by Stephanie Heying Bach
Agile Development has been gaining in popularity in the marketplace among technology services organizations, with good reason. ‘Agile’ Methodology is a development process that relies upon rapid design iterations and code release and is characterized most significantly by deftness and velocity—in decision-making, in communication, in development and in validation with customers. This kind of ‘sprinting’ necessarily involves rethinking tasks and processes that require extensive time and resources—or breaking them into shorter or more manageable chunks—in order to deliver the end product in less time at a lower cost. In short, it means saying goodbye to ‘treading carefully’ and hello to ‘dancing in the streets.’
Sound a little bit Greek? Outside of the technical world, it may as well be. But Agile has significance above and beyond technology. And as consultants, whether your specialty is Marketing, Politics, Finance or something in between, agile can give you a competitive edge, make your work more fruitful and interesting and give your clients a bigger bang for their buck.
Agile is successful because it is based on a set of tenets that make sense regardless of the industry:
- Transparent Communication: One of the most important characteristics of Agile Development is communication. Frequent updates, daily status checkpoints and cross-functional meetings help to ensure that issues are raised early and often, before costly mistakes and rework. A similar rule applies on the consulting front. Regular and structured communication with clients is a standard practice for all of us. But making that communication agile, for instance, by shortening weekly 1-hour status meetings into daily ‘5-minute briefings’ can save you time and energy in the long run, help to increase your footprint with your client and enable you to circumvent potential problems later on. In industries such as healthcare, energy and consumer products, this may be just the energetic breath of fresh air your client needs to inspire internal change and keep you on the payroll long term.
- Rapid Iteration: Agile development requires rapid creation, launch and revision of development code, web screens and other deliverables. Outside of technology, rapid iteration may mean giving clients a draft or taste of the final version; revising, revisiting, and revising again before final delivery of a product analysis, financial report, or marketing strategy. By working in shorter cycles, biting off smaller chunks and using client face time to incorporate feedback into revisions, you can be more nimble for your clients, manage multiple projects and/or deliver in a shorter time frame – a win-win for you and your clients.
- Lean: Preliminary presentations before a formal presentation? Gone. Recruiting and testing 25 customers for each release? Nope. Sign-offs before sign-offs before sign-offs? All gone. Agile requires a lean approach to all aspects of a project. Think carefully about your processes and approaches to your work. Which ones drain your time the most? Which take time away from actual production or product development? Finding ways to trim the time and red tape from your projects in order to focus more time on production enables you to spend more time on delivering what you promised your clients in the first place – and both you and your clients will reap the benefits.
- Frequent Validation: The customer may not always be right, but they always have an opinion. Testing early and often with real customers helps to validate your work, inform future design or development and lends credibility to the endeavor overall. Every political report, marketing promotion or new product launch is designed for a specific target consumer. Gut-checking against that target as development progresses and long before delivery ensures there are no surprises—and even more importantly, provides your client with a preview to plan against. Whether you test a draft of a marketing promotion, a new approach to a product launch or a revised software development cycle, give your clients the advantage of agile, by testing with a small segment of the customer population at frequent intervals, and providing them with the ability to change direction if another approach resonates more with the target customer.
As a consultant, you are the expert in your field. By applying the core tenets of Agile Methodology, you can be a leader in delivery, too.
Want to learn more about Agile Methodology? I recommend these resources to get you started:
- Agile Methodology: http://agilemethodology.org/
- Agile Community: http://www.agilealliance.org/resources/
- Agile UX: http://www.agile-ux.com/ and http://www.nngroup.com/articles/doing-ux-agile-world/
Stephanie Heying Bach is an accomplished professional with over 16 years of business and consulting experience, including: Web site development strategy, Web content strategy, Web content management and systems, Web marketing, usability testing, focus group facilitation, copywriting /editing, editorial planning, client/ project management, retail management and sales. Stephanie has a BA in Communication Studies and English from the University of Iowa and an MS degree in Communication Science from Northwestern University. Contact Stephanie at stephanieheyingbach.net.