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A Human-Centered Design Approach to Agency Processes

By The Elevate Team


A few weeks ago, I attended a conference during Chicago Ideas Week, and one of the speakers, Nick Kokonas, said something that has yet to leave my brain:

People have experiences whether you design for them or not.”

As a project-management professional working in the digital world, I found that this statement really resonated with me.

Poor project management and unproductive processes are the kiss of death for many agency/client relationships. In fact, a study conducted by SODA found that poor project management is the third leading reason marketers end their partnerships with agencies. This statistic doesn’t really shock me, and I’d bet on all of my spreadsheets it doesn’t shock you either. We have all experienced a challenging agency/client dynamic in one way or another.

Oftentimes agency processes are designed to favor one group, either the agency team or the client team. This just doesn’t work. It’s a disservice to both, compromising the quality of the work being produced and ultimately a client’s ROI. If you take away nothing from this blog post other than the following, I have succeeded:

A successful process must be designed for all of its users, agency and client teams alike.

While this may sound obvious, it proves to be complex because many service-based companies fail to master it. Agency processes need to evolve. They need to encourage and empower clients and agencies to become one integrated team, working together through the challenging times and, in best-case scenario, with a sense of humor. I believe adopting a human-centered design mindset is the answer.

As defined by IDEO, human-centered design is a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs.” This mindset is foundational to how we design, iterate, and improve our process here at Elevate.

We believe a well-designed process, accommodating agencies and clients alike, allows for flexibility, encourages collaboration, and defines accountability. These three principles promote healthy environments for integrated project teams to realize their full potential.

Design for Flexibility

Contrary to popular belief, including the word agile” in a process description doesn’t mean the process has been designed to allow for flexibility. Flexibility within a process can be applied in many different ways. For example, a flexible process is critical when changing requirements become a need due to user-testing results, changing markets, and/or mandated changes from upper management.

Design for Collaboration

Identifying key milestones for client collaboration within a process is a must. Collaboration allows agencies and clients to have a productive dialogue as well as challenge each other in a healthy way, boosting creativity and problem solving. Collaboration is essential when developing the big ideas” and turning the ah-ha” moments into something tangible.

Design for Accountability

Accountability builds trust across both teams. A common source of frustration for project teams is feeling that a team member lacks accountability. Clearly defined roles and responsibilities throughout a process provide expectations for accountability across the team as well as on the individual level.

Create an experience through the lens of human-centered design for the actual users of the process: the agency and the client. Consider all of their needs, motivations, and limitations. Ultimately the project’s and the relationship’s success will impact both teams’ bottom line.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to design a process that allows for some laughs along the way.

In my next post for this blog series, I will dive deeper into the art of designing for collaboration. Stay tuned.

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