Co-Location and Concurrent Working in Agencies

I've just completed a major piece of research recently about the future of agencies - an update on the first report I authored on the subject back in 2012. It's quite amazing the amount of change that seems to have happened in the past few years. Many have talked about the inertia of agencies, and perhaps this is true of some, but whilst there remain plenty of challenges there's no doubt that the focus on customer experience is now driving plenty of change in operating models, the competitive landscape and the way in which agencies are engaging with clients.

One of the areas of change that was most interesting to me was the burgeoning practice of co-located and concurrent working. Some agencies, particularly those that are working beyond comms in broader-based transformation, capability, experience or service design work are usurping the traditional 'waterfall' hand-off processes that have become embedded ways of working, and creating smaller teams of cross-functional specialists that might include design/creative, UX, planning and maybe even the client.

This reminded me of the process that Dave King of The Royals described in his Firestarters Melbourne talk, based on the Google Ventures 5-day sprint methodology. This way of working involved concurrent working over a short sprint and was designed to ensure a more joined up approach between strategy and creative and in the discovery of insights and ideas. Dave talked about how the process leads to fertile discussions and ideas, and naturally puts need at the heart of every challenge. It doesn't feel like writing a brief, he said, it's more like decoding an opportunity. 


The agency people I interviewed for the research described some advantages of this kind of concurrent working - notably speed of delivery, less reliance on a 'big reveal' and less danger of misalignment, less duplication, the chance to show quick wins and create a sense of momentum, and increased client ownership of solutions.  

At the same time, the practice of agency staffers working alongside client staff in co-located teams seems to be becoming more prevalent. There are some interesting challenges around culture here (notably with staff working in unfamiliar or different environments and organisational cultures) but it seems that many agencies have already taken steps to manage this. 

But what's fascinating I think, is that it seems as though some of real fundamentals of the way in which agencies are working with clients really are changing. You can read the full report by downloading it here.

Open Office Hours


I like the 'open office hours' idea expounded here. Apparently instituted by Marissa Mayer whilst at Google, she cleared an hour and a half of her diary at the end of each day and staff could reserve a chunk of that time by putting their name on a board outside her office. This enabled her to reportedly fit a large number of very short meetings into a block of time where staff could come and talk to her about anything. Meetings which apparently surfaced interesting product ideas including Google News. A better option perhaps than filling too much time up with the half hour/one hour blocks that managers tend to segment their calendars into, or to keeping an entirely open door policy which might lead to overly frequent interruption.

Performance Firestarters 9: The Power of Feeds


For the ninth in our series of Firestarters events for the Performance Marketing community will be focusing on Feeds and APIs, which are changing the advertising landscape in a unique and potentially powerfully way. As well as talking about how the smartest agencies are using feed data to improve campaign results and bring new levels of contextual relevance to messaging, we'll also thinking about the future and where the application of this kind of data might lead us, including how AI and machine learning might be used to adapt approaches to marketing. So plenty of interesting stuff to talk about, and to help us we have three excellent expert speakers: 

  • Alistair Dent, Head of Product Strategy at iProspect (the UK's largest performance agency)
  • Visar Shabi, CTO at Brainlabs digital, the 'scientific' PPC agency
  • Kris Tait, business director for Croud, one of Google's fastest growing Search agency

The event takes place on September 2nd, 6.00pm at Google Central St Giles, London. I have some free passes to give away to readers of this blog so if you'd like one, message me direct or leave a comment below.

More is Different

"At first, poaching stars from competitors or even teams within the same organization seems like a winning strategy. But once the star comes over the results often fail to materialize...What we fail to grasp is that their performance is part of an ecosystem and removing them from that ecosystem — that is isolating the individual performance — is incredibly hard without properly considering the entire ecosystem."

An excellent post from Shane Parrish on making decisions in complex adaptive systems (like organisations). I like what he says about the perils of extrapolating individual behaviour to understand the likely behaviour of a system, being wary of systems becoming too tightly coupled through lack of individual diversity, and the values of using simulations (or tests and prototypes perhaps) to aid learning. Makes a lot of sense thinking about organisations in this way.

The Modern Blight of Overwork


'...the long hours...may be the byproduct of systems and institutions that have taken on lives of their own and serve no one’s interests. That can happen if some industries have simply become giant make-work projects that trap everyone within them.'

Lots of truth in this New Yorker opinion piece about the modern blight of overwork, and how many industries become victim to 'arms races that create work that is of dubious necessity'. Whilst the promise of technology has for so long been about greater efficiency leading to a surfeit of leisure time for us all, somehow we've ended up with the opposite becoming a reality.

One of the great enigma's of modern working is that despite having more workers and being more productive than ever we are still working longer hours. Rather than focus on workers’ decisions and incentives, Tim Wu is suggesting that we should instead focus on the system - how technology is removing the kind of limitations that created natural boundaries and barriers to excessive working, and how white-collar work in many industries seems to expand infinitely through the creation of 'false necessities' - practices that evolve and develop and become entrenched ways of working yet create little value.

Overburdensome processes that cultivate over time, avoidable meetings, reply all emails, needless reporting, work that feeds systems that have become outmoded. Like Tim, I think there has to be a better way.