The challenge of building the perfectly shaped digital agency team
I didn’t realise it at the time, but my years at Exeter College of Further Education taught me a lot about running an agency. It was 1992: Ned’s Atomic Dustbin were on the stereo, a Nintendo Game Boy was the must-have gadget and Tetris was the game of choice.
Building a digital team: like playing Tetris?
At once incredibly simple and instantly addictive, Tetris is all about fitting together a random selection of shapes as they fall relentlessly from the top of the screen. What starts as a pleasingly meditative task quickly becomes a desperate race against the clock, leading to blistered thumbs, missed lectures and dreams haunted by the insanely catchy music.
Fast-forward almost 25 years, and I’m still staring at a screen trying to find elegant ways to fit shapes together. Only this time the shapes represent people, and the element of random gameplay comes from the needs of our clients.
A quarter of a century of practice should have made me better at this game. But, just like Tetris, it feels like the game gets harder and harder as time goes on. Why? Because the combination of skills you need to deliver great work in a digital world is getting more and more complicated.
Playing agency Tetris used to be easy. You just needed to line up the shapes in the right order – get the spec, do the IA, then design, build, test and launch. Now, however, it’s a much more fluid and collaborative process. We need smart tech people involved from the start, coming up with the solution. We need our UX team to be as comfortable interviewing customers as they are creating designs in Photoshop. And we need everyone to be able to have a grown-up conversation with the client – the idea that only the account manager can talk to the client simply doesn’t make sense.
All of this means that we need staff with a combination of skills. The HR buzzword for these individuals is T-shaped – they have a deep expertise in a single discipline or specialism (eg front-end development), but also a broad understanding of the digital world and the roles of other functions.
The art of Tetris is to find the most elegant and efficient way to fit these different shapes together. The art of running an agency is exactly the same.
(If you were born before 1970 or after 1990, the chances are this column will mean nothing to you. Sorry. But for everyone else, you can download Tetris as a browser extension. I was going to include the link, but I don’t think it’s responsible to do so. Just remember to clear a couple of hours in your diary before you start…)
Jon Davie is UK CEO at Zone. He tweets @JonDavie