Agile, it's not just for tech teams anymore
As the market evolves and pressure mounts to deliver new and better products and provide highly responsive support to ensure customer success, organizations must also grow and change to operate more efficiently, empower collaboration and quickly adapt to change. Though frameworks to support this type of evolution come and go, one that is enduring and demonstrating lasting benefits is the Agile methodology. In fact, these days it seems that Agile is everywhere.
As CAS has evolved over its 110-year history, from a publisher of chemistry abstracts in books to a modern full-service scientific information solutions provider, our processes and approaches have also evolved to address changing technology, customer needs and business practices. In recent years, the Agile methodology has had significant influence on our success well beyond our technology function. Read on to see what key benefits CAS marketing is attributing to Agile less than one year in on our journey, as well as some lessons we have learned along the way that your teams may want to consider if they are embarking on or optimizing an Agile practice.
What is Agile?
The Agile methodology first emerged in 2001 when a group of software engineers published a Manifesto for Agile Software Development, describing four core values in a fundamentally new approach to software development:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Though it took a while to catch on, Agile has found success among technology teams, and starting around 2010, began to see wide adoption, fundamentally changing software development. A recent survey of development and IT professionals showed that more than two-thirds cite Agile as the primary development methodology being used in their organization.
In recent years, the positive impacts of Agile on software teams has attracted interest across organizational functions and the familiar sticky notes of the Kanban board are now often seen across a wide array of work units and project types. In fact, a 2017 survey from the Project Management Institute indicated that more than 70% of organizations use Agile for project management and the 2018 State of Agile Marketing Report produced by AgileSherpas and Kapost shows that more than 35% of marketers are using Agile methodology.
You can teach an old dog new tricks
As a marketing executive with more years of experience than I care to disclose, I must admit that I never thought Agile would catch up to me, let alone that I’d become an all-in advocate. In reality, the adoption of Agile across many CAS projects, and most recently in my own marketing division, has been a refreshing change that has completely transformed the way my teams and I work. Rather than rely on more formal briefings and reporting meetings, I now have the ability to keep up with teams’ work real-time in stand-up, sprint and retrospective meetings. More than simply changing my work day, I have been surprised and impressed with the many ways Agile has changed our organizational culture and strategic approach, and most importantly, how it is helping us deliver more value to our sales colleagues and customers.
Clearer portfolio view
Within marketing, Agile supports enhanced campaign portfolio management by empowering our teams to understand and track their capacity and resource needs. At the strategic level, this data shows the pace of progress, likely delivery schedule, dependencies and any resource conflicts. By enhancing visibility for the broader leadership team, we ensure alignment with organizational priority, identify resource gaps and improve our ability to plan for the future.
One important feature in Agile is the accountability it requires of each individual. Just as you are more likely to show up at the gym if you are meeting someone, the rigor of regular Agile team meetings, task tracking and accountability to a team compels individuals to deliver on their commitments. Added up across many individuals on many projects, the sense of accountability driven by Agile makes a huge impact on productivity.
Better cross-functional collaboration
One of the most important outcomes of our shift to Agile has been the cultural impact. Like many organizations, CAS had developed strong affiliations at the division or work team level, but sometimes struggled to engage stakeholders in the wider organization. This created the risk of missed opportunities and unnecessary rework.
By its nature, Agile drives collaboration among stakeholders. The process mandates identification of key stakeholders from the beginning for inclusion on the team. In many areas, this has led to cross-functional Agile teams. Some teams have even included external individuals, such as consultants or marketing agencies that are highly engaged with the project.
A word of caution before jumping in
To be clear, though the adoption of Agile practices is delivering many benefits for CAS marketing, it has not always been smooth sailing. It has required investment of many kinds, as well as flexibility and patience. From renovation of building spaces to providing coaching and development opportunities for staff, we have all had to manage significant change to make Agile work and continue to evolve our practices on an on-going basis.
One key learning from our experience is the importance of understanding organizational change management (OCM) at the beginning. If you don’t have trained OCM practitioners in your organization, consider seeking outside support. Many of the natural human challenges that arise from a drastic change of work structure can be mitigated with a well-structured change management process. CAS now has a dedicated OCM team that continues to help develop change agility within our organization so we can keep up with the dynamic market environment.
Another key learning, especially for teams in marketing that have adopted Agile practices, is not to be afraid to break the mold. Agile is inherently a structured approach. To make it work for your situation, you can’t be afraid to make it your own. Have remote team members? Try digital Kanban boards. Daily stand-ups feel too frequent for the pace of work on a project? Go to twice a week. Unable to dedicate teams to one project at a time? Design a resource-sharing approach that works.
In reality, fully adopting the pure Agile framework does not make sense for every unit or project, but almost every team can find benefits from some Agile approaches. Start by making project work processes more visible to drive accountability, implementing frequent team touchbases to keep work on track and scheduling retrospectives at the end of projects to document learnings and celebrate success.
The point: Delivering greater value to our customers
CAS has been evolving and innovating for 110 years to ensure we continue to stay ahead of the ever-growing tidal wave of scientific information and maximize the value our customers can derive from our content, technology and expertise. Agile is one example of how new approaches help us maintain a critically important role in empowering global innovation.
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CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society, is dedicated to improving lives through transforming power of chemistry. Professionals around the world rely on CAS to fuel innovation. With over 100 years of experience, no one knows how to better customize solutions for your organization.