In the classic style of companies, you had one department doing research, one department doing development, one doing marketing and another selling your product. A way of separating entities which failed for software development and conceptually was broken with the introduction of agile software development cycles and now spreads through agile management and development techniques to all areas. Which raises the question: can agile be a more interesting alternative to the given research model? And if so, is our society equipped for this?
In agile development with every cycle, you don’t only reevaluate the feature you’ve been doing but the product and the goal entirely. In the lean startup principle this becomes even more customer focused and data driven. For a good reason, it also called the “scientific way of starting a business”. These cycles require a constant rethinking and evaluation of what one is doing. And everyone starting it is totally aware they’ll end up somewhere totally else then they are aiming for at the moment. They need to be and are comfortable with that thought.
Though over the last decades also artist driven companies like Disney and later Pixar evangelized the approach of experiment-and-fail in fast cycles a lot by being very vocal about it and showed with their extraordinary results, how great this approach is, the majority of the population still thinks in those categories of research, development, production, deployment, sales and marketing. This cycle didn’t change in agile development, it just got much faster and its borders got blurrier: it is a different approach and doesn’t fit into classic systems, especially in publicly funded areas. Not only because you’d never get the contract if you’d honestly say you don’t know what it the street will look like at the end, but also because they don’t “fund research”. While those ministries and institutions, which do, don’t want to give grants for “developing it for the market”.
According to these system, one can apply to do basic research but as soon as it involves talking to end customers, they aren’t interested anymore. They believe this isn’t scientific. A system which cripples itself, because those, who know how to apply for a grant for research, don’t know how to deploy it to market. Even worth if you think of projects for the public, like if you do research to figure out a better way of city structure, this is all you are paid to do. But applying this research, there is another department for that – if you are lucky. Too much research is still funded without the practical use case in mind and without trying to actually apply them.
Just think if doctors would have done research this way: stopped once they had proven in a scientific paper that it could be solved but never developed the results into actual medication? We need to change our funding policies to be able to fund agile projects, to deliver real value to real people. And not stop right after the proof.