Agile: Shifts in Thinking

Agile is a big shift in the way we work and tackle creative...

(It’s about ditching “the big reveal.”)

Well, agile is more than that, but that’s essentially the mind shift. Traditional process often involves a process where the agency is briefed, then the creative team goes away and works for a while. Then the agency sets a presentation day, and shows the clients the creative work they’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks. 

While agencies sill may have presentations similar to this (but its rare), the big reveal way of working is ditched while working Agile.

Working in agile is meant to be a process where the client and agency learn together from day one. Rather than coming up with creative from the start. Agile allows you to learn as you go. Together with the client you learn as you work, adjusting what you think about what should be built.

At a base level, agile is a different way of working with the client. You strive to have the client become part of the problem-solving team on the project. 

Small decisions can be made faster, since with the client on the team, you get faster feedback. The faster the feedback, the faster the process. Instead of waiting for days for client approval, decision making happens with the team. Your staff works to show (prototypes) or live variations on a working site and clients can make a decision there and then.

The No-So-New Model

Well, not really too new. Agile methodologies have been around for a while, used in the software industry for over twenty now. What is new is the agile is beginning to make an appearance in the agency world a bit more. 

If you are a “digital” agency you might already be using agile for most of your development work already. Creative agencies are slowly beginning to embrace agile methodologies. 

However, agencies are not an easy environment to implement agile, due to the nature of traditional processes and how they worked in the past. Fixed prices, scopes-of-work, and time frames are pretty typical approaches to how an agency works. A big commercial production, or larger storytelling campaigns where agencies fight with a client’s procurement department aren’t the most conducive to agile methodologies.

However, agencies have worked “agile-like.” Most agencies have shifted to working in smaller teams. And in the integrated production model, where teams are made up of members of different discipline (design, UX, producer, creative technologist) who are committed throughout the length of the project to work on a client’s project has become pretty familiar stuff.

Agency pitches for example are very similar to agile. How many times have we gathered pitch teams to work together in a room and work collaboratively in a “war-room?” Where there are daily and weekly catch-ups and reviews, a sense of team commitment, sprinting through a creative pitch process?

When you are working on large development projects, agile can make a lot of sense. Instead of having separate design and development stages, where things may be approved that may hinder the next stage, now designers and developers work together during the duration of the project.

In many cases, agile versus waterfall still amount to the same number of hours, but each discipline stays active from beginning to end with this approach. With UX in sooner, the project can get into code faster. With design in later, the design can be refined to meet the challenges that arise in code. 

Clients are getting on board with agile ways of working, because they feel more engaged with the creative process, they get to see prototypes sooner and they get to look at things in a working model. They also gain a greater understanding of an agency’s process and the technology. They also get to know the agency team (who is actually doing the work) and can liaise with them directly.

However, it does require a high level of client trust with the agency, as the project outcome can morph dramatically as you go through iterations.

For clients to work this way, it requires some shifting away from some seemingly natural ways of working. Creative (as aesthetics) becomes secondary to functionality and technical execution. On the plus side, the faster you can get to technically executing, the soon the team learns what you can and can’t do.

The client also has a higher stake in the game, and must commit to being part of the process. Quick feedback to questions, and show-and-tells are essential. Clients may also be wary of working in an environment where a projects requirements continually evolves. 

However, working in an agile environment allows for faster testing of software and allows for prototypes to be tested earlier.

Under a waterfall model, an agency could have built a complete design with a functionality that would have been impossible at the coding stage. When both designers and developers work together, they can work easier on coming up with alternate solutions.

As clients take a more active role in the agile process, problems of design not working out on the development end don’t look like giant mistakes. Instead, the client can see how things evolve.

Agile works pretty well on the development side as well as for stand-alone projects.

However, in reality, running true Agile requires agencies and clients to use similar methodologies in their marketing efforts. This requires both sides to have a continually evolving backlog and a rolling budget. As the marketing and the work is launched, it would be constantly evaluated and adapted to reflect both metrics and audience feedback. 

It marks a significant shift in thinking, and requires a great deal of trust on both sides. Agile marketing in the true sense is similar to an AOR (account-of-record) experience. As AOR accounts are disappearing, it may make for fewer agile marketing like experiences.

This is why many agencies are utilizing a hybrid model. During the up front stage, they work more waterfall-like for discovery to set a larger scope, but then work iterative for the rest of the project to final deployment. However, as we talked about, working agile like, using design thinking, or iterative processes at the discovery phases can be integral to developing new thinking. I think for me, there can be an argument made that we look to adopt agile thinking principles where we can, but don’t worry to much about the rituals so much if they don’t fit in with your practices.

At the same time, many agencies see real value in working under the rituals and discipline mandated by an agile framework (like sprints and scrums). The idea is, as you move forward in figuring out the details in utilizing agile, is to ensure that your team gets as close as they can with collaborating directly with a client, and the team focuses on prioritizing what they work on, deliver often, reflect on what they learned and use iteration to build on initial work.