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Hack the agency

September 25, 2011

On Saturday, I was fortunate enough to participate in the nycfaminehackathon for 5050good (50 projects in 50 days to raise funds for East Africa famine relief) which was brilliantly led by Farah Bostic and Stuart Eccles of Made by Many, at Grind, who generously donated their amazing co-working space

It was an interesting and rewarding experience to see people work from rough strategic templates to close to finished products in a matter of hours.

It was lean and fast, but most of all it was collaborative.

Without formality and structure, people found ways to work together to define and articulate problems and solutions and when it came to creating and building, those with the relevant skills simply rolled up their sleeves and did what they had to do and did it fast.

The attitude of the participants; flexible, no-agendas, no egos which together with the space which made collaboration seamless, were crucially important to the outcome.

You can’t do this kind of stuff in a place that looks and feels like an insurance company or with people who have no real desire or incentive to really work together.

Importantly, it was also not about being brilliant out of the gate, but instead, getting ideas to a stage where people could see their potential.

The lean start-up approach should be adopted by ad agencies where it could obviously help rapidly develop new business ideas for clients, but it also could easily be translated to inform and update the Account Planning process.

One tool I really liked was the “Business Plan” which took the form of a single landscape sheet divided left to right into sections like “Revenue”, “Channels”, “Key Partners” “Value Proposition”, “Segments” etc.

Instead of being just a dry document that gets handed over- this thing lives and breathes, morphs and changes as people ideate around the business model.

Each of these sections in the “model” remains blank with nothing committed to paper. In a brainstorm-like session, but less formal, the team ideates and refines using Post-It notes to get to a place that everyone agrees makes sense.

There was also intense focus on four other aspects of the idea; clearly defining the problem,  defining how the solution worked, articulating the key assumptions that were being made and validation (what proof do we have that this thing works?”).

This process and elements from it could easily be adapted for briefs and would work great for organically and collaboratively developing briefs with core teams.

Agencyland has a lot to learn from the world of start-ups- and if done right there could be considerable benefits, not only to speed up and change the sloth-like process, but also to make the work more enjoyable for everyone involved.

A good way of getting started and putting agile planning and start-up thinking to the test is to try it for 5050good and come up with some great ideas for people who really need them.

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