Considering the Agile philosophy within deal pursuits

I have been reading about Agile software development philosophy for years and it seems that the core ideas are worth exploring in relation to major deal pursuits. I think I first came across Agile thinking in about 1999, in the form of extreme programming. At the time though I only looked at it through the lens of selling software development services, not major deals.

What is the Agile Philosophy?

As described in the Agile Manifesto, the Agile Philosophy is characterized by the following values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

I thought it’d be interesting to consider how deal pursuits could benefit from Agile.

Which ideas from Agile could work in Major Deal Pursuits?

Evidently amongst these core principles, there are ideas that have a degree of synergy with Major Deal Pursuits.

Within the remit of Major Deal Pursuits there is an element of business creation and business model generation. It makes sense to apply Agile Philosophy and ideas from Lean Startup, since a more tailored solution is likely to emerge when there is less waste and more scope for feedback from the client. In turn, this is more likely to result in a deal being sealed and is especially the case for solutions that include large-scale software development, design and construction of datacentres or outsourcing entire network operations.

Integrating Agile as a client feedback loop would obviously lead to overall improvements compared to traditional processes such as Waterfall. Certainly Agile would be a useful way to fix any issues prior to implementation in a similar way that RUP advocates testing after small increments of development. Certainly if a solution doesn’t work in terms of cost, risk or compliance it should be changed rapidly. Agile seems to delight in scrapping a solution in order to respond to change and this is an attitude that bid teams could consider.

Which Agile ideas could prove problematic?

There are of course elements that do not fit so well with Major Deal Pursuits.

Agile does not fit well with the fact that Pursuit Leaders work to strict deadlines. Pursuit Leaders like to gauge interest quickly and so there is the potential for customer interaction to adversely affect the familiar and expected deal-making process. Whereas the Agile Philosophy states a preference for the shorter timescale, for the Pursuit Leader, it is a necessity.

Similarly, during the negotiation phase you need to demonstrate that your solution is worthy of, say, a $100M+ investment. Over-reliance on feedback could undermine the perceived robustness of a solution and your firm’s expert authority become lessened. Indeed, for a Pursuit Leader, the focus is on agreeing a large contract and this contradicts one of the principal values of the Agile Philosophy; customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

Thull’s diagnostic selling method outlined in “Mastering the Complex Sale” however could very well benefit from taking an Agile view of the method, as its method does not presume a time-bound pursuit window.

In practical terms, there are also tight restrictions on how much information can be shared about the solution design and it could be harmful for the Pursuit Leader to be seen as reluctant to share information with individuals or unable to explain why certain ideas cannot be implemented. It may be worth looking at ideas around “minimum viable audience” and creating a scalable proposition that could be presented to the client. Interesting, but would only work if you were in a position of control during the negotiation, rather than being in a position of competition with others.

How would a Major Deal Pursuit Leader go about implementing Agile?

Let us turn our attention to the possibility of practical implementation of Agile in Major Deal Pursuits.

The Pursuit Leader would have to consider timing as a primary concern, namely, at what point during the process would you look to implement Agile? Do you look to instill Agile as an over-riding culture for the pursuit or should there be specific checkpoints for Agile? Beyond that, how exactly do you build agility into the process? The issue of personnel is another important consideration here. Is Agile the responsibility of the whole team or does it make more sense to assign Agile relationship building to a particular team member? If so, do you appoint the role based on character and soft skills or on status and position within the bid team?

What do we need to consider most closely when thinking about Agile Philosophy within the context of Major Deal Pursuits?

The main factors to consider when potentially assimilating Agile into Major Deal Pursuits can be distilled into these five criteria:

  • Impact on Negotiation
  • Benefits for Solution Design
  • Adverse Effects on Deadlines
  • How to Harness the Potential of Collaboration
  • Implementation and Personnel

As we have seen, some elements of Agile are more applicable than others. The important thing to take away is that Agile gives the scope to find a good fit for the parts of the philosophy that will work and offers some intriguing possibilities for consideration.