Red Teams in the Era of In-Housing


Red Teams in the Era of In-Housing

Andrew Carlson, Peter Wolfgang, & Martin Anderson

As we reach the point where every business becomes a digital business, brands are finding themselves taking on more of the work formerly entrusted to their agencies. Keeping close control of the ability to create, manage and iterate on the various facets of a customer life cycle is too strategically important, and often too expensive to outsource. The result is companies are building out interactive design and development studios and sucking up talent (and even whole agencies) to complete their transformations.

In-housing is the new market norm. What role will agencies play?

Natural Limits

Building a digital product team is not trivial. Creatives are hard to recruit and tend to job hop at the first sign of things getting tame. Hierarchical organizations resist the pull-centric needs of digitally-focused teams. No matter how well-intentioned a company culture is, resistance to the radical strategic and tactical reappraisals that great digital work demands is real. In-housing has its limits.

The change has driven us to re-think everything about our working model. Fame seeking agencies presenting work made in secret create more tension than value for their clients. And clients who pit their agency and in-house teams against one other are just paying double for the same work while dis-empowering the team they worked so hard to build. As a result, today we’re a lot more artist collaboration than ivory tower.

We’ve recalibrated almost everything about our teams, outputs, process and ethos to serve the needs of this reality. Some parts came more naturally than others. Some experiments failed. What has come out on the other side is an agency tuned to the kinds of spontaneous and integrated partnerships our clients need.

Impact No Matter What - (accelerate change)

Any effective external agency partner working to support an in-house team must be well versed in the type of collaborative, iterative, data-driven, technology-enabled processes required to incubate transformative strategies and, ultimately, deliver the one thing that truly matters: accelerating business impact.

The most common problem we see within in-house agency teams is not one of quality or expertise, it’s one of scale. Brands are looking for agencies that can act like Amazon Web Services; be easy to buy, appear instantly when needed and be one hundred percent reliable.

Doing all that in a knowledgeable working role means having an infrastructure of collaborative processes that accelerate business impact –– if possible, before the engagement even officially begins.

Best Practice Infection

Work on the same problem with the same people for any length of time and you are bound to get a little stale. Opinions harden. Methods stop being questioned. It takes aggressive, active effort to keep from calcifying into a way that resists the new. One of the happy accidents we have noticed in our collaborations has been that the agency and house teams tend to pick up process, tool and creative hacks from one another. It’s the natural byproduct of working together, but by being more thoughtful about how we share best practices along the way, projects serve as informal training exercises while simultaneously generating work.

Red-Team the Business, Advocating for the House Team

“We’ll add it to the backlog” is the new tombstone for too many of the most innovative ideas companies have. Whether it’s in the complexity of implementing, unclear immediate ROI, or skeletons from past projects, pushing off big ideas in favor of easy to realize tasks can be a habitual pain point for in-house digital teams looking to drive organizational results. 

One of the first conversations we have with any in-house team is to find out what big ideas they have tried, but haven’t been able to push through the rest of the organization.

As objective outsiders, we’ll act as catalysts, or a type of red team (designed to play devil’s advocate) to help the in-house team either reframe their existing ideas for wider application, re-conceptualize an idea based on the driving insight, or validate the decision to de-prioritize in lieu of higher impact opportunities.

The new model for experience design agencies needs to be as focused on uncovering and elevating the work of the in-house team as it is on creating net-new experiences.

One Team, One Dream

The In-Housing of experience design is here to stay, but the opportunities for XD agencies are as big as ever. Whether accelerating a competitive advantage or helping to transform a culture, the opportunity today is to deliver much more than work. We’re looking forward to the partnership.  

Andrew Carlson, Peter Wolfgang, & Martin Anderson

EVP, Experience Design; SVP, Experience Strategy; VP/Director, Experience Strategy

Andrew Carlson is EVP, Experience Design; Peter Wolfgang is SVP, Experience Strategy; and Martin Anderson is VP/Director, Experience Strategy 


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