Can Digital Agencies be Agile?

Background

As a startup, it’s effective to work in an agile way. Build small, learn fast, and iterate constantly. The advantages of these methods are clear, but can they work as well for a digital agency?

How It’s Always Been

The process with digital agencies hasn’t changed in recent years, and can be anything from agile. A quick project workflow looks like this:

Getting a Client

  1. Listen to what the client wants to build
  2. Create a proposal with a fixed estimate for cost and time
  3. Send & Pray

Project Workflow

  1. The design team creates Wireframes & Visual Comps
  2. The development team builds off of the designs
  3. The client receives a final product.

The Problem

The problem with the above is simple, agencies are providing a fixed cost estimate, without knowing what it is they are building. In this situation, the client is the one providing the scope, and the agency is just bidding out their hourly rate x how many hours they think it will take. Why are agencies relying on the clients to define the scope? Aren’t clients coming to them for their expertise? Agencies should be working hand in hand with clients to define not only what to build, but WHY to even build it in the first place.

My Experience

I work at a digital agency in Los Angeles, and we run into this problem every day. We say we are agile, and much of our process is, but we are still fighting to change the way clients perceive us. We aim to stop having them view us as a time and materials expense, and to start looking at us as a business investment.

Our Solution (So Far)

Our solution has stemmed from the balance of not wanting to lock ourselves into a fixed cost engagement, while still providing clients an idea of project cost that they can budget against.

Step 1: We introduce clients to our lean process in early discussions. We demonstrate the value of starting small and iterating, as opposed to building everything at once just to see what sticks.

Step 2: We offer a discovery session for a fee, during which we audit the existing product (if any), build out a backlog of all requested features, and define what the initial release will be.

Step 3: At the end of this session, the client will know exactly what is going to be built and exactly how much it will cost. Our goal here is to launch early, listen to customers, and then build additional features once they are seen as valuable.

Conclusion

Agencies will always have a battle when it comes to clients & proposals. It’s up to them to communicate with the client and show them that before any design is sketched, or any code is written, that there is an understanding as to what problems the client is having, that they’re looking to solve. They’re not looking to just build a new site, there are specific reasons for their decision. Once these decisions are understood, the two sides can sit together and understand what really needs to be built, gain feedback, and constantly revise.