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Agile Innovation: Principles & Methods


Agility in continuously adapting to change has never been more important than the present. Our world is more complex; even chaotic as everyone and nearly everything (think IoT, Internet of Things) is connecting in endless, technology-enabled ways. Hierarchies are giving way to networks of people and resources that must be aligned and brought to bear on innovation just to keep up.

Most leaders have heard about the concept of “Agile” methods, commonly associated with software development in the mid 1990’s and early 2000’s. However, they don’t realize there are many methods that adhere to agile principles that have been successfully applied, not only in software development, but across industries, service companies, non-profits, and civic institutions.

As agile methods replaced linear, or waterfall processes in software development, the same is occurring relative to strategy and innovation in a more universal way. Old-school, linear strategic planning is largely obsolete, with exceptions, and agile practices continue to gain traction as more enterprises learn about the applications and opportunities to innovate.

The Agile Manifesto was presented to the world in 2001 by a cohort of 17 leaders in software development (see who proffered four values and 12 principles of agile. In this space we present the 4 values, however it is worth the time to visit the Agile Manifesto (link above) to weigh the 12 principles.

The Agile Manifesto’s 4 statements of value (slightly adapted) are:

1. Individuals and interactions are valued over processes and tools.
2. Working product/service is valued over excessive documentation.
3. Customer collaboration is valued over contract negotiation.
4. Responding to change is valued over following a plan.

In practice, the agile approach to innovation:

 Promotes close collaboration by small teams of creative, cross-functional people, aligned via shared objectives and guided by simple rules, often connecting new networks of people and resources in new combinations.
 Emphasizes ideation, strategy, tactics and action on a highly accelerated basis.
 Depends on iterative think-work-adapt cycles across collaborating groups.
So, how does the agile mindset relate to agile methods in practice? We can begin by remembering that there are many methods or practices that adhere to agile principles, but vary in techniques, tools, and the problems, opportunities, and scales to which they are best applied.

Our objective here is to compare five recognized practices, or methods, that embrace agile principles. Many equate SCRUM with agile. Actually, SCRUM, its name derived from the rugby analog, is one of the most recognized methods of practice that applies agile principles, but it doesn’t define agile.

The attached table provides a generalized comparative analysis of five agile methods. In addition to SCRUM, we have taken a look at methods that have gained popularity on a global scale, including Strategic Doing, Google Ventures’ Sprint, Kanban, and Lean Development. The analysis provides a glimpse of each method as follows:

 Guiding Themes
 Favorable Conditions for Use
 Prescribed Roles
 Prescribed Process
 Approach to Cultural Change
 Advantages
 Challenges
Table is adapted from Rigby, Sutherland, and Takeuchi; Embracing Agile, April 2016, Harvard Business Review.

Our analysis demonstrates that, while each method has common principles, each has different applications in practice. All five methods have interesting origins and histories rooted in market-driven innovation, and each has contributed to some of the greatest breakthroughs in process management, product and service development, and collaborative initiatives that have changed the world.

A key distinction of these methods is the degree of prescriptiveness; how detailed roles, processes, tools, sequences, and time frames are prescribed by each. Lean Development and Kanban are the least prescriptive of the five methods, optimizing systems and workflows as a whole while reducing waste (Lean), and adding structure, visual elements and speed to work flows (Kanban).

Kanban, translated from its Japanese origins as “Visual Card” has also been adapted to stage or task-based project management software that has become popular including Trello, Asana, and SmartSheet, among others. While Lean Development and Kanban are considered agile methods, Lean principles of minimizing waste and continuously optimizing organizational systems and the visualization of workflows and efficiencies of Kanban may apply to all agile methods.

Strategic Doing, Google Ventures’ Sprint (GV Sprint), and SCRUM are methods that define prescribed processes, tools, and work flows for innovation. While SCRUM and GV Sprint have direct application to product and service development with rapid and iterative prototyping, they are largely deployed within organizations. Strategic Doing, developed by Ed Morrison and incubated at the Purdue University Agile Strategy Lab, is designed to connect and align networks of people within organizations, but also to cross boundaries, leveraging the resources of groups/networks outside of the primary organization in collaborative innovation.

There are also clear differences among the prescriptive methods in terms of the degree to which they specify process, the duration and sustainability of each, and the scalability of the methods. The GV Sprint approach is to assemble a small sprint team, ideally seven people, and apply the method over a concentrated period of five days. GV Sprint is highly prescriptive and deviation from the discipline is strongly discouraged. The advantage is that the five day sprint surfaces and prioritizes objectives, designs and develops a prototype product/service/process, and then interviews five prospective customers on the last day, providing instant market feedback. Feedback may drive the need for another Sprint or set the course for refined development in the case of favorable market reaction.

SCRUM is a detailed, yet moderately prescriptive, method that is typically deployed within organizations that wish to foster agile product/service development on a sustainable basis. An internal Product Owner and a SCRUM Master lead a relatively small SCRUM team (7 to 9 people) in weekly work efforts known as Sprints (though not related to the GV Sprint). The method requires daily, face-to-face interaction with teammates, continuous improvement, and product/service prototypes within relatively short periods, e.g. a few weeks. Retrospective and forward-looking sprint meetings foster review and adaptation of each work increment. SCRUM may be scaled to integrate multiple teams, although this greatly increases complexity.
As mentioned, Strategic Doing may be deployed within organizations, but is also commonly applied in connecting groups and networks that cross organizational boundaries. This discipline is designed to be scalable and sustainable and, unlike the other methods reviewed here, isn’t necessarily focused on product/service prototyping.

Strategic Doing forms collaborations quickly in open, loosely connected networks, often revealing hidden assets and resources that can be applied to initiatives of mutual strategic value. This method has been successfully deployed in service of relatively small efforts, say at the department level, and also at the level of regional economic development, aligning and activating networks that cross commercial and civic economies.

Strategic Doing typically involves a training element that applies the process in a mock scenario, gamification exercise. This training is often in combination with an applied workshop facilitated by a trained guide. The method is organized around a core team (7 to 10 people) that provides leadership, communication, and plays a critical role in designing and guiding innovating networks.

Training and applied workshops follow a detailed process that is focused around a problem, need, or opportunity and then moved through prescribed steps known as a workshop “pack”. The process reveals assets and resources offered by participants in service of the effort, and fosters an efficient and transparent means of setting strategy and identifying desired outcomes. Success metrics are established and simple, yet structured, decision-making is applied in selecting a priority, or Pathfinder, project that is put into action immediately. Workshops are typically three to four hours, and combined training and applied workshops consume a day.

Communications are established and work increments are set according to practical need. The most common iterative cycle is 30 days, referred to as a 30/30; a retrospective look at the previous 30 days and an adapted action plan for the next 30 days. The core team is always looking to leverage new assets, reach across boundaries, and guide strategically aligned, innovating networks.

It is clear that all of these methods adhere to agile values and principles, and that there are distinctions in how they may be applied. It is also clear that all of the methods can drive collaborative innovation, and can move organizational and institutional cultures toward sustained vitality in our complex, competitive world.

Please take a look at the attached table for more insight into each method. We’ve only scratched the surface in this piece and these methods, though framed by simple rules, require persistent, hard work to pay off. We think it’s worth it!


Agile Innovation Table

Table Adapted from Rigby, Sutherland, and Takeuchi; Embracing Agile, April 2016, HBR


Video Production Value: Demo Reel

Most folks know by now that video production for business is in high gear, from social media posts to culture and product video for websites, TV commercials, and even client pitches.  Training videos for corporate learning management systems (LMS), product and service tutorials, investor pitches, human resources and testimonials; the applications of video raise communications effectiveness at every level.

As commercial uses of video continue to evolve and production tools get better and more accessible, the cost of video production is coming down. The demand for creating video content and enabling technologies are driving a diversity of production methods, from cell phone cameras to camera-wielding drones, to cinema-level enterprise productions.  This, of course, means the range of video cost and quality varies widely and this is as it should be.

Production values; the qualities of content, story-telling, lighting, sound, camera, and crew skills should be commensurate with the intended distribution channels.  Marketers have to match application needs, budget resources, and production quality (production value) with their enterprise communication strategies.

For this article, we focus on professional-level production.  The quality of messaging and visual design, scripting, casting, makeup and wardrobe, location selection, production equipment, and post-production editing, animation, effects, and coloration talents are paramount at every step in the production process.

Our Director of Photography and Cinematography, John Jones, recently compiled a demo reel of his work in 2016.  We’re proud to share John’s reel here as an example of what “doing it right” looks like.   Of course, we help marketers with video needs at all production values, but it’s a pleasure to show off the great stuff.


Alignment & Innovation Through Inquiry

The Creative Power of Inquiry                                     

Every creative initiative requires an establishment of clarity; an alignment of strategy, needs, and desires with innovation and the means to deliver successful outcomes. Most of us are familiar with the terms, due diligence, discovery or, other introductory exchanges. In every case, this work is “framed” by asking questions; hopefully the right ones!

This business of asking questions frequently gets lost in check lists or pro forma questions that reveal important inputs to start a project, but the real power of finding the best stuff; real differentiation in new, innovative ways isn’t applied. So we seek to raise the bar on the art and science of inquiry.

“The important and difficult job is not to find the right answer; it is to find the right question.” – Peter Drucker (widely recognized as the “father” of management theory)

Organizations frequently hold group sessions for brainstorming solutions to problems or in open ideation. These sessions typically elicit answers that are relevant to the subject matter, but often don’t yield breakthrough ideas. We encourage an alternative to brainstorming: QuestionStorming.question mark

In questionstorming, collaborative time is invested in ideating many questions focused around a problem, situation or opportunity. The objective is to challenge participants to develop and, then, refine a list of questions in seeking the most insightful perspectives for follow up. This process often reveals hidden problems and opportunities that would likely have been missed. Diversity among the group; meaning a diversity of life and business experience that is unique to each person, fuels the creativity and breadth of the work.

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and author of The Innovator’s DNA, speaks of rediscovering a child-like curiosity about the world; taking on the endless cycle of “whys”. Asking probing, provocative questions is the root foundation of innovation.

Within the context of Gregersen’s book, DNA is code for “Discovering New Associations”. Big ideas, breakthroughs are often associated with discovering new associations; think of a chef who discovers a new ingredient in some part of the world and then combines it with an existing recipe that becomes a best seller. Finding new associations among your assets and across their networks is a wonderful reward for time spent in finding the right questions.

Insightful video from Gregersen may be found at

Journalist and innovation expert, Warren Berger, echos the notion of encouraging child-like curiosity, and takes a deep dive into finding imaginative, “beautiful” questions. His book, “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas”, is a wonderful resource for those seeking growth or mastery in the discipline of inquiry.

A relevant (short) video by Warren Berger may be found at

So, we raise our glass to new ways of thinking. It’s simple in theory; a bit more difficult in practice, but worth the effort. Begin with…
Imagine if…..?
How might we…?
What would that look like?
Why, Why, Why, Why, Why?


You keep hearing about the need for SEM and SEO for your website, but all you hear is alphabet soup. What are SEM and SEO? What is the difference between them and does your company even need these to be successful? We’re here to help.

What is SEM and SEO?

To put it plainly, SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) are types of digital marketing. These practices are specifically used to promote your websitSEM SEO SOS Imagees by increasing their usability in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) like Google or Bing.

SEM is a broader practice of increasing web usability that uses SEO and paid advertisement listings, like Pay per Click (PPC) or Google Adwords campaigns. In other words, SEM can be thought of as buying traffic to your site through paid search listings. By using SEM you can instantly increase your web traffic and it guarantees a better visibility on search engine results pages.

SEO is the unpaid component of SEM. It increases your web traffic organically by adjusting or rewriting your website content architecture in order to achieve higher rankings. In other words, SEO uses content already on your website to help search engines “read” and properly index your site, and increase traffic.

SEO can be even further broken down into active SEO and passive SEO. Active SEO refers to going outside your site to build or influence other sites to point to you. This can be achieved through consistently creating new content, like blog posts.  New followers begin to recognize you as a thought leader in your market space and link to your site. Passive SEO refers to the management of SEO that is on your site, including using tags correctly, reusing keywords and having good descriptions and articles. Search engines, like Google and Bing, use both passive and active factors in their algorithms to make sure that they are providing relevant information to their searchers.

SEO is important for companies that want to be found online and increase website traffic. It’s inexpensive and will increase traffic over time, however it is a long term approach. Having good SEO doesn’t mean that the next day you are going to increase your rankings in searches. SEO establishes your presence and search engine credibility and, just like the real world, it takes a while for the word to get out.

SEM (PPC/Adwords) on the other hand instantly increases your web traffic. The people who see SEM advertisements are actively searching the keywords you acquire. However, it’s a paid service so you will be coming out of pocket.

Would my company benefit?

Many businesses benefit from SEM and nearly all benefit from better SEO practices. But it is important to assess website intent, use, and market dynamics when a business is considering SEM options.   One “size” definitely does not fit all!

Jordan Spieth Sets Records & a Fine Example

The media is rife with examples of celebrities, sports stars, public and corporate leaders demonstrating a “lowering of the bar” for conduct, fueling cynicism and making many of us wonder whether a worthy role model is to be found these days. But every now and then the world is treated to something extra special that transcends its own context or genre; something that captures our attention and re-calibrates our expectations of personal and profeJordan Spiethssional behavior. Right now we are enjoying the emergence of this rare phenomenon in professional golfer, Jordan Spieth.

Jordan began to attract the attention of golf fans at the tender age of 14, even appearing in a (now famous) video sharing his desire to some day win the Masters Championship. As a two-time winner of the United States Junior Amateur Championship (2009, 2011), and an anchor of the 2012 University of Texas Longhorns NCAA Championship team, he continued to demonstrate his potential for greatness, turning pro in 2012 at age 19.

Having notched his first PGA Tour win at the 2013 John Deere Classic, Spieth became the first teenager to win a Tour event in 82 years. But the magic of his skill and character began to draw worldwide attention in late 2014 as Jordan won the Australian Open with an 8 under par final round and a 6 shot victory, followed by a 10 shot win at Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge in December. In early March of 2015, Spieth won again – this time the Valspar Championship on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook in extra holes. He then realized his dream of winning the Masters Championship in April, as the second youngest winner of this prestigious championship in history.

During this 79th playing of the Masters, the golf world seemed to light up with renewed excitement and energy reminiscent of Tiger’s dominant years, as the now 21 year old Spieth played with a calm demeanor and maturity far beyond his years, setting or matching many performance records. His interactions with his caddie and other players, thoughtful and intelligent comments in interviews, and the depth of his respect for the history of the game drew rave remarks and praise, spilling over from the golf world to main stream media. Grace under pressure, adjusting to and managing adversity, and maintaining focus under incredible competitive fire power and the fragile state of proximity to realizing a dream that could be dashed by a single errant shot; what a show!

June brought us the United States Open, the second Major championship of the year on the links style Chambers Bay Golf Course in Washington state. Conditions at Chambers Bay were challenging and a bit controversial, but Spieth again demonstrated poise, focus, and skill without complaint, outlasting Dustin Johnson on the final hole to become the youngest winner of the U.S. Open since Bobby Jones in 1923. In picking up the second Major of the season, Jordan joined the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and Craig Wood as the only men to win both of these tournaments in the same year.

The stage was now set and the chatter at full volume about a possible single year Grand Slam run (winning all four Major championships in one year) raising the hype, excitement, expectations of, and certainly the pressurSt Andrewse on this young man as The Open Championship at St. Andrews approached. Yet another window into Jordan’s character was provided by his decision to play the John Deere Classic, honoring a commitment made rather than opting to prepare for the Open Championship at a links style tournament in Scotland. A classy move and, yes, he won the tournament in a playoff.

Now the number 2 professional golfer in the world, Spieth played The Open Championship under extreme pressure that only seemed to affect fans, commentators, and other players. In the end, he finished one shot short of a playoff for the third Major of the year, but he won more hearts and minds, and the respect of the sporting world handling the loss with grace and true sportsmanship.

So, time will tell how far this remarkable young man will go; how deeply he will rewrite the history books. The fourth and final Major of the year, the PGA Championship is coming next week. A win at Whistling Straits would make Spieth one of only three players in history to hold 3 Majors in a season, along with Woods and Hogan. We can’t wait to watch!

So, why, you might ask, are we writing about a professional golfer in this forum at all? Simple, really; the example set by Jordan Spieth, especially given his age, inspired us. His commitment to excellence, pursuing success within a highly competitive landscape with dignity, courtesy, and good sportsmanship. These behaviors should be fundamental qualities of all companies, and the reminder comes to us wrapped in the meteoric rise of this amazing young man. A true role model for our times.


Video: Promotional Products Adventure

As a full service marketing agency, SMARTS uses and sells promotional products as integral elements of enterprise branding and outreach. We recently decided to produce a video about the use of promo merchandise in business. We wrote the script and began working through storyboard ideas, only to reach the conclusion that the material was so dull; well-written, of course, but dull and ordinary to the point that we, ourselves, wouldn’t enjoy making or watching the piece.

Enter new idea: why not have promotional products make their own case for use in business? The stars of our video were on my desk – fun, character pens with a diversity of looks and market-specific relevance. All they needed was a voice and an opportunity to tell their story!

With plenty of inspiration from the lead and supporting cast, we soon had a new script in hand and enthusiasm for letting the characters drive the visual elements of the story. Happie Inkster, our host writing implement, provides a guided tour beginning on the executive desktop with appearances at Tampa landmarks and visits to outer space and the ocean floor, extolling the virtues of promotional products in reaching people, connecting with them, everywhere!

The point to all this is to drive home the idea that almost anything from an ink pen to a World War II army vehicle can be branded and linked with a cause, message, or simply something fun that breaks the daily grind. These things make a difference in the most powerful dynamic of business: connecting with people.

We hope you enjoy our video. It Takes a Village, with Happie Inkster.

The Changing Landscape of Public Relations

Public relations is, indeed, a marketing art of tremendous importance to companies and organizations as enterprise-level messaging and communications strategies, brand management, reputation management, and crisis management matters are dealt with proactively.

PR is rapidly evolving; the press release, while still a means of outreach to the media, is largely obsolete as communications tools and bandwidth enable better, “stickier” messages across multiple channels.   Business and consumer expectations are rising and appetites for consuming rich visual content are whet, necessitating more attention to creativity, content production values, and reaching people when and where they are ready to receive enterprise content.

In our latest video production for SMARTS Library, we teamed up with our good friend and strategic partner Tony Collins, President of the Blake Collins Group. Tony shares his thoughts about the evolving world of professional public relations, and the importance of having enterprise content created in the right medium, with the right message, distributed across the right channels to reach target markets at the right time.

We hope you enjoy our video production of The Changing Landscape of Public Relations, with Tony Collins.

Winning Presentation: Video Presentation – SMARTS Wins ICTC Website Design & Development

A picture paints a thousand words; a video, nearly 2 million in about a minute.   While PowerPoint remains a useful tool in the hands of creative and skilled authors, the marketing art of presentation “ante” is being upped (as with everything else it seems) by technology.  In this case technology is lower-cost access to video production, post-production equipment and software, distribution channel bandwidth, and improved audio-visual projection.

When the opportunity value is “big” the presentation should also “go big”.   Companies need to differentiate and get their message across as clearly and effectively as possible in memorable style.   Video pulls together live-shot content, motion graphics, demonstrations, music; all of the communicative media that deliver those millions of word-equivalents to the senses of buyers of goods and services.

SMARTS recently had the opportunity to present our case to the Tampa Bay Advanced Manufacturing Industry Certification Training Center Program (ICTC) in our bid to become the design and development agency for their new website.  The ICTC initiative is an international partnership to bring German/European – style education, training and apprenticeship programs to the Tampa Bay area.   Our video presentation (shared with you here) includes live-shot bi-lingual elements, live-capture demonstrations of comparable website design and functionality, motion graphics, music, and a clear connection of presentation content back to our proposal.   As with a PowerPoint presentation, commentary was delivered live to the ICTC selection Board (a voice-over of the commentary was added to the video for other uses, including this blog post).

We are incredibly proud to be the design and development agency for the ICTC’s new website.   In this case, our video presentation was a significant differentiating factor, expressing our commitment to the ICTC initiative, our understanding of their goals and objectives, a connection to additional detail in our proposal, and a sense of practical direction for next steps.   Here is SMARTS’ winning video presentation.  Thank you so much to the ICTC for choosing us to work with you on this excellent program.  It’s a terrific example of what a public/private partnership should be.


Have you Heard about the St. Petersburg Science Festival?

This past Saturday, we volunteered at the St. Petersburg Science Festival located along the waterfront campus of the University of South Florida, St. Pete.   Our sponsorship of the event included demonstration of our quadcopter video drone, and filming highlights of the festival.

Our participation at the event refreshed our perspective on the power of hands-on experience in connecting the depth, beauty, and enormity of science with people of all ages.  This event is a terrific blend of family fun, entertainment, interactive learning, and eye-opening experiences with creatures from land, sea, and air, both seen and unseen by the human eye, and the chemistry, biology, geology, physics, eco- and environmental systems of our planet and beyond.

Part of our responsibility in filming the event was to capture visual highlights of the festival, but the most powerful imagery that emerged was the reaction of kids, their parents; everyone who could be seen catching on to a new idea, expressing amazement at realities of our world, and consuming this “stuff” with wide-eyed enthusiasm.  Seeing the people connect; that was the beauty of this event for me.

Please enjoy this video from the 2014 St. Petersburg Science Festival.

Animated Videos for Product – Service Marketing: Advantages versus Live-shot Video

As we continue our mission to help clients REACH internal and external customers, CONNECT their enterprise content with people, EVERYWHERE through digital and traditional media, we create and produce content in all forms, shapes and sizes. One of our favorite tactics is the use of animations to transcend the limitations and costs of live-shot video.

We’ve had clients with exciting creative visions for marketing their product or service, including a desire to communicate these visions through video, but the production scale to realize these visions, if produced with live-shot video, would be cost and time-prohibitive.

In these cases, we’ve found that using illustrations, animated in various styles, including white board animation, frees the creative process from limitations of location, visual themes, production complications; basically the only limitations are imagination and the talents of the creative team.

Animation allows the creative team to proceed with clever, humorous, exciting stories set in any location or physical scenario desired to position products and services in context with their markets in a unique way.  One of the examples posted here uses the analogy of a battlefield of competition and a treacherous mountain climb to success in capturing government contracts as facilitated through specialty financing.    The second example shares a path from distraught thoughts of retirement challenges, through a humorous education about the benefits of an online retirement planning tool, and the excitement of now having simple, affordable support for retirement planning.

The time and cost associated with these productions was a small fraction of live-shot versions, and the point of each piece is far better made by the animated scene-scape and messaging.  These cases were major wins for our clients!

So if you would like to go with video for your branding, messaging, product/service marketing, keep in mind that there are many options for producing creative works and the first step is matching up production methods with budget and time resources.