Agile Isn’t Just for Geeks Anymore

By Jake Sorofman | January 14, 2013 | 1 Comment

Twelve years ago, 17 software developers convened in Snowbird, Utah to reimagine their craft. They recognized that traditional development methods were out of step with the times. Suddenly, building software wasn’t some arcane backwater. For many companies, it had become the strategic driver for business growth—through commercialization of software-based products or development of custom applications that enabled a proprietary business advantage.

Traditional waterfall development methods meant unending project schedules and almost farcical rates of project failure. Far more often than not, the deliverable at the end of a 12-month cycle wildly missed the original requirements—or the requirements had changed in the fullness of time.

Out of this three-day cosmic conversation in the Rockies came the Agile Manifesto, which defined a set of principles to describe a new way for developing software—a way that would accelerate delivery, improve alignment with customers and, mercifully, reverse the cycle of project failure.

Fast-forward to 2013 and it’s clear that this trip to Utah was no boondoggle. Today, it’s a shock to find any software development organization that isn’t practicing Agile in one form or another.

But why does this matter to you, the digital marketer?

Because Agile isn’t just for geeks anymore. The principles behind this philosophy apply to any discipline that operates in conditions of complexity, uncertainty and change. (Sound familiar?) Mark my words, dear marketer: soon, you’ll know Agile. And in 10 years time, the marketing team that hasn’t embraced these principles will look as out of step as the non-Agile software development shop does today—like a relic of another era (think: wide lapels and pleats, but unlike these present-day fashion sins, unlikely to return, even ironically).

Agile is creeping into all corners of business—from the Lean Startup movement championed by Steve Blank and Eric Reis, who have given rise to more capital-efficient, market-aligned venture creation by applying Agile ideals to business incubation techniques; to Agile Marketing itself, which is quietly forming as a movement to translate Agile to our discipline. (Jonathon Colman delivers a great introductory video on Agile Marketing here. Jim Ewel, another disciple of the Agile Marketing movement, writes a great post here on the Lean Startup movement.)

So why does Agile make sense for digital marketers?

Because it dictates an iterative approach to planning and execution that allows organizations to deliver continuous value back to the business, using frequent delivery as the probe to solicit feedback from customers (both internal and external) that informs—and improves—subsequent iterations. Agile is about delivering business value through rapid learning—when we plan, execute and measure in tight, consecutive loops, we get smarter, faster.

It’s founded on the idea of collaborative, empowered teams with a bias toward action, unbounded by bureaucracy, heavy process and cumbersome tools. It organizes around two- or three-week iterations, called sprints, which deliver on requirements captured in the form of user stories, which replace heavy documentation. Progress is managed through a 15-minute daily standup meeting—the only meeting you’re required to attend.

Sound too good to be true? Well, for many large, process-bound organizations, it probably is—at least today. But, as digital marketing becomes a key driver of strategic growth and as tactics and techniques become more real-time in nature, marketing is a discipline that’s looking a lot like software development at the turn of the millennium. Consequently, Agile Marketing will soon look less like the state of the art than the state of the practice.

Is Agile Marketing likely to take hold? How do you make it part of your process and culture? Gartner will explore these questions and more as part of our 2013 research agenda. In the meantime, what do you think? Is your organization ready for Agile Marketing?

1 Comment
  1. 23 January 2013 at 2:27 pm
    Fadi (PM Hut) says:

    Agile was never for geeks – but the problem with Agile is that it tries to look different than Waterfall, it tries to prove that traditional project management is different, but it is not.

    I don’t see Agile as a revolution nor an evolution of project management – it’s just another slightly different way for doing things. It’s more communication with the client, more involvement from the team members, and more focus on project management practices.

    Is it really that different from traditional project management?

    I agree that Agile is not a silver bullet (see: http://www.pmhut.com/agile-is-not-a-silver-bullet ), but I can’t help but say that Agile is not even a bullet…

    Thanks for sharing and for letting me express my opinion. Please note that this is purely my personal opinion.

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