“Agile” is becoming more of a buzzword in publishing circles as companies look to harness the new possibilities digital is providing, but many are still unsure whether the agile model is right, and others still aren’t sure exactly what “agile” means for publishing. To tackle these concerns and more, BISG hosted a webcast with featured speaker Kristen McLean, the founder and CEO of Bookigee.

So—what exactly is “agile” publishing? “It’s a philosophy that is grounded in the customer, getting a lot of good feedback, and not necessarily assuming you know the answer without communication,” said McLean. “It’s for learners, not knowers.”

McLean laid out the key concepts of agile: quick cycles (as quick as a week), self-organizing working groups (as opposed to traditional hierarchical working interactions), and iteration (agile publishers assume that there are going to be changes along the way), among many other key principles. One of the more radical differences between agile and traditional publishing, McLean noted, is that it emphasizes process over perfection. “It’s more important to get it out than to get it perfect, because when you get it out you can test it.” This focus on process (which leads neatly into agile’s tenet of customer feedback and interaction) is difficult for publishers to accept. “We don’t like typos; we don’t like half-finished books,” McLean said.

But early evidence, McLean reported, is showing that agile creates a much higher sense of job satisfaction. This is due in part because of the emphasis on transparency and accountability with agile’s self-organizing working groups—the structure naturally highlights those who are pulling their weight, and those who aren’t.

An ideal agile environment stresses simplicity (the multiple layers between author and customer/reader are reduced to frequent communication and on-the-fly changes that more resembles a constant cycle), completed tasks that are delivered frequently, with these completed tasks representing the principal measure of success (rather than the process-centric emphasis of traditional publishing). Additionally, agile values “forward-facing” data—seeking the answers to questions like: “How was the book bought?” “When again?” and “What next?”

McLean closed her presentation with a few case studies of publishers using the agile model. She gave special commendation to O’Reilly, which publishes first digital editions with a TOC and a few chapters and has a mechanism for audience engagement and feedback; Wattpad, which McLean said is the “most viable crowdsourced content platform out there”; and Harvard Business Review for its direct consumer feedback mechanism, which has led to increased sales since it has started using customer feedback for packaging.