Ground Rules for Working with Web Agencies
Post from December 15, 2014 (↻ June 8, 2021), filed under Everything Else.
This and many other posts are also available as a pretty, well-behaved ebook: On Web Development.
After we identified inherent problems of working with agencies, let’s look at some of our options. We may still need to hire an agency after all, or make the best out of a project. The leg work we’ve done in the first part will help us keep this brief.
1. Build Long-Term Relationships
Looking at fixing problems around client and user insight, cost, and maintenance, the first thing we should do when working with agencies is to build a long-term relationship. Our negotiations should be based on that. The commitment to work longer together should be guarded against greed, for example…
2. Tie Quality to Contracts
…through clauses that make quality metrics part of the contracts and purchase orders, which in turn aims at the issues we found around quality, consistency, cost, and maintenance. There’s no limit to how creative we can be here: We can establish technical baseline criteria around accessibility, performance, or—always my favorite—validation, we can come up with penalties for issues around privacy or security, we can also pay bonuses when certain numbers and accomplishments have been reached. There are many things that can be quantified, and we do well documenting—and adding to the contracts—what we care about.
3. Give Intensive On-Boarding Training
Then, covering us when it comes to interests, knowledge, quality, and cost, we should do more hand-holding. It’s always tempting to skip on proper on-boarding for there’s never enough time but always something else that’s important. But when we do decide to work with agencies, proper introduction into how we work and what we want and what’s important to us and our users is critical. And so we should absolutely share documentation with an agency—but they need more. Inviting them on-site, giving them dedicated contacts, maintaining an open-door policy, and looking at them as (long-term) partners are a minimum.
❧ I’m not a fan of working with agencies. What I wrote in the first part sums up why—though it may be good to reiterate how important quality and excellence are to me—, and here you get the gist of what I think remedies. I’ve worked with some pretty amazing people there, however, to who I want to send kudos. I know how tough clients can be, too, and how much hard work goes into aligning client and agency interests.
I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering manager and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to the W3C and the WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. Other than that, I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
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Perhaps my most comprehensive book: The Web Development Glossary (2020). With explanations and definitions for literally thousands of terms from Web Development and related fields, building on Wikipedia as well as the MDN Web Docs. Available at Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play Books, and Leanpub.