Agile advertising and digital agencies can adapt quickly and flexibly to new things. Proactivity is also a keyword that often comes up in the definition of agility. Nevertheless, every change process towards an agile organization raises important questions. Oliver Wüntsch explains what these are and what is necessary for a successful agile transformation in the following article.
What challenges do advertising and digital agencies face today?
Regardless of the industry, committed employees are looking for companies where they can realize their potential and contribute their skills to exciting projects. Modern employees expect clear answers to questions such as "Why do I go to work every day?" and "What is our vision?
On the one hand, companies and leadership need to meet the growing expectations of their employees and, on the other hand, find creative solutions for the rapidly changing needs of their customers. Because customers also expect agencies to know about latest technical advances and customer wishes in their respective industry. Agencies should understand these points and be able to develop ideas and concepts for them.
Customer expectations of product and service quality are constantly increasing. Clever ideas around new technologies and innovative application scenarios are in demand, for example, in the areas of augmented reality or 3D printing. Moreover, agencies must be able to implement any resulting projects in a timely manner.
The challenge for agencies is to adapt to the ever-faster innovation cycles. Those who are not able to keep up with new ideas and business models will quickly lose out - especially on valuable customers.
Read more about the changing world of work in the age of digitalization here.
What makes agile transformation a promising way to meet these challenges?
In order to remain competitive and expand their success, agencies are required to continuously reinvent themselves and constantly cover new areas of knowledge. An agile structure and autonomous ways of working can be very helpful in this. Although the term "agile" has lost meaning due to its almost inflationary use - managers in digital and advertising agencies should nevertheless consider the possibilities of agility for their business.
Agile working methods enable an extremely adaptable approach to the planning and implementation of projects. As customers are - if desired - continuously involved in the development process of their product, the focus on results and thus customer satisfaction is much higher than in conventional project structures. The results are a qualitatively better end product as well as fewer missed delivery deadlines and, in turn, more satisfied customers.
Due to the extensive self-administration of employees and project teams, valuable agency time and capacities can be saved that project managers can use for parallel projects. Employee satisfaction also increases. Thanks to the principle of personal responsibility and the associated decision-making power, employees identify more strongly with the agency and get more involved.
In the digitalized world, the ability to change represents a significant competitive advantage for organizations. For companies, it's important to adapt quickly to changing requirements, bring employees up to speed and integrate innovations.
Classic change management is often no longer sufficient. Agile transformation can help companies continuously adapt and improve their strategies.
What is agile change management and what agile methods are there?
Agile organizations and agile teams are those that act quickly and flexibly in a constantly changing, uncertain environment and create added value for their customers. The mindset of agile working is set out in the form of four requirements in the so-called "Agile Manifesto":
- People and their interaction are more important than processes and tools
- Functioning software is more important than documentation
- Customer collaboration is more important than contract negotiations
- Responding to change is more important that following a plan
Agile approaches, principles and methods can be used in many ways in change processes of agencies. A qualified coach can help you convert all structures of your company to agile. Agencies can profit from the three methods based on agile principles described below.
The agile method Kanban is characterized by its high transparency in collaboration. In this process, all task packages of the team and their status - regardless of whether they belong to managers or the rest of the team - are made visible on a common Kanban Board. The goal is a consistent workflow in which tasks are prioritized and processed.
Scrum is particularly suitable for closed teams working on a project. The Scrum team works in limited phases known as sprints. After each sprint, there is a fully functional version of the product that is improved and expanded with each sprint.
The principles and methods of lean management aim to organize processes more efficiently, i.e. with as little effort and waste as possible. The aim is to reduce costs and shorten processes - for example, by eliminating unnecessary bureaucracy or errors in process flows. At the same time, the aim is to achieve the best possible quality. This continuous improvement process is always focused on the customer. The needs of the customer determine what is to be improved. The goal is always to optimize product and service quality and increase customer satisfaction.
How can agile change management help make agile transformation successful?
In the mission to make an agency more agile and thus more flexible and customer-oriented, both classic and agile change management methods can be applied. Of course, it makes sense to give preference to agile approaches - but methods of "classic change" do not have to be left out.
Every business is unique so there is no single path to agile success. Instead, it pays to learn from other organizations and adapt their approach to your own situation. This is how any agency can succeed in fostering incremental change as well as a culture of continuous improvement.
It is also important not to understand change as something that is completed after a certain period of time has passed. Changes happen continuously and agile methods are associated with the requirement to try them out and continuously adapt them.
To recognize successes and discard mistakes instead of working blindly, it's important to carry out quantitative measurements of your own work. Responsible managers can determine the success and failure of individual milestones in advance using a scale, for example. This can be used to assess in retrospect whether individual work packages and their outcome have met or fallen short of expectations. Success and failure in marketing can be measured, for example, by the reach of campaigns or the number of responses to a mailing campaign. The data collected in this way provides agencies with valuable insights into where improvements should be made.
Agile change management with the goal of agile transformation of the company succeeds when all employees dare to address change potentials to their managers. Employees who constantly wear the "agile hat" and express thoughts about which processes could be improved make an effective contribution to the success of the company.
The visualization of the work is also essential. This serves to provide all participants with an overview of the status of the activities. It is also helpful to document processes in a checklist that is gradually expanded. Supporting notes on how to approach certain situations, e.g. training of new employees, the division of labor during peak periods or continuity planning are also included in this checklist. In this way, the value of this information to the organization is not lost.
More information on how to successfully implement agile change management in your own company can be found in this blog article. If you want to go beyond simply informing yourself, you can also hire an agile coach to support you in the transformation to an agile organization.
What sets agile companies apart?
Just using Scrum or Kanban alone does not make agency agile. Instead, all agile approaches require critical examination and a step-by-step implementation. Furthermore, the path to agility does not start with the approaches and methods, but with the foundation of agile working and that means the working and thinking culture. After all, agile is a comprehensive culture and mindset and its implementation requires a unified understanding of agile among all stakeholders.
Agencies that align their management in an agile manner have the ability to respond flexibly and proactively as well as adaptively to change, or to proceed in this way in order to introduce necessary changes. In this way, agile models support companies in finding their way and proving themselves in the increasingly complex business world. Agile working methods are widespread in many such companies and are designed to break down "encrusted" structures. This applies to project management, but also to the entire company management, i.e. the executives. Instead of rejecting change, they welcome it and create space for fast, efficient processes. Changes are not initiated by the management level, but by the employees. At the project level, for example, Scrum or Kanban are used for this purpose.
Agile organizations are dynamic in their corporate organization, not static. They are subject to constant change processes and adapt flexibly to internal and external requirements. The corporate structure is characterized by flat hierarchies and self-organization as well as a special proximity to customers and iterative processes.
What are the advantages of agile over classic change management?
To cope with the ever-faster demands on markets and products as well as increasing customer requirements, agencies need the ability to adapt flexibly to them. Although change is also the goal of classic change management, it takes place in the context of stability and predictability. Change is seen as something to be overcome as quickly as possible. The task of this type of change management is to make the unsettled phase between the initial state and the target state as short as possible.
The agile approach, on the other hand, knows no lasting stability. This is replaced by a state of constant testing and trial and error. The new normality is a permanent process of adapting to an uncertain environment.
The ideal agile change process
Step 1: Employee communication
Once the cornerstones of a change story have been developed, it's important to approach the agency's employees with it. First of all, think very carefully about how the change story should be communicated. For example, you can consider whether managers presenting the message is enough or whether a joint kick-off workshop would make more sense. In any case, there should be a clear starting signal with a wow effect. Employees should get the feeling that everyone is embarking on an exciting journey together.
Step 2: Create a basic understanding of agile transformation
Everyone in the company should understand the basics of what agile principles and methods are, why they are important and how agility works. For example, blended learning concepts can be used to share this knowledge and foster a feeling of what's at stake in the daily implementation.
Step 3: Foster an agile mindset
A prerequisite for the success of agile methods is an agile mindset in the company. After all, there should already be a good error and feedback culture when it comes to working with prototypes. This can also be achieved in parallel where an agile mindset gradually develops during agile work.
Step 4: Convert individual projects to agile methods
To implement agile methods at project level, you need to consider in advance which tasks are suitable for working with agile methods. This includes less routine activities and more tasks with project character whose requirements are still unclear and the methodology to be used is still undecided.
Step 5: Implement agile tools and methods in all teams
This step is not about converting all projects entirely to agile. Instead, you should try to apply at least individual agile elements everywhere. The goal is that all employees in all areas of the agency develop the feeling that the way of working is changing in the long term.
Step 6: Introduce agile structures
Agile structures are characterized by their project and customer orientation. Employees and work teams are no longer controlled from the top down but are connected with each other like a network. The teams are interdisciplinary and thus employees with different competencies work together on a project or customer - even if they have different responsibilities.
Step 7: Establish networks
For the agile mindset to establish itself further, it's important to network the people in the organization. A positive effect is that the flow of information and working on an equal footing are improved and the employees take on more personal responsibility. It can make sense, for example, to bring together people from different departments who see a certain need for action (e.g. a new process) in a self-organized working group.
Step 8: Develop a suitable personnel strategy
When a company has followed clear hierarchies and rules up to this point, it's particularly important the HR department also recognizes the needs for agile change. They should be actively looking for new employees who already think agile and have experience with self-organization.
Step 9: Make successes visible and celebrate them
To keep employees in the loop, you should ask yourself how and where you can best reach them. Where can the team and the customers see that changes towards agile working are taking place in the company and that it is going well? This could happen via LinkedIn, Facebook, a content hub or the company's own intranet. There are really a lot of options here.
Which requirements (readiness) should be fulfilled?
Indispensable for agile change processes is the internal sensitization for the topic and a willingness to change. Even if the former requires the latter, both are necessary to get all employees on board. A culture of mutual trust is also indispensable and there should be room within this culture for the creativity and initiative of the individual as well as for mistakes.
The decisive factors for agile success are therefore managers who want change and who trust their employees, who allow freedom for change experiments and who give their team support in critical moments. The second step depends on the employees. They should be curious and willing to experiment, think outside the box and also have stamina and a certain tolerance for frustration. Ideal are people who want to develop ideas further and are capable of turning them into reality in a laborious process of trial and error.