Ever wonder why agencies grapple with the transition from traditional project management to Agile methodologies?
Galen Low is joined by Dave Prior—Certified Scrum Trainer at LeadingAgile—to talk about why it’s so hard to get Agile right and what agencies need to do to make Agile work for them.
- Making Agile Work in an Agency Context [0:04]
- Dave’s rich experience working in a New York digital agency provides him with the knowledge and expertise to guide us through the complexities of Agile implementation.
- He acknowledges that the skepticism towards Agile often arises from past failures.
- However, it is through understanding these failures and clearing the hurdles that successful Agile adoption becomes possible.
Agile is like chemotherapy. If Waterfall is a terminal sickness, Agile could make you better, but it will make you more sick first.Dave Prior
- Challenges of Agile Agency Transformation [6:24]
- Transforming agencies from conventional models to Agile is no easy feat. It requires breaking away from the comfort zone and building an environment that embraces change.
- Dave discusses the trials of this transformation process, including motivating sales teams and involving customers in the Agile process.
- He highlights the necessity of educating clients on assuming the product owner’s role and the critical role agencies play in helping clients keep up with the Agile pace.
- A key aspect of Agile implementation is fostering a culture that encourages collective value delivery.
- Dave provides valuable insights on nurturing a humane culture that motivates the team and delivers optimal service to clients.
- The importance of discipline and adaptability is stressed as they are fundamental to mastering Agile.
The retrospective is more important than the work you produce. Because even if you fail to deliver, the retrospective is where you figure out how not to do that next time.Dave Prior
- Collaboration in Agile Contracts [16:07]
- The episode also delves into the usage of Agile and Waterfall tools in project management. Dave believes in the judicious mix of both methodologies to deliver the best service to clients.
- It’s not about being strictly Agile or Waterfall, but about choosing the right tools that best serve the project and the client.
- Challenges of Implementing Agile in Agencies [25:38]
- The transformation to Agile is a journey, one that involves a shift in mindset, culture, and operations. It is not without its challenges, but the rewards are worth it.
- Agile fosters a culture of continuous improvement, collaboration, and customer satisfaction. It is not just a methodology but a mindset that can significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of agency operations.
- Exploring Agile Culture and Tools [32:29]
- As Dave puts it, the intersection of agency life and Agile practices is a space of continuous learning and growth. The journey might be rocky, but the destination promises a better operational framework and a more fulfilling work culture.
- So, whether you’re a project manager, a team member, or a client, understanding Agile and its application in agency life is crucial to stay ahead in this fast-paced digital world.
Meet Our Guest
Dave Prior is a Certified Scrum Trainer who works for LeadingAgile. He has been podcasting about Agile and Project Management since 2008 and produces LeadingAgile’s SoundNotes and drunkenPM Radio’s Reluctant Agilist. The podcasts cover Agile basics, best practices for transitioning from waterfall to Agile, as well as guidance and advice from other Agile practitioners and thought leaders on how to address more advanced Agile topics. He shows up for work every day with a simple goal: “…make the journey from waterfall to Agile less painful for others than it was for me.”
People talk about culture all the time with Agile, like you have to lead with culture. Culture is important, but if you don’t create an environment in which something like Scrum can survive, it’s not going to work.Dave Prior
Resources from this episode:
- Join DPM Membership
- Subscribe to the newsletter to get our latest articles and podcasts
- Connect with Dave Prior on LinkedIn
- Check out LeadingAgile and Drunken PM Radio
- The Collaboration Equation by Jim Benson
- Check out Personal Kanban
- Check out Lean Coffee
Related articles and podcasts:
- About the Digital Project Manager Podcast
- Agile Project Management: What You Need To Know For Success With Agile
- Agile Vs Waterfall: Which Is Better & When To Use Each One
- A Strategic Approach To Project Retrospectives
- Statement Of Work Ultimate Guide: Simple Definition & Template
- How To Run A Simple Sprint Review Meeting For Digital Projects
Read The Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Galen Low: Hey folks, thanks for tuning in. My name is Galen Low with The Digital Project Manager. We are a community of digital professionals on a mission to help each other get skilled, get confident, and get connected so that we can amplify the value of project management in a digital world. If you want to hear more about that, head on over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com.
Okay, today we are talking about the realities of making Agile work in an agency context. It's a big question we get asked a lot about it in our community. So today we're going to be digging into why it's so hard to get Agile right and what agencies need to do to make Agile work for them.
With me today is Dave Prior, a Certified Scrum Trainer at LeadingAgile and a renowned thought leader in the world of Agile who's been helping organizations navigate their journey to Agile with as little pain as possible for well over 15 years.
Dave, it is an honor to have you on the show.
Dave Prior: It's great to be here, and that was a spectacular opening. It's so much better than mine. I'm always just hey.
Galen Low: I get a lot of practice. I tell everyone I record that every time. So listeners of the podcast, you think it's just a recording, no, it's us doing it live every time. It's my warm up act.
Dave Prior: I have witnessed that and it is very well done. Very well done.
Galen Low: Cheers. Well, cheers.
Dave Prior: But thank you for having me.
Galen Low: No, it's great to have you on the show. I was saying in the green room, I asked our community who I should have on the podcast. And hands down, everyone was like Dave Prior. So it's an extreme honor. Agile is a huge topic, especially amongst our agency PMs. People have a lot of struggles with it.
It is a sort of mystical thing that has been around a while and it's still pretty difficult to nail. So I thought maybe today we could start exploring that, just seeing where it goes. Yeah, I mean, with that, just to set the scene. Yes, Agile has been around for over 20 years. Yes, it did start with software development.
But to this day, a lot of the people I talk to who work in digital agencies and consultancies tell me that their organizations are still struggling to make frameworks like Scrum and other forms of Agile just fit into their business model. So I thought I'd just dig into that today, but I thought maybe before we get into it, I want to just ask you what got you into Agile in the first place? What was it about Agile that kind of pulled you in?
Dave Prior: Well, let's see. I worked at a digital agency in New York and I was working on a, an ecommerce site. This was back at the beginning of ecommerce. Like you had to build everything from scratch. We spent a year in requirements. The project was a total disaster.
And I guess the CTO had read Extreme Programming Explained, the first edition. And our Agile transformation was he walked into the room where the team was, he threw a stack of books on the floor and said, read this over the weekend, you're Agile on Monday. And it was a total disaster. And so I didn't want anything to do with Agile.
I thought it was just a set of excuses for project managers to like, not have to plan, developers not to commit. The more I got into project management, I went down the opposite path. And I was dragged kicking and screaming into Agile. So I am not somebody who saw it and was like, hey, that looks cool. I was somebody who saw it and was like, that's garbage.
And I fought it for a really long time, and I got into consulting, and when I couldn't fight it anymore, I gave in, and I saw it work. But for me, it wasn't until I saw it work in place, I was like, oh crap, this is a thing. But I think if you're coming out of the project management mindset, it's really hard. It's like switching religions.
Galen Low: Fair. I love that sort of perspective, that you were not like, immediately drinking the Kool Aid. And you scrutinize it, and tell the fact that, you saw it working, and coming back to your story about, that your initial exposure to Agile transformation, read these books over the weekend and let's go. I love that perspective.
Dave Prior: Didn't work out so well.
Galen Low: I mean, you and we're huge proponents of the fact that on paper, and in theory anything can look great. But like, when the rubber hits the road, and making things happen, that's where the proof is. And I guess the other thing is people have seen Agile go wrong.
So even if they did drink the Kool Aid right off the bat when they were reading about it and then got into a project where it was being run, using something like Scrum and seeing it that being a disaster, like that is another thing that's like the dis proof that creates a bunch of folks who are like, no, this doesn't work, actually.
Dave Prior: Yeah. And people like me, like I misunderstood most of what I read and I spent half my time telling people it wasn't going to work and the rest of the time sabotaging it. So it couldn't work. So, and it wasn't always intentional. Like I had learned traditional project management. I thought you plan everything out, you figure it all out.
And if the stupid developers would just do what I told them to do, everything would be fine. I didn't think about the fact that the customer that walks in the door and says, I need this thing, doesn't even know what their problem is when they tell you what the solution is. It's like walking into the pharmacy and saying, I need that medicine. But I haven't even talked to anybody about what's wrong with me.
Galen Low: Right. Exactly. And then sometimes you get the wrong medicine.
Dave Prior: Yes. Bad things happen.
Galen Low: And you mentioned like you, you coach now, you help people with their agile transformations. Like for the organizations that you are helping, like what are the main things that they're trying to achieve by adopting agile? Like what are they wanting to get? And are they right to expect that from agile?
Dave Prior: I think that's the first most important question any organization should answer. And unfortunately, they don't even think to ask the question. So Agile is like chemotherapy, right? If Waterfall is a terminal sickness, Agile could make you better, but it will make you more sick first.
And a lot of companies decide to go Agile because everyone's doing it, or they saw that safe diagram and it looked cool, or they just think they need you to be competitive, but they don't know why. So think of, if you run a company, think of it like this - you're hiring Agile to do a job. What job do you need it to do?
What's it's going to fix for you? And what are you willing to sacrifice to get that? Because it doesn't come without sacrifice and pain. So I think that's probably the biggest thing that people forget to ask. I mean, people are in my classes all the time like, why is your company doing this? So I don't know the totals we had to.
And agencies that feel like they have to do it because it's like the hot thing still and they have to do it so they can say they're agile. But very few of them actually are because they're trying to fit it into a Waterfall model.
Galen Low: And it is like marketing and what you said about staying competitive, it like resonates with me immensely. Because there is this sort of sense at the places I've worked and the people I've talked to where yeah, if you're not agile, then you're a dinosaur. Which I mean, I have my own opinions, but that's the kind of mindset of these agencies is that, well, of course we're Agile we do Agile right, hire us.
Because we're going to make sure that we're building the right thing, we're going to make sure we prescribe the right medicine for the thing that you want. We know that you haven't figured out all the answers yet, and you don't have to figure them all out, come on in. But then, as we've been alluding to, there are some challenges in how that transformation takes place.
Dave Prior: People talk about culture all the time with agile, like you have to lead with culture. And culture is really important, but if you don't create an environment in which something like scrum can survive, it's not going to work. So people come and take my class and I'm like, okay, go back and tell your team, you're only going to work on one product for one customer at a time.
And I'm on 13 projects, I can't do that. So if you don't create the space in which it can grow, it's not going to work. And they don't think about that. I think there's things about the agency business model that are set up to cause it to fail, unless you make really significant changes.
Galen Low: Let's dig into that because I agree with you in the sense of, setting up a culture that supports agile. And where do you see that conflicting with the culture of just, the agency business model?
Dave Prior: I was doing stuff for the TPM Summit. I spoke at it a couple of times and I spent like a whole year just interviewing different companies, just different agencies about their implementation of agile, trying to find a place that had done it.
And I found two that had done it. I found one that had declared they were the Agile transformation company for digital agencies, but everything they did wasn't Agile.
Galen Low: Interesting.
Dave Prior: Coming out of advertising, if a digital agency is set up where you've got tons of customers, they're all taking forever to give you sign off, even though they said they wouldn't. And everybody's for the business model to survive, everyone's got to be billable at least a hundred percent of the time. So like when I worked in jobs, I would have 13 projects at once with 10 different teams and you aren't able to get to the level of focus that you need to be able to do this stuff.
Plus, there's the fact that the salespeople are incentivized by a signature, not on your ability to deliver. So they'll sign up everything. And then it's we don't have enough people to do the work. Yeah, we'll just put it on their plate anyway. And so you're always squeezed for resources and time and the teams don't have the space to figure out how to make it work.
They don't have the space to learn to communicate the way they need to. And they're always stressed by these incredible deadlines that they have to meet that are unfair and unsound. Only places I've seen have changed the whole business model to make it fit with Agile. And there's pain that goes with that too.
Galen Low: What does that look like? Am I going to ask?
Dave Prior: So one of them, their salespeople had to go through scrum training as well. So if you look at the whole value stream from when you give the final product to the customer and go all the way back to sales, and then you make sure that you've balanced this.
So it's not just you know, we have all these people on all these projects, but before we sign a contract, do we have the capacity to deliver? Did we explain to the customer if we're agile, this is what we need from you and the level of commitment you have to have. So they switched it so that everybody was part of the agile process.
And that groups were incentivized on their ability to deliver, right? So sales doesn't get their bonus unless there's a team that can actually produce the work. So there's this dependency that's acknowledged and you have to plan around it, which means you're going to have to turn down some work. So you might have to charge more or whatever.
Galen Low: That's a big cultural shift, isn't it, right? Like to your point, the sort of stereotypical agency model is everyone is 100 percent billable or, some like 80 to 100 in some agencies. But really the idea is we've got staff. We need to keep them busy. We need to, keep the money flowing and all the incentives are oriented around that.
But like the sales process is just sign more business to fill up, all of our resources with work. And then even in the project, it's incented based on billable hours. There isn't really that much incentive usually to do something quicker than it would normally take a person because you want to make it fit the estimate.
You don't want to be twiddling your thumbs because then you're on bench and it's always full. And I would love the thing that resonated with me that you said is that focus. I hadn't even really thought about it, but like it takes focus to change. I'm like, this is fundamentally a change management question.
And if you aren't giving people enough room to settle into that change, and it's just this pressurized pipeline of projects coming in and you're working on 10 to 13 and once, and you never really get a chance to figure it out. And it feels like just working on 13 disasters, probably.
Dave Prior: The thing that makes it even worse is that your customers aren't agile, right? So one of the companies I talked to that had managed to do it as we were talking about it, what I said to the guy was, if I was your customer, you would have to teach me how to be your product owner. He said, yeah. And I said, well, I get paid to do that. They don't care. They're not going to pay you for that.
So you have to absorb the cost of being a transformation agency. He said, yeah, I'm like, isn't that expensive? And he said, it's so much more expensive not to teach them how to do it. But so, I I work at a transformation company, that's all we do. And a digital agency that's trying to adopt agile has to take on something like that, that they're not expert in.
And the customer that wanted Agile learns that they have to change as well. I mean, that's hard. It makes it 10 times harder.
Galen Low: It's actually funny because when you think of the agency mindset that I most often encounter is sort of that, on the bandwagon, staying competitive, it's more of a like marketing thing. They're trying to use it to sell digital transformation, right? They're like, Oh yeah, we'll use Agile. We'll build, all your new digital infrastructure, your website. We'll have all the customer touch points connect, all your data is going to be together. And yet they're not thinking of their journey to Agile as digital transformation.
It's like a means for them to deliver digital transformation to a client, but they're not drinking, their own medicine there. They're not even seeing it that way. They're like, well, this is just a process thing. It's just an operations thing. We're just going to change the steps around and we'll figure it out as we go.
But meanwhile, they're telling the client the exact opposite. They're like, this has to be, this is a change management thing. We need a communications plan. We need training. We need all this stuff. And they're just not doing it internally.
Dave Prior: And they inflict Agile on their customers when they haven't even adopted it themselves. But a lot of companies that do it haven't really adopted it. I mean, even organizations like the Scrum Alliance struggle with using Agile. So it's not easy.
Galen Low: In a way, I mean, arguably that is the journey. We get into a lot of debates, right? And you've been in a lot of them, I'm sure. Waterfall versus Agile, or, Predictive versus Adaptive, or this versus that, and there's a lot of just infighting, and debates, and arguments around it.
But even just how you frame it as a journey it's more about that transition into that mindset, more than it is about nailing it. Like to your point, Scrum Alliance of all the people that you'd think, will have nailed it are still, watch people struggle with it.
Dave Prior: And it's the same way that PMI doesn't use what they teach people either. So it's hard to do that stuff and it takes a really consistent effort. I think one of the things on the digital agency side that at least for me is so refreshing about that community is that it's younger. And what I've seen in my experience with people in that community is that debate is not as severe as it used to be.
And now there's Gen Z people in my classes who've never done Waterfall, like they don't even know what it is. So they don't see the distinction, like there's no barrier there, which is great because to me, they're just tools. Like some tools work in one place, some work in another. I use Waterfall with my Agile and Agile with my Waterfall.
And I think when we get to a place where they are perceived as just tools and people can pick the right tools for the right job in the right place, then we'll be in a much better spot.
Galen Low: I love that. And actually I wanted to dig into that because it resonates with me so much in the agency world, especially like you mentioned, right?
There are sort of younger professionals working in these industries. They know Agile, they want to do Agile, they might not even have experience with Waterfall. And yet, there's still, I see a lot of stigma around this notion of not being "pure" Agile, right? This Wagile, Watergile, like it's a dirty word in the agency world.
And yet, when I'm looking around, the notion of a hybrid or tailoring your methodology is becoming much more commonplace. But I feel like in this bubble of the agency world, it's still not acceptable to have some Waterfall in your Agile and some Agile in your Waterfall.
Dave Prior: People get really hung up on that and I think it's very unfortunate because nobody cares. It's not like the scrum police are going to come around and arrest you. You have to pick the right tools. When people want to know am I doing it right? I'm like, yes. I don't care what you're doing. You're doing it right. But the only way you can really do this stuff wrong is to not do retrospectives.
So I did a call yesterday with two teams who said they were agile and they weren't doing sprint reviews or retrospectives. The retrospective is more important than the work you produce, because even if you fail to deliver, the retrospective is where you figure out how not to do that next time. So, I think if I could deliver two messages, one, nobody cares if you're pure Waterfall or pure Agile.
Two, do retrospectives not at the end of the project, at the end of every single sprint. I don't know anybody who coaches this stuff that won't tell you that's the most important thing.
Galen Low: There. And and that is the advantage when you go through the pros and cons of a predictive approach versus an adaptive approach, one of the strongest pros is that we get to reflect on the work sooner.
And sure, yeah, you could have a Waterfall project where you do intermittent retrospectives or, it's a better risk management, more like pre mortems or what have you, but the mindset is baked into the agile sort of values and principles to collaborate reflect and learn. And keep iterating and incrementing towards your goal.
Dave Prior: I think learning is the most important thing. And that's where it gets really stressful when people come in and they say Oh, we need more accurate estimates. If they were accurate, they wouldn't be called estimates. Like you don't have enough information to guess anything that's going to be close.
So you just do the best you can, and you just keep trying to get closer to the thing that you need to deliver for the customer to get their value, and for the team to get value out of working together. I think that's really important too.
Galen Low: I guess that is the sort of, it draws a line right at the major complaint in an agency context of why agile might not work is because they're like, we'll try our best and you tell that to a client and they're like, so hold on, I'm paying you how much per sprint and you're just going to try your best?
Dave Prior: Well, I think it comes down to how you write the statement of work. There was a period where when I first started, and this was like a long time ago because I'm really old.
So at the beginning of the .com boom, we would have these statements of work and we'd spend like a year working, give it to the customer and they'd go, I'm not happy. The phrase, I'm not happy meant I'm working for free for a month until we make you happy. So we get more work that you won't be happy with.
So I started to write my statements of work. Like I would sit down with the client and say, look, there's 12 things that I have to give to you. According to this statement of work, you need to make sure everything you need is in here. Cause when I give you these 12 things, I don't want to hear, I'm not happy.
I want to hear, here's your freakin' check. But now I write statements work very differently. So I would write, my understanding of what you're looking for is X. Based on the conversations we've had, there's maybe some broad scope issues around it. And we believe with that understanding, it'll take this many people, this long, this much money.
It's an agile project, so we will work at the direction of priorities set by the customer. So basically, SOW is written, and I'm saying, I'm going to show up at your house with six people. We will mow lawns, make cakes, write software, like whatever the hell you want. But the meter's running and it's your job to make sure you get what you need.
So that's the pushback across the table is the customer has to own, what if they ask you to redesign the banner 75 times? Yeah, we can do that, but you're not going to get the other things you want. And that's your call. So that's, I think, a really important conversation to have up front. And you have to get a client that's willing to own the fact that they navigate where things go.
Galen Low: And I think even in between there, I imagine my listeners are thinking, yeah, but okay, if I wrote a statement of work like that at my agency and sent it up the ladder, either my boss or my boss's boss or the leadership team would be like, what is this? No, we need it to be, more prescriptive than this.
Dave Prior: So, and that's a business choice. So the thing is when it's more prescriptive, you have to consider the fact that your client who wants that statement of work doesn't even know what's wrong. They just decided they wanted a thing and as you build it for them, they're like, Oh, this isn't really what we need. There's no flexibility there.
So that's the trade off. Like they can have a product at the end, the client can, that meets their needs if they're willing to commit the time. And work with a little bit of, I think the uncertainty is there either way, but we acknowledge it up front. So it's a little more bravery, maybe.
Galen Low: Bravery is a good word for it, and also what I really love about how you framed your statement of work is, you're using it as an opportunity to prove that you understand what the problem is.
Knowing that we might not have a solution, but you know, you opened with, my understanding is this. I think fundamentally that is, sometimes what's broken about the agency client relationship, it is like your team executes my demands do stuff, do these things that I've asked you to do, and that's the relationship.
Versus I trust that you understand the business problem I'm trying to solve, and I need bright brains to iterate on this with me, to figure it out. And, no, I'm not just offloading, liability by saying, oh, I told the agency to do these 12 things, and it failed, so obviously they suck. So there is that sort of counterbalance, but I'm starting to understand now is like the shape of an agency that is completely oriented around, something like Scrum or something like an agile mindset, right from the, sales and statement of work.
Dave Prior: Yeah. And that goes all the way back to the agile manifesto. So I can't believe I'm quoting this, but customer collaboration over contract negotiation. I used to treat my contracts like it was my shield to protect myself from my idiot clients. And because they were all idiots and now I treat it like it creates the stage on which we can collaborate.
They don't know what they need and I don't know how to give it to them, but we're going to partner together. And they have to walk into this like with their eyes open. So they have to know there's going to be more demand placed on them. They're going to need to be more engaged, but we'll figure it out together.
Galen Low: It almost flips Intel, I'll get to the other thing in the Intel after this, but it almost flips to be like, okay, now actually agency has power, right? Cause we're like, listen, you still have to tell us what to do. We'll give you information about how long things will take or like what our capacity is, but we're going to sprint over sprint.
You ask us to mow your lawn, you ask us to clean your bathroom, that's fine, we'll do it. We'll be transparent about it and you're in charge. And then it it almost flips that and then the client's Oh, okay. Well, like part of me getting an agency was so I, could have someone to blame. And now you're telling me it's actually my responsibility.
Dave Prior: I mean, when people started to put those pause clauses into their statements work, like we didn't have that when I was doing it. The client is would say, they turn around feedback in two days and they would. So then they add this thing and it says, if you don't, everyone's going to get reassigned.
Which is still a pretty punitive way of handling it. To me, I need to be able to sit down with you up front and say, Look, you're going to have to be with us every day. If you want this to work, if you want us to do Agile, like this is what it takes. Which, if you're an agency that's trying to sell Agile to the client, then it's not just have you heard the good news, it's have you heard the good news and I'm going to use up half your time.
Which, like, why are they paying you to take more of their time? And that goes back to what problem does it solve?
Galen Low: Okay, actually, let's pause on that question. What problem does it solve for a client from that perspective? In this scenario now where it's okay, I need to spend more time and just as much money to get something that hopefully will be the right solution to the problem, but I can't go to anyone right now and say, hey, we've got an agency that's going to build this solution.
Dave Prior: Well, you can say we're going to solve a problem. I think that's a big part of it is falling in love with the problem. The trade off is the old way, you basically point at a thing and just go there, regardless of what else happens, COVID, market shifts, whatever. This is, we're going to take one step, we're going to stop, we're going to look around.
Should we keep going this way or should we turn? It's basically all the same stuff in lean startup. So we want to give the customer the ability to learn and adjust, and we will learn and adjust with them. For that to work, you have to be working together and inspecting and adapting the whole way through.
So saying I want to get a medical degree is one thing, saying, I'm going to get a medical degree from Harvard with this GPA. What if you can't get into Harvard, right? Then you're screwed, but you can still get a medical. Or maybe you realize you don't want to be a doctor. You want to be a vet or whatever. So we want to give them the opportunity to learn and change, but it comes at a cost.
Galen Low: I love that notion of just this collaboration. It's the collaboration and trust that makes it work. And coming back to what you originally said, where sometimes you have to see it working to trust it.
Dave Prior: Yeah, everybody. I don't know anybody who has really gotten on board with it until they've seen it work.
Galen Low: And therefore the, you know, "contract negotiation" starts becoming less about, yes, protecting yourself from your idiot clients and their wild demands. It becomes more about pushing them to get that first sprint so they can see it in action and then let that get easier and easier because that trust is built, sprint over sprint, iteration over iteration.
Dave Prior: Which in terms of a risk factor, like in a company, if we had a new client, we were only going to take work instead of like for two years, just for the quarter. If my team is the only one they've ever worked with, it delivers every two weeks and they can see and touch tangible things and get feedback on it.
There's no trouble getting more money. I've never been on a gig where even if they only budget annually, I couldn't get more money. Because they're not used to seeing that turnaround and they're blown away by it. So that's something they start to appreciate and then they're more willing to give into it.
And for the people on the teams, when they get to see, a lot of people get frustrated by doing stuff over, like designers and developers hate having to do stuff twice. But when they can see the results of that for the customer and the end user, like how much better this is now because we actually kept putting it in front of them over and over again, I mean, it just, it always makes the case work.
Galen Low: I love that sort of like proof in the pudding. But I mean, yeah, obviously it it presents a situation where you need to be like, trust me, let's go once you experience it, it's going to be good.
Dave Prior: Well, I would say trust us. Because we're going to work together, right? So if anybody doesn't get what they need, it's both parties fault. But you do have to have, they have to be willing to enter into that arrangement.
Galen Low: Yeah, that's fair. And actually, I wanted to circle back around to that because two things you said earlier. One was, you might have to turn away work, which I know a lot of agencies might be allergic to. And then you were talking about...
Dave Prior: Not allergic financially, they can't. They got to take every gig.
Galen Low: Well, fair enough. And then I think you come back around to the other thing you said, which is that, actually from a risk management perspective the ROI on training a customer or a client in Agile might actually help you make more money instead of lose a whole bunch of money.
That might be an investment that's worthwhile, and I know a lot of folks that I talk to in our community that's what they're struggling with. They've managed to convince people to, come on in, we're running an Agile project, that all sounds good. But then, they're like, you're the product owner now. And they're like...
Dave Prior: What's that job mean? Yeah.
Galen Low: Exactly. And they're not sort of, delivering on expectations. There's no budget to train them. And they're just learning the hard way as they go. And someone once said to me, and it stuck with me. They said, nobody trains a client to be a client, and, the question is well, why not?
Dave Prior: They should, you do have to teach people how to be good clients maybe.
Galen Low: Yeah, that's fair. You mentioned about some agencies that had sort of reoriented around agile. Are any of them sending their client to you actually to get trained?
Dave Prior: Yeah, I've had that happen a lot. I've had a lot of agency people come. I've had a lot of clients of agency people get sent to trainings because it is a really hard thing. And one of the things that's tough in the agency is even if you accept responsibility for coaching and teaching the client, that's not your core skill, right? I mean, for me, I've been teaching project management and agile for over 20 years.
And the people I know that have been coaching that long it's their job. I mean, that's all they do. So they study it as a craft. If it's more like a hobby or a thing you have to do, then you're not going to have, and this isn't, I don't mean it as like a slight towards anybody, but you just don't have the experience with it to have the impact, maybe.
And I'm not saying every agency should go out and hire trainers, but I think it's an accepted risk. You hardly understand something and yet you're coaching it and teaching it to someone else. Which is okay, but you're learning it together and you have to accept that with that comes risk and there's going to be mistakes and misunderstandings and all that is part of it.
Galen Low: Which again, should be part of that upfront contract as well. I mean, I think, the way I'm seeing this story get painted is actually what's happening is agencies are like, we are experts at Agile and maybe we will train you on this thing.
Dave Prior: They took a two day class with me, now they're experts. Yep. That's what happens.
Galen Low: And that's gonna, everything's gonna go perfectly, which again is not managing the expectation for the team, for the client, for the agency at all, because actually this is all about learning. This is all about things maybe not going that smoothly. And if you're, utopia is that everything goes, super smoothly and no problems ever come up ever. Probably not going to reach that.
Dave Prior: It would be like if I read a book about how to fly planes and watch some YouTube videos about it, and then I taught you how to fly planes.
Galen Low: Or like, why is this plane crashing sprint over sprint?
Dave Prior: I don't understand. You read the book, got certified. So it takes a lot of experience and a lot of failure to get good at this stuff.
And that's another thing is the nature of the, a lot of agencies have relationships with clients that are not long term. You have short term gigs, apps you're building or whatever, campaigns. If you've got a client that's on retainer, I think that might be a better fit for this kind of work where you know that you've got this long term relationship, you're going to be together and you can enter it in saying, Hey, let's try this.
And maybe some, maybe scrum will work. Maybe it won't. One of the problems with scrum for an agency is the two week model and the rules and things like that. Maybe Kanban is a better fit. But the agencies that can't get scrum to work that want to switch to a scaling model, that's not a good idea. It's not your problem. Scaling is not your problem.
Galen Low: Yeah, let's make the problem even bigger.
Dave Prior: It's I can't crawl, where's the motorcycle?
Galen Low: Right. Excellent. I love that. And I think the same is also true sometimes of project teams because in agencies, the way resourcing is done, heck, some people are, they're swapping, they're changing the team sprint over sprint.
Like that team is not learning together because they're just moving all over the place, flying from project to project wherever they fit, but not necessarily, being able to learn as a team together. Do you have, do you encounter a lot of scenarios where like agencies are like, no, we only do dedicated teams now.
Dave Prior: Well, so there's some options here. Like a lot of organizations are switching from being project focused and product focused, so they fund teams. And so my recommendation to agencies is if you're not going to go like all in on Scrum or something like that, maybe your teams do have to work on multiple projects at once.
Maybe that's just the reality of your business. But can you fund stable teams, right? If I have a stable team that's working on seven different projects, at least they can have one backlog and they can develop the communication patterns and get to a high performing state. If you can't do that, I don't think Scrum is going to work for you.
I would do your Waterfall, Agile, hybrid or whatever you're doing. But you also don't have to go all the way in on something like scrum. You could take elements of it, right? And yeah, you're not going to be doing scrum like Ken Schwaber wouldn't give you like the thumbs up on that, but who cares, right?
They're just tools, use them to your benefit. If it helps you to have a daily scrum, have a daily scrum. But don't have it in Slack, have it in person. Real time conversation. I think a lot of places though sidestep some of the practices without trying them first. They just say oh, we're just not going to have a sprint review.
Or our sprint review is when this team shows work to that team, which is not a sprint review. I think it's important to try the things with discipline first and figure out what works and what doesn't. And then make changes, but don't just out of the gate decide, like I'm on a keto diet that includes Taco Bell because it's not going to work, right?
Galen Low: Yeah. Test it. It might not work for your organization. It's okay if you're not using a hundred percent of the things.
Dave Prior: And if it doesn't work, fine, you tested it. It doesn't work. Do something else.
Galen Low: Yeah. And you learned, right? And back to your point about this is all about learning. I love that.
Dave Prior: And for an agency, like when I started doing this stuff and we worked all night and all weekend all the time because the people I work with are like my family, like we would drink together, we work together, all that stuff.
If you can create a space where people are constantly learning and growing in their role and growing in their skills and their craft, they'll stick around and they'll put up with a lot of hassle. If you give them an environment where they can't do that and you tell them to do a process they can't use because your organizational structure won't allow it, they're not going to stay around.
Galen Low: Actually, you know what, like that nails it for me, right? It's this isn't about having a perfect whatever process framework methodology that everyone's going to buy into and follow. The important thing is that they are buying into something and following it. It's about that trust. It's about being able to collaborate.
It's about being able to learn together. All the finer points of did you incorporate, this one little idea clause concept framework in your approach? And if you didn't, then you suck. It's actually more about, are we getting better at delivering work or not?
Dave Prior: And if I'm a client and my choices are an agency that's going to give me a very detailed, very specific statement of work that runs like a salt mine. Or a place where they're like, yeah, we think it's this, but, and I look at the people working and they're all excited and passionate and committed to doing, I'll hire in those people.
Because they're going to get as engaged as I am and we're going to figure it out together. Back, Frederick Taylor's time, like that salt mine model that worked in a factory where you were building machine parts, but we're not doing that. This is knowledge work. It's very different.
Galen Low: No, it's absolutely different work. And I love that sort of notion. Fundamentally, it's about that, like you said, passion, right? People who are passionate about the work who understand the work. And yes, I would choose that. And that is the part that has to be baked into the model.
And even as a, I have some background in business development, like that is a much better sell than a, whatever we follow agile by the books. Everybody's got their certification and we're going to follow everything to the T, the opposite of actually what is compelling about it.
Telling about it is that we're gonna dig into the problem together because we care about it. We love it. We're great at what we do and we're gonna work at this together and it's gonna be, it's gonna be great. You've got a team now, not just a bunch of people making excuses.
Dave Prior: And we're gonna support each other, help each other rise together. Yeah, absolutely.
Galen Low: Love that. One thing I wanted to swing back to is speed. Because we've been talking about this notion of, the agency model, how we can restructure it to have a a more agile culture, how to get buy in. We've been talking about educating clients, but then to your points, right? There's some organizations where the clients won't be able to keep up.
Like we're still talking about, like you mentioned, two week sprints in a scrum model. We're talking about daily standouts and like customer has to be involved. They're making decisions on the fly. They're being expected as a product owner to be able to just make an exact decision in a meeting versus running it up the chain and maybe it takes three or four weeks.
Like how can agencies sort of either help their clients work at this speed or maybe even just like vet opportunities that only meet a certain criteria where a client can keep pace?
Dave Prior: I mean, maybe they can I would obviously talk about them, get them to agree to it, all that stuff up front. But if you find that they can't, rather than treating it like, Oh, they suck or they didn't do the thing, or now we're going to punish them.
Why? I mean, anything like that, the question is why? So maybe that was an unrealistic expectation. What would be realistic? Any sprint, there's two experiments. How do we deliver value for the customer? And how do we learn to work better together as a team? Your client's part of your team. So if they can't turn stuff around that quickly, or if they have to get some other layer of sign off, okay, great. What can we do about that?
Like, how can we work with that if we can't change it? I mean, if you can change it, awesome, but if you can't, the client's got their own problems. They work in an organization that's not agile either, so they've got to jump through the hoops just like you do. And if you know that, then you can make adjustments.
I mean, maybe you have to have enough backlog in there so that your team is delivering stuff with the understanding that done for you is actually going to happen two weeks after the sprint when you finally get that additional feedback, which isn't Scrum, but again, who cares?
Galen Low: What I'm gathering from this is, are we doing Agile right? Yes.
Dave Prior: You're all doing it right. Okay? As long as you're having retrospectives and not trying to have your daily Scrum on Slack, you're all doing it right.
Galen Low: I'm going to land out with a curveball question. My curveball question is this. We've been talking about this notion of these are tools, right?
Agile is a tool. Some projects, maybe Agile won't work. Some organizations, maybe Agile won't work. But then we're talking about this notion of sometimes we have to change an entire organization's culture. So, you're an agency and okay, we have to double down. And maybe you're not saying that every agency needs to, reorient and reorg around scrum every time.
But they are making company wide changes. Meanwhile, we're talking about clients who if they want to keep pace like that organizational culture on the client side needs to be a bit more nimble, a bit more agile as well, or we need to make accommodations for it. But is this just a question of everyone getting more agile, like organizations and their organizational culture being more agile?
Or is there still room in it for us to be like, okay, well, I'm going to pick up my waterfall tool for this one. Does that clash? Does it clash to say, I have two hammers, I have an agile hammer and a Waterfall hammer, and sometimes I use both? Does that clash with the notion of, we have an agile culture here?
Dave Prior: So, I would say, trying to have an agile culture is kind of a fool's error. I would go after a humane culture that allows people to thrive and deliver value together. When I am doing Agile projects, so I used to teach PMP certification. I have a master's degree in project management, all that stuff. I have a traditional risk register that I use on all my agile projects, because it's a really helpful tool for stakeholders to be able to vomit their fears into and I can show it to them.
And I think part of being a good project manager is you have to play to the crowd. If your customers are all Waterfall, they only know how to look at Waterfall stuff, so don't try to force feed them a bunch of burndown charts because they don't know what to do with them. I think you implement whatever tools you need from whatever practice you need to deliver value for the customer.
If you make that the goal, a humane environment that delivers value for a customer, then I would let that be the guide. And not worry about, everybody's too hung up on whether it's agile enough or not. No one will ever be agile enough. Ever. And then if you are, somebody's I'm agile, then you're done.
The second you said that, you stop being agile. Because even the people that created this stuff are still figuring it out. I mean, that's the beauty of it. It's an imperfect, unfinished model that we all get to write our part of. So you can affect change. And I'm sure there's people working on stuff in agencies now that will change the way agencies adopt Agile. And in the best possible world, there will be a version that emerges for digital agencies.
Galen Low: Man, I love that. And I wish more people would say it, because that was very refreshing to hear. Hey, this notion that, keep it human. What is this all about, really? It's not about using every tool in the toolkit.
I had that, people come to me with that problem on the PMI side as well. They're like, okay, I just learned all of these processes, right? I'm trying to use them all in my project, and it's just not working anyway.
Dave Prior: I did that. I got my PMP, I implemented the PMBOK front to back. At a company, it lasted three weeks and it took two years to recover my credibility.
Galen Low: Oh, wow. Okay. Yeah. Fair.
Dave Prior: Everyone was like, screw that. We're not doing all these stupid forms. That's a toolbox too. You're not supposed to use everything in the PMBOK.
Galen Low: Exactly. Right. And same with agile and that should be okay. And then the project manager's role becomes that orchestrator of the collaboration, a human collaboration of how can we get good work done, deliver value to the customer, learn from one another along the way and get better at it.
And whatever tools will work for that, those are the ones that we should use. If they don't work, we'll stop using them.
Dave Prior: Exactly.
Galen Low: That is incredibly refreshing to hear for me and hopefully for the listeners as well. I know it's a huge struggle.
Dave Prior: So there's a book called The Collaboration Equation by Jim Benson that has a lot of really good stuff about creating a mean workplace. He's the guy that invented Personal Kanban and he did that with Tonianne DeMaria and Lean Coffee with Jeremy Lightsmith. Really good stuff in there.
Galen Low: Very cool. I'm gonna check that out as well. I'll leave that link in the show notes as well so people can follow that through. Even just my titles alone, that all sounds super cool.
Dave Prior: It's a really good book.
Galen Low: Dave, thank you so much for hanging out with us today. It's been such an honor having you on the show. Actually, if people want to learn more about what you do, because I know we didn't really get into your background. You're a legend in some of the circles I travel in.
Dave Prior: It's a little extreme.
Galen Low: Well, there is a fan base that I talk to that love what you do. I think especially because of the messages that you're sending on this that are comforting, that are relieving, that people don't have to implement perfect agile. We might not even get there. That shouldn't be the point anyways. I think that message has been landing. And for folks who want to learn more about that, how can they find out more about what you do?
Dave Prior: They could go to drunkenpmradio.com. I do a podcast on there. They can go to LeadingAgile, I'm on there. Also LinkedIn is probably the easiest way because I'm not really using the other social media tools anymore until we figure out which ones we're supposed to use.
Galen Low: Yeah. It's in a state of tumult now, isn't it? LinkedIn is a stable one. I hear it. I'll include all those links in the show notes, and thank you again.
Dave Prior: And thanks for having me. This was really fun. I never get interviewed, so this was a blast.
Galen Low: Yeah, there you go. Well, you know what? We might have you back. This is such a deep topic, and I know that folks listening will have more questions for us as they listen as well. And yeah, we'd love to have you back.
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