Are you “agile” and don’t know it?

By signal

You’ve probably heard of “agile” software development, but the term is increasingly being used to describe marketing communications. The essence of agile is simple: get your work into the hands of the end customer as early and often as possible. This could apply to a website, brochure or almost any form of communication.

At Signal, more and more clients are interested in using agile on their projects and want to know about our experience with it. At first, I wondered if we were coming late to the game. After all, the Agile Manifesto came out in 2001 and we’ve only been working with terminology like stand-up meetings, backlogs and MVPs for the past few years. However, I revisited the manifesto and quickly realized that Signal’s approach has always resembled those agile principles laid out 15 years ago. Maybe we were always agile?

To cite the core of the Agile Manifesto:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing
 software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

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

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

Let’s take a look at each of these principles in practice.

1 / Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

We tailor our work to each unique client, filling gaps and bringing fresh perspectives as they’re needed. Signal has never been rigid or insisted that a client use a particular tool or follow a proprietary process –because we don’t have one. Every client is different, so we customize our solutions and even our communication processes to their need.

2 / Working software over comprehensive documentation

We have always been lean on documentation, probably because we recognized early on that things change, the scope shifts – and that it’s OK! We’ve always moved quickly through the planning phase to focus on an iterative design process, creating something for our client to respond to.

3 / Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

In the nearly 25 years Signal has been in business, the majority of our work has been completed on a handshake basis, without a contract. This means we must stay in constant communication with regard to expectations and any scope adjustments. The agile practice of daily stand-up meetings definitely makes this easier. A quick 15-minute meeting to talk about progress, roadblocks and action items supports tight collaboration with our clients.

4 / Responding to change over following a plan

I’m often told by clients that they truly appreciate how we “roll with it” when changes happen. After 15+ years on the client services side of our agency, I don’t know any other way to work. Our job is to provide a solution for our client – and if the situation changes, we have to be prepared to change with it. Period.

Agile Manifesto values

A shift in mindset

So, it appears that Signal has been agile all along, at least in principle. There has, however, been one change that agile thinking has made in the way that we work. Agile demands that we keep the needs of the customer first. But “the customer” isn’t just our client. We’ve started thinking more about what’s important to the end customer – our clients’ clients. We’ve always done this on some level – using market research to make informed assumptions – but the agile methodology has helped us break down the assumptions.

Today, I hear people on my team asking “Have we validated this with the customer yet?” This is ultimately what agile thinking means. And it’s made us better marketers.

So, what can agile teach you?

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