Using Agile/Scrum in a Digital Agency
Over the last year or so, our team embarked on moving from a typical Waterfall development approach to implementing a Scrum/Agile approach. While there are plenty of good blogs about making this transition from a development standpoint, I have not seen a lot of good information on what this change means from a business standpoint for an agency or professional services firm.
One of our biggest challenges is aligning the benefits of Agile to the way sales are accomplished in the organization. Our most effective sales approach has always been to have a fixed budget, fairly defined scope, and to provide timeline windows (X months, etc.).
Customers have come to expect fairly concrete information on these three parameters in order to sign a contract. They also expect to understand what services they are buying, how much it costs, and approximately when it will get accomplished. With Agile these constraints are not really supposed to be put on a project, yet most customers can’t get budgets approved or contracts legally signed without some of these assurances.
This has made it difficult for us to adopt some of the principles of Agile while still doing right by our clients and contracts. We have also tried to “sell the benefits” of Agile from the beginning and discussed structuring contracts differently, but most clients have not been receptive to this new approach.
With that said, meltmedia is committed to Agile type methodologies and believe it is important in creating great work for our clients as well as to help develop a collaborative culture and environment. Here are some challenges and wins we have had with this process. Hopefully you can share some additional ideas with us and improve on our learnings:
– Most customers don’t understand Agile and it is a very difficult concept to describe. Initially we wanted our customers to be integral in our development process (for example sharing the backlog with them and helping us prioritize it). However, we realized quickly that in most cases our Product Owner should do this and only share at a high level with the client. For example, just telling the client what we are working on over the next few weeks and providing a high level release plan.
– Most customers like the “flexibility” side of Agile, but at the same time they interpret that as “I can make a lot of changes whenever I want” vs. truly focusing on an iterative approach to product development.
– Some of our biggest wins, when structured correctly, have been sharing demos with the client after a sprint. We have found many cases where this was valuable, despite our original thought that this might actually hinder our process. We felt it would be difficult to properly set expectations of what a client should see during a demo. This was a lot easier than we thought and are getting good feedback into the process sooner. It also starts to build trust with the client as they are seeing results and know we are making progress.
– Project retrospectives have been beneficial for teams to quickly correct course and address issues. We still need to get better at this, but we can really see how project issues can be identified sooner and lead to long-term relationship development with our clients, as well as being able to identify potential project or team issues.
– We still have to do a reasonable amount of requirements gathering and planning in a Sprint Zero. There has to be some level of sign off on the vision and requirements of the project as clients are not comfortable planning just sprint to sprint. Therefore, we need a way to tie back to our contracts. Creating the right balance of this has been a challenge and we are still adjusting to finding the right mix.
– Budgeting and cost effectiveness of Agile is still up in the air. We don’t have enough data to show if our projects are more profitable and if we can deliver more for the money using this approach. We just need more data at this point. However, we have seen the benefits of getting projects started sooner and involving all members of the team earlier in the project lifecycle.
So in summary, we are still working to strike the right balance of how to work with our clients in an Agile environment and how best to discuss this in the sales and “project kick off cycle.”
We would like to hear about your experiences with implementing the Agile approach, either from the client or agency point of view.