Agile Methodology: Roots & popularity
You’ve probably heard the terms “Lean” and “Agile” come up in conversations about project management a lot lately – the methodologies are firmly entrenched in industries that produce software or rely on software for product delivery. Their popularity can be attributed to those industries’ unabashed adoption of them, even though such methodologies find their origins in manufacturing. Lean and Kanban (a style of Agile project management) trace their roots specifically to Toyota’s assembly lines. Reducing bottlenecks on the line by focusing on eliminating waste (Just In Time) and pulling work versus pushing work down the line were their central goals.
I’d like to discuss some of the basic principles of Agile here and then address tactics for adopting Agile to more than just software production in a subsequent post.
Agile: What is it?
Agile practices evolved as a customer-centered alternative to the Waterfall method of managing software development. Eventually, the Agile Manifesto was written back in 2001 to define the philosophy and offer guidance to Agile developers.
Now you’d think I am stating the obvious when I say that business processes should always focus on generating benefits for the customer. But back in the days of Waterfall, the process of delivering software was codified (and consequently calcified) into long phases of requirements: gathering, development, testing and then release. This made the process long and exposed the final product to the risk of becoming irrelevant to customer needs even before it entered the market. As producing software became cheaper, the barriers to entry into the industry lowered. This meant that in order to stay competitive, companies had to be nimble enough to react to changing customer demands and deliver products and subsequent updates faster. That’s a tough proposition without internal processes supporting shorter go-to-market times to stay close to the customer pulse. Enter Agile, and all of its “shorter iterative release cycles and continuous improvement through feedback” goodness.
Simply put, Agile is a set of guidelines that puts into the practice the central belief that by doing right by the customer and making room for change in your processes, you will be rewarded by staying relevant to your customers’ needs.
Do I see your marketing ears perk up at that? So how can those principles be applied to the marketing function?
Some of the central tenets of Agile are as follows:
- Increased visibility into work to remove roadblocks and reduce waste
- Improved cross team collaboration and communication
- Better alignment of prioritization and planning of work to business goals
- Shorter and continuous release cycles for faster market feedback
- Continuous improvement through process retrospectives
Regardless of your business function, all of the above are likely already important to you and possibly even part of your performance objectives for this year. When you are part of a marketing group that produces a large amount of asset types for social media, web, print or TV media, things like visibility and collaboration among teams for asset re-use and a unified brand voice suddenly become very meaningful.
OK, I get it! Get tactical already …
Now that we have covered some Agile basics, you must be wondering how you can be the Agile hero within your marketing team and “show them the money.” I love the KISS mantra when trying to get something new off the ground successfully – Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Change can’t start in a vacuum; most of us work in teams. If possible, start by getting an executive-level leader to sponsor your ideas. Now I know that sometimes this might be difficult. So if that’s too hard as a starting place, I’d suggest polling a few like-minded, process-oriented colleagues through an informal survey. Focus on discovering what is the most broken:is it communication, visibility or speed to market? You may uncover problems in multiple areas and while it may be tempting to want to fix it all at once, fix the most broken thing first. Measure that success and promote it. Use it to build a case for more change. It gets a lot easier to positively affect internal opinion for process change when you have some success to show for the first steps toward improvement. After all, success has many friends!
In my next post next week, I’ll offer some tactical tools to get you on the road to agility and success.