The agile digital agency: transformation in practice

“The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” - is what Jeff Sutherland, one of the leading authorities on Scrum, promises in his book of the same name.

What a promise for agencies, which are used to continually working at the limit! This is why pioneers in the agency sector have already been focusing on Scrum and Kanban for a few years and, in the meantime, agile transformation has become a fact of everyday life within agencies. In the first part of our series we explained why traditional project management has reached its limits within many digital agencies. But what exactly changes with the introduction of agile methods? Do sprints, daily meetings in front of a shared whiteboard and a lot of brightly coloured notes really make an agency agile?

The 12 basic principles of agile working

Irrespective of which agile project management method is chosen, agility is always based on similar values and principles. The Agile Manifesto can serve as a guide and standard: Even though this operational framework for agile teams was originally defined for software developers, the 12 principles can be easily applied in other activities (in the following, we have replaced some terminology from the software sector with more general terms).

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable products & services.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver functioning products & services frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people from various sectors must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and the support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Functioning services/products are the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, the team and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity – the art of maximising the amount of work not done – is essential.
  11. The best workflows, requirements and ideas emerge from self-organising teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

The 12 principles are based on 4 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

Scrum, Kanban & Co: Agile project management has many facets

The keyword “agile” automatically leads many people to think of Scrum. However, agencies do not need to use Scrum to work in an agile way. Scrum is a process model, which defines specific roles, rules and procedures. Agility is a code of conduct and a corporate culture, which is completely independent of Scrum. Or, in other words: Scrum does not work without agility. But agility works well without Scrum.

Many agile digital agencies use Scrum for project management, but others prefer Kanban or adopt selected innovation tools, such as Design Thinking or Design Sprints, for creative processes. Stable, self-organising teams, which communicate harmoniously, independently identify problems and find appropriate solutions, lie at the heart of agile agencies. Which project management methods and which agile tools are used is secondary and differs from agency to agency. Generally speaking, the majority of agility pioneers offer the following advice - don’t become absorbed in sets of rules, but rather start courageously and adapt processes to your own agency if necessary.

True agility is more than just a method

Just because the Project Manager suddenly becomes a Scrum Master or Product Owner and the largest deliverable is packaged in short sprints, this does not mean that all the problems and weaknesses of traditional project management are resolved overnight. There needs to be a change in thinking within the company and by each individual employee. If there is not an agile mindset, agile processes will fail. The “switch” to self-organisation and individual responsibility, for example, is not equally easy for all employees.

Even for management, relinquishing responsibility and losing control is often a difficult process. Seeing failures as learning opportunities and dealing transparently with weaknesses is also a typical barrier to agile transformation. There are other pitfalls to agile tenders and pricing models, above all when there is an “agility gap” between the client and the agency. From experience, formulating (and signing) tenders, which are not based on fixed specifications but on estimates, is initially difficult for both sides.

We know from our own experience that agile transformation of a digital agency is a process that requires expertise and, therefore, time. Even we have not yet quite achieved our aim, but improvements are already clearly discernible. In the next blog article, we will share various details of our vision of agility and the agile transformation of Osudio with you.

Article written by Slawa Baryshev, Agile Coach and Solution Architect