Have a project to talk about?

Let's talk

The agile Scrum framework is powerful. It has proven itself highly effective for startup teams, larger organisations, and teams working towards continuous digital product improvement.

But what we’ve discovered is that it often costs more money to run a textbook Scrum approach for smaller and more ‘controlled’ digital product builds.

For a great overview of what Scrum is, check out this article from Atlassian.

For startups paying out of pocket, or SME’s working from a tighter budget, cash is scarce and there’s not a lot of wiggle room. When I say smaller projects, I mean smaller marketing website builds, or first release of a small mobile app, for example.


The Scrum process in the hands of an in house team and stakeholders has little downside. But when a client and digital product team (not in-house) are working together, there are two new factors to consider:

  1. Client and delivery team are not always aligned and prioritisation is generally harder. This leaves margin for constant changes in direction in an attempt to reconcile differences. This wouldn’t be too bad, but:
  2. the delivery team are not on the client’s payroll. This means changes during the project will cost the client extra time and money.

But I am not proposing a standard waterfall approach either.

No matter what project you are doing, there will always be rework and iteration – it’s necessary for success. But the Scrum process encourages highly regular iteration and “re-steering”, and when it’s abused it creates a “we will figure that out later” culture.

This is problematic for smaller client+studio projects because it’s nearly impossible to create a controlled scope of work, meaning:

  1. The client can change their mind and revise, endlessly. If a client can do that, they will – it’s a law of nature and the Srum process encourages it (although with logical and constructive intention).
  2. Friction occurs because if the studio bills per-hour or per-sprint, the client ends up paying more and lengthening the project timeline.

In these cases we have created a cycle where the process to execute doesn’t quite match the client’s need to control the spend and timeline while guaranteeing some kind of finished product.

The agile mentality and Scrum framework was designed for software teams with a view of continuous improvement. Atlassian’s guide says:

“People often think Scrum and agile are the same thing because Scrum is centered around continuous improvement*, which is a core principle of agile.”

*Bold style added to highlight and emphasise.

As my co-founder Bailey says “the whole philosophy with Scrum is that your product is never really finished.

This approach, then, isn’t going to end well for a client with a short budget. The kinds of projects I’m talking about here are meant to be “finished”, not go forever.

But if you don’t allow for iteration, alignment, and room for adjustment as things become clearer, then it’s also going to end up a complete mess.

So, how do we approach it?

It sounds very abstract and something that a digital transformation consultant says to get new business, but it’s true:

We combine the sequential, requirement-focussed and scope-controlled approach of waterfall with concentrated and ‘expected’ pockets of iteration and flexible response to change.

Rather than the iterations changing the scope of work and causing the client to lose track of their budget, we’ve designed our approach so that each planned ‘pocket of iteration’ better informs the next phase of the project.

Design & Prototype Sprint

One way we do this is by starting every project with concentrated Design and Prototyping Sprint. This is an altered version of the design sprint. It focuses on the creation of a high-fidelity interactive prototype (using inVision, Framer, or other appropriate tool) which is then tested with users/customers or target audience.

This lets us take a controlled “chunk” of the budget and “jump into the future” of the product, shortcutting the build and launch phases of a Scrum cycle/sprint.

Design & Refine

After this initial sprint, we reassess and prioritise everything that must go in the final product based on what comes from the user validation as well as what was not covered in the prototype sprint. From here we try and answer every question we may ask during the design phase. Then we design the product, with the view that what gets designed will “go into development and come out the other side as a real product”.

Tech Spec Doc

Next, we create a tech spec document as a team, which involves designers, devs, PM and the client documenting everything that can’t be obviously assumed from the prototype. This covers things like how forms will be stored, database schema, and even the subject line of automated system emails. It’s like writing a script you could hand to a developer to follow and come out with exactly what you are hoping for. Our intention isn’t to direct the developer and tell them how to do their job – it’s to give them all the information they need to do it well.

*Disclaimer, a tech spec doc can never cover everything, but it takes out a lot of guesswork.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying digital product studios can’t run a Scrum process – we do it with bigger projects and ongoing engagements with our clients and partners. It works best for bigger product builds and continuous improvement. What I am saying, is that you need to apply it to the right projects. Small, controlled projects are not the right ones to do so.

So, to summarise?

The Scrum framework is powerful and flexible for teams working with a view of continuous delivery. It’s great for big projects and products that are intended for ongoing improvement. Small digital product builds (marketing websites, first release of an app, etc.) where the client is not yet intending on “continuous improvement” are not appropriate for Scrum. This is because the client is looking for a particular outcome for a set spend and intend to simply launch the product when it meets completion criteria and may come back when they need further rounds of iteration.

Posted 14.05.19

Unless you’re a small business or solopreneur, using a standard template for your business’s website is hurting your potential to convert leads into sales.

Websites built using SquareSpace, common WordPress themes, Wix and Weebly offer a cheap solution to the common need of creating a basic business website. This is great for small business and solopreneurs. These platforms are for the person that doesn’t have any web development or programming knowledge, but needs to build a website and isn’t planning on hiring a web designer or developer.

But… they’re not an adequate solution for a small business who wants an effective digital presence. They won’t do you justice.

Templates are created by other designers and developers to suit a basic and generally non-specific purpose. By using a template, you’re effectively using someone else’sdesigned product to communicate your business and your brand’s purpose.

Using templates restricts the design of your website, which restricts your ability to communicate why your business is unique and important. Needing to add anything remotely custom, be it spacing between elements, creating graphic and text overlays, calendars, or membership functionality can be cumbersome and often clumsy in practice. By using a template you’re restricted to working in the confines of only what the template offers. The offer of the template is often inconsistent to a brand’s own goal, purpose and strategy for a website.

Building from scratch, or refreshing one’s website are generally for brands looking to optimise their identity and build a stronger digital presence. To achieve this properly, they need a full digital experience that comfortably fits into their brand guidelines so users can experience it to its full potential.

Using a template without properly applying your branding can make your website, and by extension your digital presence, unhelpful towards your branding and marketing efforts.

An effective website speaks your brand’s purpose and meaning. Using the same strategy that works for one brand and overlaying it onto your business model is not an effective digital strategy. The website being built for your business needs to be able to stand on its own and speak your offering as best as it can.

Posted 19.12.18

Some digital marketers would say it’s heresy, but the controversial truth is that for some brands, a website is more important than it is for other brands.

Depending on the type of business or organisation that you are, your website’s purpose and role in your marketing plan and digital strategy varies greatly.

If you’re an e-commerce business your website is one of your most important assets, serving as your digital storefront. If you are a deodorant brand and sell only in retail stores, your website serves more for brand presence and content, and certainly doesn’t work the same way as an e-commerce store.

Understanding the role of your website in your marketing mix is critical to a successful digital strategy.

Some digital marketers would say it’s heresy, but the controversial truth is that for some brands, their website is highly important to their marketing and business success, and for other brands the website isn’t a critical asset, doesn’t need to be a masterpiece, and shouldn’t really be top of mind.

I might buy Maggi 2 Minute Noodles every week, but have I ever been to their website? No. I also suspect that an extremely high percentage of their other loyal, regular customers haven’t either – and they have probably never needed to. On the other hand, if I buy health supplements online every month, the layout of the ecommerce store and presentation of product items, my user journey, and the brand’s ability to reach me with new products and offers can all greatly affect how much, and how regularly I shop with them.

So do some brands not need to worry about digital then? No.

Digital platforms are a core marketing tool for every brand on the planet. Here’s the catch: It’s is just as important and useful for every brand, but the usage and mix of platforms and channels is unique to all. Understanding your mix is the key factor to success.

No two brands should be doing digital exactly the same way.

Every day we see businesses copying other strategies exactly, or launching campaigns without understanding who they’re reaching and how they’re doing it. We are in a space where a business consulting firm and an ice cream company might have exactly the same digital mix and budget: website, email list, and regular sponsored Facebook ads. They may even have the same audience, e.g Males 25 – 45 in Sydney, Australia. In terms of traditional advertising strategy, these two businesses would never match up with the same mix of media.

So why do they awkwardly match up now? Because there’s a lack of in depth understanding of how digital platforms work – and it’s not the brands fault.

Digital moves so fast and so quickly that you need someone dedicated to your digital presence to truly stay on top or ahead of it.

A majority of brands don’t have this and can’t afford it, and usually the digital firms that they look to to do this for them are more interested in these two things than in properly servicing the client:

  • Running a stock standard campaign with the same platform and creative mix, swapping out only the target audience and location, or
  • Using the client’s budget as a way to experiment with the latest and greatest when it doesn’t fit the clients needs at all

A pre-digital traditional ad agency would rarely fall into this unhealthy pattern, so why does it happen in digital? Because it’s so fast, simple, and easily accessible to anyone. And that’s the dangerous trap that most are falling into.

So, how do we fix the problem of this approach to digital?

The solution is simple, but by no means easy. Doing digital right takes valuable time and effort.

First, a brand needs to understand how and why their audience use their digital devices and platforms. Then, they need to learn how and where their own brand and business model fit into that usage pattern, so they can create and execute a strategy that meets the members of that audience where they’re at, connecting them to the brand in a meaningful, valuable, and authentic way.

Your audience gets to hand pick each bit of content that they consume, website they visit, or app that they use. You need to know why your brand is important and meaningful to your audience. If you don’t, how can you possibly engage them in a space where they consume only the content that they deem meaningful and valuable?

This is the first question that a brand needs to answer before they look at the actualities of digital marketing. Without knowing your message and your brand, it doesn’t matter how often you put it in front of consumers – it’ll be missed.

Copy-pasting another business’s digital strategy is the best way to waste 90% of what you spend on digital.

Here’s a multi step plan to approaching your digital strategy:

  1. Know why your brand is important and meaningful to your audience.As stated before, in a world where your audience hand picks everything they pay attention to, you need to know why you’re worth paying attention to. How else can your audience connect with your brand?
  2. Learn how your audience spend their time on digital platforms.Everyone uses different platforms in different ways, for different amounts of time. Without knowing how your audience spend their time, you’ll end up spending money and effort somewhere that your audience never pays attention to.
  3. Understand how your business model works best in the connected world. It’s crucial to consider the big picture rather than looking at digital with tunnel-vision. The goal of your digital efforts may be to get your customer to walk into a store and purchase your product, rather than clicking an ad to visit your website. Your goals will be different from other brands so don’t go in to this exercise looking for a way to emulate another brand’s flashy new campaign. Understanding your landscape will help you know how to split your budget, time, and creative effort.
  4. Understand the technicalities of every relevant platform and technology relevant to you. Using a platform incorrectly will undo all your thorough planning, because your strategy simply won’t catch. Without understanding how a platform works, how can you create a piece of content or experience that’s authentic to the platform, rather than tacky and jarring?
  5. Know what you want to achieve, and how you’re going to track it. It’s easier now than ever before to track metrics, including website traffic, ad impressions, clickthrough rates, engagement rates, and every other metric under the sun. Tracking your progress is vital to digital success, because you’ll be able to see what you’re doing right, and what you’e getting wrong before it’s too late. This gives you the flexibility and power to learn and grow, scaling the success of your efforts rather than waiting until the end to learn valuable lessons.
  6. Craft and execute a strategy. Whether it’s a one month ad campaign, or an ongoing effort, use your newly gained knowledge of audience, brand, technology, and platform to craft the right campaign – then launch it.
  7. Measure and adapt. The worst thing you can do with digital is “set and forget”. You need to be constantly watching, learning, creating, and improving. Without this, your efforts will stay relevant and interesting for only a short period of time, putting you back in the same place you were before.

The connected world will always be quickly evolving. Your most important digital asset is your understanding of your brand and business, and how it fits in to the ever changing landscape of our digital world.

Posted 17.12.18