You know what we love in web agencies?...Templates. Boilerplates. Frameworks. Basically stuff that allows us to save time because someone else has done some thinking. I have spent 15 years in 4 agencies across 2 countries, and have noticed one thing in all of these agencies. Basic stuff missing. It's nobody's fault really, it's just people get caught up in doing work and basic stuff just goes missing. It's always the same basic stuff too, weirdly enough. So I have decided to plop on my thinking hat, wear my mojo goggles, put my game face on...and create a boilerplate checklist for agencies - an intellectual white paper if you will, on the subject of efficiency in agencies. So if you are about to start one, already have one, or think you might have one someday...here is a template to follow that might very well save you a headache or two. Perhaps three.
Tools for the Job
Buy your staff great up-to-date computers, monitors and software. Use them yourself. I have seen an agency skimp on monitors to save money and have people starting at screens trying to figure out what colour they were using. I have seen a designer working on a 7 year old PC that forced him to wait 3 seconds between each keystroke press. Just nonsense. Don't skimp on the tools, they are what get the job done.
Empty walls are a waste of space. There is no such thing as too many whiteboards. Get boards up, places to scribble, plan and discuss. You won't regret it.
A Project Plan on the Wall
List all your running projects, your resources and tasks in a calendar with deadlines, milestones and resource usage. Put it on the wall where everyone can see it. Look at it every day. It will stop you from doing silly things (I promise!)
The Testing Panel
Get a cheap PC, Linux machine and Mac and put then next to each other on a spare table or panel. Install every OS version, browser and browser version that you think your work needs to be tested on. Leave those computers as test computers for people to test their sites on - and do nothing else with them. It will stop designers running to each others computers trying to find out who has the latest version of IE installed on it to test their site on. Alternatively...as I have just been pointed out...have VMs running on everyone's machine that successfully emulates each OS and browser combo to be tested.
Hire PMs/Account Managers
Do not have designers and developers liaising with clients. Leave the production staff to do production and hire other people to be project/account managers.
Set a Training Budget
If your competitors are smarter than you, you will lose. Train yourself and each other regularly. Courses are cheaper than losing customers and they waken the mind to new possibilities.
Implement Agile, don't just talk about it, actually do it. Have daily stand ups. Build product backlogs. Follow the Roles and obey the Rules of Agile. It will make your life easier. Don't fight it...it worked for hundreds of companies for decades - it will work for you.
Avoid Useless Meetings
This week I sat in a grand total of 12 hours of client meetings that I did not write a single note on, or take away a single action from. That was not because I was being lazy. There just wasn't a single action that came from them. Those meetings should not have happened. Make sure everyone prepares well, comes to a meeting with purpose and then leaves it with things to do. Otherwise you didn't have a meeting, you had a break. Nothing wrong with that...just don't spent 12 hours a week doing it.
Managers are Staff Too
If you have set-up a great set of rules and practices that keep your staff working at peak efficiency, make sure you are using those at management level too. No point creating a killer team and a less than killer management structure to lead them.
Beware the Cloud
And last but not least...use Cloud services but use them intelligently. If you are adopting a cloud service do it company wide under a company account. People using Google Apps, Basecamp, GIT, Cloud9 etc under personal accounts and sharing to personal email addresses with no oversight of managers and other company staff are going to put you in hot water when any of those people are unavailable or leave the company. Absorb technology well but in a manner that thinks of your customer first..not you first.
Talking Point: Looking forward to everyone's comments and ideas in the comments below on examples where your work or agency could have been spared problems if you had followed the above ideas!
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