Don’t let bad projects ruin your good ones

For agencies, it can seem like clients constantly change their minds about scope, while the clients might perceive that there’s a need to pivot a project due to deliverables that miss the mark on what they were anticipating. But during a recent webinar, Jack Skeels, CEO of AgencyAgile, explained that the issue might actually be that the scope was never properly identified in the first place. As a “naturally occurring chaotic organization” (NOCO) with many deliverables to get out the door, he said agencies can’t always dedicate as much time and work into defining scope as might be needed.

During the Adweek webinar, sponsored by OpenText Hightail, Skeels noted that NOCO chaos comes from several places, including the fact that agency work is often non-repeatable and requires “a lot to relearn” for each project, that there are a lot of “noisy actors” due to team members working with multiple managers, and that changing priorities can lead to a lack of focus.

He added that this means teams are too busy to actually spend time on scoping, only a few people do the scoping, or it’s done very hastily or lightly without asking the hard questions. This can drive other problems, since it’s hard to brief something that hasn’t been thought about very well. “And if we didn’t brief it well in the first place, we don’t have a good basis for refining scope as we go forward,” he added.

And if the team doesn’t understand the work, the client might not either, and that’s when the project leads to disappointing deliverables.

Immunize against project contagion

As the disappointing deliverables turn into revision after revision, the project budget often is stretched past capacity. And as new scope is uncovered, more resources are needed, pulling from other projects in what Skeels called “project contagion.”

With contagion, virtually every project becomes a crisis, meaning that the bad projects even destroy the good ones. Skeels said that “they fatigue and wear out your people, chew up your money, and your clients know what’s going down as well.” He added, “Scope has come all the way around and disabled our ability to win forward with our clients, by actually making us just be in recovery mode the whole time.”

He offered several suggestions to help, including figuring out ways to bring teams and clients together—which he described as “really, really powerful.” Having clients actually talk to the people doing the work, he said, can change the dynamic to the point that a client might ask for work to be delivered in a week vs. in a day. Team members are also empowered to ask questions and ensure they understand what the client is asking for.

He also suggests that while scope is often focused on what the agency knows, it’s important to also spend time thinking about what’s unknown or out of scope—and to express what’s out of scope in an explicit way. “Scope that’s out of scope is what gets you into trouble,” he added, pointing out that at least a third of the time should be dedicated to talking about what’s out of scope.

Skeels added that fixing scope and how agencies and clients work together at the onset means improved client satisfaction scores and better team satisfaction—and rework rates and project overages can drop dramatically.

For insights into the questions the webinar inspired, please read Jack Skeels’ webinar follow-up blog post or watch the webinar on demand.

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