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Agile Agencies: Why fix what ain’t broke?

Although AMC’s award-winning series, Mad Men, has seen its last episode, I think you’d need to go pretty far to find someone who wasn’t enamoured by the notion of working for an ad agency in the 50’s. I found myself wishing that I actually smoked, just so that I could be part of that iconic Lucky Strike campaign that Don Draper and his team pulled off in the pilot episode (!).

Marketing has been around for as long as people have wanted to sell stuff. Slowly, over the years, through a process of elimination, the companies and people who got it right, thrived. The likes of Coca-Cola and Heinz are testament to that. But with the digital age rapidly accelerating, you’d think that agencies would’ve evolved to keep pace with technology.

I’ve worked in the marketing industry now for over 10 years: agency-side at WPP-owned Barrows, at my own marketing and design startup, and now client-side as Growth Director for Hansoft. What always surprises me is that most marketing — though created by very clever and creative people — is still managed using tools that have barely changed in the last five decades.

“How can a company tasked with changing perceptions of a brand in a consumer’s mind, and accountable for improving the bottom line, continue to use archaic tools like boards, pins, paper, and marker pens? “

That was my thinking when I opened my own startup 5 years ago. I wanted to challenge how the marketing industry did things. I wanted to put my name on the map by doing things different — doing them better. But what I eventually realised was that the process didn’t actually need to be changed and wasn’t broken to start with; all the industry needed was a tool that actually worked: a better way to manage an already tried and tested process. Marketers want something that allows them to plan and collaborate in a way that complements their working methods; something to replace the paper, pens, and boards with something even better: without adding unnecessary complexity.

When I look back at the campaigns I’ve worked on, I’m amazed at how we pulled them off. A typical campaign would easily consist of 10 different designs, for 5 brands, working across 5 or more departments to complete them. And half the team would be sitting on the other side of the world; or there’d be multiple campaigns happening at any given point, with often ridiculous deadlines.

Marketing agencies are inherently agile, but do need some structure so that, A: deadlines can be met, B: they maximise profitability, and C: projects don’t get sidetracked along the way (scope creep).

But (and this is a very big ‘but’) a tool is only as good as the person using it. All too often a company invests a lot of money into software that just doesn’t get used.

This is mainly because what works for some, doesn’t work for others. A one-size-fits-all approach is quite literally a one-size-fits-none approach. In the marketing game, plans need to be adaptable and organic for them to be successful. Especially in teams. When you have a piece of paper and a pen there are no rules, no compromises to suit the software. It’s you and your plan.

At Barrows this was very clear. The engineers were regimented, structured, and ran everything like a well oiled machine, while the designers, where I spent most of my days, were inspirational and free thinking. Pretty much oil and water. But there was no single software solution that could support both these teams out of the box. Not without that software being created solely for each particular discipline. So we did what any right minded person would — we never used one. Often with some quite dramatic and somewhat comical results.

This is a good example of why tools like Trello and Wunderlist have become so popular. They’re lightweight, intuitive, and work in the way you do: a digital version of a process you already know and trust. They are perfect for keeping track of daily tasks and could possibly even structure a simple workflow.

So where does this start to break down?

Ok. When you have a campaign with 10 designs, 5 brands, and many different people involved, things fall through the cracks or get absorbed into a mass of information. These apps become nothing more than glorified ‘to do’ lists. Different processes mean different priorities. Handovers cause friction and things get lost in translation — or quite simply lost because someone misplaced that f@#$ing piece of paper with the list on it (…). These lightweight productivity tools are simply not built to handle scaling an organic organisation. Information is siloed and often needs to be duplicated just for it to be shared.

So this is where Favro comes in.

Because Favro uses mechanics that have been tried and tested, people get it quickly — it’s quite literally a digital version of Post-It notes on a board. It’s easy to understand and there’s a very short learning curve. Then — and this is where Favro is different — you can share elements of your process with anyone in your organisation: by giving them access to (only) the information they need. Unlike other board based tools, Favro’s boards and cards can exist in multiple places as instances, allowing everyone to communicate around the same information, instead of each individual needing to duplicate and ‘own’ these elements in order to track them through their own workflows. This is great for enabling different departments, that have their own unique processes, to collaborate on the same things and never lose sight of the bigger picture.

DCM was looking for a more advanced and user-friendly tool to improve collaboration. We were impressed by Favro’s versatility. It is the only software capable of managing the broad and diverse spectrum of tasks within our marketing team.” Dario Suter, Managing Director, DCM.

Now — in the case of Barrows — while a campaign is running, product design can see where graphic design are at, and costing can see how far product design have come, and so forth — making everyone’s life easier and keeps everyone heading towards the same goal.

Best of all, and I know this still happens in the industry today, traffic managers and squad leaders can essentially spend just a few minutes a day getting an overview of the whole studio, instead of lengthy 2 hour ‘traffic’ meetings every other day.

All I can say is, I wish Favro had been around back then.

For more about how Favro can help your agency be more agile, check out our website. In the next part to this post I will go into detail on how to map out an agile agency in Favro, complete with dependencies and workflow rules, and best of all it will be in a template that anyone can just grab and can use.

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