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Our Three-Legged Stool Strategy

I helped my mom move recently. Efficient movers are a thing to watch. They have a system down that’s impressive - able to move hundreds of boxes and pieces of furniture in mere hours. This group of movers, though, faced an additional challenge: The Piano. 

This piano has been trucked from my childhood home to a smaller down-sized home to a lovely neighborhood house and finally to my mom’s current patio home. And we were asking this group of guys to move it from her current basement to the 2nd-level of her new house. It took 3 of them - with tons of straps and grunts and balancing, but they took it in stride, moving a ~600 lb. piano from a moving truck into a house, up a flight of stairs - all in less than 15 minutes.

That kind of teamwork - and efficiency - has always amazed me. It’s something I’ve strived for professionally - building teams who take on very challenging tasks head-on, focused on how to efficiently get the job done while meeting the needs and requirements laid out for them. 

Though the tasks we face here at BlueModus are very different (and require much less brute strength) - the underlying principles of efficiency and teamwork remain critical.

I’ve worked with and for a lot of digital technology agencies over the years. It would be logical to think that things like technological capabilities, operational processes, or industry expertise are what differentiate the decent firms from the great ones. In my experience, though, the team has the most significant impact, specifically the structure and how they work with their clients. 

And I’m not talking about specific people. Yes, all-stars are helpful, but it’s bigger than that. It’s about the structure - the types of people on the team and how they interact with clients and each other that seems to bring the most potential success. 

I know there are multiple permeations of agency team structure - but the most common I’ve seen are: 

The umbrella.

By far the most common setup. Generally, there is a single point of contact (and failure) for the client. Most often this person is a combination project manager and business analyst who is working directly with the customer to understand their requests, digest that for the tech team and then coordinating the work with the team. Like an umbrella, it’s a big job, managed by a single person - aimed at protecting everyone underneath.

It most often looks like:

  • Weekly status calls with the main contact to talk through what’s been done and what is planned.
  • Lots of back and forth with this person - sometimes a bit of telephone where they’re translating requests to the tech team.
  • The team is “protected” and able to focus on their work without client “distractions,.
  • Usually, there’s an “Account Manager” as well, who generally swoops in when contracts or new projects come up.

 The ladder.

Another very common setup. In this team approach there are two primary contacts - the project manager / business analyst and the tech lead. Generally, these two work in tandem, with the project manager leading most of the conversations and requests with the customer, but the tech lead playing an active role in interacting with the client to understand any deeper architectural needs. Like a ladder, it can be a little shaky - two sides holding up the project, requiring very strong collaboration as a two-person unit.

It most often looks like:

  • Weekly status calls with both contacts - less ’‘telephone’ between the business side and the tech side.
  • Big focus on the day-to-day - what happened and what needs to happen.
  • Strategy generally sits on the shoulders of the PM – who inherently will focus on the latest fire over the larger strategic effort.
  • More often than not, there might be an Account Manager as well, but again swooping in occasionally.

The three-legged stool.

This is the least common I’ve seen, but it’s one we’ve experienced lots of success with at BlueModus. This team make up includes three people - all peers: The Strategic Director who acts as part product-owner and part consultant. The Project Manager who is the logistics whiz and the Solution Lead who manages the technical and architecture side. Like a 3-legged stool, this group has three equals carrying a project. We’ve seen it translate into a lot of stability that brings a shared focus on the short-term needs and the long-term vision.

It most often looks like:

  • Weekly status call with the strategic leadership team - balancing the ’‘what’s next’ while maintaining focus on the strategic vision.
  • Equal focus on the day-to-day with the larger vision of what we’re trying to accomplish.
  • No swooping account manager – instead, a strategic leader helping build the partnership.

You would think that of these three approaches, the last would be the least efficient. How can any process that requires three people to be actively engaged in the same activity actually work? How can it be more efficient to have more people involved in the day-to-day management of a customer?

It brings me back to the piano. Big jobs require the right team to get the job done. Though it could be cheaper to have just one mover get the piano up, it wouldn’t get done. Two might take a lot of other tools and quite a bit more time. But three were able to get the job done the quickest and the easiest. We find that the same efficiency and care is required for our customers as well.