In many ways, marketing used to be a lot like software development. Yearly plans of a few major initiatives would lumber forward with rigid hand-offs between the different stakeholders—researchers, strategists, creatives, media buyers, etc. The end-to-end process was time consuming and difficult to alter midstream. But as you know, that world has been disrupted too—especially with search and social media.
Yet many marketing organizations are still held back with remnants of legacy processes. It’s like early attempts that engineers made to tweak the waterfall model, without fundamentally rethinking the overall flow and its underlying assumptions. Marketing is ripe for an “agile manifesto” of its own.
The essence of agile development is not just software development project. It is any collaborative labor of intellectual capital, where competing demands outnumber resources. Priorities are critical and, stakeholders cross internal and external boundaries, and clockspeed matters.
Agile corporations earn the respect of their customers by providing top quality, excellent service and great innovation. Agile organizations decentralize authority to where it is most needed and can be most effectively applied. They let employees take the initiatives that are best for their customers.
Agile corporations decentralize management by using its powers where they are helpful to ensure that its powers are not used where they hinder. These firms know that there is no one right answer, only the best answer at the time, which will be replaced as soon as a better one arrives: and there's always a better answer.
That is a basic principle of Kaizen, the continuous improvement mentioned above and the essence of Total Quality Management. For a long time, to many conventional managers, TQM seemed foreign in both senses an unwelcome and uncomfortable import from Japanese control freaks. In fact, TQM sprang from the work of an American, the remarkable Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who believed passionately in setting workpeople free from authoritarian controls so that they could do their jobs much better. Whether or not companies use TQM or its close relative, Six Sigma, the agile principle is the same: give individuals control over their own work and its improvement, individually and in the group.
Agile organization can turn on a dime to pursue opportunities. They remove the top-down command and control. This is critical to spread of multi-disciplinary, cross-functional teams which are formed to tackle projects. These teams work directly with customers, suppliers or even competitors. The team thus bypasses formal structures and can create its own modus operandi. Time and again, project management by teams has proven its ability to make impossible deadlines possible. 'Skunk works', project teams and other 'hot groups' have created new heroes as well as new products and services.
Leadership of teams can pass from hand to hand, depending on whose authority of expertise is most relevant. Agile Lean corporations break away from the old ideas of rank, status and chains of command and communication. The agile corporation relies on people doing what comes naturally, intuitively and voluntarily.
GUARDING THE STATUS QUO
This obstructive mass mentality reinforces the corporation's role as guardian of the status quo. That automatically makes it the enemy of the new. The supreme test of agility is whether the organization frustrates that individual talent or thrives on its expression. The new agile approach optimizes the return on human capital employed by facilitating and grouping the use of human talents wherever, whenever or however they are needed.
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