How we manage clients & their expectations

How To NOT Get Screwed by Your Agency: Project Management Series, Part 3

We’ve been talking recently about how to not get screwed by your agency. We think this is a crucial topic. After all, clients are spending money with an agency to bring their product and vision to life. Shouldn’t they know what to expect?

We think they should and have worked diligently to ensure our partner-driven relationships create a shared understanding of what’s happening during a project’s lifecycle.

We’ve discussed the impact our agile engagements have on how we manage our internal team. Today, we want to call attention to a few things that a client should expect when hiring an agency to build their web or mobile app, including:

  • Level of collaboration
  • Changing priorities
  • Staying on track
  • Product launch

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Level of collaboration

Things move quickly in the world of software development. There are copy decisions, design considerations, programming dependencies, user feedback, and sales needs — just to name a few. Since we haven’t yet figured out how to read people’s minds, this requires a steady amount of communication between the client and their agency.

You wouldn’t hire a contractor to renovate your kitchen and then check in once they say everything is complete, would you? The same is true for developing a web or mobile app. When it comes down to it, the level of collaboration between the client and their agency can determine the success of a project.

Realistically, a client should expect a high level of collaboration throughout the entirety of the project. How high is high? We find that a weekly checkpoint, at the least, is necessary to ensure that priorities are in line and any blockers can be identified and mitigated. Ideally, our teams are chatting with clients asynchronously throughout the week to get answers to questions, feedback on options, and provide general updates on the project.

We’re spoiled by tools like Slack and Asana that allow us to bring clients into our workspace. The transparency these platforms provide enable our clients and teams to work through priorities together, when needed, and create a space for regular progress updates.

Bottom line: Keeping close contact with your agency for the duration of the project should be a shared expectation. Both parties should be working toward the same goals.

Keeping close contact with your agency for the duration of the project should be a shared expectation

Changing Priorities

We’ve talked about the benefits of agile methodologies in that they allow priorities to shift throughout a project’s lifecycle. What might be true about a feature now may be different in 3 months based on feedback received from users and other external stakeholders. Here is where agile can really shine.

If you find that you need to add a new feature (or take one out) of your app, you should expect that your agency clearly communicates the fact that other priorities will have to shift to account for this. Sometimes this has an impact on the timeline or overall budget. Other times it can mean that another feature will get benched as a new priority takes focus.

Just like in life, when you want to switch priorities around, there’s typically a tradeoff.

Either way, a seasoned development team should be able to consult you on the effects that changing priorities may have on the project. As a client, you should beware the “yes” team who may feel like they need to hide this type of information from you.

Staying on Track

Whether you’ve worked with an agency in the past or not, you should expect to know when things are — or are not — on track. This is critical to project success. It is also not rocket science, but there is a little bit of math to it!

Assuming your agency is practicing agile, they are likely using velocity measurements to track progression on development and design tasks. Simply put, velocity is the average rate of speed features are completed within a specific time frame, typically one week. Once development begins, a project manager should keep a close eye on this number each week and raise a flag if milestones are at risk of not being hit.

Velocity is the average rate of speed features are completed within a specific time frame.

This measurement has proven to be more effective in software development than hourly estimates because of its simplicity and relative accuracy. It is not uncommon for some priorities to take longer than initially estimated, especially when creating custom solutions. There are other times, however, where implementation takes much less time than originally thought. Using velocity to track progress as opposed to hours worked gives a more realistic interpretation of remaining work for a product release.

As we’ve mentioned with agile — there are no fixed timelines or milestones. This might sound uncomfortable at first, but it is actually in favor of a more successful project. Instead, priorities are based on results and market demands instead of dates or feature richness. Velocity is tracked and reported to guide conversations around prioritization and release planning. It helps to ensure that things are — you guessed it — on track.

There are a lot of other resources out there about velocity, story point estimation and agile if that is of interest to you. However, as a client, you should expect that your team regularly reports on project progress.

If you feel like you are not getting the level of detail that you’d prefer, reaching out to the project manager for more information may open up a whole new world. More likely than not, they’re using tools internally and should be able to share a more thorough breakdown of your project.

Product Launch

This is where things get exciting! After all, you’ve likely hired or are looking to hire an agency to get your product out into the world. Let it be said that launching an application all depends on the size of it. However, partnering with an agile agency may get your product out the door sooner than with traditional waterfall methods.

For example, the earliest version of your product may be able to be propped up and out the door to a select group of users within a couple weeks — or even a few days. This depends on the types of technologies that are used and the goals tied to the release.

Since agile operates off of customer feedback, the goal is to release apps early and often to start garnering feedback. Working with your development team and their velocity can help you forecast additional features based on the input you receive from early versions of your application.

As we mentioned above, launching relies on the team’s velocity and the release planning that should be done in collaboration with business needs. There may be unique scenarios based on the type of application you’re creating, whether that’s a SAAS product, on demand marketplace, or multi-sided (B2C) business model.

Wrapping it up

Hiring a development agency can take your product from concept to tangible application. With that relationship comes expectations and responsibilities that both sides must be willing to invest in.

When you work with an agile agency, you should expect the following:

  • Frequent collaboration and communication — at least on a weekly basis.
  • Priorities can and will shift. Note that that other features, time, or budget may be impacted, but your team should be consulting you on this.
  • Projects are kept on track by using velocity or similar measurement tactics.
  • Early customer feedback is crucial. Look for a team that strives for early and frequent releases.

Great development work does not happen in a vacuum. Agencies aren’t successful unless their clients are successful. Check out our latest video below to listen to Michael Luchen and Daniel Linhart go into more detail about what to expect when you hire an agency.

If you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to reach out to us. We’d love to chat.

Until next time!