A few weeks ago I left R/GA after nearly 4 years, working first as a Technical Team Lead and then as a Technical Director. I’ve learned 1000s of tiny lessons and quite a few big ones over the last few years. Here’s some key ones.
1. Multi-discipline collaboration from day 1
Complex (digital) projects require talented people from many disciplines. Casting the right team can be a challenge, but once on the ground (usually at R/GA in a war room), collaboration needs to be rapid, open and without (too much) ego.
2. Code scamps (aka prototypes) are essential
Just about working software is the best way of explaining an idea. If you can sketch in code, getting something up and running no matter how hacky then you’re moving forward. The things you learn by doing this early are nearly always invaluable as long as you’re prepared to throw away more than you keep - being over invested in the scamp is going to get in the way of iterating.
3. Really good QA helps produce really good products
The internet is everywhere and on everything (Brad Frost, also ex-rga has some great slides about this). I’ve worked on projects where the QA engineer is testing on 20 devices. Obviously there are real benefits in test automation, but there’s no shortcuts - at somepoint somebody is going to need to tap through your app on all the devices, again and again and again.
4. Work smart and work hard
The industry has a long hours culture and sometimes working hard (late) is the way to a briliant product. But it’s not the only way. From a technology point of view investing in smart work; automation, auto-scaling, developer tools that work is way better than just staying late.
5. Access to tools and permissions matter
The battle for better tools and services is constant. If you constantly put a barrier in front of getting things done then you kill the speed at which innovation can happen and in an agency environment slow projects die a slow death. If it takes a 48 hour helpdesk response to get the CI box back online or multiple paper based forms to spin up a cloud service then the velocity of your crack innovation team is being severly hampered.
6. Location doesn’t have to be important
There’s a clamour to have EVERYONE IN THE WAR ROOM ALL THE TIME. But collaboration doesn’t really work like that. Clearly facetime matters, and at the right stage of the project it really is worth having everyone sat in the same room. But having highly motivated, talented people pulling in the same direction is way more important than having them sat in the same office (or even timezone).
2014-08-05 17:16:17 GMT permalink
In Evan Davis’ provocative documentary Mind The Gap, he argues that a key attribute that makes London such a successful city is the way that a huge mass of people with diverse talents are able to combine to produce ever more effective and powerful alliances. This effect, known as agglomeration, is a key reasons for the success of start-up communities such as silicon roundabout.
Digital agencies increasingly require the effects of agglomeration to innovate on behalf of clients. Brands are looking to ‘innovate to differentiate’, working with agency partners on ever more complex campaigns, co-creating connected products or pushing the web through responsive builds and smarter mobile development.
These kinds of briefs require an agency to line up diverse teams, with previously ‘non-standard’ skill sets. This isn’t just a production problem. The ‘mad men era’ copywriter+visual creative team isn’t an atomic unit in the world of prototyping, hardware hacking and auto-scaling cloud based solutions. Small project teams need to be comprised of specialists from a wide range of disciplines who quickly need to form productive teams. These teams need to live in the medium. Presenting ‘mobile first’ creative in a PSD is clear warning sign for agencies and clients.
So how do agencies find a way to crunch together multi-discipline teams at short notice. The 3 martini lunch era is a distant relic, and ever more efficient agency businesses are loath to run ‘a large bench’ of specialists. Conversely keeping control of freelance costs exerts financial pressure in the opposite direction. Staffing an effective and innovative team in 2014 is a challenge.
One strategy is to develop a t-shaped skills culture, where people continue to have a strong specialism (and craft) but also have a wide exposure to complementary skills. An agency of designers who code and hardware hacking project managers.
Agency frogger is seen as a threat to business continuity for agencies, but recruiting talent who have been exposed to a wider variety of projects and environments is a potential shortcut to a more diverse and flexible team. Encouraging staff to share, talk and present at events inside and outside of the industry is another way of exposing teams to external influences.
This isn’t an easy problem, but it is one that agencies need to solve to avoid producing out of date, commoditized work that is no longer effective. In many ways the type of skills required are the same, but the tools and landscape have changed. A digital agency that continues to show copy in Word and present ideas using PDFs is already suffering from having the wrong teams in place. The future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed.
2014-04-03 11:07:00 GMT permalink