As Seen on TV
Do you ever find yourself innocently watching a Saturday (afternoon) cartoon when, all of a sudden, an extended infomercial plays through and you’re immediately smitten with whatever magical, shiny, awesome, new, have-to-have-it Trendy Top thing the exuberant announcer is practically shoving down your throat? Oh. No?
Consider me sold. It doesn’t take much, I guess.
I felt the same when I attended an agile software development methodology conference in Orlando a few years ago. The presenters weren’t telling me I could bend or even reach with this new approach, but I was absolutely buying what they were selling. When I left to return to the ‘zoo, I was on cloud nine. I had a five-point plan all drafted on the plane.
Unfortunately, I woke up from my sun-induced coma and realized that as shiny and magical as the agile approach sounds, it’s not something you can acquire with five easy payments. Here are a couple of reasons why:
1. We still live in a fairly waterfall-esque world.
I wrote a post a while back about adopting some elements from the agile manifesto, while remaining true to our Biggs|Gilmore mantra — i.e. creative problem-solving — and to what our clients already knew and loved about how we approach their problems as our own.
This hybrid approach has been (un)affectionately referred to as “wagile” — agile, but slipping back into waterfall, as in downward flow. (This is starting to sound more and more like a Trendy Top, isn’t it?) In the industry, unfortunately, wagile isn’t highly regarded as a tried and true methodology. But it could be considered a stepping stone for companies in the gray area of seeking to adopt agile practices while determining how best to handle client-driven processes, budgets and deadlines.
Speaking of, the latest evolution of our process accounted for this — we know many of our clients have a rather large impact on the way we work. Some of their processes can envelop a significant portion of a project and without those inputs, well, we got nothin’. So, we work around these constraints and we “iterate” to gain time. But we have to adhere to at least some of our client-imposed stage gates before we can really take an idea forward.
And, when that idea is agreed to, the client and particular internal stakeholders want to know the final budget, the deadline and all the steps in between that it will take us to reach both. That’s not the way you roll if you’re operating according to the agile school of thought.
2. Change is hard.
To truly “go agile”, you have to be willing to change. A lot. And often. We were taught from the first time we rolled our own content management system that when you have approval on the requirements, you just.say.no to change. In fact, we all secretly love writing a change order, don’t we? But agile methodology teaches (preaches, even?) that change is good, and welcomed, and accepted. Any developer not already familiar with that approach just threw up. I guarantee it.
All kidding aside, the entire team (agency and client) must understand and embrace agility before it will work. This is significantly more complicated than it sounds. Commonly, the first deliverable our client sees out of a digital brief is some form of creative, which typically does not look much like working software. Yet that’s just what the agile manifesto calls for in order to satisfy the customer.
Our agile utopia might look a little something like a client and our entire team sitting in a room for three days sketching out what the “thing” needs to achieve. Then, by way of tight collaboration, the “thing” comes to life in a period of weeks, as opposed to months, and at the end of the day we’re delivering business value easily recognized by the client while continuing to refine and course-correct to make the “thing” all the client could have asked for. And the great achievement? Everyone owns it, and by extension, believes in it.
So, as an agency, are we there yet? Well, no. But I can say that any perception that our focus is only on sticking to process is flawed. Many of us have high hopes for becoming the subject of one of those satisfied-customer testimonials you see on TV. It’s not out of the question, and it could come sooner than we expect. Given that one of our focal points as an agency is the concept of agility, it only makes sense that we’re moving toward that model in all that we do.
We’re just in that awkward in-between stage where we’ve seen the ad and really, really want to call the 800 number, but we know that by actually placing the order, we might just get our minds blown.