Five tips for becoming truly agile in the age of modern business

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

Design Bridge Group Innovation Lead, David Helps, shares his five golden rules for making “agile” work for agencies, clients, and any business committed to embracing a different way of working.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll not only be familiar with the term “agile working”, you’ll also be soul searching as to how you can make more of your projects run like the new-found sweetheart of Silicon Valley.

As brand creatives, Design Bridge is happy to see that many of our clients have woken up to innovation, and in particular agile working. For many, agile is an elixir to the challenges thrown up by the very nature of modern business; startups unbound by corporate policy and legacy infrastructure, new and emerging channels of marketing, sales and delivery, ever-increasing consumer expectations of value, and the seemingly unrelenting pressure to deliver shareholder value.

Of course, the Netflix and Spotifys of this world were born agile. They were built on streamlined decisionmaking, entrepreneurialism and an innate culture of empowerment.

But for larger multinationals, this is a far bigger ship to turn. These institutions are built around formal, hierarchal, risk-averse, quality-controlled environments. Many of the workforce who were hired on these qualities are now being told to change their behaviours, to think like a startup, and make quick progress with fewer resources.

Anyone can see that it’s a big ask.

So, if you think agile holds the answer, here are the five golden rules for running the ultimate project. Get your Lycra on and we’ll see you at the start line.

1. It takes two

For over 30 years, we’ve been adapting our processes to our clients’ setup and project needs, and in the last four we’ve collaborated on 42 innovation launches worldwide.

The reason for telling you this? It’s rarely a creative agency who will struggle with the notion of agility, but my advice would be to ensure that all parties agree a ‘sprint contract’ upfront, outlining how both sides can fast-track the ‘conventional’ process.

Access to knowledge and people; quick, focussed decisions; and a test and learn mindset all contribute to the best possible results.

2. Participate, don't delegate

If you’ll forgive the irony, there’s no shortcut to agile. Collaboration is key and, more specifically, having the unbroken attention of senior leaders during the sprint process is an absolute must.

If they can’t be available for the whole process, they must be involved at the first, most crucial phase: defining the problem and setting the parameters for the solution. Our work with Financial Alliance for Women involved the board from start to finish, giving us total clarity to transform all aspects of the brand (born from a single creative concept because, like us, they knew it was right thing to do).

3. People before process

As well as senior leaders, think of the ultimate multi-disciplinary SWAT team. This might mean a temporary team brought together for a task and disbanded afterwards - but it's a real challenge for traditional corporate team structures and may involve ‘borrowing’ pre-allocated resources.

Whether it’s R&D, channel marketing or insights - who will really impact the outcome? We use a 160-day launch model to keep us on track, but it really only works if we have the right team with the right attitude.

4. Small steps still move mountains

A sprint is a relative term. Not everything can (or indeed needs to) be done in a Google-style five-day hackathon. If your last project took two years to launch and you do the next one inside 12 months, that’s still a huge efficiency.

When Singaporean retailer Funan wanted to launch a mall inside three years it was certainly ambitious for the world of real estate, but by working closely alongside other design disciplines - architects, retail, and way-finding - from the get-go, we were able to create a genuinely connected brand experience. 

5. Go fast vs. Go big

Agile often goes straight to “go fast”: urgent with immediate, tangible results.

But we also work with clients who put the focus on a few people, each with personal responsibilities to deliver breakthroughs over a more reasonable time (often in addition to their day job). This “go big” approach is still an agile means to generate disruptive thinking with less resources.

We’ve adopted the same model agency-side to work on open briefs, to smaller budgets, over longer timescales. Both have their merits, so make sure you take the necessary time up-front to decide which will serve the business opportunity better.

That's it...

At the risk of sounding trite, think about what you want to be remembered for.

Done right, agile projects have the potential to yield incredible results, not to mention the feel-good, “I did that” factor for both agency and client in delivering sharper, better, more focussed work.