Failure is real, but that’s ok. Agile is not a magic bullet. Your audience are customers

I was following the tweets at today’s #AMAiterate digital marketing event, all of the following is said with the fairly hefty caveat that following a conference via the tweets from attendees is reductive and unhelpful at best. However a few themes seemed to emerge and I thought I’d throw my thoughts into the mix as well.

1) failure is a good thing, or doesn’t exist, or is something you should seek out.

If I’m being kind I can see the sentiment behind this. However when taken at face-value (which is totally unfair as this particular person goes on to provide lots of useful context for this initial statement) my take on it is that; failure is not a good thing, failure does exist, and you should be trying to avoid it. Failure should not be your aspiration.

Learning from failure is essential, but that’s only possible if your acknowledge when failure has occurred, and that’s only possible if you acknowledge that it’s real in the first place, and know what it might look like.

Failure also shouldn’t be the only thing that triggers reflection and learning. Having an ongoing dialogue with your colleagues about what’s working well (do more of that) and what is working less well (try to do less of that) is essential to build a truly progressive, effective working culture.

I feel like I should emphasise that I actively endorse a working culture in which failure is recognised as an expected, and acceptable, inevitability of being a human who does stuff (show me someone who is 100% successful and I’ll show you a liar). Looking to apportion blame is a tedious waste of time and energy and does no-one any good. Rather than saying failure is good/aspirational/made-up would it not instead be more helpful to say that a culture of questioning, feedback and learning is something to strive for. Maybe that is what they said, but I guess that’s less tweetable.

2) Agile is totes the best ting evz and should be applied to everything

It seems there was a lot of talk about Agile (the capital A was intentional) and how it should be applied to…well, everything.

I’d argue there’s a big difference between Agile (I.e. A project management methodology that is absolutely not appropriate for every circumstance) and an agile (small a) influenced approach if that second term means a culture that aims to deliver things in smaller, more frequent chunks and then iterate through the project based on feedback. Agile (big A) can result in people getting bogged down in following a specific approach whereas agile is a cultural approach to project delivery.

It’s important to try and keep that difference in mind, agile shouldn’t be some sort of weird, cultish badge of honour, or sledgehammer approach that you attempt to apply to every aspect of what you do.

Appropriately applied it can yield great benefits, but it isn’t a panacea, it isn’t always appropriate and it requires more than simply stating you’re now agile and having a stand-up every few weeks.

In quite a software-specific way my lovely and handsome colleague Max wrote about this difference a few years ago.

This sums it up quite well:

However, as that tweet hopefully hints at, you can see this might not always be the most appropriate approach to take. Take an agile approach to your agile approach, or something.

3) everything is digital so nothing is digital

Yep, totally agree, which is why I wrote a fairly long rant about it…3 AND A HALF YEARS AGO, why is this still being presented as revelatory new information? Why hasn’t the sector started to respond to this reality, given that it has been the reality for getting on for half a decade now? That probably warrants being the subject of a separate post…

4) your audience are customers, they have expectations

Calling your audience customers may immediately get some people’s backs up, which is fair enough, it’s probably more nuanced than that.

However something we are always aware of at Substrakt is: people coming to buy a ticket on your site probably spend a lot of their time buying things on other sites, as such they have expectations about what their purchasing experience should be like. If your purchase pathway is 70x more complicated and difficult to navigate than Amazon’s, or Asos, or Sainsburys then they will notice. 

The fact that they’re willing to battle through that to buy a ticket should not be seen as an excuse to give this part of the ‘customer experience’ little/no attention, for many people your website (and buying a ticket there) may be their first interaction with you as an organisation, if it’s as easy and enjoyable as pulling a rotten tooth then surely that’s a bad thing?

tl;dr: judging a conference based solely on the tweets is unfair