Guide: How can agile working be implemented in agencies?

Many agencies claim to be agile. What that actually means, however, often remains hidden from both the client and the team. Our guide shows you how to profitably implement agile working in your agency.

Agile working in agencies: World of Agencies to present the latest agency trends at DMEXCO.
Image: © Koelnmesse GmbH / Michael Berger

Why is agile project management important for agencies?

Nowadays, the term “agility” is used a little too liberally and has lost some of its meaning along the way. However, agencies should still explore how it was originally intended and the opportunities it offers for a digital agency. The benefits include the following, for example:

  • A flexible, extremely adaptable approach to project planning and implementation
  • A focus on results in the interest of client satisfaction
  • Time savings and greater capacities for projects running at the same time
  • Improved work quality
  • Employee satisfaction increases because they have the power to make their own decisions and are given more autonomy
  • Simplified project management and employee support
  • Increased sales

What is required to successfully implement agile working?

The list of possible benefits promises a great deal, and agile working can definitely bring about numerous positive effects if it is implemented consistently and holistically. But many agencies as well as companies fail in their transformation toward agility. This is mainly due to the following factors:

  • Lack of courage to embrace change
  • Not truly grasping the meaning of agile values and principles
  • Lack of initiative in developing agile working methods suitable to their individual needs
  • Not enough patience
  • Not following through properly when testing measures
  • Lack of consensus within the team as to whether the transformation is really wanted

In some agencies, despite what is communicated externally to the contrary, there is a lack of true openness to modern working methods and hierarchical structures are often still very much in place. In addition, there is often not enough time to establish mutual trust and an open culture when dealing with mistakes. If you combine these factors, the successful implementation of agile working is doomed to fail from the outset.

For the transformation into an agile agency to succeed, courage and room to experiment are needed. The full extent of the transformation must be understood, accepted, wanted, tested, and resolutely implemented by all team members without exception.

Neither a sprint nor a Kanban board constitutes agile working!

When you hear the terms “agile working” or “agile project management”, which have long been buzzwords, you immediately associate them with concepts such as “Kanban” and “Scrum”. Scrum in particular is often wrongly touted as an agile method that is relatively easy to implement.

Equating Scrum with agile working is a fatal error though. Scrum is an approach, or rather a framework, that defines certain rules, workflows, and roles. Agility, in contrast, means much more than that – it denotes an all-encompassing culture or mindset to be integrated within a company on a sustained basis. Scrum can help a company on its path toward agile transformation, but it is not a characteristic of agility or even an agile method.

The idea that Scrum can only be used for product and software development processes is a myth that has been debunked numerous times. It has long been widely used in other areas, such as sales. However, this does not imply that Scrum is automatically also suitable for agencies.

Blueprint or cherry picking – how do I find the best practices for agile working?

As the day-to-day work in an agency is always determined externally by its clients, Scrum and its sprints, which last several weeks and have to be planned in advance, quickly reach their limits. There are too many unpredictable factors at play in the agency business:

  • A new project could arise suddenly at any moment and need to be taken care of as soon as possible alongside projects already underway.
  • Clients could change their mind at the last minute and ask for the job you thought was already completed to be reworked, improved, or expanded, meaning that renegotiations have to take place.
  • Clients may not provide important information, such as briefing documents, on time.
  • Technical or health-related problems on the client’s side may temporarily prevent crucial arrangements from being made, thereby delaying the project.

In particular because of its dependency on plannable sprints, Scrum is either unsuitable for agile working in agencies or only suitable in a modified form. The constantly flowing pull principle of Kanban, for example, lends itself more to this aspect. Is a mix of various approaches therefore the solution?

Download the guide here

Start with the foundations of agile working rather than approaches and methods

The sobering answer to this is that it does not matter whether you apply Scrum or a mix of various approaches. Introducing methods for all these approaches does not mean that you have created an agile agency – by no stretch of the imagination. Therefore, starting off by burying yourself in Scrum, Kanban and the like, being swallowed up by best practices and success stories, and subsequently turning every process upside down is definitely not the right way to go about things.

There certainly isn’t a lack of approaches you could pursue as an agile agency. But even approaches like Kanban and lean thinking should not be regarded as blueprints. They demand critical analysis and careful, gradual implementation. What’s more, searching for methods and best practices for your agency’s daily routine is like putting the cart before the horse: it just won’t work.

Free guide: fostering the right working culture and mentality is the only way

As agility and agile working represent a culture and an all-encompassing mindset, you first need to create a common understanding of agility within your agency and establish agile values and principles. This is precisely where our guide on agile working in agencies comes in. Download our guide “Agile working in agencies” for free and find out how start establishing agile working and which values and principles give substance to the term “agility”.