Laura Steele, Voltage
Adapting to Change – Using Agile in a Digital Agency
Responding to a client’s changing needs is the constant requirement of a digital agency. But, as the landscape shifts, new technologies are introduced, marketing methods proliferate, and data reigns, it is no longer possible to determine the outcome of any project or campaign at the outset.
At this inflection point, Voltage has adopted a lean agile approach for our client interactions, to provide better collaboration, more touch points, reduce overhead and ultimately, a better outcome and relationship for our clients.
In 2017, it appears that brands are also at an inflection point and are tapping into the agile methodology because it allows them to be more flexible in responding to a rapidly changing marketplace. Incremental planning, collaboration, and the flexibility to address incoming market data and the consumer’s response are now ‘top of mind’ for many of our E-commerce clients. ‘Agile Marketing’ is becoming a common term, with these primary elements:
- The ability to respond quickly to fluid situations, trends, and events
- Smaller, more targeted deliverables that are able to change course as needed
- Valuing frequent data points over opinions or commonly held beliefs
A common language is being developed, and we are eager to tap into it with our clients. This is leading to better dialogue and more frequent communications. However, we needed to adapt several of our internal processes to ensure both profitability of our work, and overall client satisfaction. Here are three recommendations for other agencies that are adapting to agile methods.
Change up the Contract
Typical contracts specify a list of deliverables and a fixed price. An Agile contract, on the other hand, needs to drive home the fact that software development and design are not like a construction project with well-known discrete steps and timeline. Therefore, an Agile digital agency cannot describe each client’s project with sufficient detail at the time of contract execution. The goal should be to ensure delivery of as much value as possible in a set period, based on requirements produced during the discovery phase. One way to achieve this is to move to a time and materials based contract, instead of fixed price. An Agile contract should not specify detailed requirements, or milestones. Instead, start with a high-level concept of the deliverable and both lower and upper budget limits, so the client can manage expectations. Effective communication of the value delivered is crucial.
Emphasize the Discovery Phase
Many agencies kick off new projects with a discovery phase, but with Agile processes this phase takes on new importance. Take this opportunity to educate the client about the benefits of Agile, and introduce the sprint-based workflow, terminology, and expectations. Spending time upfront during both the sales cycle and the discovery phase can build confidence and communications with the client. Agile is a trust-based approach, and it is important for clients to develop confidence in your ability to add value and solve problems.
The discovery phase should be treated as the first sprint: it is meant to establish a road map for the project and is an opportunity for both the client and the agency to ensure they are working towards the same goals. It’s important to outline specific requirements, interactions, and high-level expectations, but with the understanding that new data will become available over time, as new information is incorporated.
Incorporate QA, Every Step of the Way
With Agile methods, quality assurance can no longer be a stand-alone process that is undertaken when the project is basically ‘done.’ QA becomes an essential and integral part of the project lifespan, from concept to completion. Quality needs to be built in from the beginning, with continual improvement throughout each sprint cycle, always keeping the user’s perspective in mind. QA must happen at the design, content, and development level, to ensure that the product delivered after each sprint is nearly perfect. Again, it is the deliverance of excellence that builds trust with the client.
Fifteen years after its introduction, Agile is used by over 50% of software development companies. Agile methodologies are now gaining traction with digital advertising agencies, and brand clients are turning to agile marketing to ensure that the end product, be it a website or digital campaign, is based on the most current information. Though Agile may be difficult to implement for a more traditionally structured advertising agency, it should be well within scope for the modern digital agency.
About the author:
Laura is Director of Business Operations for VOLTAGE and has many, many years of experience in operations and project management. She has overseen numerous projects for NASA, Cable TV, telecommunication start-ups, and E-commerce companies. Laura has been with VOLTAGE for nearly six years, and is responsible for legal, HR, culture, and client relations. She is particularly interested in applying Agile methods to all aspect of the digital agency’s workflow.