As important as creativity is to an agency's success, no great work can be produced without a great process.
Next time you admire a stunning design project, think for a moment: This work looks great, but did it go out on time? Did the project exceed budget? Was the client actually happy with the end result? Did the team run into any major project management roadblocks?
Modern agency processes like Growth-Driven Design (GDD for short) and the Agile Methodology give us a new way to optimize the production of creative projects, helping us develop work that consistently looks great and exceeds client expectations.
Adopting these innovations for your agency might seem like a no-brainer. What client doesn’t enjoy faster delivery, higher user satisfaction, and lower financial risk?
Your team, however, might be harder to sell on adopting a design process.
To develop a sustainable process for your design team, everyone at your agency needs to play a part. Check out our tips for each department below, and make developing a design process a painless company-wide effort.
A Culture Change for Designers
At most agencies, creative thinking lies with designers, art directors, and creative directors. Their unrestricted imaginations and out-of-the-box thinking bring forth new ideas and inventive solutions to clients' problems.
However, many creative people have trouble putting external limitations -- deadlines, budgets, client demands -- on their ideas. Sometimes, individual self-expression is allowed to override business concerns.
For Growth-Driven Design to work, a culture change might be required at your agency. Designers, crazy as it may sound, shouldn’t be the sole drivers of design decisions. They must also be driven by end users’ needs, as dictated by feedback and behavior data.
From this comes the concept of the Launch Pad website: a website tailored for a fast initial release. Short production time and early collection of feedback is prioritized over completeness or perfection. Non-essential elements, features, or content are omitted. That's why the GDD process has us releasing websites earlier than ever -- the Launch Pad stage enables us to gather crucial user data earlier in the process than other design methodologies.
Be sure that your design team has a fluent understanding of your customer personas, and that empathy for the customer is the center of their creative process. Provide training in user experience design -- a relatively young field rarely taught in art schools -- so they have the tools and concepts they need to connect their visuals to real world use cases.
Restraints are often the key to producing the best creative solutions. Imposing some limitations creates a starting point from which to judge the strength of a design decision. Working around a limitation means designers are forced to think harder for a solution, pushing the limits of their creativity.
Focus Development and QA on the End User
Technologists, too, can be creative thinkers -- envisioning a website as an elegant, modern, efficient, and ever-improving system of code. Talented developers hate compromising the quality of their code due to external limitations such as deadlines. They too might try to run a project over time or budget in order to be able to execute the ideal solution.
When their requests are refused, job satisfaction suffers. QA engineers are often the biggest proponents of high technology standards and user advocacy. Such enthusiasm should be encouraged.
In technical fields as well as creative, the key is finding a way to harness and channel this commitment for quality towards solving real business problems. Technology professionals must also learn to not let their creativity derail a project. Ensure that any proposed features or improvements are a means to an end, and align with your major project goals.
No matter how beautifully a system runs on the backend, or how cutting-edge a new feature is, there must be a tangible benefit to the user on the front end. Perhaps the site now loads faster, better protects sensitive information, or is easier to use on mobile devices.
Improvements to code can also have a benefit to the agency itself. They can make the site easier and faster for developers to update, improving overall team velocity. They may make it more forward-compatible with the latest technologies, reducing the need to rebuild and refactor in the future.
It’s also important for a smooth-running process that QA is an ongoing effort from the very beginning of a project. If QA starts too close to the release date, there will likely be inadequate time to rectify issues. QA engineers should be included in the design process, where they may add UX suggestions based on their user feedback experience.
Tighter Project Management
Project managers are the stewards of process and efficiency. Their challenge in these new paradigms is assigning the team a workload that can be done -- to completion -- in a single iteration cycle. PMs interface most often with other departments, and are the ones to whom demands and requirements are made. They must not give into the pressure to say yes to everything, while not knowing for sure that the team can deliver.
A certain level of pessimism is crucial for proper project and resource planning. “Underpromise and overdeliver” can’t be said enough. When working on fixed-length work cycles, deadlines can't just be arbitrarily pushed back. However, this also grants the permission to be iterative -- whatever couldn’t get done this release can always be done next time. Even requests from the highest levels of management must be carefully evaluated and prioritized appropriately.
PMs will also need to learn to communicate more frequently with their teams. Release cycles are shorter than before, so a single day represents a greater percentage of the timeline. Just one unproductive day can derail a release from delivery.
This makes enforcing practices like the a daily stand-up -- where each team member recaps the previous day, outlines their plan for today, and airs any problems or critical blockers -- absolutely essential. They must also be sure to facilitate intra-team communication amongst members working in different roles to reduce the chance that blockers will arise.
A More Grounded Approach for Marketing and Sales
Strategic planning, market research, and conversion rate optimization are among the components of GDD that marketing and sales people will embrace right from the start. Their difficulty will likely be getting used to the idea of iterative releases. They may resist the idea that what the agency releases into the world isn’t "finished" or "perfect" the first time. They might even feel embarrassed -- like the company is going outside without its pants on.
Then can rest easy, however, knowing that releasing a Launch Pad site is more akin to going out in department store slacks. It's a perfectly professional solution, and much faster and less expensive than a bespoke suit. You'll invest in the tailored suit once you figure out precisely what kind of suit you should be wearing in the first place. That way, you don’t run the risk of having to toss it and pay for a second suit when you figure out it wasn't the right style for you.
Your marketing and sales team might be the most appreciative of the fact that that design decisions are now based on real world user data and research, collected through meticulous experimentation. Guesswork is kept to a minimum.
Your agency is now delivering value to clients and users faster and more accurately than ever -- why not make this the cornerstone of your company’s own marketing and sales strategy? Sales reps should be proud to let clients and leads know how much of their money and time your agency will save them, and how tuned in you are to their needs. It should be music to their ears.
Earn Buy-in from Executive Management
Managing expectations from those who are setting the direction of the company -- the c-suite -- is key to successful GDD implementation. They will demand to know what the ROI and bottom-line results are of making such a large time investment. Get them involved in setting goals and focus metrics, as well as prioritizing action items, and show them the results of each strategic experiment.
It's important for managers to be involved not just in strategic planning, but also in continuous improvement. Even if you are a busy executive, take the time to prioritize your GDD training, as well as training your team members -- they will be looking to your leadership when things get rocky or uncertain.
As you dive deeper into the methodology, you'll find it resonates with already familiar truths and concept: inbound marketing, user-centered design, customer personas, KPIs.
Your c-suite may find GDD confusing at first, or be hesitant to jump on some new business fad. However, once they get on board, it won't be difficult to see how the process serves your own agency's business needs as well as it serves your clients.
Your Team is Responsible for Change
Agency business leaders are well practiced in the art of communicating their creative vision to their team, and ensuring it is carried out. Though you may be the one championing a new Growth-Driven Design process, your team members are the ones who will make the revolution happen at your company. By understanding their unique needs and viewpoints, everyone on the team can become your fellow champions of process.