Running an agency is no joke. There are pressures on all sides. Keeping track of everything (while keeping the lights on) can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re just trying to deal with the deadline in front of you. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last decade of running Column Five, it’s that there’s always a way to work smarter. This year, we decided to drastically change our entire work process by seeking team-wide training from outside our walls, inspired by those who’ve been in the game and walked in our shoes before. Here’s why we enlisted AgencyAgile, and why we’re glad it paid off.
Why We Decided to Change the Way We Work
Until this year, we thought we were working efficiently. Overall, we were doing pretty well: pushing projects along, managing timelines, and creating work we were proud of. Our clients were happy, so we were happy—well, mostly. Behind the scenes we were still dealing with the sometimes inevitable (but often avoidable) chaos of agency work—client demands, back-to-back meetings, and dozens of concurrent projects across multi-disciplinary teams—all while trying to carve out time and space to develop world-class work.
Unfortunately, the more we tried to find solutions for these pain points, the more we realized our ways of working were largely holdovers from our early days as a scrappy but quickly growing agency. Although we’d grown and our work had matured, our systems of working together were still pretty DIY, a mishmash of practices fused together over the years. This caused all sorts of issues, from miscommunication to inconsistency between teams. Our creative output was the same, but our path was too varied. We wanted to realign ourselves, but we needed outside help to do it. Enter AgencyAgile.
The Solution: AgencyAgile
AgencyAgile describes its work as “a purpose-built transformation and training program for complex and chaotic organizations.” Basically, they’re agency whisperers, a team of pros who created an Agile-based work system meant to solve an agency’s biggest challenges, from scoping and budgeting to workflow and client communication.
Their core approach is all about:
- Detailed planning
We knew of a few agencies who’d done their training and experienced serious transformation, so we were intrigued.
The more we looked into AgencyAgile’s methods, the more we became convinced of the benefits. In addition to helping our work, AgencyAgile’s solutions aligned with our five core values.
- Do Good Work. We’re proud of the work we do, but revamping our process would help us do the same good work with fewer roadblocks and frustrations.
- Value Our Partners. AgencyAgile’s techniques could help us improve our communication, helping us be more transparent about how we work. This would make things easier and clearer for our clients.
- Be Good to Each Other. If we aren’t collaborating optimally, communicating effectively, or using our skills and resources efficiently, we aren’t helping each other out. We felt that AgencyAgile’s project management approach would help us support each other more effectively.
- Experiment Often. We’d tried our approach, and it worked to a point, but we knew others had experienced what we were facing before and found better solutions. AgencyAgile felt like something we should push ourselves to explore—no matter how foreign it seemed.
- Be Humble. Learning new things isn’t always easy, but we didn’t want our ego or fear to get in the way of doing better work.
Our leadership team was on board, but if our whole team was going to undergo training, we wanted it to be a communal decision. To pitch the idea, we had AgencyAgile come in for a presentation, followed by a healthy team debate, and ultimately, a company-wide vote on Slack. (Spoiler: They said yes.)
When it came time to do it, we decided to shut down shop for a week and fly our whole team into C5’s California HQ for a four-day AgencyAgile training. (The training doesn’t require you to shut down shop, but we wanted to give our team the distraction-free time to focus.)
The AgencyAgile Experience
Sure enough, the four-day training was a unique experience. Trying new things is one thing; ditching your known practices and processes is another. But at the end of that week, we had undergone a deeply transformative experience, and the techniques we learned were practical solutions to some of our biggest pain points.
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In the months since, these practices and behaviors have been hugely beneficial at every level of our agency, helping us serve our clients and collaborate with each other more effectively. Specifically, AgencyAgile’s methodology has helped us:
- Visualize all elements of a project from the start (aka roadmap). This helps us identify moving parts, spot roadblocks, gauge risks, and address anything else that might impact the success of a project down the line. (That means no more being blindsided or derailed last minute.) This has been tremendously valuable for our larger accounts and more complicated campaigns, where multiple deliverables can make it a complicated ecosystem. We also feel a lot saner.
- Get teams totally aligned (faster). Now, we can identify who owns what, ensure everyone is on the same page, and address any issues that might have caused frustration in the past. BTW, one great thing about the roadmapping technique is that it works for all types of learners (e.g., visual, auditory, tactile), helping everyone get aligned much quicker.
- Communicate more efficiently with our clients. Roadmapping our projects helps us co-own a project’s success with our client. This sets expectations, gets us aligned, and eliminates any subjectivity about what a project will look like when done.
- Anticipate and allocate resources more effectively. Since we create a roadmap for every project, we can get a bird’s eye view of every part, helping us ensure we have the resources we need. This has drastically cut down on budget creep, which everyone is thrilled about.
Above all, it has really revived our commitment to each other, empowering our teams to take ownership of their work and really trust each other throughout the process. (In fact, we’re so impressed, we’re preparing for the next level of training, focused on increasing productivity.)
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What We’ve Learned From Making This Change
Change is scary, of course, but often necessary. There were a few challenges we anticipated, and a few we didn’t. But overall, we’re happy we went all-in on this new system.
Not every organization undertakes something this drastic, but if you’ve been considering making any sort of significant change to your own work process, there are a few things to keep in mind before you dive in.
- Expect a learning curve. Doing something new doesn’t always come naturally. Things might not snap into place immediately, so you need to anticipate some buffer time. For us, it’s taken patience and practice to learn to implement AgencyAgile correctly. But because we’re learning to do it more quickly and efficiently, we know things will only get exponentially better.
- Let challenges bring you closer together. Trying something new means you might mess up, fail, or falter. For us, going through this process was at times frustrating and painful. But because we were committed to doing this work, we came out of the experience even more bonded. Since training, we’ve been more communicative, more engaged, and more eager to share tips and knowledge.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Learning something new takes a lot of brainpower and emotional energy. Not only do you need team buy-in but you need to support your team through the process. For us, that meant shutting down for a week to carve out the space to complete training. We did this intentionally to alleviate work pressure and make sure everyone had the bandwidth to participate. Of course, this also meant we had to notify our clients and address any concerns or issues beforehand, which took a fair amount of coordination and planning.
Taking such a big step isn’t always feasible for every company or team, but we’re glad our team was up to the task. We’re especially grateful for their continued commitment, ongoing feedback, and willingness to try something new. It’s their spirit, energy, and enthusiasm that remind us why we do this work.
We Believe You Should Always Be Open to Change
This isn’t the only time we’ve tried something new or changed the way we do things. We’re always looking for ways to improve what we do—and build a better future for our partners and our team in the process. If you’re curious to find out more about our behind-the-scenes work:
- Find out why we pay employees to explore their personal passions.
- Learn about why we simplified our office space—and wish we’d done it sooner.
- Take a deep dive into our rigorous hiring process.
And if you’re interested in seeing our AgencyAgile techniques at work, hit us up about any future projects.