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In-House Agencies Weigh In on Plotting an Agile Course

Naomi Blumenthal

Naomi Blumenthal   July 8, 2019

This spring, Cella sat down with leaders in eight cities, to talk about Agile for creative development – how, when, and why they were using it, and how they felt it was working so far.  

Our industry is still in the early days of applying Agile to creative workflows, and it’s becoming clear that a flexible approach to the methodology makes the most sense. Many in-house teams are using Scrum for Tier 1 (conceptual work), a mix of Scrum and Kanban for Tier 2 (adaptive design), and Kanban for Tier 3 (changes to existing creative) projects.

When deciding what will work for your teams, it’s important to keep in mind what the very first champions advocated in their original Agile Manifesto—to value:  

1. Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools
2. Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation
3. Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation
4. Responding to Change Over Following a Plan

No matter where you are on your Agile journey, you’re in good company. In the 2019 In-House Creative Industry Report survey, we asked, “Do you use Agile methodologies?” Of 335 respondents, 23% said yes, and of those, 42% are using it for more than half of their work.  

The same held true in our Roundtables. While some participants were heavily invested in the Agile methodology, most participants were just getting started. Their different perspectives made for lively discussions, as people were eager to share with, and learn from, each other.  

Underscoring Some Essentials

Executive Advocates

The most successful implementations are those with strong sponsors: executives who ensure at the outset that everyone understands the reason for Agile and its importance to the enterprise. Other success factors include a trained Scrum master and/or coach, a detailed change management plan and vocal supporters in all staff levels and client organizations.

Training
Training for both team members and the C-suite came up as critical to changing the corporate culture.  To paraphrase Graphic Design Manager Louise Mortell on her launch at U.S. Bank, Agile used to mean immediacy, as in, “We need it today.” When she introduced Agile as a discipline, Louise embedded creatives in corporate Scrum teams, a pod approach that is gaining traction in larger organizations.

Understanding MVP
In socializing the shift to Agile, it’s also important to stress that “Minimally Viable Product” does not mean lower quality. To the contrary: teams constantly assess the attributes of their work as part of the Sprint cadence.

Guidance from Peers on Their Way
• Since adapting Agile to the in-house agency is not a 1:1 application, we liked the nuanced launch approach taken by CarMax’s Kylie Turnauer: collaborative teams using appropriate Agile principles.
 
• Everyone agreed that one size does not fit all. Each project request needs to be evaluated by a person, so that it will be assigned to the right tier, priority level and process methodology.  

• Most of our participants are starting slow, introducing Agile in phases, acclimating the team to the ceremonies and then introducing tools to support the process. They advise peers to run pilot projects, embrace experimentation and pick projects that are ripe for continuous improvement, such as broken processes and sites in need of updates.

• According to the Agile philosophy, each team member is accountable to the team as a whole, and should be empowered to take responsibility for his/her role. They should be invited to participate in estimating and setting the project cadence, and encouraged to add their feedback during the sprint retrospective, so that issues can be addressed quickly.

• Kickoffs are faster with Agile, because project managers don’t get bogged down in the paperwork when preparing requirements and plans. Nevertheless, this approach does require greater discipline of each team member.

• To assure a positive change in communication style, one company removed all software tools until verbal communication was established, then reintroduced the tools.

• Several participants reported that being part of the Scrum team gave their clients newfound respect for the creative process, while the creative team gained a better understanding of the challenges facing business partners.  

• Serving on the team together with their peers in other departments had also given creatives a bigger voice, making them equal partners in the marketing process.

• The Sprint Review process has helped teams adjust to short-term priority shifts, so that they can focus efforts on the most valuable deliverables first.

• In implementing Kanban, teams report that a board color-coded by status encourages people to adhere to deadlines, in order to keep their tasks green.

Thanks for reading, and special thanks to those who participated in the Roundtables. There are many issues to navigate on the Agile journey, and we wish everyone smooth sailing on a sea of green.

For more information and guidance on the Agile process for Creative teams, read our whitepaper Making Agile Work for In-House Agencies


Naomi Blumenthal

Cella consultant Naomi Blumenthal offers more than 20 years of experience in marketing and advertising operations and creative execution. She has delivered traditional campaign materials and software products, introduced exciting new technologies and paved the way to greater efficiency for creative operations clients in retail and fashion, as well as the highly regulated pharmaceutical and financial services industries. As a management consultant and business analyst, she has led clients through process improvement initiatives and software implementations, helping them to establish performance metrics, improve responsiveness and drive operational changes that enhance results while simplifying life.

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