Our Point of View

The following first appeared in Martech. It has been revised slightly.

Is Agile Dead

Is Agile dead? 

Tamás Polgár declared Agile is dead because proponents “merely parroted buzzwords and played with meaningless cards and colorful charts all day.”

Scott Middleton said agile is dead and that McKinsey killed it by promoting an “Agile transformation office” and moving away from self-organizing teams, promoting processes over people.

Forbes identified the death of Agile as far back as 2019 because it “became a religion and like most religions, it really didn’t make that much sense to the outsider — or even to the participants.”

I’m here to tell you there’s truth in these accusations. Agilists have overused buzzwords, promoted processes and transformations over people, and treated agile like a religion rather than an evolving approach to better ways of working.

However, there is another side to the Agile story.

How Five Leaders Redefined Success with Agile Marketing

Huntington National Bank, 3M, HiD, and IBM – and learn how they revolutionized their marketing strategies with modern marketing techniques such as Lean, Agile, Customer Centricity, Experimentation and Design Thinking.

  • By shifting from an output-based approach to marketing to an outcome-based approach, Colt Technology Services realized up to 500% improvements in some of its most critical business measurements.
  • By not just focusing on getting things done faster but on delivering value faster, as measured by business outcomes, Huntington National Bank was able to increase loan application conversion rates and improve the customer experience.
  • By implementing Agile technologies in its marketing organization, HID Global achieved its annual target pipeline contribution three months early and achieved growth of 116% year over year. In addition, their employee engagement scores improved from 73% to 84%.

Why do some organizations realize results like these from applying Agile methodologies while others simply engage in theatrics? And what does this mean for the future of Agile?

5 Prescriptions for a Better Future for Agile

1. Focus on outcomes and value delivery

Focusing on outcomes and delivering value are the most critical factors in an organization’s success with Agile. If organizations don’t do this, none of the rest of Agile matters. 

When a martech professional thinks his job is to install and keep running the components of your marketing stack, he doesn’t get it. His job is to deliver competitive advantage, measured in business outcomes and value delivery. 

When a content marketer adopts Agile, hoping it will help her deliver more content quickly, she doesn’t get it. Her job is to increase pipeline, conversions or whatever business metric is essential to the business, whether that takes one new piece of content a week or twenty.

Whatever the job, successful Agile adopters identify metrics critical to their business and evaluate everything they do by those metrics. Stop doing Agile for Agile’s sake. 

Dig deeper: The Value of Focusing on Outcomes over Outputs

2. Ditch agile buzzwords in favor of the language of business

Eliminate the words scrum, sprint, kanban, epics, retrospectives, ARTs, PI planning and RTEs from your vocabulary. When you implement kanban tell everyone, including stakeholders, you’re taking a new approach to managing workflow that is more visual, with fewer reports and status meetings. If you implement scrum and sprints, tell everyone that you’re now planning in one or two-week cycles to improve your focus and accountability. Don’t tell anyone you’re implementing Kanban or Scrum.

When you describe changes, refer back to principle one: outcomes and value delivery. You are not adopting Agile; you’re changing how you work to deliver better outcomes and value. Stop using Agile words and start speaking the language of business.

3. Stop doing transformations and adopt agile incrementally

Transformations are both sexy and scary. Management thinks they’re sexy. They love telling the board or upper management that they’re going to be more “agile.” Of course, they’re not the ones being “transformed.”

No one wants to be transformed unless they initiate and control the change. Agile is adopted best in an Agile fashion — incrementally, experimentally, adopting what works and throwing out what doesn’t.

Whenever I hear a company announce a major Agile transformation, I run. The success rate of these large-scale transformations is frighteningly low. Instead of doing a transformation, focus on delivering better outcomes and value by making incremental changes.

People support what they help create and what solves their problems. Are your marketers overwhelmed? They are, trust me. Focus on stopping the overwhelm. Are your marketers unable to get work done because everyone works in silos with different priorities and ways of working? Form cross-functional teams or re-organize around value delivery. Do your marketers need help to bridge the gap between strategy and execution? Help them and teach them how to plan and prioritize tactics that support strategy.

Dig deeper: Stop Doing Agile Marketing Transformations

4. Customize agile to your unique circumstances

Agile isn’t “one size fits all.” It has to be customized to fit each organization’s unique circumstances. That doesn’t mean organizations should pick and choose parts of Agile based on whim. They should select Agile practices based on what works and what doesn’t. 

Experiment with different Agile approaches. Start with Kanban because it causes the least disruption and what you learn by using Kanban can also be applied to Scrum or Scrumban. Try different sprint lengths. (Oops, I mean different planning cycles!) 

Don’t limit yourself to agile. Apply lean manufacturing techniques. Follow design thinking principles when designing customer experiences. Experiment with AI and make it part of your toolbox. 

5. Get real about customer centricity

Up to 80% of companies believe they provide a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree, per a 2022 Bain & Co. study. When companies pay lip service to customer centricity rather than getting real about it, they create this gap between their perceptions and customer realities.

Start by understanding your customers, gathering data about their behavior, preferences and expectations and tailoring your marketing efforts to meet those needs. Customer centricity requires regular customer contact and a voice of the customer program that educates the rest of the company about what customers want.

Design and deliver remarkable customer experiences. Customers don’t want products or services. They want to see their expectations met and their problems solved on their terms. Create experiences so different and remarkable that customers tell other people and spread the news by word of mouth.

Last, operationalize customer centricity. Customer centricity isn’t a few examples or stories of employees going the extra mile. It’s spending money to ensure customers receive a consistently excellent experience. It shouldn’t depend on heroes. It should be part of the company’s culture, operations and everyday experience. This requires spending effort and money on operations.

Dig deeper: The Digital Badge on Customer Centricity

Keeping Agile Marketing Alive, Effective and Relevant

Agile isn’t dead, but its future isn’t guaranteed. Like digital marketing, account-based marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, or any other approach to marketing, Agile must change with the times.