How Agile Improves CRM Software Success

CRM failures are legendary. According to the analyst firms 30 to 50% or more of CRM software implementations fail to meet their objectives or fail outright. I've been in the CRM industry for 3 decades and my observation supports the analysts' gloomy reporting.

Fortunately, agile deployment methods are showing significant promise in improving CRM success. However, like most innovative frameworks there is more talk than action, and the actions tend to lack consistency. I'm going to use this blog post to share how agile methods can be used to reduce risk and dramatically improve the quality of your CRM software implementation.

Agile, Scrum and CRM

Agile is a set of governing principals and Scrum is the most popular Agile framework. As the name would suggest, agile is about agility. Most know agile as a sprint-based method which applies an adaptive and iterative development or deployment process in order to give users greater control over the final solution as they can vision short term goals, quickly iterate and affect the solution's progress and direction from one sprint cycle to the next.

Global system integrators such as IBM and Accenture have taken the lead on advancing agile from its software development roots to enterprise software implementations. Based on their successes, other consultancies and clients are exploring and adopting agile for CRM software implementations.

Why use Agile for CRM?

CRM software implementation methodologies lie on a continuum from adaptive to predictive. Adaptive methods plot short iterative cycles and adjust quickly to shifting requirements. Predictive methods plan longer horizons based on a complete list of known requirements. If those requirements change the predictive method will incur extra effort to recognize the change, incur a change review (and change order) process and adjust direction. Many times the change in requirements is not recognized timely which then results in significant rework.

When to use Agile?

Agile is not a one size fits all CRM implementation framework. It can only be used when the CRM software solution can be deployed iteratively and incrementally. The best fit exists when business requirements are unclear, incomplete or fluid.

Agile CRM implementations replace an all-encompassing build phase with several short build iterations that support just in time requirements definitions. Work is performed in smaller increments which define requirements in real-time and demonstrate value to stakeholders in shorter timeframes.

Agile projects embrace adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery and continuous improvement – making them nimble and highly adaptive to change.

Because business requirements are defined collaboratively with business users, agile is also highly synergistic with design thinking. This complimentary approach has the two-fold effect of delivering more innovative solutions that better engage users and reducing software customization.

The Benefits of Agile

Benefits of agile CRM implementations include the following:

  • Increased user collaboration. This results in more user engagement which leads to more satisfaction and increased application ownership by the business. This also avoids the all too common pitfall of users viewing the project as an IT project and not their project.
  • Faster time to value. Agile projects demonstrate successes earlier and more frequently. This also achieves faster time to detecting omissions or mistakes, which is very valuable as catching these setbacks early permits more time for course corrections and remediation measures.
  • Reduced risk. Project risks are limited in time and scope through time-boxed iterations. CRM functionality is prototyped, delivered and immediately reviewed by the business. Sprints provide more frequent deliveries for additional inspections which improves transparency and permits the team to affect the solution's progress and direction from one sprint to the next. Agile may not accelerate the overall project duration but will bring visibility to problems or progress deviations earlier.
  • More accurate forecasting. Agile methods are founded on the empirical process which asserts that knowledge comes from experience and decisions are based on what is known. Speculation and untried estimating methods are not permitted. Burn-down charts, burn-up charts or cumulative flows based on known capacity and actual production velocity deliver forecasts which are much more accurate than those based on models and assumptions.
  • Improved outcomes. Business outcomes more closely match what customers want. More user input, the continuous review of requirements and the near real-time validation of incremental deliveries in short cycles (sprints) helps ensure that the ultimate solutions aligns with business objectives and user expectations. This also enables a start small and grow fast approach. Each sprint delivery builds upon prior sprints and provides a cumulative result.
  • Facilitate business transformation. Agile is a fit for organizations looking to embrace market, industry and operational changes as a matter of routine. Agile can help accommodate the fast pace of change for industries in disruption.

Research from VersionOne's State of Agile Study reports that the top three benefits of agile methods have remained the same for the prior four years.

Agile Benefits

The Project Management Institute (PMI) has delivered research that shows increased agility delivers a much higher percentage of projects completed on time and on budget. The PMI also cites faster response to changing market conditions, improved organizational efficiency and increased customer satisfaction as benefits of improved organizational agility.

Agile Benefits for CRM

The Point of Agile CRM is this

The primary purpose of Agile is to deliver value to the business early and often, and thereby increase performance visibility and decrease risk. Agile provides a powerful framework to support businesses incurring increased change and the need to demonstrate value in shorter cycles.

However, Agile is not a panacea. Agile may not be appropriate for organizations unfamiliar and unable to learn agile methods, or where the company culture lacks collaboration and trust among IT and the business. Agile cannot compensate for mistrust, ineffective teams and hidden agendas.