I have watched agile methodology kill companies.
Agile methodology originated in the software world and bled into every other world. Distilled down, it’s the concept that instead of dedicating a lot of time and energy into one big project, you should break it up into little bite-sized sprints, build a little bit at a time, and test small things before you commit to a big thing.
It’s good in theory, and it works for some sorts of projects, but when you apply it to business it is pretty much a recipe for mediocrity.
Big success requires big ideas.
Big ideas require big work.
Let me illustrate.
I once worked with a company that wanted to be innovative, but was actually risk-averse. True innovation is impossible without some sort of risk. Otherwise we’d all be innovators.
The company liked the idea of big ideas, but since they operated the whole business on agile principles, they wanted to break them down into two-week-long sprints. They wanted cross-functional teams. They wanted scrum masters. They wanted iteration instead of execution. (People who have worked in this environment recognize these terms). And they had lots of great ideas, but they couldn’t ever execute them. They were too worried about efficiency and testing every single iteration before committing to the next sprint. Ironically enough, they never actually launched anything revolutionary because they were too risk-averse to buckle down & get it done. They played it so safe, they put themselves in danger.
They were always doing something, but they never did anything.
The problem is that the Vikings didn’t just iteratively explore Vinland — they had to point a longboat west & take a leap of faith.
You can’t just iteratively build a spaceship — you can’t “almost” get to orbit.
You can’t iteratively produce a feature film.
You can’t build a house iteratively (well, you can, but it’ll look like it).
Folks in this company liked the phrase “we learn from failure”. You hear this phrase a lot these days. Mostly from coaches.
But the reality is, failure is still failure. At the end of the day, we don’t want failure, we want wins. And if your iterations don’t start winning more than losing, all the agile approach has done for you is stretch out your loss over hundreds of sprints.
In 2018, I started writing a nonfiction technical book. A book is a hefty, painful project. The first draft took me six months of nearly constant work.
There was no iterative way for me to write this book. It wasn’t a collection of poems. It was an intro to digital marketing, split into two sections: the hard skills and the soft skills. Instead of writing 50,000 words at once, sure, I could have written 25 different 2,000-word blog posts. But that would not have set me apart from anything — people put out blog posts every day. People do not write a book every day.
Since we published Becoming A Digital Marketer in early 2019, it’s now in the syllabus of dozens of universities, brought us countless leads, and we’ve followed it up with two more technical books. Altogether we’ve sold almost 10,000 copies, Anya’s book on Google Ads got translated into French, and the influence just keeps on spreading.
A blog post would never have done that. A thousand blog posts would never have done that.
Could the book have failed? Yes, and it would have been a lot of time wasted. Would anything else have worked that well? No.
Big success requires big ideas. Big ideas require big work. Big work? That just requires time, energy, patience, and actually getting something done.
Back at the agile company, lots of cool ideas were proposed. But none were approved. Instead, these big ideas were broken down into agile-appropriate, sprint-contained little ideas. And they all had little success.
Being risk averse is a risk in & of itself.