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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.


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.

Aerial Videography via Drone

Drones (used by SMARTS) are unmanned aerial vehicles that have been scaled down to four propeller “quadcopters” that are simple to fly. Most of the drones used for commercial video are very small, around 24 inches from prop tip-to-tip, and flight is assisted by GPS satellite positioning and even guidance. The drone we use has a gimbal-stabilized, high definition camera that can be controlled from a smart phone connected through a wifi network that is setup from the quadcopter to the remote controller and phone. Real-time flight video can be watched on the phone during filming, and adjustments to the camera view and settings can be made during flight.

Our applications for SMARTS-Force 1 (the first in our drone fleet) have been real estate, tv commercial production, and company “sizzle reel” productions for promotional videos that are deployed on websites, email campaigns, and social media posts. The aerial footage is incredibly stable and dramatically increases production values of each video through unique perspectives and motion dynamics. Home & property video is more inclusive and dramatic, adding a sense of majesty to beautiful architecture and surrounds. Filming with the drone can yield shots that were formerly too expensive or time consuming to capture, and low altitude, close quarters flights can provide producers and directors with many more creative shot angles and camera movements that really beef up editing options in post-production.

The small size of these drones, their toy-like characteristics, and basic safety features make the use of this equipment easy and safe for proximity to buildings and people, assuming responsible operators are at the controls.

The controller device and GPS data alert the pilot if the quadcopter enters restricted air space, and sensible deployment (or a no-go decision) can manage risks during production. Very few rules or regulations exist at present to limit or foster drone uses for film, although it is expected that the FAA will develop regulations as the population of private and commercial drone users continues to grow.

Consuming Genius for its Own Sake

These days in the new economy, the idea and act of continuous learning are mainstream and, I think, acknowledged as necessity.  In my case I feel fortunate that consumption of new information in any form, but especially material on the technical side, has always been a fulfilling habit; I guess I never really got hooked on fiction or stories just for their own sake.  It’s obvious now that in order to simply keep pace with innovation and advancement in communications, productivity tools, and technologies affecting all of us, we have to pay attention and make the personal commitment to hungrily learn on a daily basis.

I had an experience last week that, briefly, snapped me out of my own robotic “must read this to keep up” frame of mind, and it felt refreshing and stimulating.  It still had everything to do with continuous learning, but it also had the added stuff that grabbed my attention and excitement about the opportunity to read this piece; in this case listen to the audio book.

einsteinFor me, the newly released book from this author represents a work of genius.  On discovery of its release, I immediately downloaded the book and felt excited about the time I would spend listening to it; as of this writing I am still looking forward to it.   I’ll keep the author and title of my example out of this post because the author and piece are genius to me (based on past works read), and I expect that this sense of value in a written or recorded work is rather personal.  Genius to you is assessed within the context of your life experience and belief system, so let’s leave the meaning of exceptional or genius work open in this case.

I know that when I invest the time to listen, I will be challenged to think, will be impressed and moved by brilliant prose and I, most certainly, will learn something.  Not necessarily about a new creative software tool or industry conference, but something absolutely of value to me.  More along the lines of a story that may or may not help my career directly, but will stimulate and reinforce my appreciation for learning for its own sake; for the joy of it.

My experience last week was stark enough to motivate this post.  To encourage others to be on the lookout for those rare pieces of great work, however you define them for yourself.  Consume and absorb the genius for its own sake.  It still counts as continuous learning, regardless of CEU value.