A group sitting around a table

Our approach for bringing in the right digital partner

By Kathryn Dingle 18 August 2020

The My Best Life team are in the middle of our tendering process to bring in a new digital agency to design and build a proof of concept for our service recommender. We wanted to share a little about our process for bringing in a digital agency.

As always we are following Cast’s 10 digital design principles. The third principle is ‘build the right team,’ so we wanted to share how we are doing this to bring in a digital agency. Below I will outline our thought process and criteria for bringing the right agency into the project.

What are we looking for in a partner?

We expect to have a close working partnership with our agency, charity partners and the young people. We are looking for a partner who shares our values and our commitment to creating equal opportunities for young people. It is essential that the agency enjoys working collaboratively, and that we form a strong working team. For us the process is just as important (if not more important) than the end result/product of this piece of work. We also feel that the relationship with the collaboration is as important as the experience within the team. Skills can be learnt, but values and ethos take much longer to change.

We are looking for a partner with demonstrable experience in:

  • Working collaboratively in co-design with users and with numerous partners
  • Progressive web app development
  • User-centred design
  • Knowledge of the youth sector and/or developing products aimed at young people
  • Preferable: experience of working with charities and with vulnerable young people.

So how will we get there?

The process is as important as the process we want to take. These are the values we want to uphold throughout the process.

  • Respecting people’s time and effort – we wanted to make the process as short as possible and give people as much information as possible to support their decision to engage in the process. We are also paying a nominal fee to cover some of the time that agencies will undertake when running workshops with us. This because we feel we are getting a lot of value from them and this deserves something in return.
  • Give people a chance to connection – the process was designed to see how we connect as teams and test the water for how we might work together in the future.
  • Be clear and transparent – where possible we are sharing information about our expectations and the process. This includes information about the number of agencies we are speaking to at each stage, our expectations on their time for all stages, who they can speak to about questions at each stage and when they will hear from us next. We are also sharing feedback via email with all agencies (this is on my to do list for today!)
  • Make room for challenge in a safe space – we are aware that both sides hold a lot of knowledge and we want to make space for both sides to add value and support each other, rather than testing each other. The process isn’t designed to trip people up, we want to allow agencies to showcase their brilliant work!

Our process:

Step 1  – An expression of interest: we asked for a 3-page expression of interest exploring why the work interests them, how their experience meets our brief and how they would work with us.

Step 2 –  Chemistry conversations: We then shortlisted organisations for a 1-hour chemistry conversation. The conversations were a chance to dive into the three questions in more detail and see how our teams gel.

Step 3 – Workshops: We have shortlisted 3 organisations for a 1.5 hour workshop with our team. Our primary objectives are to understand the way you would work with us, and the process you would take in addressing our challenges, taking into consideration the need for strong partnership working and dealing with many unknowns. We are asking three agencies to spend 1.5 hours exploring: What is the top challenge for this project? How would you work with us to understand and resolve it?

How do we know we have the right agency?

We have adjusted the criteria to reflect the objectives of each stage, but our criteria has centred around the two areas of relevant experience/technical competence and cultural fit for stage one. Two stage and three also had the addition of  chemistry. We will share more detailed criteria soon.

What have we learnt along the way?

We have loved the process! It has really helped us to solidify how we speak about the project and it has opened our eyes to key risks we hadn’t thought of. It has also offered us a lot of reassurance of the value that a digital agency would bring to the team, not only in terms of technical ability, but also a different angle to the team and grounds a lot of our hypothetical conversations to date.

We will share more as we go!

I would love to hear how other’s have found bringing in the right agency.

Post update [September 2020]

Having been through this process we have learnt a lot. The biggest reflection for us, was the need to get all assumptions out on the table as soon as possible to ensure you are both on the same page and have the same way of working. Our initial choice of agency did not get taken forward due to differing approaches to development. For us, the way of working was essential and the misalignment could have been detrimental to the project. As this is a test, we need to be hacky, iterate lots and put young people at the heart of the process.

Following further conversations, we are very lucky to be working with another agency called Neontribe, who really embrace getting stuck in, trying things in quick ways, unearthing assumptions and getting young people involved where it adds value. A breakthrough moment for us was the initial meeting where the Neontribe team took us through an assumptions board to ensure we were all agreement about what we knew and how confident we were in those insights. This allowed us to dive into the work and hit the ground running.