The majority of digital agencies now use 'Agile development' when building your website or apps. But what does that mean from a marketing perspective? And is Agile always best?
Agile development emphasises close collaboration between marketers and their agencies. Only high level requirements are documented. The agency then delivers small and incremental releases of a product or project that undergo testing and feedback. Requirements can change in response to these feedback loops or other changing circumstances.
Agile development contrasts with the traditional waterfall approach which is sequential. Just like a waterfall can’t run backwards, with the waterfall approach you can’t make changes once a step in the process has been completed, without it causing delays or increasing costs.
The benefits of Agile
At the start of a project you save enormous amounts of time by not having to document in-depth specifications. A high level wish list of features is all you need.
An Agile approach is less risky for agencies and the client. As it doesn’t matter if the requirements change or get re-prioritised mid-project agencies don’t need to bump up their charges to cover these risks.
Get to market quickly
Using an Agile approach, a basic version of your website or app is usually delivered quicker. The agency then builds on this version (which can be launched externally or just internally) in response to feedback and testing.
Typically, requirements do change throughout a development project. Unlike traditional approaches, an Agile approach can deal with this reality by prioritising which features should be developed at the start of each iteration (called a Sprint).
Your final website or app is market proven when launched. Agile encourages constant stakeholder reviews, show and tells and real customer usability testing, all of which feed in to on-going iterations. With the waterfall approach it's much harder to incorporate post-testing feedback.
What’s the catch?
Despite its benefits, the Agile approach isn’t perfect:
An Agile approach can leave unknowns in the budget sheet, making it harder for marketers to get budgets approved. Agency quotes are for the time estimated to deliver a high level feature list, rather than looking at in-depth specifications. This can make marketers nervous that the budget may run out before all key features are developed.
If you need to get each change approved by lots of stakeholders, an Agile approach can be cumbersome. This problem is avoided with the waterfall approach, where all functionality is approved at the outset.
When not to use Agile?
I personally think the first ‘drawback’ of the Agile approach is somewhat of an illusion. If features are omitted from an Agile project it’s because higher priority features have cropped up along the way.
For most projects we recommend an Agile approach. That said, to work properly Agile development does need a single product owner who can sign off decisions without having to involve multiple stakeholders. If multiple people need to approve every single change, then the flexibility inherent in Agile can end up holding up development.
That isn’t to say projects like this can’t benefit from Agile. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that elements of Agile frameworks that improve transparency, usability and feature planning should be incorporated into ALL projects. For instance, EOD reports, daily stand-ups and running user stories can all be used with the waterfall approach and where there are multiple stakeholders.
The final word
Agile development is great for both marketers and their agencies, working as a team to achieve the same goals. But in an ever changing digital world, no solution is perfect. In practise we often combine Agile development with components of more traditional approaches. The trick is to adapt your approach to the specific client and project, selecting the right mix of techniques from all available approaches.
By Danny Bluestone, CEO of Cyber-Duck.
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