Agile Partnering the Deming Way

There has been a lot of conversation around the concept of agile development over the last few years. And, rightly so. It’s a modern way to drive continuous improvement in the product development lifecycle.

Lately there’s been a fair amount about Agile Marketing see Angus Norton’s LinkedIn post referencing this book — Hacking Marketing.

Today I want to explore the idea of Agile Partnering.

What is Agile Partnering?

The ideas behind Agile Partnering are not new. They take the foundational elements of Agile Development and applies them to working with partners (see Partnering Defined below).

Agile Partnering embraces the ideas of a short time frame and combines it with The PDCA Cycle. The idea of putting together short term commitments — where all parties agree on the timelines and deliverables — is also not new. However, it has not traditionally been applied to partnering.

That’s about to change.

The PDCA Cycle

This is not new. It was even invented before Dr. W Edwards Deming used it extensively in the 50s to help the Japanese rebuild their manufacturing to high levels of quality.

The concept is very simple. You Plan it, you Do it, you Check on it, and you Act on it.

It’s that simple … PDCA!

How does PDCA apply to partnering?

It applies by making a simplistic layer on top of whatever partnering engagement model you might be using today. For example, if you were using something defined by the ASAP that walks through various aspects of what a partnership model should look like then you can apply the PDCA layer on top of it.

You can spin the PDCA cycle 
faster or slower as needed

The advantage of using PDCA and why it applies to Agile Partnering is you can spin the PDCA cycle faster or slower based on the state of the partnership — perhaps the time of year for cyclical businesses or based on the relative maturity of that partnership (see the IAMCP P2P Maturity Model).

Newer partnerships might be very fast at the beginning, but as they gain some levels of maturity they may start to slow down. This is a time when you may want to apply the PDCA cycle to speed up specific aspects of a partner engagement model. This is where Agile Partnering takes off and takes hold.

As partnerships mature different aspects of the partner engagement model can be broken down into specific areas of focus. There areas of focus can be subjected to The PDCA Cycle and Agile Partnering to seek new or enhanced elements of the overall relationship.

Reference points:

Partnering Defined
I’m talking primarily about partnerships with technology companies. But, this model and idea of Agile Partnering is not limited just to technology companies. Any business that partners and/or forms alliances can benefit from The PDCA Cycle and Agile Partnering.

How is this different than agile development?

The simple answer is it isn’t. The model, the methodology, and the implementation cycle are still the same. Whether using traditional 14 Day cycles or 21-Day cycles like Amazon does (or so I’ve heard) or creating a customized timeline to meet the needs of your business and partners.

How can agile partnering change things?

There are a lot of areas where Agile Partnering can change the shape, flow, and the dynamics of a partnering relationship.

Some changes will be very small and perhaps barely noticeable. Other changes might be much more grandiose and perhaps more impactful.

One example is the way Microsoft recently changed the name of their 10+ year old event which was formerly called the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) and has now been renamed to be more inline with the other Microsoft events. The new name is Inspire. I wrote about it in Prepare to be Inspired.

You might think they just changed the name. What does all that mean? Well, it means that they’re willing to make a bold move and literally a bold statement to redefine what the event formerly known as WPC is going to be and what it’s going to become.

It’s a risk and a Spin of The PDCA wheel to seek deeper partner engagement.

Others that have Spun the PDCA wheel

Here are a few examples of partnering companies that have spun the PDCA wheel and in my opinion are using Agile Partnering methods.

  • Amazon — Amazon continues to embrace the partner community while seeking to deliver customer delight too.
  • Case in Point: At the recent AWS re:Invent conference they made an announcement about building a mobile data center. Their project AWS Snowmobile is a pretty slick idea and they’re putting a new spin on their PDCA cycle.
  • In this case it’s just one aspect of their business, but if you look more deeply the implications and ramifications are huge — for both partners and customers.
  • Box — I’m using the Box Virtual Summit on December 8. You might think…A lot of companies are doing virtual conferences. And they are!
  • But, box is making a concerted effort to get the word out for their partners and their customers on what they can do and how they can help them grow and manage their business while they exceed their customers needs.
  • While this might be a small step it can speak volumes to a partner that missed the in-person event or has people on their team that couldn’t go or might be new.
  • Salesforce — And my last example is about what Salesforce is doing. If you’ve paid much attention to what Salesforce has done in the last decade or so they have made a concerted effort to give back to the community.
  • They have built an Ohana.
  • And if you don’t know what that word means it’s a Hawaiian word meaning family. The way Salesforce is building their business is building it like a family. Where the family is much more than the immediate family — it includes everyone that is involved with the Ohana’s efforts — including partners and customers.

You might be thinking … this is Partnering 101. And, in a sense it is. But, I’m calling out these examples of partners — they all happen to be platform providers here — for taking incremental steps to improve the partnering experience.

That partnering experience can be interpreted in a lot of ways, but I’m focused on areas where the platform provider is making it easier for partners to understand, engage, and ultimately drive more revenue.

As you might have noticed … all of these examples are tied to customer success too. Partners can only be successful when they can continue to grow their business. Using Agile Partnering is a way for partners of all types — platform providers, ISV’s, SI’s, Training Partners, OEM’s, Distribution Partners, etc. to focus on their business in a way that is timed to their needs and the needs of their mutual customers.

What have you seen?

  • What examples have you seen where companies are taking advantage of Agile Partnering?
  • Have you seen cases where The Deming PDCA cycle was applied?
  • What other models of Agile Partnering have you seen?

Drop a comment here and let’s have a conversation about it.

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Image Credits: Microsoft, Amazon, Box, Salesforce, Karn G. Bulsuk,

This is cross posted to my blog and LinkedIn