Humans are wired to actualize what lives in the imagination. We have a full catalog of cliches that allude to this phenomenon:
- Seeing is believing.
- Visualize world peace.
- Free your mind and your ass will follow.
- “In my mind’s eye, Horatio.”
In his famous book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond recounts how our human visual system evolved as a way for us to discern the subtle shades that separate ripe from rancid and delicious from deadly. When we see “ripe fruit,” we have an innate instinct to communicate our vision to our tribe–not only to feed our immediate needs today, but to foster social reciprocity and a kind of survival credit amongst our peers for tomorrow.
From savannah to Silicon Valley, things really haven’t changed that much. Check it:
But Don’t Those Pie Charts Look Bland To You?
In the old days, a marketing team might pick some favorable data, slap a chart on it, and wait for the “oohs” and “ahhs” to roll in. Simple Excel spreadsheets could win friends in the workplace fairly easily.
“Look: It’s got an upward sloping curve. We must be on the right track!”
Kanban and lean development manufacturing took this a step further, making the work process—not just the progress—visual, showing manufacturing systems broken into a series of steps everyone at the firm could understand. Sales of magnets and dry-erase boards went through the roof.
Even now, the most talented UX teams often set out to understand complex user behaviors using Post-It notes they can set out and move around on a table. It’s a time-tested, visual way to create user stories.
Agile: From Graph to Story to Map
From the very beginning, agile development teams used burndown charts to show how much time they allotted for a sprint, and how much time remained for the task. Some agile teams went further and added a product backlog with story cards as a step toward better understanding and communicating their agile processes visually, and something magic happened: process became a kind of art.
Next, gurus like Kent Beck wrote eloquent books like “Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change” where agile processes emerged more as a business philosophy than a way to make software:
“XP is an experiment in answer to the question, How would you program if you had enough time? Now, you can’t have extra time, because this is business after all, and we are certainly playing to win. But if you had enough time, you would write tests; you would restructure the system when you learn something; you would talk a lot with fellow programmers and with the customer.”
But agile business is more than graphs or story cards. No matter how much we respect the agile process, we have to be able to show the fruits of our labor in a timely fashion, both internally and externally, to people who may or may not be able to see the fruit in it at all. After all, many people look at agile the way they look at a Jackson Pollock painting, seeing nothing but a mess.
Mapping Agile Business
Jeff Patton, of AgileProductDesign.com, realized through years of work that his “flat” user stories weren’t serving his main goal—they weren’t delivering better software products to his customers because they weren’t communicating the vision to everyone on the team.
Patton compared traditional story cards to a mess of dead leaves, admitting that a flat backlogs appeared to be nothing more than “a bag of context-free mulch” — something hard to use, and even harder to explain.
To combat this problem, Patton and his agile development team created dimensional “story maps,” visual representations that move, not only horizontally through process time, but also vertically through customer needs, tasks to meet those needs, and sub-sections of those tasks.
As Patton explains, “Your software should have a backbone and a skeleton—and the map shows it.”
(Read more about Jeff Patton’s work with story mapping here and here.)
The New Agile, Complete with a New Map
Where agile development like Patton’s can empirically test whether a software feature works to solve a problem, agile marketing must sometimes test other, less pragmatic things, like brand strength, advertising elasticity, and customer feedback.
But stories are more than just skeletons of process and structure, therefore, agile marketing needed to add to the skeleton more “fuzzy” concepts of heart, mind, and spirit—bouncing back and forth between left-brain analytics and right-brain innovation, iterating between the two poles to evaluate different business questions:
- Analytical—Backbone: Does this satisfy the objective criteria of being a salable product or service? Is it a strong enough idea to build on?
- Innovative—Heart: Does it delight? Does it surprise? Is it put together in a way that excites the customers’ emotional pulse?
- Analytical—Mind: Is it lean, clean and smart? Is it positioned for the right marketplace?
- Innovative—Spirit: Is it visionary? Will it have an impact? Does it go beyond the sum of its parts?
Both development and marketing needed a way to visually show this huge and complex process. That’s what a good agile map should do.
And that’s what the new, unified Mindjet does.
Mindjet Connects Ideas To Actions
It is Mindjet’s commitment to these complex “idea and action” maps that I find extremely useful and necessary for agile marketing and development to move forward together.
I’m proud to be the CMO at Mindjet, because more than any other company in the world, we have put together a visual way for people to finally work across the analytical and innovative demands of modern business.
Mindjet puts every piece of agile business philosophy together in one place, in one tool, at one price. Beyond graphs, stories and workflow models, Mindjet shows you where and how to collaborate better to solve complex problems.
And—with all due credit to dry-erase boards and Post-it Notes— this new Mindjet looks better than any mapping tool I’ve ever seen.