If you’ve been working anywhere near the tech world over the past decade, you probably have at least a vague sense of what the term agile software methodology means.
Developed originally as a way to move developers away from clunky, time-consuming waterfall management methods, this technique has jumped the industry divides in recent years, adopted increasingly by HR departments and yes, even marketers, as a way to speed up production and better respond to customer demands and changes in the market.
The agile software methodology was originally developed out of pure necessity. As the consumer demands for better, faster technology increased, so too did the demands on developers. And yet managers looked to highly linear and structured production models as a way of managing risk. The thinking was: the more we can model and plan, the better the outcome will be.
But the marketplace is an ecosystem in a constant state of flux, and these kinds of models lead to product development times that stretched into years, meaning that the product was often irrelevant by the time it reached the market.
In contrast, the agile methodology maximizes use of time and is designed specifically to adapt to change. I asked Michel Ozzello over at OutSystems where rapid application development is key – to break down the agile philosophy for us non-techies. He explained the take away principles as:
- Reducing cycle times (moving to a spiral, n iterative cycle rather than a linear model, where you donít try to mitigate risk with planning, but instead assess risk is assessed only before and after developmentas you go).
- Emphasizing individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Agile recognizes that we work better in smaller, manageable chunks with goals we know we can achieve.
- Shipping working software, even if it hasn’t been developed to perfection or come with comprehensive documentation. If it works, start using it so that you also start getting feedback form users.
- Collaborating with customers rather than squabbling over contracts. Make the customer part of the team, involve them in all demos and decisions so that they feel they really own the project.
- Being willing to throw out the plan. In the agile methodology, adapting to changing market conditions is key. We know you’ll never have a perfect plan to begin with, so don’t waste too much time trying to build it.
Sure, things donít move quite as fast for us marketers as they do in tech, but there’s few of us who haven’t fallen into the client-lead trap of attempting to minimize risk through precise and rigid planning.
So how can this concept be applied to marketing? Let me put it in perspective by telling you how my team uses it internally to execute projects.
Our agile method starts with a monthly Sprint Planning meeting to sort through all of the most important projects coming up. During this, we determine which ones most urgently require our focus. Those projects will become the sprint, i.e. the projects on which weíll focus the bulk of our energies. Once we determine the projects to work on, we break up each project into actionable “tasks” that can be organized into a list. This way, as each task is done, it can be crossed off the list.
A backlog of tasks is created that our team must accomplish in order to reach the finish line by the end of the month. Each person is assigned tasks daily, and we work on them independently. However, working solo doesnít mean losing track of one another’s progress.
Every morning there is a ten to fifteen minute standup SCRUM. During the SCRUM one person is the product owner, or the “SCRUM Master” – the person who maintains a backlog of tasks for all of the team members. The rest of the team consists of a diverse group of people, each of whom brings a different functionality to the team. The process takes about 10 – 15 minutes, where each member answers the following questions:
1. What did I do yesterday?
2. What am I going to do today?
3. Are there any roadblocks?
At the end of the month, the team gets together to review all the projects. Before we adopted the agile method, we noticed we weren’t getting everything done we needed to, but at that point in time it was too late. With the agile method, we’re able to visually see which projects need more work – as those are the ones that don’t have enough tasks crossed off the list. This process helps you quickly identify inefficiencies in your team, and holds each member accountable for the tasks he said he’d accomplish the day before.
In sum, the agile method dramatically reduces the amount of time it takes for to deliver and measure results, act on feedback, and is better use time. It’s not “Get Agile or Go Home” but rather Get Agile and Get to Go Home.
About the author: James Daugherty writes about marketing trends, technology, and OutSystems – a company on the leading edge of agile method movement.
Stock photo courtesy of Shutterstock.