An agency view of agile working

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  • November 29, 2017
Ian Horsfall

Ian Horsfall

Project Manager

Working with major brands is a real privilege.

Something we often experience during these relationships is a discussion on delivery dates, production queues and efficiencies. We primarily deliver campaign assets such as quizzes, interactive content pieces, infographics and enterprise website builds on a variety of platforms, all of which form part of our industry leading search strategies.

As part of our delivery process, we focus on planning and scheduling resources in an effective and economical manner, while also reacting to the inevitable change that comes with this type of work.

For the most part, this comes down to two main methodologies; waterfall and agile. We try and adopt an agile methodology for as much of our work as possible, however we aren’t tied to one approach or another if it doesn’t make sense in a given situation.

What does Agile mean to an agency?

When discussing our production methodology, it often becomes apparent that agile working is an often misunderstood term. Whilst the word ‘agile’ means being “able to move quickly and easily”, people can think this means “do whatever we want, whenever we want”.

Branded3 is an SEO agency, not a software development house, so we don’t lock off projects for many months with developers only surfacing for a few breaths of fresh air. We work on a lot of projects and multiple work streams at the same time.

When we work in this agile way, it means working to the smallest (within reason) possible deliverables and then working on those deliverables as iteratively as possible. Being agile in an agency environment means knowing your skillsets within the team and ensuring you have the capacity and team spirit to embrace change.

Working in this way means having an overarching plan of the project, but understanding that you won’t get into the real detail until you reach the point where you have to.

Getting the client on board

There can be misunderstandings on the client-side about what agile working means for them. Most often, this can result in a client feeling that the agency is happy for goalposts and expectations to move at a moment’s notice, but this is rarely the case.

Some key principles that need to be agreed with the client to gain success are:

  • The budget: whether it’s fixed or flexible, you need to know what constraints you are working to
  • The timeframes or deadlines: if you are under time pressure, agile means you must prioritise and may not be able to get everything you want. The client won’t see a finished product all at once, therefore faith and trust that the agency will deliver is needed.
  • The agency works iteratively, meaning that clients must be ready to review, collaborate and be involved to ensure that things stay on track from both sides.

If the client is on board with these principles, then the agency is more likely to meet expectations and deliver the project as expected. If there is resistance or it’s simply not possible to meet these requirements, then agile working might not be right for either the client or the agency.

Planning the production workflow

Planning the production workflow all depends on the size of your team(s) and what level of capacity you want them to run at. Preferably, this would be based on your learnings from previous sprints or development cycles. It also requires a good knowledge of your client’s behaviour so that you know when to plan for contingency.

The nature of some of the business of our clients means that we have to be ready to react with very little lead-time; this could be something happening in the news that we want to capitalise on, or an urgent campaign that needs to go out. In these instances, it’s sometimes helpful to recognise the known and unknowns, and plan for it.

Improving efficiencies

A constructive look at the recent past, to aid a better future

Retrospective is a key principle of an agile team.  As part of the retrospective process at Branded3, we look at what didn’t go so well and identify steps to improve this for the future, but something that is often overlooked as part of the process is to recognise what went well, and see if we can increase or amplify it in future projects.

There are many more elements in making your agile team successful such as reviewing your productivity, planning your future sprints based on capacity (rather than being optimistic about what you may achieve) or simply keeping on top of things to ensure that your key goals are being met among many others.

Summary

To achieve the best results, you need to understand your client, understand their make-up and how they work to ensure that you have a methodology that will work for you both.

Plan based on what you know, be iterative, don’t expect perfection in every element first time, and focus on what’s most important.

Stick to the identified priorities, but be willing to accept that change is inevitable to a large extent and don’t be frightened by it; rather, plan for it and remember while you can do anything, it’s not always possible to do everything.

Empower and motivate your team, remember that there is a person behind their output, if you are seeing under achievement or lower output that you’d expect, try to understand why and do what you can to assist. I have been guilty of overlooking this element in the past but like to think that I now value the person above simply their output.

Finally, be transparent, be honest, work hard and be ready to react, re-plan and recommit.

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