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May 19, 2016

The Step-By-Step Guide to Transitioning Your Agency to Agile Web Design

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You have likely heard the success stories and benefits of becoming a more Agile agency. But hearing the stories and actually putting Agile processes into practice at your agency are two totally different things.

One of the hardest steps of adopting Agile web design is the first step -- transitioning from using a traditional waterfall process to Agile. It requires a big shift in your agency in not only your service process, but also in sales, team structures, and even culture.

So what does it take to transition your agency? Here's a step-by-step playbook that you can use to help transform the way your agency works:

Step 1: Develop Your Process & Service Offering

Just like a house needs a blueprint, Agile web design needs a process to run on. The first step in transitioning your agency to using Agile web design is to create a plan and a solid foundation of education.

Learn the Agile Process

Most agencies understand the elements of Agile from a high level but have little idea on the detailed steps of how to actually run it. Below are a number of resources I’ve found helpful in learning more about the subject. Start with these guides:

There are also many in-person workshops and trainings about Agile and scrum methods. Search Meetup.com to find an event in your area. Or if you have the budget, you could hire an Agile/scrum consultant to come to your agency to train your team and help to transition the agency.

Whiteboard It Out

Schedule a three or four-hour brainstorming meeting for your team. Everyone should be involved in brainstorming the Agile process with the final decisions being made by the agency owner.

  • Develop an experience map of the journey of your prospects to becoming clients.
  • Identify the biggest challenges and roadblocks encountered by your clients and your agency.
  • Brainstorm how to solve these challenges and roadblocks with Agile processes.
  • Let your team lead the discussion with you acting as a facilitator.

During this meeting, you should ask:

  • How much and when will you involve the client in the website redesign process?
  • How many revisions will the client have? What does the approval process look like?
  • How will you gather content from clients?
  • What will be the cadence of your client update meetings?
  • How will you handle client retainer renewals and upsell opportunities?
  • How will you align and position your services around your Agile processes?

This goal is to redefine your processes around this Agile approach, which has implications for the way you market and sell your agency, service your clients, and the type of relationships you work to retain.  

Finalize Version 1 of Your Process

Now that you and the team have brainstormed how you will structure your services and complete client projects, it's time to sit down with your leadership team and finalize a draft of your process. Schedule a meeting with the leadership to review the processes and discuss any risks or unknowns you've identified. You should be prepared to discuss how this is an evolving process that will take time to perfect. Finally, you'll need buy-in from the director of each department (new business, client services, etc.) as this new approach will impact their individual team's processes. 

Once you have buy-in from the leadership level, you should begin developing a new onboarding process, templates and project checklists, project management workflows, and guides to delivering work in a way that adheres to your Agile approach. These will help when you present the changes to the team as they will be able to visualize how their daily workflows will be impacted. 

Get the Team to Buy-In to Agile

Ideally, the entire agency, not just designers and developers, should be knowledgeable about Agile processes and the core concepts. Create a training course of required reading, projects, and detailed explanations of how Agile will be used in your agency. Make this a part of your new hire training or onboarding for new employees. Require that all managers take the training course immediately, and set a timeframe for everyone in the agency to complete the training.

Each person needs to be fully versed in the ideas and understand why your agency has adopted Agile processes. These are representatives of your company, and they need to be able to discuss these ideas during their interactions with clients and prospects.

You also need to set expectations about the transition and what people can expect. Change in any company is scary, and many will be skeptical of new ways of doing things. Consider addressing the risks upfront. You could say something similar to: “There’s a learning curve we need to get through. This learning curve can last three to six months, and while in this learning curve we can expect: 1) We will feel like we’re being less efficient and things are taking longer. 2) There will be process steps we are not clear how to execute. 3) We have to think of things from a new perspective, and that can cause some opposing viewpoints and frustrations. That’s healthy, and it’s not anything personal. 4) It’s a bit scary to try new things, so don’t be afraid of failing. Fail, learn, and improve knowing that your spot on the team is safe." 

Keep everyone focused on the long-term goal of becoming a more efficient and effective partner to your clients. 

Develop Your Service Offering

Once you've adopted Agile processes and practices in your agency, you'll want to tailor your services to reflect this new approach to creating work. One area where there is a natural fit is traditional website design and development. 

We developed growth-driven design with Agile processes in mind. It's a retainer-based model where the agency makes continuous improvements to the client's website as a result of ongoing user testing and optimization. This model reduces the risk of launching a site that performs poorly, and it speeds up the time to launch -- common causes of frustration with clients. 

Step 2: Revamp Your Team Structure

Equally as important as developing your Agile web design process, you must also invest time and energy in revamping your teams, incentives, and training programs. The goal is to align your people with your process so they are both working seamlessly together.

Many agencies are structured in vertically siloed departments, such as marketing, design, development, etc. Having teams broken up causes delays, miscommunication, and misaligned performance evaluation criteria. 

Break down the invisible walls of the departments and instead pull people with different skill sets and abilities into pods. Team meetings, schedules, tasks, etc., should all be done as a pod. 

All pods are different -- and should be depending on the service offering, type of projects, and the size of your agency. Here's an example pod structure for an agency that works with small businesses and does a lot of website redesigns: 

  • Product/project manager
  • UX designer (with marketing skills)
  • Front-end developer
  • Content creator (copy, video, photos)
  • The client

To make the pod structure work, you should:

  • Treat the client as a team member: When you structure your pods, have an open seat for your client to sit in when they visit the office. They should be treated exactly like the rest of the team and interact as a team member throughout the process.
  • Keep pods small: To avoid too many cooks in the kitchen, keep your pods small. At maximum, you should have no more than seven people in a pod, including the client. Any more than seven, and you will start losing productivity.
  • Foster a team environment: In Agile, we want to encourage teamwork and collaboration. We want team members jumping in to tackle any task and help struggling team members to keep momentum going.

For the pod structure to work, you need to adjust how you measure performance by evaluating metrics that focus on collaboration. Bonuses should be tied to team performance, and awards should be given to individuals who helped to foster collaboration. A flat organizational structure works best for this model. Focus on the skills of the person, rather than the job title. 

Step 3: Get the Right Tools

One of your top priorities is to help reduce friction and remove barriers that stand in the way of your team so they can perform at the highest level. To do this, you must develop an operational support structure that best suits your team, your clients, and the work that needs to get done.

Investing in technology is one of the best ways to increase your team’s efficiency and collaboration. Identify areas in the process and client experience that cause delays, problems with clients, slow down collaboration or communication, or negatively impact your team's ability to deliver projects on time and under budget.

Once you’ve identified those areas, think about how you can use technology to solve those challenges. Check out these project management tools, time tracking tools, creative ideation tools, and reporting tools.

Step 4: Start With a “No Stakes” Experiment

Transitioning to Agile web design is a big shift for you agency. You may be excited to jump right into client work; however, to ensure a smooth transition, it’s important to test out new approaches in a low-pressure environment. You should:

  • Start small: Instead of switching everyone in the agency over to adhering to the Agile methodology overnight, start by assembling a single “experiment pod” of team members that can help pioneer the process. Pick individuals who work well in undefined roles and enjoy trying new things (even if that means they fail). Set the expectations that this is an experiment, and empower them to take leadership over questioning the processes and improving them.
  • Implement in a low-pressure environment: One you have the experiment pod assembled, determine a project to test out your new approach. You could treat your agency like your own best Agile web design client and redesign your agency's site. The CEO or another member of leadership would act as the client. You could also build a site for a local non-profit or organization whose values align with those of your agency. 
  • Base success on the number of lessons learned: Judge the success of the experiment on the number of lessons learned while implementing the experiment. These learnings can then be applied to improving your process and determining where your team needs additional training and focus.
 

Step 5: Revamp Sales Conversations

Transitioning to Agile web design is not just a shift in service delivery. Agile should change the way you work with clients and how you think about new projects, so your sales conversations also need to change. Anyone involved in the new business process needs to set and emphasize the right expectations and get buy-in from the client during the sales process, not after they sign the contract. Here are a few expectations you need to set during the sales process:

  • Your website isn’t a "set it and forget it" project. It also does not need to be perfect when we launch it; there's no such thing as perfect. What we can do is launch a great site that’s better than what you have today. Once it’s live, we can identify opportunities and improve the site over time.
  • In our process, our team focuses on your site in what are called sprints. These sprints will be scheduled in advance, and you will need to book and prioritize time in your schedule to work with us during that sprint.
  • We are focused on outcomes and results, not deliverables. We can’t tell you what we will be working on in month three or five. It will depend on the results we are seeing from the website, user feedback, and opportunities for improvement.

Learn more about setting expectations, along with how to package, price, and sell in the Growth-Driven Design Agency Certification.

Step 6: Continually Improve Your Processes

Based on the challenges you run into, client concerns, and new information, you should update your processes continually. To ensure these updates are made, assign process owners. These individuals are directly responsible for evaluating and updating process documents based on new information. Inf addition, you should hold weekly reflection meetings. During each meeting, discuss:

  • How things went this week?
  • What process steps did each pod implement?
  • What went really well? What factors lead to those items going well?
  • What challenges or roadblocks did the team encounter? How did this affect the momentum, progress, and client experience?
  • How could we have made it an even more remarkable experience for the client?

After everyone has been able to voice (or submit through a form) their feedback, brainstorm improvements in the process to solve for the challenges and improve future clients' experiences. Each process owner should block off time on her calendar after this weekly meeting to update templates and process documents based on the discussion.

Step 7: Market & Sell Agile

Selling Agile-driven services such as growth-driven design is a true differentiator, and once you've transformed your agency, you have an opportunity to leverage that in your marketing and sales. Revamp your website to reflect this change in approach and new services. Consider reaching out to previous clients whose sites you've redesigned to see if they are ready for a redesign. Create marketing and sales enablement materials that outline your key differentiators and selling points. Introduce your current customers to growth-driven design through a series of educational emails. 

There is no right or wrong way to transition to an Agile web design process. Each agency is going use a different transition approach based on their size, team structures, culture, clients, and services offered. It's about the end goals, which are better marketing results for your clients and a more productive, stable agency. 

If you agency has successfully made the transition to Agile web design, we'd love to hear about it. Add your advice and experiences in the comments below.

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