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.