How agencies can better engage with clients using agile

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Agencies are faced with a growing challenge – many of their corporate clients are transforming to agile and the ways they’ve always worked together needs to change, but how?

I’ve seen corporate marketing departments embark on their agile transformation journey, but they forget to tell their agency partners about the change. The agency becomes the last to know and it causes tremendous strain to the relationship.

The agency/client relationship needs to be re-defined when implementing an agile practice. Before you make the same mistakes that many of my clients have, here are some early conversations you can have.

Contracts need to be flexible

A traditional agency/client contract is very detailed in its scope of work. An agile team needs the ability to pivot quickly based on customer responses and if all work is a contractual obligation, this hamstrings the agile team.

Instead of a detailed scope contract, turn to a flexible working agreement. The flexible working agreement is best done in the form of a retainer. Here’s an example of what’s included:

  • The goal of the engagement.
  • The desired outcomes of the work.
  • The people needed to do the work.
  • The duration of time the agency will engage with the team.

When an agile team is formed, their goal is to have all of the necessary people to do the work from start-to-finish. However, many companies are still missing key skill-sets internally and need to engage an agency.

So on an agile team, the objective of the agreement should be to beef up some missing skills on the agile team.

The best way that agencies can work with agile teams is to bring the fulltime talent to be embedded with the team. While this may not always be possible, it is a lot more effective for the client to have a few agency team members that can be part of the team than a dozen that swoop in and out. That’s because agile is all about collaboration, teamwork and working together every day. A bunch of agency people that come in and out becomes really inefficient and disruptive to how the team is trying to work.

I worked with a team of content marketers that had a great team of writers but were missing development and design people on the team and their need was only temporary. By lending two people to the agile team for a six week project, it was a win-win for everyone. The agency was able to provide fixed pricing for the needed skills on the team without locking the team into specific deliverables.

The relationship becomes a partnership

We just talked about the people that do the work, but I realize that agencies also add tremendous value by helping with strategy, consumer insights and pitching concepts. These are still all great assets to an agile team, but how and when this work is performed takes on a new spin when working with an agile team.

Traditionally, agencies spend a lot of upfront time coming up with a strategy and concepts and presenting a multitude of ideas to their clients.

With agile marketing, the team typically has a product owner (often referred to as a marketing owner in the marketing department) that is responsible for strategy and prioritization of work.

So rather than ideas being pitched to the marketing owner for a reaction, the agency and the marketing owner become a collaborative pair and work through strategy together, ahead of the agile team who is responsible for implementation.

In agile marketing, the team works off of a single prioritized marketing backlog. The marketing owner should work with a single strategist from the agency to help populate the backlog. There may be others engaged from the agency behind the scenes, but to the agile team there should be one primary contact.

The goal of the prioritized marketing backlog is to have the highest value items that the team is going to work on clear and ready to go. However, the backlog really just gets into what the team will work on and some expected outcomes – it’s the team that figures out how the work gets done.

Populating the backlog happens at the beginning of any new initiative and before the team starts implementation, but it isn’t a one-and-done task. The backlog evolves throughout the engagement as the team gets real feedback from stakeholders and customers.

Agencies and companies can be fantastic partners in an agile organization as long as they work together upfront to redefine the relationship in a way that’s flexible and team-based.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

How agencies can better engage with clients using agile 1

Stacey knows what it’s like to be a marketer, after all, she’s one of the few agile coaches and trainers that got her start there. After graduating from journalism school, she worked as a content writer, strategist, director and adjunct marketing professor. She became passionate about agile as a better way to work in 2012 when she experimented with it for an ad agency client. Since then she has been a scrum master, agile coach and has helped with numerous agile transformations with teams across the globe. Stacey speaks at several agile conferences, has more certs to her name than she can remember and loves to practice agile at home with her family. As a lifelong Minnesotan, she recently relocated to North Carolina where she’s busy learning how to cook grits and say “y’all.”



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