The Age of Agile Everything


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Sometime between the creation of the Knorad Zuse K1 computer and Justin Bieber’s 37 millionth follower on Twitter, using the word agile in business reached a tipping point. It’s cool to be agile; quick, nimble, responsive, iterative. Who doesn’t want that for their business! Agile Business Intelligence –yes! Agile Marketing – why not? Agile selling – of course! Hype aside, I actually think there are some profound trends that make agile a compelling methodology / tactic / framework… wait, what is it? How is it so popular and yet so fundamentally ill-defined and misunderstood? I actually spent some time on a brand marketing technology project for Nike (which, by the way, is an awesome place to work) and we used an agile development framework that was surprisingly successful at bridging the gap between development work and the business users in Brand Marketing. I am not a developer, so it was really my first experience with the real-world application of agile development. I quickly came to accept and appreciate the agile processes, frameworks, and practices. But, I also learned that outside of IT and development, very few business leaders have deep knowledge of what agile really is, or how it can be applied universally across the business to help with the complexities of today’s fast-paced world.

So, I thought I would do a quick 101 guide to common applications of agile in business. The thinking here is that by exposing business leaders (particularly in marketing and sales) to agile perspectives, maybe we can start to advance the discipline of customer management, reduce cycle time on marketing campaigns, increase relevance, and take customer engagement to the next level.

Here are some of the most common uses of agile methodology across business functions:

What is Agile Software Development?

The roots of agile software development can be tracked back to the early 1970’s. Agile development is a software development method that stresses iterative and incremental development in a collaborative self-organizing and often cross-functional team. Requirements, development, and delivery happen over a series of time-based (yet flexible) iterations that allow developers to adapt requirements throught the project; minimizing the risk of a big-bang delivery that was based on requirements that were captured and addressed.

The approach is based on a number of tenants including: satisfaction based on rapid delivery of useable software, flexibility in changing requirements, frequent releases of working software, a constant pace, daily cooperation / feedback, self-motivated team members, and continuous adoption.

In February 2001, a group of software developers published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The Agile Manifesto reads, in its entirety, as follows:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value. That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan”.

What is Agile Marketing?

If you stop and think about marketing execution for a second, you will realize there are a lot of parallels with IT development. Marketing is in essence a series of projects (campaigns) that involve multiple parties (strategy, creative, fulfillment, etc.). There’s a deadline, a drop date that typically fits into months or quarters. As soon as one campaign is done, the next is getting started. It’s a never-ending cycle of projects.

Unfortunately, many marketers get bogged down with execution details and have little time to reflect on what worked in the past. Agile marketing calls for adaptability in the marketing operations process. Agile underscores things like rapid iterations, testing, data over opinions, small experiments, and collaboration. It’s about minimizing the big-bang campaigns. In theory, agile marketing should improve the speed of campaign cycle-time, accuracy, visibility, and the ability to quickly adapt to change.

There’s a great video from Jason Cohen of SmartBear Software where he outlines two of the key features of Agile Marketing borrowed from Agile Development: fast iteration and objective testing.

Video Agile Marketing: Pucha Kecha format

Like Agile IT Development, Agile Marketing also has a manifesto ( that outlines key values for marketers including:

  1. Validated learning over opinions and conventions
  2. Customer focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy
  3. Adaptive and iterative campaigns over Big-Bang campaigns
  4. The process of customer discovery over static prediction
  5. Flexible vs. rigid planning
  6. Responding to change over following a plan
  7. Many small experiments over a few large bets

What is Agile Selling?

With the emerging popularity of agile marketing it was only natural to extend the concept into the full spectrum of customer facing strategy. While the goals for marketing and sales remains the same, growing revenue, the challenges facing todays marketing and sales leaders have made execution increasingly difficult. In traditional approach to customer engagement whereby marketing generates “leads” that are tossed over the preverbal wall to sales is long gone. Today’s buyers are multi-channel, globally connected, social, and information savvy. Selling is an iterative process whereby buyers are inundated and overwhelmed with information. More information means deeper levels of questioning during the sales process and sales success hinges on adapting to these dynamics. One of the core principles of agile is interactive use of data that ultimately refines and adapts the process. Applying agile to sales demands information about buying behavior, purchase intent, product interest, etc.

Agile Selling is an emerging concept. But the underlying principles include:

  • Sales and Marketing alignment and cross functional empowered teams
  • Adaptive sales process and a focus on continuous optimization using facts not opinions
  • Reporting and information aggregation for proactive management of sales process, sales enablement, and sales effectiveness.
  • A sustainable and comprehensive approach to personnel, processes, and tools

What is Agile Business Intelligence?

Agile Business Intelligence (BI) applies the agile software development methodology for BI projects to reduce the time-to-value of traditional BI and helps to quickly adapt to changing business needs. Agile BI enables the BI team and managers to make better business decisions in shorter timeframes. Two of the core components of agility in BI is self-service and mobility. BI is about making business data readily available to resources that have the domain knowledge to translate data into strategy. Why is Agile BI important? There are two main reasons, and both of which happen to be clichés. The first reason is that information is power. The second reason is that timing is everything.

Business users frequently find themselves swimming in molasses as they try to get the information they need to make decisions in a timely manner. The bottleneck more often than not is their own IT department, which, by no fault of its own, struggles to keep up with the continuous flow of queries, resulting in significant delays in report delivery. In fact, 47% of Gleanster survey respondents who identify themselves as business users indicate that IT often fails to keep up with their requests for new reports.

Increasingly, IT resources are also being asked to connect to new data sources and their current tools may not be the right ones for the job. According to Gleanster research, 48% of Top Performers are generally able to see new data sources in a report in less than a day, compared to only 8% of Everyone Else, and 72% of Top Performers can see new data sources reflected in a report in less than a week, compared to 21% of Everyone Else. In other words, for more than three-quarters of companies that don’t qualify as Top Performers, the wait time for a report that incorporates a new data source may be a week or longer — and that, of course, will invariably result in missed opportunities.

Gleanster recently published a Gleansight Benchmark report on Agile BI. You can download it here “

Here’s how agile can have an impact on your business:

The Benefits of Agile Software Development

  • Increased visibility: Frequent meetings provide transparency into the project status. There’s no point where resources are “heads down coding” for weeks or months only to find out what they built won’t quite work for the business.
  • Reduced risk: In agile development, requirements are captured over time eliminating the risk of missing requirements up-front that fail to get incorporated until after the beta has been rolled out. At the same time, issues are immediately identified and made visible to the entire team so the project can be adjusted accordingly .
  • Increased business value: During agile development business users can actually see progress in real-time. This helps end-users engage early and often leading to more successful roll-outs since developers can validate that the software works for the end user along the entire development process.

The Benefits of Agile Marketing

  • Increased productivity: Some metrics in marketing lend themselves nicely to measuring agile success. A weighted multiple on the value of the marketing activity relative to other marketing activities can help assign quantifiable measurement to the benefits of agile marketing. Some marketers measure website visits, trials, retention revenue, lead-to-sale rates, or sales to identify tangible return.
  • Increased visibility: The agile methodology calls for frequent meetings called “scrum” whereby project teams talk about progress, issues, and new ideas. That means everyone is up to speed on project success and it motivates project members to keep up with tasks so they can demonstrate action since the last time they met.
  • Improved resource planning: There are lots of moving parts in marketing and things constantly come up that seem like the next big priority. Agile allows the entire team to manage finite resources and conduct frequent prioritization of efforts to use time wisely.

The Benefits of Agile Sales

  • Increased revenue: The proliferation of new channels and the availability of information complicates managing the customer experience. Flexibility allows marketing and sales communications to happen in near real-time with relevant engagement that result in sales.
  • Reduced sales cycles: Knowing where customers are in the buying cycle can tell you how to adapt just the right content or communications strategy to meet their needs. That demands a flexible and adaptive sales process.
  • Increased customer loyalty: Agile helps define how your organization can deliver long-term value to customers and prevent them from looking elsewhere. Too many organizations make the initial sale and then fail to up-sell, cross-sell, and service customers sufficiently to maximize lifetime value.
  • Increased customer satisfaction: “That’s what I’m looking for, now how soon can I get it.” If sales processes are flexible enough to deliver just the right product to customers in the shortest possible timeframe, they are more likely to be satisfied after the sale.

The Benefits of Agile Business Intelligence

  • Democratize data: Agile unleashes the traditional data silos in the organization and places it in the hands of business users.
  • Simplicity: Agile BI demands intuitive and accessible analysis tools that can be easily adopted by non-technical business users.
  • Improved time to decision: The pace of change is quick in today’s business environments, and the window of opportunity for taking advantage of data analysis is sometimes quite short. Traditional BI can often have lengthy process times or queues if access to data or statistical analysis are centralized to a core function. Agile BI stresses rapid iterative analysis that results in a faster time to decision.

Bottom Line

There’s a place for agile in business. It’s not that agile is such a new or fundamentally unique concept, it’s that the world of business has evolved and become more complex, demanding a different approach. The speed at which information is created and collected makes it critical to adopt iterative and flexible processes for internal execution, regardless of whether those processes impact IT, Marketing, Sales, or Operations.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Michiels
Ian Michiels is a Principal & CEO at Gleanster Research, a globally known IT Market Research firm covering marketing, sales, voice of the customer, and BI. Michiels is a seasoned analyst, consultant, and speaker responsible for over 350 published analyst reports. He maintains ongoing relationships with hundreds of software executives each year and surveys tens of thousands of industry professionals to keep a finger on the pulse of the market. Michiels has also worked with some of the world's biggest brands including Nike, Sears Holdings, Wells Fargo, Franklin Templeton, and Ceasars.


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