How to Get the Most Out of Your Agency: Insider Tips and Tricks
Mastering Your Design and Development Agency Partnership: Key Strategies for Success, Budget Management, and Accountability.
To get the most out of your agency, the first step is to ensure you've chosen the right partner from the start. Once you've found the right agency, I'll guide you on how to maximize your collaboration. As a co-owner of an agency for the past 8 years, I've seen both successful and failed projects. In this blog, I won't focus on project delivery (you can find more on that here), but rather on how to get the most value for your investment.
Three Approaches to Partnership
There are three ways to approach your partnership with an agency:
Help the agency
Let them do all the work
Work against the agency
It seems obvious, but it’s not, so it’s worth repeating: do not work against the agency you have hired to do the job. You’ve vetted the agency, you’re paying good money to get your project live, so do not question every single thing your agency does.
Option no. 2 seems very tempting and while it can get the job done for sure, it is not the optimal choice. While an agency can take all the right steps to understand the project requirements completely, the overlap between what client thinks and what agency thinks is never full 100%.
Option 1 is the most effective, but ensuring you're following it as a client can be trickier than it seems, especially in complex projects with multiple stakeholders. Let's dive into it.
Crystal Clear Requirements
Requirements can be presented in various formats: user stories, acceptance criteria, detailed explanations, or even Loom videos. Any format works well as long as the requirements are comprehensive and clear. However, ensure you create requirements in a single document, serving as the initial single source of truth for the project. Make sure the agency thoroughly understands the requirements by setting up a call, clarifying any possible misunderstandings, and updating the requirements document accordingly. As a client, you don't need to translate requirements into functional specifications – leave that to the agency. The agency should create either Product Requirements Document or Functional Specification as the final source of truth for the project.
Effective Communication During the Project
Establish clear communication expectations from the project's outset. Choose communication tools that work for both parties and stick to them consistently. Whether it's email, Slack, carrier pigeons, or smoke signals, the medium doesn't matter as long as it's reliable. Avoid leaving notes all over the place, as they might get overlooked and lead to blame games.
Select a communication frequency that suits your needs. We recommend one meeting and one report per week, with an open Slack channel for daily communication, but feel free to request more frequent updates if required. Just remember that having your entire team on lengthy calls takes away from actual product development.
Identify the right person for communication. At Cinnamon, we maintain transparency and keep communication lines open with your entire team. However, remember that coding requires deep concentration, so try to direct most of your communication through the project manager.
Expect weekly or bi-weekly deliveries, regardless of the amount of progress. Certain project stages, like frontend development, showcase more visible progress, while others, like backend and logic implementation, may seem less apparent. Nevertheless, strive to receive staging builds at least every two weeks, providing a clear view of the progress. If the project lags behind this tempo, it's time to address the issue.
Preventing Roadblocks and Dependencies
To ensure a smooth project journey, define and address all technical, financial, and organizational prerequisites and dependencies beforehand. Examples include setting up AWS accounts, Google Play or Apple accounts, GIT repositories, monitoring tools, buying domains and hosting, and listing all paid libraries. Consult your agency about potential blockers and dependencies and resolve them in advance to prevent unnecessary delays.
Effective Project Management
As a client, your role shouldn't encompass project management. Instead, focus on being a business owner or product owner. Allow project managers to handle the time-consuming, day-to-day aspects of project management. Inquire about your agency's project management methods, processes, and tools to ensure a systematic approach to progress. A well-organized team with careful planning is more likely to succeed than one that tackles issues haphazardly.
First and foremost, ensure you choose a partner that prioritizes delivering your product successfully rather than simply spending your budget. At Cinnamon, we have directly experienced that our business thrives when the projects we work on succeed as well. Therefore, our goal is always to deliver the best possible product within the budget and to have confidence that the product will gain traction, prompting the client to reinvest in it. Look for an agency with a mindset like ours.
Secondly, always leave some buffer. Scopes tend to change, unforeseeable problems might arise, and it's wise to have some extra resources available, as is the case in every aspect of life. However, it's essential to keep the exact buffer amount confidential. Avoid oversharing with agencies, as they may become aware of the buffer, potentially impacting budget negotiations. Keep this information close to your heart and use it judiciously.
Adherence to Deadlines
Dividing every project into milestones with specific deadlines is essential. Monitor your timeline closely and inquire weekly: "Are we on schedule?" Don't wait until a milestone is completed or until the project's end to ask this question. Instead, ask it early on. If the project is already delayed at the start, parties involved might mistakenly believe, "It's still early, we'll catch up later." However, in reality, the opposite is true: if it's delayed early, the situation is likely to worsen.
Timely and Valuable Feedback
When asked for feedback, provide it promptly and accurately. Timely feedback is crucial for project progression. Projects often stall due to a lack of client feedback. Remember, no feedback means no progress. Consistent delays may lead agencies to reallocate resources, impacting momentum.
Momentum is a vital concept for every project. Plan ahead, resolve potential blockers, and provide timely feedback to maintain a steady pace. A team that remains active and focused achieves greater efficiency. Your active participation as a client plays a significant role in sustaining momentum.
Establish accountability from the project's inception and hold both yourself and the agency accountable. Teams appreciate clients who prioritize accountability, as it shows that their work and contributions are valued. Accountability requires investing time and effort in the project each week, but it fosters a strong and productive working relationship.
Maximizing the potential of your design and development partnership requires a proactive approach, clear communication, and a shared commitment to success. By choosing the right agency, establishing crystal clear requirements, and maintaining effective communication throughout the project, you can significantly increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.
Embrace the power of regular deliveries, address potential blockers in advance, and entrust project management to the experts. Remember, budget wisely and provide timely, valuable feedback to keep the momentum going.
In the realm of client-agency collaborations, accountability and adherence to deadlines are paramount. By fostering a culture of accountability and valuing the contributions of your team, you create an environment where success thrives.
In the end, a strong partnership built on trust, effective communication, and shared goals will not only lead to a successful project but also establish a lasting and fruitful relationship with your design and development agency. Together, you can bring your visions to life and reach new heights of innovation and achievement. So, go forth with confidence and make the most out of your design and development agency. Happy building!
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