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Is Agile the Last Remaining Competitive Advantage?

By Jake Sorofman | February 13, 2013 | 1 Comment

digital marketing

One of fundamental principles of agile is the idea of rapid iteration of time-boxed increments that allow you to deliver value to customers more rapidly, frequently and as a probe to elicit feedback to inform subsequent iterations. It makes you smarter, faster, which better aligns your efforts to your outcomes.

We all know that this philosophy has transformed software development practices. What we’re now beginning to know that agile practices are creeping into other aspects of business. Why? Because “the world is complex, products and services are easily commoditized, cycle time in markets is ruthless, and consumers are not as loyal as we once thought,” says Brad Murphy, CEO of agile consultancy Gear Stream. He’s right, which is why, as I said inelegantly in a recent post, agile isn’t just for geeks anymore.

And that’s why Gartner recently published our first research report this emerging topic: “How to Get Started in Agile Marketing” (subscription required). It’s early days for agile marketing, but we’re bullish on the potential of this burgeoning movement. With agile creeping into the marketing conversation, it begs another question—for me, at least: Where does it end?

Of course, it’s really a silly question, which is intentionally designed to make the rhetorical point that it doesn’t end—because agile practices are simply our response to the changing nature of everything. It helps address the reality that everything moves fast, the truth is often opaque and, in business, while we can afford to get small things wrong, we need to get the big things right. In fact, in agile, getting the small things wrong often enables us to the big things right.

While traditional competitive advantages may be elusive (or illusory), listening, learning and aligning to market needs—doing this considerably better than your peers—may be the last sustainable competitive advantage.

In the world of new business incubation, we talk about the “minimum viable product,” which defines the smallest increment of value you can deliver—as a probe for homing in on the truth. And this leads me, mercifully, to my final point: It’s the broad application of agile that is leading to a minimum value life. Software, marketing, business models—even blog posts.

How you can narrow the scope of what you’re doing and use iteration as a tool to reduce the risk of getting the big things wrong? In the end, the minimum viable behavior is about betting small to win big.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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1 Comment

  • Agile cannot provide a sustainable competitive advantage; TQM and Just In Time only afforded the Japanese auto industry a short term edge. However, it has the potential to improve operational effectiveness across the industry – everyone’s a winner!