
As a software engineer in Silicon Valley in the early 2000s, I was exposed to the concept of agile methodology and know that it would have a huge impact on technological processes. Originating as a software development approach, Agile follows 12 principles that can be summarized in four key values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
A few years later, I moved into the agency world. Running Agile was almost unheard of in this arena. Instead, despite tight deadlines, fast-moving client targets and a creative-driven process, big and small agencies worldwide embrace something more like the Waterfall approach. Waterfall is a sequential design process that draws inspiration from the manufacturing industry. Agencies must define highly structured requirements prior to design and development. But now that the world is more digital and customer needs are more complex, we no longer have the luxury to define all the exact requirements of a project, which often leads to redesign, redevelopment, retesting and most importantly, increasing costs and decreasing work quality and client satisfaction.
I initially accepted the Waterfall approach for my own agency, but as our client list grew, so did our workload and the complexity of our work process. Once it grew out of control, we knew we had to do something. Like many firms, we converted to Agile because of a desperate need to take control of our workflow, and to increase our efficiency and bottom line as a business. Agile accomplished those respectable goals for us, but the real benefits were even more far-reaching that I had ever expected.
I will admit that transition of moving from Waterfall to Agile as a business nearly killed our agency, but once we pushed through the steep learning curve, the implementation of Agile into our day-to-day workflow, and most importantly, our culture, undoubtedly took us to the next level level. Here’s where my team saw increased performance as a result:
Project Profit Margin
As a service-oriented agency, our clients pay for our time and materials. We mostly work against a fixed scope and budget. This means that accurately scoping for the proposal is a critical process to meet our targeted profit margin for each project. To improve that process, we use workflow methods like Kanban and Scrum so that our team of strategists, designers and developers can maintain a product backlog with collections of “user stories.” We implement daily Kanban to eliminate any confusion and ensure the project stays on track, while collaborating with our clients simultaneously. This means projects are consistently delivered on time, within scope, and most importantly, meet the client’s targeted budget and our project profit margin.
Our job is to make our client’s job easier. We are expected to deliver work and results, and we do. But more often than not, we overlook the process of delivering that work and the related results. By educating and getting buy-in from our clients to leverage Agile throughout the production process, we eliminate the challenges clients would face in a Waterfall environment, such as not having enough time for testing at the end of the project.
By integrating Agile into our overall project management process, we make the process more transparent, more collaborative and more fun. Client satisfaction with Agile is impressive across the board: we have a global client with 40 offices worldwide and a regional client who both adopted Agile for their own internal teams after working with us and seeing firsthand how powerful it truly is.
While we could have predicted increased profit and client satisfaction, the most surprising benefit that came from Agile was employee satisfaction. We’ve found that employees feel that they have a clear sense of direction and they know exactly what deliverables are expected at each sprint. They are protected from distractions and last-minute demands, and their productivity is maximized, allowing them to focus on the tasks at hand. With regular client check-ins, they avoid the “grand reveal” at the end, where agency folks would traditionally cross their fingers hoping that the client will be pleased. Our employees know that they are meeting (and exceeding) client needs throughout the process and are earning the respect, trust and confidence from our clients. They have an increased sense of ownership and general job satisfaction, which results in greater quality of work.
We dove in headfirst to transform our agency into an Agile agency. As difficult as the road was at times, I believe it was worth the sweat and tears. And the results are readily apparent: we are not only a more profitable business, but are also a much happier agency because of it.
As our industry rapidly evolves and our our clients’ collectives needs continue to pivot, agencies will simply not survive using old methodology. Heed my advice: the time is now for agencies to embrace Agile.
This article was posted on Forbes