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Agile Meets Pragmatic Marketing

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Pragmatic Marketing is a product management methodology for the technology industry which seeks to apply values and principles similar to those of agile software development. So what happens when the pragmatic marketers meet the agile developers? In a recent article, Stacey Weber writes that the meshing of cultures is often less than perfect:
Acrimonious is a pretty accurate description of many companies’ experiences with agile methodologies. This approach basically gives in to rapidly changing requirements. In fact, I believe that Agile was created because engineers needed to figure out how to deal with constant and inconsistent changes from executives and product managers. These engineers are dealing with executives who can’t decide which is a top priority and product managers who are too busy thinking about requirements to actually visit the market and learn the real requirements... For engineering, agile seems to be the answer—their teams can stay focused on a very small set of requirements. They can basically ignore the executives and product managers… and any changes more than a few weeks down the road.
False premises aside, one thing rings true: agile methods do not magically solve fundamental problems within the business. Specifically, agile methods won't help the business if the business can't decide what it should build, or at least prioritize among competing concerns. This theme was elaborated on by Barbara Nelson and Stacey Mentzel in an article titled Extreme Product Management:
If agile methods by themselves were solving the problem of building products people want to buy, we wouldn’t need to write this article. We’d say, “Be agile!” But over and over again we hear that agile has helped deliver something sooner, but without some planning and overall vision, what is being delivered (let’s call it user stories) may not actually help us sell more software.

In response to their perceived shortcomings of agile methods, the authors advocate "agile waterfall", which is essentially agile software development with a stronger emphasis on long-range planning. In one respect, this seems both reasonable and necessary - give the business some ability to make long-range plans and commitments in order to make sales; to help them "create products people want to buy" - the mantra of Pragmatic Marketing. However, an overemphasis on long-range plans doesn't enable the business to capitalize on the feedback provided by incrementally-developed, working software. After all, building the product should be helping the business better understand what sort of product can be built, and for how much. Ironically, the target industry for Pragmatic Marketing is technology hardware and software, and true technology innovation involves more than simply listening to the market; it involves showing the market that which they did not know was possible. One doubts that the iPhone was born of a marketing focus group.

Nevertheless, Pragmatic Marketing should interest advocates of agile methods both because it shows that agile values and principles can be applied with success on the business side, and more importantly because - in some cases - it is attempting to address situations where agile development practices are failing the business. Why is this, and what can be done?

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