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How to get the best out of your digital agency the 'Agile' way

How to get the best out of your digital agency the 'Agile' way

By Martin McNulty, Client Services Director, Forward3D.

The traditional agency / client relationship is flawed, especially for companies working in the digital space. =]

With such a high percentage of the marketing budget now dedicated to the internet, it is essential that business adapt their project management approach so that it is effective in the digital era. 

A new approach is needed because when it comes to building websites, planning and implementing search campaigns or engaging with social media channels, traditional project management techniques are simply out of date.

Twelve month roadmaps are about as accurate as crystal balls when it comes to the internet because it changes every day. The way that consumers use it changes, the technology changes, platforms change and deciphering a passing fad from a genuine shift in consumer behavior becomes ever harder.

When it comes to the internet, you need a new plan every day. Agile working is based on Japanese manufacturing practices. Also known as ‘lean’ or ‘just in time,’ agile working is a concept focusing on delivering value where it is most important.

Going against traditional project management techniques, it encourages enhancements, and project revisions on a daily basis.

There is no start, middle and end but instead daily iterations that help inform next steps. Because agile encourages feedback everyday, it ensures that decisions are always current.

It also ensures that poor decisions are spotted quickly so ‘waste’ is minimised. The net result is a faster development cycle that produces a more relevant outcome at a lower price.

Agile working methods can be applied to any form of project but it is particularly pertinent when it comes to internet marketing. As an agency, you need to question the client’s wishes – why do you want a new website? What is the real need? What is broken specifically? What metrics are you using to arrive at this decision?

If the payment page is the problem, fix the payment page. If you want more sales from consumers through search, examine and test certain key words, don’t rebuild your entire website. Change one thing and change it tomorrow. The day after tomorrow we can decide what is next on the list, but for now let’s do this one thing.

Agile can be a big step for companies to take as it requires trust on both sides. Traditionally, the agency provides forward looking ideas or strategy (in the form of roadmaps and annual plans) and the client signs it off.

True agile agencies will never offer this. Instead they’ll present the client with a list of recommendations that will impact the business today. The client needs to trust that each week, the list will evolve and each week the results will build. On the flip side, the agency must not penalise the client for changing its mind.

Fast failure and change should be encouraged. Constantly changing the approach might feel inefficient but the truth is that sticking doggedly to a plan that ultimately is wrong is far less efficient. Spending £100k only to discover you’ve built the wrong website or campaign six months down the road is the ultimate inefficiency.

gile working demands that you change your approach to the client / agency relationship. Here are some tips on how you can ease the transition process:

1. Don’t obsess about perfection

Waiting for something to become perfect can mean you spend a lot of time developing a service or product that in the end, no one I interested in buying. Sometimes ‘defect prevention’ kills good ideas and ensures bad ideas are executed perfectly. Don’t be afraid to experiment before you reach perfection – you might just save yourself a lot of time and effort in the long run.

2. Just do it

Does the person signing off on a decision really know more than the person making the recommendation? If not, empower the person making the recommendation to ‘just do it’.

3. Remove reviews

Faster feedback yields higher quality but agile defines feedback as the use of an item by the next step in the process – not yet another review of its functionality. Swap out reviews and replace them with direct feedback.

4. Eliminate waiting time

Waiting is expensive and the cost is often hidden. We often waste hours, days and sometimes even weeks waiting for someone or something to become available. Look for alternatives and pursue other activities.

5. Don’t specialise

Contrary to perceived wisdom, knowledge transfer does not actually produce value for your business. Moving information from one head to another head does not create a product or a service. It is much faster if a single worker can implement multiple stages of production process unassisted.

6. Embrace discomfort

Innovation occurs in zones of discomfort. Working with the same person everyday, year after year, will not produce a new way of working. The Agile approach seeks close, heterogeneous working relationships. Ideas abound in this rich layer of discomfort as each party brings their different experiences to the table and shares best practice.

7. Reward change

Instead of being a slave to the project plan, reward employees for identifying change. Eliminating unprofitable strategies early on and being prepared to change direction may feel inefficient but it’s a far more effective route to ensuring success.

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