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Pitching Agile and the Elevator Test

Some time ago I read Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore, which is about marketing high tech products to mainstream customers. The part of the book that stuck with me, and the one that has the most pages marked in my copy was the section on positioning a product, in particular the section on the elevator test, which I've found to be a useful framework for understanding the value of many things, not just high tech products and companies.

A successful 2 sentence statement of the value of product should pass the elevator test . While the book is focused on making a claim for getting the interest of investors, being able to cast any idea you are trying to sell into this format is a great exercise, as it forces you to be focused and to really understand the value to your audience of the idea you are describing. Once you've got someone interested you can then go into the nuances.

In an elevator pitch you should be able to describe:
  • Your target audience
  • The market alternative
  • The new category that your idea/product fills
  • What problem solving capability this new thing provides
  • An alternative that is in the target audiences mind, and
  • The key product features
I have seen the benefits of agile software development, and I I really understand them. The problem is that my intuitive understanding often gets in the way of my explaining the issues that others are concerned with -- what's obvious to me isn't always obvious to others!). The really short tag lines ("Embrace Change" for example) sometimes lead people to think of agile as just rapid change. and don't get across the discipline that an successful agile project needs. And lots of people have been jaded, having experienced projects billed as "agile" which were more chaotic with a couple of agile technical practices thrown in. I wanted to try to imagine what a pitch for agile would be. (And I welcome feedback).

This is my attempt pitch for agile that can pass the elevator test:
For organizations who are dissatisfied with the overhead and lack of flexibility of conventional software development methods, Agile Software Development is a software development process. Unlike traditional chaotic or document-heavy approaches, Agile Software Development is a lightweight, yet highly disciplined approach that delivers end to end value in frequent iterations, where the stakeholders can re-evaluate priorities based on the state of the application and current market needs at the end of an iteration.
This seems close to what I was aiming for. What's missing, I think, is a good characterization of the alternative to agile. People who are investigating agile might be looking to change from anything from a traditional waterfall process, to (more typically) a chaotic approach. I'm not sure that I captured that entirely.

Even if this isn't the best pitch, thinking about how to express the value of agile clearly and quickly is a good exercise. Much like agile planning, where "The plan is nothing, planning is everything," the exercise of developing a pitch that can pass the elevator test is perhaps more important than the actual pitch.


Mario Moreira said…
Yes, I think the idea of establishing an elevator pitch is important when you are engaged in a "change" initiative. It is part of the incidental marketing that should occur with anyone who is engaged with the Agile initiative (or any initiative). Let's face it, hallway or elevator conversations are where a lot of information gets shared so it is good as an "agent for change" to have an informal yet prepared discussion ready. The challenge with elevator pitches are how to concisely tell the story in 30 seconds or less.
Dan Breslau said…
I think it's a good summary, especially the second half. You might even want to consider if the second half works on its own:

Agile Software Development is a lightweight, yet highly disciplined approach that delivers end to end value in frequent iterations, where the stakeholders can re-evaluate priorities based on the state of the application and current market needs at the end of an iteration.

A little bit of editing might help to highlight the benefits. Here's a possible approach:

Agile Software Development is a lightweight, yet highly disciplined approach that delivers end to end value in frequent iterations. This lets the stakeholders re-evaluate their priorities at the end of each iteration, reflecting the state of the application and any changes in the market.
Dan Breslau said…
I think it's easier to sell a product based on what it is, rather than what it is not. So, I'd suggest keeping the focus on the positives within Agile, rather than the negatives within other types of processes.
Steve Berczuk said…
I do agree with Dan that emphasizing the positives is generally better than comparing with negatives. The comparison with existing processes serves a couple of purposes though: First, I wanted to use the "elevator test" format, which has a comparison as part of the structure. Second (the more important and less pedantic reason!) is that I find that people's first reaction is generally "so why should I change?" and having an answer to help someone overcome inertia is important. But making the bulk of the "pitch" be positive makes sense.
Steve Berczuk said…
Brad Appleton discusses a similar theme in his Blog Post on the Value Proposition for Agility

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