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Why Your Traditional Process For Digital Engagements Isn’t Working

By The Good
3 minute read | Last Updated: February 27, 2016

Innovation is easier when brands iterate, and understanding the benefits of a lean process over a waterfall process is necessary to succeed with digital.

We’re working hard to change how digital projects are created, not only in terms of helping our clients to reach their goals efficiently and sustainably, but also in reaching the goals we have set for ourselves as an agency.

Most clients, especially those working with traditional design & marketing agencies, are accustomed to a “waterfall” process, in which their project is handed to a large team and divided into a series of discrete phases such as discovery, design, development, testing, launch, and (with any luck) maintenance.

The waterfall process offers several perceived advantages for both agency and client, however many times those benefits are outweighed by the inherent inflexibility of the system. For instance, once a client has provided sign off on a design layout, any change no matter how small or logical typically triggers a change order and schedule adjustment. This is just one example of the back and forth that naturally occurs with any digital project where the waterfall method is not well poised to respond naturally.

Clients and other project stakeholders may not be able to fully understand how a certain feature will work — or even if that feature is necessary — simply by looking at a wireframe or a design comp. Features can be added in a few minutes of design that can result in days or weeks worth of programming. A seemingly simple content change can have a ripple effect throughout the structure of a site. All of these result in costly changes to the project and timeline.

Just because things have been done a certain way for years doesn’t mean they can’t change, and change quickly.

We believe in a “lean” process in which we work to eliminate wasted time and effort by delivering work for review as quickly as possible, and gathering feedback to incorporate new knowledge into the next iteration of the project.

The leaner we are, the easier it is for us to respond to change. Using smaller, more focused project teams gives us something special: agility. The ability to be nimble and respond quickly and appropriately to change is one thing that small teams have by default that large teams don’t. A change that might take a larger team in a large agency a week to implement might only take a day for a smaller, leaner team to deliver — especially if that team is planning to work that way in the first place.

Iterate quickly. Iterate often. Unlike the waterfall process that requires agencies to “get it right the first time”, an iterative process allows us to get a working piece of functionality in front of actual users as quickly as possible, even if it’s not perfect, and adjust from there. We can quickly gather feedback, determine if we need to make changes to the design or functionality, and create solutions to address any concerns for the next iteration. A great example of a successful iterative process at work is this Nordstrom Innovation Lab case study.

Though this is a challenge to how most agencies approach their work, we believe it is one worth taking on. Just because things have been done a certain way for years doesn’t mean they can’t change, and change quickly. We believe that starting from a goal and working toward a feature, expecting and embracing change along the way, will lead to better outcomes for our clients and ourselves.