Welcome to a Quality Life – a new series for interactive agency leaders and owners who are committed to delivering the best quality of work to clients. Quality Life is authored by me, Brett Turner, a former interactive agency owner (and EVP at Blast Radius) who now serves as a Partner at QA Consultants.
In my most recent blog post, I reviewed how your agency’s ability to deliver high quality digital outputs underpins your success. In this blog, I tackle a challenge that every agency owner and leaders faces: how to cost-effectively maintain the quality that clients expect of you.
The 3 Elements of Maintaining Quality Client Work
For agency owners and leaders, the ability to cost-effectively maintain the quality of work for clients hinges on three issues:
- Who owns ‘quality’ – i.e. the person(s) within your agency who is held accountable for ensuring that a client’s work meets their quality expectations;
- How quality is measured – i.e. the metrics (and specific targets), that you and your client come to agree are indicators of quality; and
- The skills your agency leverages to maintain the quality you clients expect.
Owning the Quality of Work
So, absolutely everyone in your agency owns responsibility for ensuring that a client’s work meets the quality standards they need and expect, right? Well, that certainly is the ideal situation. But, when your team is working furiously under a tight deadline and within a limited budget, reality turns out to be quite different than the ideal.
The truth is, in fast-moving interactive agencies, the responsibility for the quality of client work is dispersed unevenly among three teams – each with its own focus. The first is the creative team; the folks who look to capture the ‘lightning-in-the-bottle’ type of magic that clients expect from your agency. The second group that has responsibility for the quality of work is the production team. These talented programmers and quality assurance testers take the creative team’s vision and convert it into tangible digital assets such as websites, apps, landing pages, dashboards, interactive games, and so on. Finally, the third team in the mix consists of account professionals who stickhandle the complex, and evolving, expectations of clients.
Measuring the Quality of Work
What emerges naturally in interactive agencies is that the creative team, production team, and account management team each defines and measures quality differently. For example, the creative team concludes that the work has sufficient quality when they deliver on the details outlined in the creative brief. For them, metrics of quality focus on how well their output successfully elicits specific emotions, reinforce important brand or product attributes, and trigger desired calls-to-action.
Meanwhile, the production (and QA) team consider their work to have sufficient quality when they build digital assets that conform to the technical requirements. That means they measure quality in terms of how well their code ‘brings to life’ required digital features and functionalities. Finally, your account team judges quality based on whether the agency’s outputs keep the client happy. For them, quality-related metrics include delivering output on time on budget.
When you consider all of these viewpoints about quality and combine that with the hundreds of back-and-forth communications among these groups that occur during even the simplest project, it’s easy to understand why something ends up suffering. Ironically, despite the well-intentioned efforts and energies devoted to maintain quality, it’s actually the quality of the clients’ digital outputs that suffers.
Leveraging the Skills Required for Quality Work
At the very heart of every agency’s ability to cost-effectively maintain required level of quality are the skills of those people who are held accountable for the quality of the digital projects. That’s because whether they are in-house or contracted, professionals who are trained at ensuring quality (i.e. QA) actually smoothen out the ‘rough patches’ caused by the competing viewpoints of quality that exist in every client’s digital project.
Having said that, agency leaders continue to grapple with the best way to tap into quality-focused professionals – in particular, when it comes to one part of every client project: the ‘build’ phase of digital projects. After all, writing programming code is a field that increases in complexity on a daily basis. That’s because the digital assets that your agency produces for clients are expected to perform consistently, reliably, and predictably in a dynamic world. Specifically, the digital assets must work properly across all operating systems, on a rapidly growing number of devices, and in regular and high-stress situations. However, the time and hard-dollar costs involved in providing clients with coded assets that operate flawlessly is thought to be prohibitive.
So, every agency leader does their best to balance the quality of output with the costs involved in ensuring the quality of the digital outputs. However, the trade-off leaves agency leaders with an uncomfortable sense of the unknown.
Given these realities, here are three actions that you can take to improve your agency’s ability at maintaining quality client work:
- Regularly review with your clients what they consider to be acceptable levels of quality delivered by the creative, production, and account management teams.
- Review the ‘build’ phase of your clients’ projects and identify the full scope of functions/features that need to operate properly across operating systems and devices.
- Use a third-party to review the ‘quality professional’ (i.e. QA) skills that you need to have in-house (or available on contract) to give you the comfort that the digital outputs being coded are indeed flawless.
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Sr. Partner, Head of Sales/Mktg