Agile thinking is a mentality. It’s not a fixed process, nor a set of rigid rules to follow, but an iterative approach to project management that aims to reduce headaches while increasing project success and customer satisfaction.
Because the agile process requires constant evaluation of plans, results, and deliverables, teams adopting this mindset are able to respond to change quickly and without hassle while still delivering on value.
“The Agile Manifesto”
Published in February 2001, “The Agile Manifesto” is a document written by a team of software developers that identifies the core values and principles they believe should guide their work and the work of other software developers. They wrote it because they realised the need for an alternative to document-heavy, waterfall software development processes was growing. However, it’s also important to note that agile thinking was in use before the 21st century.
Despite coming out of the need for self-reflection and guidance specifically in the software development industry, the same values and principles can be applied to any other business or industry, including marketing. In this blog post, we will be viewing the core values through the marketing lens.
The core values and principles
There are 16 individual components at the heart of agile thinking, as outlined in “The Agile Manifesto” — four key values and 12 principles.
The four key values help drive agile decisions, whilst the 12 principles help establish the tenets of agile thinking. These are not rules, however, nor do you need to follow every single value or principle in order to implement agile practises. Instead, they’re more like guidelines that’ll help instil an agile mindset.
The first of the 12 agile thinking principles is “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” Just swap out “software” at the end with whatever marketing task you’re trying to solve. In this blog post, we’re only going to focus on the four key concepts of agile thinking and how to apply them within the marketing industry, from project management, to organization, to design and product innovation.
The four values of agile thinking
#1 — “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”
Meaning: processes and tools are abundantly available, and act as a means to an end for teams to achieve their goals. However, individuals are unique, with each team member bringing something different to the table. By placing importance on individual team members over the process, you maximise their value to your advantage.
In marketing: Placing process and tools above individual team members can be extremely limiting for marketing teams in terms of leveraging individual skill sets and individual growth. If the team only works in the way a process demands, growth and progress can be slow, and so businesses will find themselves constantly working on self-improvement.
#2 — “Working software over comprehensive documentation”
Meaning: there’s no doubt that having the correct documentation and keeping track of everything going on is vital to any business and project. However, if team leaders start to let that documentation process overshadow the project progress, it can become more of a hinderance than a help.
In marketing: documents like reports and trackers are key organization tools teams can use to keep on top of their projects. However, how are you supposed to write these reports before you even have a complete project framework or viable solutions to report on? How are you supposed to conduct your work if everything has to be documented and tracked beforehand? Before considering what to include in your reports and how to structure them, first focus on producing the valuables.
#3 — “Customer collaboration over comprehensive negotiations”
Meaning: client-team projects all generally start the same way — you agree to work together on a specific project, agree on certain deliverables, and agree to do it for a certain amount of money. A contract is then signed, and the work begins. Undoubtedly, at some point, the client will change their mind on some of the deliverables, despite the work you’ve already started doing on the previous ones. However, by keeping your focus on the client’s wants rather than your actions, you embody the “willingly adapting” characteristic of the agile mindset.
In marketing: every marketer fears an email from the client that will either dismiss or derail what they’ve spent the last week working on, whether that’s market research or influencer outreach, for example. But by embracing the agile mindset and opening up these decisions to discussion and welcoming feedback, instead of trying to wrestle ownership of the project from the client, changes can be made without derailing any current progress.
#4 — “Responding to change over following a plan”
Meaning: the agile thinking process embraces change, must like Core Value #3. It understands that change is unavoidable, even in the best, most thoroughly thought-out projects. Traditionally when teams plan, we plan to avoid any and all mistakes — we see it as a critical part of the planning process. But that doesn’t always work. This core value isn’t suggesting teams and businesses make plans and ignore any possible problems that may arise, but rather focus on the positive results of changes as you come across them and be intrigued about finding and implementing previously unconsidered options.
In marketing: many marketing projects are time sensitive, and are usually structured in weekly or monthly stages. This can make embracing sudden problems difficult, especially if the solution means that a certain portion of the project won’t be completed in the time set. However, the agile mindset embraces the idea that the plan agreed upon isn’t the only plan available, and so through customer collaboration, a new plan and timeline can emerge to equal success.
Agile thinking vs. design thinking
What’s the difference?
Design thinking and agile thinking are two methodologies companies can introduce in order to improve design processes through iteration and customer feedback, ultimately resulting in bigger and better projects and products.
However, these two processes are not interchangeable. They each serve a different purpose.
The most obvious difference that we stated at the beginning of this post is that agile thinking is a project management method specifically for software, whereas design thinking is an iterative problem solving technique that can be employed in any industry.
Additionally, the problems agile thinking seeks to solve are already predefined and this mindset creates a path of best fit, whereas design thinking looks to solve the right problems for the situation and offer thinkers new paths to consider.
Another key difference is that design thinking provides a clear step-by-step framework — empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test — whilst agile does not. This can be an issue if an agile team doesn’t have the listening and empathizing skills required, as they won’t add any additional value to their work.
The best of both worlds
In reality, companies don’t actually have to choose one or the other — depending on their needs, agile and design thinking can work in harmony.
Agile thinkers can benefit from design thinking’s focus on consumer research and data collection in order to better understand their clients’ needs, while design thinkers can benefit from better communication and collaboration by incorporating agile strategies and behaviour like sprints and stand-up meetings.
In terms of which is best, both serve two different purposes, therefore we can’t really compare. It all depends on the project you’re focusing on.
Implementing agile thinking in marketing
Where can we use it?
Being agile, in a marketing context, is all about the data.
All the data teams collect through market and customer research can then be analyzed to identify promising opportunities or solutions to issues, simple or complex, in real time. Because of how quickly this data can be collected and analyzed, it feeds the rapid iterative process of deploying tests quickly and examining the results.
Sure, that does sound a lot like the ‘loop’ you make towards the end of the design thinking process, but being agile is all about responding to change quickly in order to find the best path towards the clients’ needs. There’s nothing slow about it.
The benefits of an agile mindset in marketing
The benefits of having an agile mindset in a marketing environment can include:
- Efficient team communication and collaboration (everyone’s on the same page)
- Increased stakeholder / client satisfaction (they’re brought along on the journey)
- Lower project risks (errors are caught early and often)
- Higher team morale (everyone is aligned and clear)
- Easier project forecasting and predictability (it delivers constant feedback)
- Higher calibre of final project/product (it seeks to value)
Loops and agile thinking
With Loops, companies and businesses can leverage the agile mindset through our iterative design interface and rapid data collection and analysis.
Once your team’s initial concept or design is uploaded, the subsequent market research can be conducted in a day or two, compared to the previous weeks. This timeframe allows our clients quickly respond to consumer feedback and challenges, and employ the appropriate solutions, all while having access to quantitative and quantitative data that will support and validate their actions.
In line with the core agile thinking values, Loops allows creative teams to continuously improve their concepts and designs, focus on the immediate data rather than the future reports, support design choices and encourage client communication, and rapidly react to customer feedback.