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Introduction to Agile Thinking

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What is agile thinking?

The concept of agile thinking has become popular across the business world. In this topic, we explore what is meant by agile thinking, and how it originated.

Agile thinking is based on the agile methodology. It was drawn up by a group of software developers on a trip to Utah in 2001. These developers formed the Agile Alliance in a bid to overhaul the process by which software was created and deployed. It has become the dominant methodology for software development. But, although it originated in the software arena, with the booming influence of the tech industry on wider business, it has informed most other industries too.

But what exactly is agile thinking? Well, when we talk about ‘agile thinking’, we’re mostly referring to the idea of responding to change over following a plan. In other words, we should respond to change as we progress with a project, and not be rigidly fixed to a plan, regardless of what happens along the way. After all, being agile means being flexible and quick to adapt to change. This agility enables organizations to respond effectively to unexpected events.

Agile thinking principles

The Agile Alliance developed a historic manifesto that outlines twelve principles for applying agile thinking. Five of these principles are particularly relevant for marketers.

Principle 1: Break big work down into smaller tasks that can be completed quickly

People struggle to stay motivated in long projects. This is because they generally need to feel a regular sense of achievement and completion. These small milestones and achievements along the way keep the team motivated. If something takes longer than a few days, it can feel like it drags on. Then people start to lose focus because they are not getting a regular achievement boost. Additionally, there is a long-proven benefit to focusing large resources on small problems one by one. Indeed, this goes all the way back to Sun Tzu’s 5th century BC book The Art of War.

Principle 2: Recognize that the best work emerges from self-organized teams

Increasingly today, people are becoming more generalist, and are developing hard-to-categorize sets of skills. People don’t always fit neatly into skill set ‘pigeon holes’. And the individual is usually best placed to identify how his or her skills can best be deployed. In any group of people, you’re going to have a rich range of skills. When you challenge a group with a problem, or a project to be completed, they can best decide who does what. This is because people will naturally gravitate to what they do best. This in turns gives team members a sense of agency and empowerment, which, of course, raises motivation and morale. And the advantage for the project is that this allows skills and problems to be best matched up.

Principle 3: Assemble the project team and business owners on a daily basis throughout the project

Nobody likes long, meandering meetings. But meetings can be short and snappy. Agile meetings deliver quick wins. Now known in software and web development as daily ‘stand-ups’ or ‘huddles’, these quick-fire update meetings allow everyone to stay in touch with the moving parts of a project. This also prevents issues festering in the dark.

All project-based teams, regardless of discipline or industry, could benefit from this approach to team communication. It clarifies what the day ahead requires of everyone, and empowers each team member to raise important issues. It also gives everyone a sense of focus for the day. And it allows people to share daily accomplishments and learnings.

Principle 4: Have the team reflect at regular intervals on how to become more effective

No team is perfect, and a project is always a learning process. So another useful principle from agile thinking is that you should have the team reflect at regular intervals on how to become more effective, and then tune and adjust behavior accordingly.

Continuous improvement is the name of the game here. Probably the most well-known principle of agile, this tactic of changing course as you progress through a project allows teams to respond to factors which might affect the ultimate success of the finished product. If something clearly isn’t working, the team responds quickly to come up with a better approach. This could apply to a specific piece of content, or even the campaign as a whole.

Principle 5: Harness change for a competitive advantage

Following on from the previous principle, an agile approach to delivering projects is far more than merely a coping or mitigating mechanism. Your response to change can prove to be a competitive advantage in the marketplace. It can lead to more relevant and effective marketing too. Responding to a changing environment more quickly than your competitors do will enable you to better position yourself in the market.

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Will Francis

Will Francis is a recognised authority in digital and social media, who has worked with some of the world’s most loved brands. He is the host and technical producer of the DMI podcast, Ahead of the Game and a lecturer and subject matter expert with the DMI. He appears in the media and at conferences whilst offering his own expert-led digital marketing courses where he shares his experience gained working within a social network, a global ad agency, and more recently his own digital agency.

Connect with him on Twitter (X) or LinkedIn.

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Project Planning
Will Francis
Skills Expert

The ability to plan projects and tasks effectively – and to quickly take action when things go wrong – is an essential skill in today’s fast-moving workplace. It can help you to meet your goals, and can result in you exceeding your boss’s expectations and standing out among your peers.

In this module, you will learn about the fundamentals of project management. You will find out what the role of project manager involves – and the benefits that project management can bring to an organization. You will also be introduced to a seven-step framework for managing projects that you can apply as needed in your own company.

You will also be introduced to the principles of agile thinking. Being agile means being flexible and quick to adapt to change. You will learn how agile concepts, such as the ‘test and learn’ approach, can be applied to marketing. And you will discover the benefits that agile thinking can bring, from increased efficiency to a higher return on investment.