Always in beta

19 Jan

“The relentless digitisation of products, services and communications is a journey away from linear, one-way, interruption, frequency and inflexibility.”

Neil Perkin
Founder, Only Dead Fish

I recently discovered ‘Only Dead Fish’. That may not sound like a good thing, but I assure you it is. ‘Only Dead Fish’ is a digital and media consultancy business founded by Neil Perkin. Reading Perkin’s blog, and specifically looking through a presentation on ‘agile planning’ that he posted back in 2011, I was struck by how relevant it was to the work I do – and I’m sure many others who’ve engaged with it feel the same way, no matter what industry they work in. It was one of those moments when the ideas and approaches that I employ every day, but have never fully thought through, are presented in an enlightening and coherent way, reassuring me that what I’m doing does make sense, and encouraging me to embrace the opportunities presented by a world – driven by new, digital technology – that’s forever changing and evolving.

Traditional approaches to marketing involve auditing, planning, implementing, measuring, analysing, and, well you get the idea. It’s a cyclical process, in the sense that your measuring and anlaysing feeds into your future planning, but it’s fairly rigid. Once you’ve done your research, put together a strategy and have a plan, you pretty much stick to it. In my previous life as a teacher, there was a similar approach. After assessing the needs of a class (or more commonly the requirements of the school syllabus – the two weren’t always 100% compatible) I’d put together an overarching plan for a period of time, plus specific plans for each lesson. But as all teachers know, lessons don’t always go to plan. And if it looks like the lesson is starting to fall flat on its face, you need to adapt to the needs of the class, you need to be flexible. You need to be agile.

Perkin describes agile planning as ‘a set of guiding principles’ as opposed to a ‘process’. There are seven of these:

1. Ideas from anywhere

I particularly like this one and it’s what made me stick with Perkins’ 91-slide presentation. It’s the idea that organisations should encourage employees to connect with one another, there needs to be a flow of ideas. People should not be placed in silos. (I couldn’t agree more!)

2. Users at the centre

We should observe our customers in context. We should challenge questions and find the problems that need to be solved.

3. Not a single solution, but lots of choices

Create and curate choice.

4. Test and learn

Design with vision and optimise with feedback. Advantage comes from responsiveness and adaptability, rather than scale.

5. ‘Always on’ marketing

Less emphasis on campaigns, and more on continuous communication. Be useful, interesting, entertaining and playful, and build a culture of experimentation, not planning. (For me this is the toughest one as it can involve battles if an organisation doesn’t fully embrace experimentation. However, some things are definitely worth fighting for!)

6. Smart collection and reapplication of data

Use data to deliver a better user experience.

7. Free your mind (and your budget)

Detailed plans are the enemy of adaptability.


Before I saw this being referred to as ‘agile planning’ I’d always thought of it simply as ‘flexibility’. Planning is good. It helps me to think things through, to allocate resources, and sometimes even more importantly, having a detailed written plan – that follows rigid guidelines – reassures those above me in the heirarchy that I know what I’m doing. However, with digital products and digital marketing and communications, detailed plans are fast becoming a huge waste of time. Yes, of course we still need clear objectives and a well thought through strategy that we can communicate to those we work with. It’s the concept of a campaign plan, with clear start and end dates, that I think is being fast replaced by an ongoing and more agile approach.

In work, as in all aspects of life, no matter how much we plan, it’s the unplanned that will either delight and surprise us, or knock us sideways, and we need to embrace this. Organisations that accept that we are always in beta, always experimenting, will be able to react quickly to new opportunities. Let’s stop wasting time on detailed plans and just get stuck in, or as a certain sportswear company would say, Just Do It.

“While we are in here bullshitting about strategy, something is happening out there.”

Gary Humel
US Management Expert


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