Agile Analogy

Thinking about our presentations on agile market research recently reminded me of a story from my younger days. In that time, I worked in a single story office building on a residential street in suburban New Jersey.

The primary client for the team where I was assigned was the United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC). For those of you who remember the ‘Be All You Can Be’ advertising, the data from all those multi-year, TV, print, radio and direct mail campaigns flowed through my company’s systems.

My job was to liaise between the data people on my team and the USAREC Majors, Colonels and Generals seeking to fulfill each year’s recruiting mission. Our workhorses were big blue boxes that filled temperature and dust controlled rooms: IBM mainframes.

One weekend, I went out with some of my high school friends, one of whom worked in a similar data processing company. We started talking about segmentation and algorithms for duplication identification and elimination. He mentioned that they’d bought a new computer system, the PDP-11 by DEC.

This ‘mini’ computer cost a whole lot less than a mainframe, had comparable processing power and a much friendlier interface. Picture a computer about the size of the desk your parents had in their office versus a computer the size of your parents’ living room.

That memory struck me as analogous to our evangelization of agile market research. Marketers and market researchers may be at that decision point. Agile MR represents that DEC mini, easier to use, and much more cost effective, yet potentially uncomfortable for some, as it lacks the echelons of support staff and technicians required by the old school, big MR box.

Agile market research can also be a problem as it’s become a buzzword that salespeople and their sales managers use. As I’m fond of quoting, Owen Jenkins (a leading proponent of agile), CEO of Kadence International when reviewing a sales proposal ‘they say it’s agile, but it’s just fast.’

There was a saying, once upon a time, that no one gets fired for buying IBM. The rationale was when you purchase the traditional and accepted, no one can second guess you.

Working in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century, I wonder if ideas like traditional and accepted are a moving target. Agile market research gives us the method to quickly, iteratively learn and adapt to rapidly changing markets and consumers … and then do it again the next day or the next week.


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