Agile In The Mainstream

There’s an interesting little article on Publishers Weekly that shows us just how far Agile has moved into the mainstream.

Keen to take advantage of digital possibilities in publishing, BISG – the Book Industry Strategy Group – hosted a webchat introduction to Agile. Agile is obviously well established in digital and software development, but the fact that the publishing world is now wondering if Agile is right for them suggests it’s about to step outside of its traditional remit.

Agile is a pretty popular buzz word at the moment and we’re hearing it more and more – agile marketing, agile teams, agile development, agile leadership… it’s fast being taken up by many different specialities.

Of course, the real strength of Agile is in its core values, such as valuing individuals over processes, aiming for working software (or a working product)over reams of documentation and working with the customer as opposed to undertaking lengthy formal negotiations. That’s not to say that the latter isn’t important, just that we Agile fans think the former things are more so.

In short, an Agile way of working is flexible, quicker to respond and adapt (doesn’t need a lengthy plan) and doesn’t bog workers, developers, marketers or anyone for that matter down in lengthy paperwork. Its whole ethos is to allow us to develop software or products quickly and consistently.

That boils down to quick cycles/iterations/sprints of a week to a month, and working groups that can organise themselves, as opposed to traditional hierarchy.

Put like that, there shouldn’t be any reason that Agile couldn’t be used for any number of things, whether it be software (we know it works well here), sales, processes, even running a business. And now, maybe, it could soon be used in publishing.

Of course, as featured speaker Kristen McLean, founder and CEO of Bookigee, stated in the BISG webcast, there is one key difference between Agile and publishing that no doubt has some traditional publishers a little nervous – and that’s the difference between Agile’s emphasis on process and publishing’s emphasis on perfection.

Of Agile, McLean said: “It’s more important to get it out than to get it perfect, because when you get it out you can test it.” (Customer feedback and interaction is also a key component of Agile).

Of course, this understandably makes publishers nervous: As McLean confessed: “We don’t like typos; we don’t like half-finished books.”

So, could Agile ever find a genuine place in publishing? According to McLean, yes, it is possible.

She stressed that Agile helps boost job satisfaction (it becomes obvious who is pulling their weight in the small workgroups) and could give publishers more information about their customers than ever before. (It values forward-facing information such as how was the book bought and when.)

Of perhaps even more value to the end reader and to the publishing house, an Agile process could be used to encourage audience feedback. Communication between author and reader can be frequent as opposed to distant, while a first iteration of a book (releasing a few chapters, for instance) can spark discussion and thus pre-promotion.

In short, she thinks it’s a process that could work. Some publishers have already embarked on their own experiment.

It’s a pretty radical approach to be sure – not only could it potentially change the face of publishing, but it could also irrevocably alter the way we, the reading public, consume books as well. Having seen Agile in action, however, I have to agree with McLean that it has a lot to offer and doesn’t deserve to be restricted to just software and development.

I should hold my hands up here and state that I am a huge fan of Agile. I am, in fact, a Professional Scrum Trainer – you can read more about me here:

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