Agile Marketing Part II – Learnings from product development

 

Adapting to change is probably most important in new product development. Change and innovation live off one another. The last decade has seen a transformation in how companies approach innovation. This was drastically needed. According to the USPTO 59% of new product launches fail. These efforts accounted for 46% of all development resources. Even when products are launched, they usually aren’t optimized. 50% of all software functionality is rarely or never used. That’s a lot of wasted development efforts. The inefficiencies are everywhere. A survey among US car manufacturers in 2003 (Michael Kennedy – Product development for the lean enterprise, 2003) showed that their engineers on average only spend 20% of their time adding value. No wonder new product development teams everywhere have started to look at how they can do things differently. One of the biggest Achilles heels of the traditional production processes was that they were very rigid and linear. Very detailed plans were made at the beginning of the process and after that the focus was on delivering against the plan, on time and on budget. This process was not designed to adapt to changes that occur during the development cycle. With the acceleration of change described earlier, those changes started to occur more frequently, which meant that the plans that were designed at the start of the development process were often sub optimal halfway through the process.

More agile processes were drastically needed and the first to make that point were a group of software developers who got together in a ski resort in Utah in 2001. There the group decided to draw up the Agile Manifesto, a statement in reaction to the traditional software development methods that prevailed at most companies which they deemed too rigid to deal with the speed required to develop new software in the modern age.

The Agile Manifesto (2001)

 

 Source: http://agilemanifesto.org/

 

Agile software development projects would focus on working software which is delivered in iterations throughout the project lifecycle. This continuous delivery of working software allows the developers to get fast customer feedback on an ongoing basis and incorporate it in future iterations of the product. The focus is on technical excellence and design, simplicity and regular adaptation to changing circumstances. Change is welcomed all the way up until the end of the development process. Agile teams are self-organized and highly collaborative. They prefer verbal communication over written process reports and tend to be made up of a combination of highly motivated business people and developers.

Since its inception hundreds of books have been written about Agile development and its principles have been adopted well beyond the software industry into broader engineering and project management disciplines. Several surveys have proven the value Agile software development has delivered versus more traditional development methods. The table below shows the results of one of the most recent studies which interviewed more than 3,000 respondents who had practiced Agile methods in some capacity within their organizations.

Agile Delivers

 Source : VersionOne – 3rd Annual Survey: 2008, “The State of Agile Development”, Conducted: June-July, 2008

 

55% of respondents say that 90-100% of all Agile projects have been successful. Another 21% claim that 75% of projects were successful. Adoption of the Agile principles in software development is now wide spread.

Agile Marketing Principles

The acceleration of change in consumer behavior and product innovation, as well as the ability of customers to give almost instantaneous feedback to marketers through social networks and other digital platforms requires marketers to be at least as agile as their colleagues in new product development. A review of the literature and best practices around Agile reveals some general principles for Agile Marketing.

Agile Marketing is :

Sensitive Keep your senses open to your customers. They define what value means for your organization.
Adaptive Don’t stick to outdated plans – expect change and uncertainty and respond accordingly.
Lean Eliminate waste in the marketing process by focusing relentlessly on the creation of value as defined by your customers.
Fast Be quick without hurrying. Value is created at the “point of sale” – not the “point of plan”
Iterative Deliver today – adapt tomorrow. Test, observe, learn and iterate.

 

These principles, while very intuitive, are hard to implement. Most marketing organizations still make their marketing plans annually and maybe revise them once or twice a year. They develop a campaign calendar that becomes the backbone for most of their activities throughout the year. There have been some developments over the last decade. Digital communications have introduced shorter campaign cycles. Most companies are monitoring what is happening on social networks and are getting more customer feedback. And the cost of testing has dropped dramatically in digital which has seen more marketers adopt testing as a part of how they go to market. But for the most, these “more agile” marketing activities happen piecemeal rather than systematic. They also tend to be disconnected from everything else that goes on in the marketing organization.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Most marketing organizations have not fundamentally changed their marketing processes in the last decade. They may have added on some agile functionality but they still approach the market in a traditional linear fashion – they plan, design, create, launch and maybe measure if they have the time and the patience. If marketing wants to become a truly agile discipline, this process will need to change.


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