Is the "big agency" model working?

I walked into the client building at the start of my first work week in the new year and bumped into the CIO, scratching his head and looking worried. He tried to put up a cheerful face, jogging his memory about the long-gone Christmas break and time spent with family and friends.


All good till the time we went past the initial greetings and started talking about the transformation programme which was delayed, yet again. The programme manager had just reported that the business users had rejected the latest sprint outputs based on the unappealing and lack of “punch” in the customer experience assets. The back-office integration stack was already running late because of the lack of alignment and handshake between the API (inhouse) and middleware (vendor) teams.


Sounds familiar? – In the past couple of years, I have a come across too many digital transformation programmes which are delayed, lack outcome focus and most importantly have a flawed understanding of customer behaviour and needs. On the surface, there would be “agile” creative and technology teams, ticking the boxes of agile ceremonies and processes and doing all the right things. Then what is the reason for these failures and delays?

I believe that the current “big” agency model is broken and needs a fundamental shift in its approach.

  1. Small is good – Any team bigger than 6 people starts becoming ineffective and overhead extensive. Soon the days of large scale outsourcing would be gone as the “digitality” of people and businesses reaches the tipping point. Transformation programmes need to be set up with this fundamental principle.

  2. Closer to the customer - Its back to basics:- Start with the customer and keep checking back as customer expectations are changing at a rampant speed. Playback frequently and retrofit.

  3. Culture is king: Today, talent is found in niche outfits and so most transformation teams are made up of people from different backgrounds, values and incentives. High performing teams are the ones which have gone through the evolution of forming-> storming -> norming -> performing* in an effective way. Once in the “performing” state, the teams need to be nurtured to ensure people continuity. Team culture has got to be one of the highest management priorities.

So, the next time you are faced with a prospect of a failing digital transformation programme, look at the agencies who are agile (not teach agile). AND Digital and Thoughtworks come to mind to start with.


*Tuckman’s team development model

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