My friend, Peter Hanschke, is an authority on Agile Product Management. The Agile process is best described by others, but there are some highlights that bear mention. Agile busts the development ‘waterfall model’ wide open by engaging the market throughout the development process. Clients give marketing feedback early and often throughout the project; their ideas drive development’s next design-build stage (which is done in only 2 to 4 weeks). These stages loop repeatedly until the clients feel the product meets substantially all their needs. As the Agile Manifesto puts it: “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”

It Adds Value for All of Us

Agile probably offers the biggest benefits to engineers, who don’t like to code within the sedentary confines of classic development methodologies. With Agile, launches are no longer planned around arbitrary events such as summer vacation; instead they’re based on when customers could get the most value from them. Features can be added on a regular basis; new ideas are implemented quickly, rather than being relegated to the bottom of the wish list. If developers worked in a restaurant, using Agile would mean inviting patrons into the kitchen. Upon seeing the raw ingredients, they’d indicate what entrees they’ll buy. Doing things this way ultimately increases the chance that engineers build products the customer wants.

Agile also promises several benefits for marketing. The beta concept is a necessity, not an afterthought, real functional changes can now be made and they are certain to add value to clients…otherwise, clients wouldn’t have asked for them. Put another way, how do you know you’ve solved the customer’s problem without talking to them? Remember that these clients are providing real value statements, which takes away a lot of the guesswork that currently informs the input product marketing gives. From marketing’s perspective, if customers are engaged during the project, they will also feel like they helped shape its design and so will be in a better position to talk to the press and industry analysts.

It’s Happening

Agile didn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s actually product management’s response to a much larger phenomenon. Over the last 15 years, a seismic shift has caused us to move away from top-down marketing and toward crowd-sourcing the real value of a product. Marketing veteran Don Schultz, in the Sept/Oct 09 issue of Marketing Management, explains why marketers aren’t able to frame messages like they used to. “Positioning, perhaps the most important marketing concept of the 20th century, is probably no longer relevant. Marketers don’t control enough of the brand communication to develop a “market position,” and certainly not enough resources to maintain a viable position once it is in the marketplace. Today, customers do that through social networks, blogs and Twittering – tools marketers have yet to understand, much less master.”

It’s Up to All of Us

There are aspects of these new development regimes that require traditional functions to think in new ways. To engineers out there, I say: stop hiding out in the coder’s den, developing what you think clients need; involve marketers earlier in the process. They can never add much value if nearly-complete products are merely thrown over the wall to them. To fellow marketers out there, I say: you don’t get to choose what you market, get over it and get into alignment with the needs of your marketplace. We have to get over our fear that clients will ridicule us for admitting that we don’t know their every need. In fact, the clients themselves don’t absolutely know what they need…and that’s why they need a partner like you to help them find the best solution. If we make ourselves vulnerable, we’ll reap the benefits of early client input. Processes like Agile make marketers and engineers allies once again, so we can jointly tackle bigger issues…such as how sales fits into all this!

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