Chaos and Structure — How to maintain composure in an agile environment

Ben Hammond

Ben Hammond

Sep 15, 2021

Chaos and Structure — How to maintain composure in an agile environment

Jack Skeels in AdWeek compares chaos to a rush-hour train station: “Experienced commuters seem to dance between entries, exits, and platforms as trains come and go. It’s chaotic, yes, but everyone knows where they’re going, and they continually adjust to the fastest available way to get there.”

That’s how we like to think about chaos at Crowdform. Channelled in the right way a little bit of chaos can be a positive part of the design and development process. By applying agile principles which allow for and actually encourage change and adaptability we create a structure that balances process and pre-planning with creative freedom. By resisting the natural tendency to over-plan in the face of a complex task, each member of the team is given a free hand to try ideas and find the best route forward using their own initiative.

In any multi-functional agency it’s important to maintain structure amongst the (potential) madness. With many different people and specialisms working together who may have competing ideas and strategies, maintaining harmony is key. There are additional challenges thrown in the mix when you’re working with a team spread across three continents. It’s essential to empathise with each stakeholder’s perspective and needs to ensure everyone is happy and has what they need to deliver results.

As anyone who’s been part of building a digital product will know - it’s an unavoidably complex process. As an agency that specialises in MVPs and early stage products every day presents a new challenge. We work with a wide variety of clients who all have different problems, needs and goals. It can sometimes feel like every new project is an exception to the rule. The solution? You need to be agile and reactive at every turn and adapt your process to the changing needs of the project.

How do we do this?

Agencies ultimately exist to deliver valuable work for clients within the constraints of time and budget. We have to find the balance between a fluid, adaptive structure that produces the best final product, and a tried-and-tested, rigid process that keeps things tight and on track. How do we ensure scope is adhered to and tasks are delivered while also freeing up our teams to focus on developing the best solutions, whatever they may be?

At Crowdform we share the responsibility for this across a few roles. On the development side we have technical leads able to translate business and product needs into architecture and technical solutions. These are balanced out by designers and product leads who focus on the user experience and look-and-feel of the products we build. Between the two are project managers like myself, who bring the two together and act as the conduit between our team, the product and the client. It’s my job to manage structure and process to allow a healthy dose of chaos within the constraints of the project to ensure we produce the best possible end result for our clients.

What kind of skills do you need to be effective?

It changes daily; every turn requires something new. But at the core, you need:

  • An eye for detail (never miss a trick)
  • Foresight (be able to see the future)
  • Be culture-led (bring teams together, improve day-to-day)

What can other agencies do to achieve this?

Maintaining structure in a busy agency is all about learning to dance with the chaos. You’re never going to eliminate the ups and downs of managing a complex project, and you shouldn’t expect to.

Instead, you need to find out how to strike a balance. You need close and regular communication between all your teams, a clear vision that everyone can get on board with, and tight organization to make sure deadlines are hit and any adjustments and changes in plan are quickly communicated.

At the same time, avoid micromanaging your teams, imposing excessive structure or over-planning. If you snuff out that chaos too aggressively, you risk taking your creative spark with it.

In other words – embrace the chaos!

To find out how Crowdform can help you build world class digital products that make life better for your customers, get in touch.

Ben Hammond

Ben Hammond

Ben is a Digital Project Manager at Crowdform.

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