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Aprais Client-agency Relationships Agency Business

Why agile teams should care about relationships



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October 26, 2021 | 6 min read

Way back in 2016, McKinsey described agile, in the marketing context, as "using of data and analytics to continuously source promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real time"

Way back in 2016, McKinsey described agile, in the marketing context, as "using of data and analytics to continuously source promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real time". This involved “deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating“. It also necessitated the assembly of agile teams.

Agile teams must react to a constant flow of market data. This same data is used to evaluate the teams’ activity. But to use this market data as the sole determinant of team success overlooks the importance of human interaction that is crucial to team performance.

The problem with agile

The agile marketing concept is still evolving and not without challenges. Recent McKinsey research among senior marketing executives at large US companies (with total marketing budgets greater than $100 million) revealed that 80% of respondents characterized their transition to agile marketing with their partners as ‘a journey filled with obstacles’.

Managing multiple internal and external partners has long been a challenge for marketers. Now they must also juggle inter-agency team functions as well as disciplines across publishers: data, research, social, influencers, niche consumer targeting specialists and more. All this while trying to make sure that all are briefed holistically, brought in at the right time and play fairly to ensure that all the consumer touchpoints are addressed effectively and within budget. Phew!

This environment also poses greater challenges to the mesh of partners as well. Agencies must put self-interests aside, collaborate with friend and foe with the single ambition of driving the client’s business forward.

Better partnerships

As detailed in an excellent report from McKinsey entitled ‘When agile marketing breaks the agency model’ the journey to agile marketing can be hard. But for many marketers and agencies, it offers the opportunity to forge a better partnership.

The report suggests a number of prerequisites for agile marketing to work including: a clear sense of what it wants to accomplish; sponsorship and stewardship of the shift to agile by senior marketing leaders; and bringing together a small team of talented people or partners who can work together at speed.

In assembling the team, McKinsey advises they should possess skills across multiple functions, internal and external, and be released from their day jobs to work together full time.

The majority of our clients expect their lead agencies to own the running of their inter-agency teams. This can make the role for the scrum lead or project manager difficult, when so many partners are involved.

Market data vs team data

By their very nature, agile teams are tactical, spontaneous and reactive. Their marketplace performance is measured with marketplace data.

Fast and accurate as these results may be, dysfunction between teams will ultimately compromise results unless these relationships are proactively managed. This requires a more strategic, structured approach to monitoring team-on-team relationships.

One should not confuse the two forms of evaluation. Both tactical, campaign-based performance evaluations and team-on-team relationship evaluations are crucial for the sustainable success of agile teams.

Truly agile teams must have effective and flawless tracking mechanisms in place. This means fast reporting on the performance of each initiative (Performance evaluations). At the end of each sprint, the scrum lead debriefs the team to incorporate lessons learned and communicate results to key stakeholders. The scrum lead then resets priorities based on the results in preparation for the next sprint.

Periodically, teams are evaluated in terms of the relationship within and among the parties involved. This includes their functional and behavioural performance. Crucially, these evaluations should include questions probing their inter-team collaboration.

Typically, these evaluations are carried out between the paying client and the service partners. It is important that both parties evaluate each other. We call that a 180° evaluation. The partners may include in-house and external providers and suppliers.

In our experience, team relationship evaluations should be conducted at least every six months. This allows issues to be revealed and addressed before they become productivity-depleting problems. Debriefs around the results of each evaluation encourage teams understand each other better and to align on actions for each party that will lead to an improved, more productive relationship.

On-the-job-training through evaluations

Anyone who has experienced a personal performance evaluation will admit to the learning that comes from them. This opportunity for open dialogue provides a forum for better understanding of what’s expected and the criteria for success. The same applies to team evaluations.

We have found that the mere process of conducting the evaluation provides training to the participants. By working through a carefully curated set of questions, participants learn the criteria by which good teams are judged and behaviours improve as a result.

Analysis of the more than 23,000 evaluations in our database show constant improvements in overall scores even after the first round. The same applies to most of the functions and behaviours we measure.The example below shows the improvement in ‘collaboration’ as scored by clients of their agencies over successive evaluations. In this case we have selected the bottom scoring 5% of agencies in our database. From an initial score of 56.8 after the first evaluation the score improves by 20% to 68.4. This jump after the second evaluation. (Usually 6 months).

As the business world moves faster in response to ever increasing consumer demands, brands need to prepare for rapid, productive response. Agile teams support this dynamic.

The performance of agile teams must be based on market metrics but the human component should not be overlooked. This includes the essential collaboration required within and among the teams.

The relationship between the teams involved is a driver of success and should be regularly evaluated accordingly.

Aprais Client-agency Relationships Agency Business


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