Sales Beacon | A Brief History of Agile and Its 4 Core Principles
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A Brief History of Agile and Its 4 Core Principles

IT isn’t the only sector suitable for Agile anymore.

In fact, the Agile approach to project management is seeing a meteoric rise in popularity alongside other operations, from marketing and sales, all the way to HR and customer service.

And with the variety of benefits that Agile brings to almost any sector, it’s clear that this unique and flexible style is gaining traction for a reason.

With the variety of benefits Agile brings to almost any sector, this unique and flexible style is gaining traction for a reason.

For example, an Agile model can allow for faster implementation of initiatives, as well as a more flexible development throughout the product lifecycle. What’s more, the frequent feedback that Agile depends on will typically lead to an overall higher quality product and, most importantly, one that actually fits in the right market.

But to take full advantage of all the benefits Agile has to offer, it’s necessary to first understand where this methodology came from and the core principles on which it is based.

What Is Agile?

Agile is a collaborative framework that splits a large project into a set of smaller incremental deliverables. It has a feedback mechanism so that continuous improvement based on user experience will shape the larger outcome. It prioritizes intensive efforts to complete small sub-projects on a short timeline. These efforts are typically referred to as “sprints” and generally only last several weeks. This means changes can be made after the initial planning process.

This is in contrast to the Waterfall method, which typically rolls out a large project in sequential stages. Once each stage is completed, developers move on to the next step. Because of the sequential process, once a step has been completed, you can’t go back without scratching the whole project and starting from the beginning. There’s no room for change or error, so a project outcome and an extensive plan must be set in the beginning and then followed carefully. Waterfall works well for construction and military where there isn’t a need for incremental testing and feedback.

Throughout an Agile project, team members work in close collaboration to create hypotheses and then develop and run tests around these ideas. The quick and focused bursts allow for rapid completion of efforts that may have normally taken months to cross off.

Quick and focused bursts allow for rapid completion of efforts that may have normally taken months.

The faster turnaround enables projects to adapt to changing customer preferences, capitalize on current trends, and evolve at a much faster clip than other project management methodologies.

Beyond that, this strategy also helps foster productivity, cooperation, and morale among your team. It’s no wonder Agile is taking the industry by storm.

The History of Agile

The Agile methodology has a long history that actually extends back much further than most people think. The science-based principles of sculpting workflows on which Agile was built have been helping a diverse array of industries for years, from IT companies and automobile manufacturers to fax machine developers and camera producers.

Agile can be traced back to the 1930s to Walter Shewhart of Bell Labs. His application and expansion of Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles called for a scientific method-based approach to product development (hypothesize, test, and analyze).

Shewhart’s mentee, W. Edwards Deming brought this approach to Japan and was eventually hired by Toyota where he helped develop the famous Toyota Production System. This system actually served as the basis for the bulk of most modern “lean” methodologies.

In 1986, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka studied the manufacturing companies that implemented these science-based approaches most successfully. They found that rather than following a “relay race” approach where one department simply handed over a completed phase to another department, these specialists would work together throughout the project lifecycle.

Rather than a “relay race” approach where one department handed over a completed phase to another, specialists would work together throughout the project lifecycle.

They called it a “rugby” approach – one that moved the length of the field together while passing the ball back and forth.

This idea was one of many that was brought to a gathering of 17 developers in Snowbird, UT. From this collaboration of organizational freethinkers, Agile was born. These developers went on to publish the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and the Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto, two of the foundational works of the modern Agile methodology.

The Core Concepts Behind Agile

Adapting an Agile approach for your projects can be tough at first. But once you start reaping the benefits of this flexible project management method, you’ll wonder how you ever survived without it.

Collaboration

For Agile to work for you, it’s going to take a significant emphasis on communication. Within your sales team, this takes the form of daily standup meetings where each member informs the group of what they completed yesterday and what they’re planning on doing today.

Beyond the team level, interdepartmental collaboration is also absolutely instrumental in the Agile framework. Without timely and dedicated efforts from, say, legal or IT, the sales team won’t be able to implement change in the short timeframe that Agile requires.

Sales Project Sprint

The Sprint

The sprint is a fundamental part of Agile and, in fact, is the basis upon which most of it is built. Its shorter turnaround time means your team can react to changes much quicker and evolve the product incrementally.

Each sprint is based on a clearly defined effort and usually lasts around two to four weeks. It could be focused on testing a new call to action on the homepage, refining an email campaign, or even analyzing a certain color scheme. The key here is coming up with a hypothesis, testing it comprehensively, and learning from the results.

Prioritizing Data

An extension of the last point, an Agile methodology approach prioritizes data over feelings. With more information-collecting power than ever, nearly every business can track how well their changes are testing among their audience. And with Agile, you can make decisions based around this data on a much shorter timeline.

That’s why it’s crucial to have the right tools in place to measure these metrics throughout the sprint. After each sprint is completed, your team will come together for a debriefing on what the data shows and how this knowledge should impact the goals and priorities of future sprints.

The more data you have, the better equipped you’ll be to implement changes that actually resonate with your audience.

Embracing Change

Leveraging frequent influx of information properly and quickly is key to crafting a strategy that’s both timely and effective.

And finally, adapting to changes is a critical part of Agile. The project leads, sometimes titled “scrum masters,” must regularly take into account results from previous sprints and use the insights gained to redirect the future focus.

What makes Agile so different than a traditional approach? Feedback is coming in at a much more rapid pace – a few weeks compared to months. Leveraging this frequent influx of information properly and quickly is absolutely key to crafting a strategy that’s both timely and effective.

What’s more, frequent testing allows your team to take the pulse of your market, so to speak, and react to changing trends much more quickly than the traditional approach.

Agile Sales Project Management:

Agile is particularly well suited to fast-moving environments like sales and marketing where long planning cycles are not always possible with changing competitive landscapes. By adapting Agile principles to sales and marketing and blending these with traditional project methods, it is possible to achieve impressive project success rates and more productive teams.

Contact us for more information on how Agile can help your sales organization perform better, and reduce decision timeframes.