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The Overlooked Influence When it Comes to Agile


Here’s an article title that will indefinitely set the world on fire in the plethora of blogs on Agile methodology…

So, why bother adding to the nauseating background hum with yet another?

The majority of blogs I read appear to assume that the working practises of software houses, producing a limited quantity of off-the-shelf products vs digital agencies with multiple client projects and ever-changing scope, are like-for-like and tit-for-tat from the moment they declare ‘now we’re going Agile’.

I don’t believe this to be the case and nor do I believe can this be put down purely to the blurry lines of differentiating between product vs project management. All too regularly the agency account management point-of-view isn’t conveyed in these discussions and subsequently the business standpoint on what is necessary to make Agile work, remains underrepresented.

We can agree that Agile’s purpose is about responding to change, customer collaboration and working software. However, in my view, the current narrative around Agile is too focussed on organising a delivery team over some of the fundamentals that lead to facilitating the achievement of technical excellence. So, given the opportunity, I will argue the case that the most important foundation for making Agile a success at an agency, is the client relationship.

I could even go one step further back to state that the real foundation is culture; intrinsic with how you interact both internally and externally; influencing how you work with the client. Certainly, this is the most important thing from an account management perspective and my belief is it’s vital that the agency and client have a common understanding of the delivery model to be used on a project, set of projects or project pipeline, whether that be Agile, or not.

It’s this genuine facet of a ‘partner’ approach with clients that forges a mutual respect between agency and client teams. Whereby everything from requirements definition and refinement, to prioritisation, all the way through to review of solutions architecture and achievement of commercial goals, is a collaborative effort. This will in-turn influence the way you commit to delivery cycles, the way you iterate, and hence not only how you manage the client’s expectations but also how you organise internally. The desired results from this should be an agency team that fully understands the client strategy and a client team that fully understands the delivery mechanism. In turn, this level of satisfaction both sides of the fence lead to the continual delivery ‘Agile’ is most often associated with.

Equally there will be times where, despite a successful working approach for current scope, a change to methodology could be necessary to achieving the end goal. This client-agency partner attitude should mean the relationship is there to facilitate those conversations.

If the client relationship is a new one, or maybe even more importantly if you’ve been working in the same way for some time, regular catch-ups with your main stakeholders is a must. As an account manager, whether it’s at project initiation or in a quarterly review; ask the questions around your client’s desired ways of working. Understand their pressures from other stakeholders in the client-business and what that entails in terms of demonstrating progress and expectations on when value can be realised from the changes you are implementing. With any luck, you won’t change your overall methodology, as too much chopping and changing will cause problems for your agency team. But you may for example, end-up tweaking the regularity of your prioritisation reviews or the length of time between sprint start and showcase to allow for an extended UAT period.

Holistically-speaking, does culture underpin ways of working in everything we do? Granted, yes. Everyone will have their own interpretation when it comes to implementing a specific project management methodology, but the way culture lays the foundations will give an agency their identity in the eyes of their client, and enable this cycle of client confidence and well understood, grounded-in-strategy requirements in the first place.

Author: Tom French, Account Lead