Faster Results Through Agile Methodology
By Matt Bradford
Between exhaustive research, multi-phase plans, staff training, and system upgrades, it can take years for a new project to take shape. Unfortunately, in this era of constant innovation, short attention spans, and fast-paced competition, time is a luxury that associations can no longer afford.
In short, says Suzanne Carawan, Chief Marketing Officer with HighRoad Solution, speed counts: “Many associations still rely on long and drawn-out project management cycles, but by the time they're finally ready to launch their new website or innovative member service they're way too late to the game or someone else has already beaten them to the punch.”
Long project management cycles can also be hard to maintain. An association's focus is often dominated by day-to-day tasks that make it difficult for staff to find and maintain the energy necessary to drive initiatives that might be years away from becoming a reality.
Enter: Agile methodology; a project management approach that replaces this slow, methodical approach with one that favours smaller steps, ongoing experimentation, and a feedback-driven process.
“Agile methodology is about breaking up a big idea into bite-sized chunks and testing those pieces out in the real world. It's about pulling the trigger, getting out there, and developing your new service or product based on feedback from members on what's working and what's not,” explains Carawan. “With agile methodology, by the time you are ready to roll-out the final product, you already know how it's going to be received.”
Agile methodology has its roots in the tech field. With the online revolution came an opportunity for companies to update their products on a whim, pilot new software instantaneously, and gradually improve their final products through incremental releases and a public feedback loop.
This methodology has also been embraced in sectors like the auto industry, where manufacturers “test drive” design concept and new features with consumers throughout the development process, rather than develop a car for years behind closed doors and cross their fingers that it will sell.
“You can see where agile methodology can also help associations,” suggests Carawan. “Take marketing automation, for example. In the past, associations would go through a long RFP process, form a committee to discuss it for months, draw up a one-year implementation plan, and generally be really slow at making decisions. It was paralysis by analysis, which doesn't work anymore.”
Instead, she adds, associations are better served by taking action. That means doing the necessary research, picking a trusted vendor, and launching a pilot program to see if the idea is even viable to begin with. If it is, then the next step is to begin improving it. If it isn't, the next move is to find out why and try again.
“It's the same approach with a blog or a website,” notes Carawan. “The traditional way would be to conduct audience surveys and market research and then draw up a proposal and content plan. What agile methodology says is, 'just do it' – get it out there, put a little money into promoting it, and see what happens. What do you have to lose? It's not open heart surgery and you'd be surprised how open and forgiving your target market is when it comes to experimenting with new ideas.”
Beyond avoiding burnout in a multi-year project cycle, agile methodology saves money. Problems and potential improvements are identified throughout the planning process via ongoing testing and feedback. This risk of going to launch with something that doesn't work – or worse, something your members don't respond to – is all but eliminated.
Of course, it helps to partner with subject matter experts and vendors who can bring their expertise and lessons learned to the table. Partners that embrace agile are able to both utilize the framework to bring your project to life faster, as well as teach the association how it works so that the organization can continue to apply the framework for successive projects and programs.
“There’s just too wide of a gap in skills and knowledge for associations to try and figure it out for themselves. You need a trusted partner to accelerate your growth” summarizes Carawan.
Suzanne Carawan is Chief Marketing Officer with HighRoad Solution. For a copy of the 2017 State of Digital Marketing in Associations Research Report, visit http://pages.highroadsolution.com/sdma-2017-download-the-report