Blog Series: Switching Project Management Methods

How to Choose & Optimize Your Project Management Method: Part 3 of 4 - Waterfall to Agile Transition

5-Sep 2019

Are you warming up to a project management makeover? For service businesses intrigued by changing it up, but slightly cautious of taking the next steps, this entry is for you! In our previous blog, we reviewed four potential project management contenders, and now we've brought in someone who's been in your shoes to share their first-hand project management transformation experiences, as well as the challenges and the triumphs that come with this big decision to help you determine what's the best choice for your service business.

Square 2 Marketing is a data-driven digital marketing and sales agency dedicated to driving revenue for its clients. Square 2 Marketing's CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist, Mike Lieberman has over two decades of experience under his belt, working directly with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies, and develop sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates. 

Mike has a passion for inbound marketing and helping people transform their business into a business they can take pride in. You could only imagine how crestfallen he and his agency were when they had experienced difficulties providing this high-quality service to their own clients. It was time for a change! 

"Most of what prompted the desire to look for other options was the fact that rarely were the scope of work and requirements accurate." - Mike Lieberman 

Square 2 Marketing was running on the Waterfall method, and after weighing out their options decided to switch to Agile. According to Accelo's recent agency survey, these are the two most popular project management method styles utilized with 44.68% of our agencies using Agile and 40.43% implementing Waterfall. Here's a quick reminder of what each method entails: 

Waterfall: Firm planning, focused on distinct stages and is characterized by features like structure from Gantt charts, milestones, tasks with dependencies, and critically assigning budgets, resources, and timelines for delivery.

Agile: Flexible when it comes to planning, focused on being more evolutionary in the development, iterative, and prioritizes a cycle of continuous improvement as you progress. 

The Challenge: Inaccurate Scope of Work & Rigid Timelines 

Square 2 Marketing had embraced Waterfall, they leveraged Gantt charts and did their best to scope the work, allocate resources, and execute their work. But as they worked with each client, they would receive critical insight and tap into the clients' challenges and needs. They quickly discovered that the scope of work and requirements lacked accuracy, but due to rigid timelines and contracts it was challenging to pivot.

"We would sign clients to a 12-month retainer engagement and the contract had very specific deliverables in it. In the second month, in some cases, we were off track from where we thought they needed to be, and what we thought they needed in the sales process was not actually what they needed," Mike recalled. "Then, we had this 12-month contract that we were now trying to dance around and adjust to get anything out of it." 

The agency self-evaluated their operations and realized the root of their problem. How could they offer something so far in advance, when they hadn't really taken the time to understand their clients' business or what they needed in order to prosper?

"Eventually we started saying to ourselves, 'How can we possibly know what they're going to need 10 months from now?' We've literally spent two or three hours getting to know them and we just told them what they need for an entire year. It didn't make any sense," Mike stated.

The Approach: Switching from Waterfall to Agile

Once they discovered the issue, they researched other project management styles and came across Agile. They liked that it was a defined methodology, and at the start of each initiative would ask what do they need to do this week based on data, client requirements, advice, and experience?

With that in mind, they shifted toward Agile, and began planning in much shorter cycles, making those plans data-driven, and were more responsive to their clients' needs.

By originally following Waterfall, not only was the planning and execution frustrating, but the team had expressed exasperation as well. Sales or other high-level contributors would assign the delivery team their tasks and timeline without any input from the delivery team in the scoping of the work and what it was actually going to take to do the work. 

"One of the things that you learn when you start to research Agile: it's designed to keep the delivery team members happier because they're the ones that are doing the estimates. Not the sales or client services people," Mike shared. "There were just a lot of very positive signals to us when we started researching Agile. It seemed like a more client-focused approach and a more team member-focused approach."

The Result: Flexible Planning, Happier Clients & Team Members

It was a positive decision for Square 2 Marketing, but it wasn't an easy shift. They had to let their clients know of their change in approach and delivery.

"We literally had to sit down clients and explain to them, 'I know we said four blog articles a month is what you needed, but now that we've been doing this for a couple of months, we don't think that's the case. We actually think it's going to be (x).'" Mike explained. "That was always difficult for the clients to swallow because they signed a contract. They were expecting a certain set of deliverables." 

Now when Square 2 Marketing enters new client relationships they lead with ideas based on their experiences. The agency lets them know what they think they need to be successful, based on being responsive to the data, the company, client behavior, sales team, and things they see going on in their client's company. 

"The best way to be responsive: plan in shorter bursts based on the data and based on what we learn about the interactions of your prospects with your assets."

For Square 2 Marketing, all collaborators win with Agile! They are able to provide clients with accurate and intelligent project planning that's informed by data and experiences, ensure the delivery team gets to empower their own work schedule, and Agile allows for the whole process to adapt to any changes that might occur. 

In the next entry, learn how to leverage Accelo's platform to optimize Agile, implement it for the other project management contenders, even discover how to combine the powers of Agile and Waterfall. Try Accelo today to get started! 


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