Why might you want to go agile?

When I was a kid, people actually said stuff like, ‘Computers are the wave of the future.’ Now and for the foreseeable future, you’re either riding that wave or caught in its undertow. Digital makes it possible to do big things fast, hence corporations’ focus on innovation. No one wants to be the Blockbuster Video to someone else’s Netflix and from what I can see just about every corporation now believes they’re vulnerable to that (and they probably are).

Agile has emerged as the de facto approach to innovation at the team level. While there are tasks like building a bridge that require long range certainties agile doesn’t provide, in an innovation-focused project you don’t even know what right is yet (that’s the definition of innovation) and you need to move fast but purposefully to the right answer.

In summary, my top five reasons you might want to go agile are:

  1. Your plan is already wrong
    The definition of innovation is that you’re doing something unknown. There are tried and true ways to make progress, but advance planning just doesn’t generally work (better than the alternative), particularly in digital.
  2. You love your plan too much — it’s creepy
    There is a reason why people and groups of people inside companies like plans so much—we crave certainty and plans provide that certainty, even if it’s the false certainty of a plan that’s destined to fail.
  3. You need an alternative
    A team still needs focus, a coherent way of working together, and, ideally, tried and true methods to get what they want. If digital innovation is part of that, agile has a pretty good track record.
  4. The talent you need doesn’t like your plan
    The best developers, designers, data scientists, etc. want the freedom to explore and the possibility of an exciting win. Grinding out some plan they know is over-prescribed and unlikely to succeed doesn’t do it for them.
  5. Your competitor has worse ideas and fewer assets but they’re moving faster and at this rate they’re going to win
    If you assume every new product is high risk and has, say, a 1/10 chance of succeeding, then the team that iterates fastest is most likely to succeed. And with digital they’re likely to succeed big and leave you behind. Don’t let that happen! Your odds of a big catastrophic failure may be lower with, say, an internal software project, but I think the odds of failing or at least substantially under delivering for users are in the same ballpark. Why not give agile a try?


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