Projects. How does your team manage them from start to finish?
Over the last year, we’ve been reviewing our processes to evaluate what we do at rock-star level, what we do meh, and what we’re doing that’s beating us up and taking our lunch money.
Project management is like a dance between three parties – the project team, the client and the actual project itself, which is a force that requires alternate sweet talking and scolding.
Sometimes the dance is a waltz – the team, the client and the work all hum together in step and with a beginning, middle and an end. And bowing. Lots of bowing.
Sometimes it’s a salsa – quick, quick, slow. Quick (team is on it), quick (work is moving along), slow (the client is not responsive).
Sometimes it’s Dirty Dancing – the PM tries to Patrick Swayze the work and the client into submission, but aint nobody putting Project in the corner. (This analogy needs help, we get it. You’re a creative – work it out.)
At Ambient, we had primarily used a Waterfall method of project management, where the project flowed from one step (one department, one phase, one set of hands) to another. After kickoff, it moved from initiation to strategy, then to creative/design, then production and quality assurance and finally into the client’s hands all swaddled like a cooing baby. There were a couple loops back to a prior phase here and there, but for the most part we were progressing projects on a conveyor belt. Client interaction where appropriate, but mostly at the end.
While Waterfall is traditional and creates clear cut hand-off points for the work, it also segmented our project teams. At Ambient in particular, there was often a dissonance between where design ended and production began. A sayonara of sorts was happening from one phase to another. Rather than a smooth transition between dances, the samba music stopped, the dance floor cleared, and a hip hop troupe entered the floor. (This is symptomatic of Waterfall PM’ing in general, but is also effected heavily by culture and the team.)
So, what to do, what to do… we decided to adapt to Agile project management. After all Agile is the cool kid du jour, talked about everywhere method, culminating in fluid work and team love and client euphoria and pink bubbles and soft puppies, right?
Agile is a project management method that takes an iterative approach – rather than completing one phase and moving to the next, this begins with the goal of creating a working prototype, quickly. The prototype is then worked on in phases, with strategy, creative and production all working in sprints to continue morphing the project more and more closely into the client’s vision. The client himself is a lot more present and the project has permission to evolve to be the best that it can be. It’s a constant prototype/review wheel that spins in determined time frames.
The problem with deciding to “adapt agile project management” from waterfall is that it’s like turning around an airplane. Or to keep using dance, it’s like completely overhauling every dance routine in your agency’s Britney Spears concert, overnight. Oh baby, baby, how are we supposed to choreograph a roadmap, get the team on board, get clients to understand their role in the system and most importantly adapt the project to a whole new method?
Now, agile can, in theory, be applied to all sorts of projects. But as Ed Burgoyne (a smart guy who has explained all of this in depth here), says:
Putting theory to practice means organizations (and all of your staff) need a mindset change in the way they approach work. It also requires an agency to think about how to apply agile thinking to all sizes and shapes of an organization’s work.
Not easy to do, and we are no exception to this rule. At Ambient, we are a small agency with expertise in branding, web design and user engagement. We’ve made a thoughtful transition to using a substantial portfolio of creative partners from which we build niche teams for each project. And while fostering agile on a project is not impossible, we also realized that it’s ok to move deliberately on our project management method, implementing WHAT WORKS BEST based on the project itself, the scope and the team that will best accomplish what is the ultimate goal – creating great work for happy clients.
So, we are now settled into an Integrated project management system, which is a smooth dubstep between Waterfall and Agile. Integrated project management applies both of the prior approaches in various degrees, based on the project and the team. Like all other things in life, we are working, studying, and tweaking, but right now it’s working for us.
For instance, on a web project, we still employ thorough discovery and write a brief. Upon kickoff however, strategy, content, design and development all work quickly together to create the first prototype, with the same wheel turning for each iteration of the project, as the site gets built. The client sees the project at the end of each cycle, giving feedback, with revisions being implemented in the next cycle. Finally, as the site gets wrapped up, it’s tested and delivered into the client’s hands. POW! It’s a work in progress, but when it works well, it’s like clear water bubbling over stones in a creek or some other imagery that represents STONE COLD SMOOTHNESS.
We get that project management methods are more detailed and complex than we’ve recapped here, but we have work to do and these blog posts can only be so long. We do however, want to hear what you do, what works for you, what is the bane of your existence and what you can’t live without. Share your thoughts with us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s all get better.