When an Agency Becomes Agile.

Measuring the impact of Agile one year later.

tyler tullis
Andrei Mylroie
Partner

Aug 7, 2019

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LAST YEAR, WE CLOSED DH FOR A WEEK OF TRAININGS IN AGILE METHODOLOGY. A lot of organizations describe themselves as “agile” in some context. Agile is a word and theory that’s a bit en vogue at the moment, but for DH, this methodology marked a significant change in our approach to developing strategy, collaborating with clients and executing work.

So, we wanted to take readers behind the scenes of our new agency methodology and show you some examples of how it’s helping achieve better results for clients.

What the heck is Agile anyway?

In short, it’s a way of working more collaboratively across our team and with clients to get the best ideas, work effort and results.

Originally agile was used in manufacturing, and is most commonly found in large, long-term projects that require a lot of coordination, like software development.

But the agency world is fundamentally different than a more structured and predictable ecosystem like software development. Our deadlines change every day. Clients can turn on or off projects at will. And there a myriad of things that impact our work, ranging from current events to competitive shifts in our clients’ industries.

On top of this, we were seeking better ways to work. Ones that allowed us to focus on creating more time for strategy and creativity, and less managing workflow. We wanted better coordination between account and creative teams—in essence, to create self-empowered teams that could move faster, create more space for great work, and to deliver under budget. Essentially, the holy grails of the agency world.

We worked with a group called AgencyAgile. This was an investment for DH, but one that has paid big dividends in terms of fueling creativity, better scoping, and improving workflow and agency culture.

At the beginning of our relationship with clients, our team and theirs gathers in an open room to generate strategy and scopes work by understanding fundamental organizational challenges, opportunities and conditions for success. This time together requires ground rules like putting away our devices so we can honestly discuss and map business context, goals and success factors, address questions and risks, and flag next steps.

Self-Empowered Teams

The Agile process recognizes that different people have different learning and communication styles, along with different approaches to their work product. We threw out our old weekly workflow meetings and adopted daily, all-staff check-ins to quickly review what we’re working on that day, identify where people are underwater, and support each other as needed. We bolster this with more focused workflow resourcing meetings and a review of all active projects moving across the firm twice per week.

When I’ve shared this approach with other agency owners—daily meetings for the entire staff—I’m often met with raised eyebrows. But it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done at DH. Paradoxically, spending this time together saves us time. The awareness the team has of what’s happening within and across client projects has never been higher.

This level of collaboration and visibility reduces the potential for bottlenecks and extends to the way we communicate with clients as an extension of their teams. We flatten the room to create an open, honest and safe place for dialogue.

As we initiate projects, our entire team is empowered to raise ideas, ask questions and manage their work to protect focused working hours. We’ve found this engenders greater degrees of trust and collaboration within our team, and with clients.

The Art and Science of “Roadmapping”

With a common understanding of organizational context and trust between teams, we can build campaigns and communications strategy together in a process called Roadmapping. Again, it’s a method designed to accommodate all learnings styles. It may look like a mess of cards on thewall (and it is) but there is power in simplicity. Roadmapping organizes ideas, forces us to talk through them, prioritizes and properly resources them prior to projects getting underway.

Roadmaps can take all day for large campaigns, or 15 minutes for small projects — but it helps invest clients in their work, secure leadership’s buy-in on ideas, and creates accountability from the beginning of scopes.

Take one of our clients who has also gone through training in Agile methodology: Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotech companies. Grouping up for a few afternoons in-person, we Roadmapped their annual communications plan rather than negotiating scopes of work in proposals over the course of weeks. It came with mutual understanding around these strategies and helped us get under decision making points and priorities. Ultimately, it helped us bring more compelling work to market faster, which, for a company going through major transformation like Genentech, is critical to their success.

Executing Work with Flow

Creating the best work the most efficiently requires the creation of “Flow States” — long periods where our teams can focus on their work without distraction. It means discipline about the way we communicate with each other (Slack vs in-person interruptions), limiting meetings in the afternoons and providing environments where teams can collaborate but not distract each other.

Protecting Flow isn’t always easy amid the press of business. Our team undertook a disciplined learning curve around what constitutes as an emergency, how often we schedule meetings and new communication styles. Again, simple is usually best — we’ll post “Flow” cards at our desks as a clear signal to the team around us.

Measuring Results Collaboratively

The process also calls for collaboration during and after campaigns, taking stock of outputs and outcomes against KPIs to determine where we were successful and what we learned along the way. Mutual reporting of media data and campaign clicks are only as useful as business outcomes we can correlate with, so close communication to optimize strategies and tactics is essential.

A year ago, many of our team and our clients may have experienced this degree of in-person collaboration, but the whole notion of “slowing down to speed up” might have felt unrealistic.

Today, our team and our clients have embraced this methodology. They’ve seen the results — better strategy and work product with fewer hiccups and slowdowns along the way. The investment of time and collaboration up front and throughout our projects has led to some of our best work we’ve produced, and we’re excited that clients are coming along for the ride.

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