Traditional agency, web shop or software company, we’re all looking for ways to do things faster, better and more profitably. In the agency world, we take comfort in the ability to move people around to keep them fully billable. We say “yes” to clients to build relationships, and work against a defined scope to keep budgets in line. We loop in clients, but only as often as we really need to.

In the software world, daily client contact, weekly billing, saying “no” and working Agile are more the norm. Comparing key points of a traditional approach to Agile principles, you can see things don’t quite line up:

Agile Approach

  • Deliver value early and continuously

  • Welcome changing requirements

  • Maintain a constant pace

  • Work with clients daily

  • Measure progress with working software

Traditional Mindset

  • Ship deliverables per milestones

  • Push back against scope changes

  • Start-and-stop pace

  • Infrequent feedback loops

  • Measure progress by deliverables

Can Agile Survive in the Agency World?

Given the differences, can Agile really work for digital creative shops? If yes, how do you make the transition, especially if your shop has been around for 10 or 20 years? Sure, switching to a more Agile approach can get your team and company to a better place, but it takes time and commitment. So what’s the easiest way, and how do you make it worth it?

Finding Common Ground

There are many different flavors of Agile including Scrum, Lean and Kanban. Each comes with its own focus, processes and tools. You can mix and match different elements to fit your goals and team. The key is building a foundation in line with the four Agile values:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation

  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  4. Responding to change over following a plan


Getting Started with Agile

As Dave Prior, Senior Consultant at LeadingAgile, tells it, process is easy. It’s culture that gets in the way. Dave joined us on The Bureau Briefing to outline some steps to help move your team and mindset towards Agile.

Three Mandatories

To make Agile work, you must have three things:

  1. Stable teams

  2. A well-formed backlog

  3. The ability to deliver regularly

Stable Teams

A lot of agencies can stomach mandatories number two and three, but number one can be a real struggle if you need to keep moving people across teams, projects and clients to sustain revenue and billable hours. You can start by keeping people on the same team together and moving the team between two or more projects. As people work together more often, they’ll build efficiencies and become better able to manage multiple projects at once.

Queue The Kanban

Kanban comes from manufacturing, and has a lot in common with Scrum. It can be useful for small teams that frequently work in silos. In Kanban, you queue up work and then work through the queue items in order. You can’t start on something new until you’ve moved something out. Like Scrum, you still have a retrospective, but you measure different things such as time in queue and time from start to completion. Efficiency comes by asking how you can do things more adeptly and effectively.

Client Engagement

In an ideal Agile environment, your client would be involved every day. In the agency world, projects tend to stall out, then show back up again in a rush. Still, redefining the terms of engagement will help ensure you have a good backlog of work and can ship regularly. Educate your client on the benefits: “We’ll deliver in the order you want, according to what’s most valuable to you. You can keep changing the scope—we’re here for this amount of time at this cost.” If your client is hard to access, have a champion on the agency side to make decisions and keep things moving.

Why It’s Worth It

As client services companies, we want our clients to be happy. Our business is built on relationships. While it takes work, a more Agile approach can increase client satisfaction and improve relationships. The goal is delivering more value to your clients, getting to the finish line faster with a better product and treating people more like human beings than resources.