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5 Tips for Getting the Most out of Working with a Digital Agency

Make sure you're getting the most from your digital agency with these tips from Sam Scott Wood, one of the lightning speakers at this year's Spektrix Conference.

With over 10 years experience of working for arts organisations before she moved to Cog Design, Sam’s Lightning talk focussed on how to get the best out of your relationship with a digital agency. Here are her five tips for making sure your work together goes without a hitch.

1. Writing great briefs

I read a lot of briefs, some great, some less so. There’s no rule book on how to write a brief, whether it’s a full tender invitation or an email brief for a smaller piece of work, but here are some key questions you might want to make sure are included:

  • What problems are you trying to solve?
  • What are the aims of the work?
  • Who are your users, and what do they want?
  • What are the technical requirements?
  • What’s the timescale?
  • What’s the budget?*

*Obviously, this one’s a bit controversial. A lot of people at the conference asked ‘but if we tell you our budget, won’t you just propose something that matches it?’. As Ben Park said in the discussion afterwards, you need to be able to have a grown up conversation about budget. At Cog we work with arts and heritage organisations because we’re passionate about culture. We know you don’t have the biggest budgets in the world, and most of our time is spent trying to work out how to deliver everything you want for the budget you’ve got. As another delegate pointed out, you wouldn’t go out to buy a car without telling the dealer your budget (whether you’re looking for the Rolls Royce of websites or a second hand Ford).

At Cog we also believe that part of our role is to challenge a brief – to ask questions or rethink assumptions and work with you to make it even better. An outside perspective can be really useful. And make sure you go back to the brief during the project – not only to make sure you’re getting everything you need, but also to see if anything needs to change.

Spektrix user tip: If the main purpose of your site is to sell tickets, don’t leave it till the technical requirements to mention integration with Spektrix. One of the aims of the project might be to create a new, streamlined ticket purchase user journey, using the Spektrix API.

For more on writing a good brief, check out the Culturehive screencast on Effective Website Development by Jack Harris (Digital Manager at Heritage Lottery Fund.

2. Make sure the right people are in the room

I know that everyone in your organisation is a stakeholder when it comes to the website… and that they’ll all have something to say if they think you’ve got it wrong, so decide with your agency how you’ll involve all those people at the outset. We use questionnaires, workshops, one-to-one meetings and even blogs to keep people in touch and most importantly, make sure everyone feels they’ve been listened to.

You should also be clear about who’s on your project team (both in your organisation and within your agency). Who talks to who? And how? And if there’s someone who has a stake in the project but isn’t on the team, how do you share their knowledge and thinking with the rest of the team.

Spektrix user tip: Don’t leave it till you’re launching to let the Spektrix team know about your site development. If it would help to have someone from Spektrix join the project team at a point in the process, just ask!

3. Understand your users

Both you and your agency should understand your audiences or users – whether you’ve already done this work as part of a brief, or you do it as part of the project itself.

We start every web project thinking about audiences or users, and we often use personas to do this thinking. We define an individual in each audience group and give them a name, age, relationships, job, a whole backstory. We think about how they use technology and their relationship to the organisation. Then we think about how they use the website – their motivations, goals and frustrations. Throughout the work we test our thinking by going back to these personas, thinking ‘what would Lucy do?’

We’ve created a persona template which you can download and use yourself.

The goals we identify for each persona help us define user journeys – we take each goal and think about the steps the user takes to reach it.

Spektrix user tip: At the Spektrix Conference I shared our user journey Snakes & Ladders game, which you might want to try out with the ticket purchase process on your own site.

  1. Identify the steps of a user journey you want to explore (in this case, online ticket purchase)
  2. Think about the pitfalls (snakes) that could trip up a user during the journey
  3. Think about ways you could improve the journey (ladders)

4. Understand (some of) the tech

Knowing what content is hardcoded into the templates of your site, what is entered directly into your content management system and what is drawn automatically from the CMS database will make you better at asking for what you want, and give you a much better chance of getting what you want from an agency. You’ll be able to make choices about what you need to able to edit or what could be automated to save you time.

And if you want to learn more about coding, there are some great resources around the web which can help you learn:

General Assembly

Code Academy

lynda.com

htmlandcssbook.com

onemonth.com

Spektrix user tip: You probably know that Spektrix connects to your website using either iframes or an API. Understanding the difference between these, and exactly what information can be drawn from the API will show you the potential of your Spektrix integration, and hopefully inspire you and your agency to make the most of those features.

5. Have a working process that works

There was a time when you’d go through a long design and development period, launch a site and then leave it alone for five years. But today, if you want to take advantage of rapidly changing technology and changes in user behaviour you need to be able to work faster than that.

Lots of organisations now use agile and iterative project management techniques – which allow you to work faster, to integrate user feedback into development, and to ensure your site doesn’t get out of date. This blog from the V&A about how small changes can yield big results is a great example.

Spektrix user tip: One of the huge benefits of Spektrix is that it’s constantly being updated and developed. You’re already investing in that, so think about budgeting so you can make the most of it. If you know new features are coming up over the next year you can plan for them in your annual budget, or think about a retainer or web development ‘pot’ that you can use to respond to the things you don’t yet know about.

In the end you’ll find a process that works for you and your agency, and hopefully build a partnership that’ll last for a long time.

Sam Scott Wood
Head of digital, Cog Design
@samscottwood @cog_design
Originally posted on Cog Design website.