Managing agile projects in an agency setting can be challenging, but it’s definitely possible.
As a Project Manager, you have to be willing to adapt, knowing that the agile process won’t be perfect. But that’s ok because it’s all about individuals and interactions over process anyway.
You won’t always have the time or budget to do daily stand-ups. Some days you’ll have to make do with posting stand up notes via Slack. You won’t have a true product team – with a Product Owner or stakeholders that are fully engaged. Sometimes you will, but most of the times you won’t. It will present challenges and you can’t be too rigid.
That’s the agency agile ground rule to never forget. Don’t be a robot.
At O3 World, we’ve adopted agile methodologies into our process over the last 5 years. We, like many agencies out there, struggled at first with trying to do Agile within an agency setting. At first, it was just a buzz term that clients brought up during the new business process. It was a term that CMO’s heard from their business associates and started putting in RFP’s.
Most of the time though, the people requesting Agile don’t understand the amount of time and people it takes to run a truly Agile project. They’re not willing to pay for time and materials contracts – or commit to more than a few months at a time. We can’t expect those who’ve never built a digital product or website to understand.
That will probably never change, so we started to extract some of the key methodologies from Agile and injecting it into our process. In doing so, we’ve adopted a Scrum-like process that works for us. Here are some of those key elements we’ve been able to incorporate.
4 Steps To Successfully Manage Agile Projects In An Agency
1. Be Flexible With Your Stand-Ups
Rather than doing daily stand-ups, we tend to do them every other day. 15 minutes. What you did in the past couple days, what you’re working on and do you have any blockers? Our PM acts as the scrum master. Sometimes clients attend, but most of the time they don’t.
2. Start Sprint Planning From Day 1
We don’t start development on day 1. But, we do sprint planning. As soon as the UX / requirements are in a place that the team (and client) feel comfortable with, we can begin development. No formal approval. Each feature gets broken down into tasks and estimated in hours. This mitigates risk because we can tell every sprint if we’re on track or not. While we don’t release a feature at the end of every sprint, we do demo our work. Our PM’s again run sprint planning, with the full project team involved.
3. Define Requirements To Keep The Team (And Client) Aligned
Because there are clients involved, we do need requirements. We use our Wireframes and Functional Outlines as the basis for the requirements. While they evolve throughout the life of the project, they’re important to ensure we’re on the same page as a project team.
3. Create A Backlog And Prioritize With Your Client
Our PM’s own the backlog and prioritize it based on the project scope and clients needs. All backlog cards include user stories. We work with our clients to prioritize.
4. Don’t Forget To Demo And Run Retrospectives
At the end of each 2 week sprint, we do demos and retros with the product team. Again, sometimes the client attends. Most of the time they don’t. Retros are extremely important to continue improvement and fine tuning the process.
It’s all about being flexible, involving the entire project team from the start, and overlapping design and development to gain efficiencies and increase collaboration.
How To Manage Agile Projects With Fixed Budgets
The biggest question we get is, but how do you do this without a true product team and T&M budget?
The way we handle this is by doing a T&M with a maximum number. We estimate our projects and provide a range of hours/pricing based on that. The range accounts for the finite details in that scope, stand-ups, meetings, etc… It’s a range to account for the typical project changes that happen on every project or some relatively low-risk unknowns at kick off.
There is no way to know how many screens need to be designed at the beginning of a project. Or how many rounds of revisions a client might need. By providing a range we give our Project Managers the flexibility to run an Agency Agile process, while not straining the client relationship by holding them to a strict scope. Any major changes to the scope outside of the range will result in a Change Order and we try to identify them upfront (major unknown 3rd party integrations are the typical one). But, the minor changes no longer cause delays and stress for the relationship.
We keep our clients updated on those hours with weekly burn reports. By taking the best qualities of Agile and injecting it into an agency setting, you can achieve the efficiencies that people love. A little bit of flexibility will go a long way in your client and internal relationships.
As a Project Manager, you can run the project the way you want. You can give a little to improve your relationship with your client, while still holding them to the same approvals and process we’re used to.
What do you think?
Have you had success managing agile projects in your agency? How did you make it work? What do you find works, and what doesn’t ?I’d love to hear how you do it.