Reposted from Laura Taylor’s Forbes Agency Council page. 

Years ago, our team was nomadic. We were always seeking ways to improve the quality of our deliverables with a growing team. We knew we needed to respond faster to change — and with ease — while creating value for clients and truly delighting them. Each time we added a new team member, the pain of process would swell and grow deeper.

Something had to change. We had to plant a flag and rally around something we could all believe in, implement and make our own. Our oasis was the Agile mindset and the Kanban management method.

An Agile mindset is to recognize that:

• Working in smaller chunks is advantageous

• Failing fast is OK

• Continuous improvement is important

• Coordination and collaboration with the internal team is key

• Inspecting how you work and adapting to external and internal forces is important

• And so forth

With the right mindset, we now needed a framework to execute our workflow. Kanban is a management method based on visualization and work-in-progress (WIP) limits. It aims to help teams scale client demands with their capacity to deliver, foster continual improvement of process and deliver reliably at a sustainable pace.

Agile In Action

On a daily basis, our team interacts with our Kanban board. The board reflects all client requests through detailed paper tickets, their statuses and other pertinent information we need to complete the tasks. The board is composed of multiple columns — “to do,” “priority to do,” “ready,” “doing,” “in review” and “done.”

The client tickets are taped to the board starting in the “to do” column and then brought into the flow by being placed into “ready” after determining that they meet the requirements (column policies) of entering the workflow for the day.

Within each column, we have a set WIP limit. WIPs help the team keep a reasonable pace and ensure there is no backup in one column over another. Selecting a WIP limit is custom to each team and is dependent on work requests and employees working on those requests. Anyone in our office can pick up any task and run with it. It’s about the whole, not the individual.

Understanding Agile

1. It sets the team up to act as, well, a team.

Tasks aren’t shouldered by individuals as much because it’s truly a total team effort to advance work on a daily basis. Prior to Kanban, our work was siloed into two teams, and those teams had members that did very individually driven work. Jessica had her to-do list, and John had his. There was no mechanism to create collaboration.

With Kanban, we’ve eliminated the two teams and now view everything as one. Yes, we have client assignments, but team members all possess the same set of skills and domain knowledge. Jessica now feels empowered and encouraged to help John complete the assignment. They work together to move the ticket across the board, sharing the same goal: delivering value for the client.

2. Teams gain a better understanding of timing.

Our work timelines used to be guesstimates based on experience. A 1,000-word blog for a client? Depending on the client, I’d guess that would take us two weeks to deliver with editing to approvals. In a Kanban environment, teams track their metrics and review them on a monthly basis. There is real data on completion rates (and other metrics) tied to clients. This is compelling for many reasons — from internal reporting to managing expectations. 

3. There is transparency.

It comes down to knowing who is doing the work, when it’s getting done and how long it will take. This is critical not only for the staff, but also for clients. Kanban presents an opportunity to explore metrics associated with workflow. How great does a manager feel when a client calls and inquires on their project only to receive a specific answer full of timeline insights and percentages related to completion? It’s a confidence builder for both sides.

How Can Communications Teams Begin To Develop An Agile Approach?

1. Read, watch videos and just start to absorb.

Be sure to check out the Agile Manifesto, and understand how that translates for your non-IT team. Remember: Agile started with IT and developer teams, but don’t be discouraged. The adoption of Agile has been widespread, and there are plenty of resources and information for marketers and communicators across the spectrum of social media. It’s a matter of paying attention to what you think will work for your team. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

2. Seek out coaching.

A good coach will make all the difference and ensure that others are trained as well. There are a lot of good courses and consultants out there that can help. Our boutique agency had a coach for the better part of a year. First, the coach was embedded with the team, but then it became check-ins and helping with workshops around topics that challenged the team. We benefited from the intensive immersion of the coach to kick-start the process, so I’d highly recommend that route.

3. Strive for continuous improvement.

That’s what really makes a team Agile — always seeking to improve on the foundation. Externally, committing to ongoing training and immersing in the local Agile community is a good start. Internally, setting aside time for the team to explore and create a retrospective experience is critical to staying committed.

We are no longer nomads, and our map contains links and connections that will never leave us stranded. The key is to continue learning, understand how everyone plays a role in the environment and keep an eye on the goals. Every team is different, and yet we are all very much the same.