Go Agile and Stop Wasting Money on Strategy

Go Agile and Stop Wasting Money on Strategy


We pour a ton of money and work into figuring out what the future will be and what people will think before we do any creative work. We collect data, call in smart and expensive planners who studied at the best schools, and conjure thick strategy decks before any creative work gets done. Once the work gets done, we run all kinds of quant- and qual-tests before launching it. This doesn’t make any sense. Any more. Let me show you why.

When I studied engineering 1998-2003, agile was already the way software development was done, though I think the term “agile” didn’t come around until 2001 or so. Before these lightweight iterative processes (and before my time) slow and bloated project management models were used where the assumption was that you had excellent information from the start and could plan the projects in a waterfall-style way – exactly like we do it today in the advertising world in other words. 

There are many problems with this style of project management, but one of the most important is that you spend a lot of time and money before any work makes contact with the real world. In other words, you build up an enormous amount of risk before anything gets tested in real life. In an agile framework, you try instead to quickly get something that is approximately right (a minimal viable product, MVP) in front of people to gauge their reaction so that you can learn, make adjustments, launch a new version, gauge that, and so on in an iterative process. You never take more risk than the delta of work that went into your project since your last iteration. 

In the advertising world, it used to be true that we had to make bank-breaking bets on media investments in tv and other broad media because that was the only choice we had. If the creative was off for any reason, it was a disaster that could break your budget and probably get you fired. While these types of campaigns are still a reality for many marketers, you also have other options in your toolkit today. You can buy 10000 people on Instagram, for example, to test something out. And it’s a real test. Not one done on a paid focus group or some other frankly quite naive lab test.

To me, this makes it almost criminal to work in an 80’s style waterfall model when developing a campaign. Instead, you quickly want to build an MVP based on your current humble understanding, try it out in small live campaign, gauge, adjust, and relaunch (or build, measure, learn as we used to say in the software world). You still want to have the smart people in the room, but now you want them involved, working with the creatives and the client iteratively and as a team, throughout the entire process. 

I realize that this breaks up the workflow for most agencies and clients. I realize that you may have a management structure that doesn’t support the quick sign-offs or delegation of responsibility necessary for these rapid live iterations. I realize that it requires in-house production to be feasible. But still, this will raise the quality of your work, the speed of your work, the effects of your work, and the efficiency of your work to such an extent that all those issues fade in comparison.

If I started an agency today, I would go all in on this way of working. I would also go all in on helping my clients through education, training, and hands-on guidance, to adjust their internal management structure and culture to facilitate an agile communication process. Considering the enormous amount of money being wasted at the moment, this is nothing less than a golden opportunity for all parties.

Jim Highsmith, legend of agile, and one of the seventeen signators of The Agile Manifesto will get to end this text because he puts it better than I ever could: 

“The Agile movement is not anti-methodology, in fact, many of us want to restore credibility to the word methodology. We want to restore a balance. We embrace modeling, but not in order to file some diagram in a dusty corporate repository. We embrace documentation, but not hundreds of pages of never-maintained and rarely-used tomes. We plan, but recognize the limits of planning in a turbulent environment.”

So – do you want to sell sugared strategy decks for the rest of your life or do you want to come with me and change the world?

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