Each Friday, Points North gives a senior media figure a platform to air their views on a topical or relevant issue.
This week it’s Louis Georgiou, co-founder of Code Computerlove. He recalls a “near disaster” that cost his agency a year’s profit – and how it forced it to rethink the way it operated.
This week I gave a talk on growing an agency, which I entitled Agency War Stories. The event fell in the same month that Code Computerlove turned 16, so it was a great opportunity to look back at some of our key learnings as a fast growing digital agency in this now highly competitive industry.
We started this business simply ‘to do brilliant work’ and, while we have gained many plaudits and successes during the past 16 years, we’ve also had our fair share of near-disasters.
There have been some harsh lessons learnt, growing up from a young ‘hot shop’ to soon becoming one of the biggest agencies in the North, with a second office in London, and a current ambition to grow internationally in 2016.
The worst ‘war story’ that sticks in my mind (and throat) was losing a six-figure sum by over-running on a large project.
While over-running on projects is not uncommon across agencies, the sheer size and scale of this project meant that small issues that could normally be overcome were magnified. It pretty much wiped out the agency’s profit that year – a hard lesson to learn when on reflection the problems we had were self-made. Let’s just say we were unintentionally a certain charity’s biggest donator that year!
The problem was that at the time we were part-operating in silos in an Agile methodology. This was great on smaller projects. It was also a relatively new way of working within the agency, something we’d implemented just 12 months earlier. But for this project, our largest platform build at the time, it soon highlighted a need for an operations overhaul to deliver against our vision of being a serious large-scale experience platforming agency.
The way we worked created an unintended division between the client, UX and design teams and the development teams. As we started to capture client needs and ‘imagine’ great solutions, we were doing so without involving the teams who would actually be delivering the build within the budget. So when it came to the implementation stage, the reality of the cost to deliver the project was unattainable. But we had committed to the work and so we delivered what we’d promised.
But learning by mistakes is par for the course and subsequently we’ve put achieving performance through collaboration at the heart of what we do. As an agency we’ve shaped our services around a Make Better philosophy. We believe you have to be prepared to try new methods of working, as change is the only constant within today’s society.
So during the past few months we have overhauled the way we work and this transition is looking good. So really, sometimes learning the hard way is the only way to get to where you need to be. But my advice to other growing agencies is to focus on your estimating process when heading into unchartered territory or bigger projects, and implement a collaborative way of working to get full commitment and validation from the project team.
Our six-figure loss through over-running also highlighted something else for us; the importance of great client relationships and how vital retained long-term contracts are in engendering success. Over delivering, partnering with clients on their digital journey, is often what clients look for. This insight is certainly fuelling our current growth and is central to our five-year plan.
Louis Georgiou is co-founder of Code Computerlove