This page is part of the Continuous Agency Transformation series.

In the earlier stages of the agency lifecycle you pretty much have to deal with problems as they come up, but from the Smarten-up phase onwards you have to get ahead of things more.

That means you have to do something that feels a bit scary — you (and your team) have to actively go looking for problems. This is so you can find them before they become too noticeable, too painful.

Why scout for problems?

For people who have just had a few years of having to react to problems being thrown at them from all directions, it can seem like this is just asking for trouble.

But if you are to develop a more strategic approach to working on the agency, you have to move out of that reactive mode and become more proactive about designing the business.

This means you'll be working towards having the agency you want, rather than the agency you ended up with after everybody else's demands.

The key is to seeking out future problems early, so you have the time to design the business ahead of them, in line with your strategy and culture.

A broader view of problems

Up until now problems have been crises, frustrations, arguments, failures and all the nasty things. That's one definition of the word problem.

But there's another definition which is 'a puzzle to be solved'. A maths problem, a crossword problem, a logic problem.

The journey we're on is to go from dealing with 'arrrghh!' to dealing with 'hmmm, that's interesting?'.

It's like so many of the great scientific discoveries, made by an expert spotting something unusual that had happened, and investigating.

So the kind of problems we're going to be searching for increasingly won't be found by looking for whoever is shouting loudest, but for something curious and puzzling.

Some leaders prefer to call these things 'issues' or 'challenges' but these always sound a bit management-speak and suggest a lack of frankness. By calling these things problems, we're signalling that we want frank, honest and daring discussion with no window dressing: "Tell it to us straight!"

How to scout for problems