Secret Marketer: The benefits of agile development are in creating new mindsets as well as new products

Trying out innovation methods such as intense, five-day ‘sprints’ leads to a wealth of ideas validated by immediate feedback, but even more importantly it gets teams to think differently about serving the customer.

Regular readers may remember I recently kicked off an innovation programme to encourage experimentation, ideas and ultimately new products. The programme led to a series of agile marketing ‘sprints’ inspired by the Google X Ventures Sprint Methodology – a framework for a group of about six to eight people putting their time, talents and energies into rapid prototyping and customer feedback.

We have now done four design sprints lasting a whole week, drawing from a shortlist of over 200 basic ‘straw man’ ideas. And it has been very interesting, to say the least. Taking a group of cross-functional people and getting them to work on a single idea for five days is quite a challenge. Reflecting on this intense period made me realise how much my frame of reference has changed.

If you think the idea of innovation involves placing big bets on WAGs (wild-ass guesses), then save everybody’s time and buy a lottery ticket. If you’d prefer to launch something new into the world with a bit more knowledge about how customers might respond, then you must never fall in love with your ideas. Getting direct feedback from a customer who can actually pay for your product is the only way to validate if you are on the right track.

Opinions from your boss, your spouse or your pub landlord don’t count. And, most of all, opinions from the people in the agile sprint don’t count. The confidence we all have in our beliefs is often not connected with the actual reality of customers. Only the opinion of people who can write the metaphorical (or real) cheque for the product counts. The beauty of an agile sprint is that you get the feedback at the end of the week, and in front of everybody, so nobody can deny reality.

Trying to be innovative does not mean that you have to create a ‘thing’, such as new technology or a new version of product. Sometimes it’s just ideas. One of the best solutions the group came up with was a repackaging of something that was already being done. The innovation was to turn this into a different sequence with a new name and better way of communicating the proposition. You could argue that it was just a series of repurposed ideas, but showing the true value unlike before. Whatever we thought, the customers loved it.

A final part about methodology. Having a methodology forces you to operate within narrower parameters, even if these are just time-based such as getting a working prototype ready for customers by 9am on Friday. Fewer resources are better than more resources as it focuses the mind.

So, part of the answer to being innovative is the method you use. The other is the mindset you have. Thinking about things differently, taking what everybody is looking at and presenting a totally different way of looking at it is the bedrock. All you need to make this form of innovation happen is a shift in people’s perspective. Indeed, convincing the group to think in new, unique and much simpler ways was the hardest bit.

Changing the game of innovation, therefore, involves changing the mindset. Getting a lot more people tuned into a different way of thinking by taking part in something they had never really done before, and seeing customers’ reactions in front of them, has created a wave of interest and an opening of minds that we could not have anticipated. And that alone was a much better outcome than creating all the new products in the world, as it has created the platform that will change the brand’s future.