Agile is talked about a Lot. With a capital L.
It has been one of the most hotly debated topics in software development for more than fifteen years now. It has crept into other industries and business fields, most prominently project management where it has been done well but where it is just as often misunderstood and misused.
When we are talking marketing, some Agile ideas have been thrown around for a while with quite a few marketing departments and even agencies being surprisingly close to (still a very fluid and nebulous concept of) true Agile.
Unfortunately, there are also quite a few voices in the marketing industry who think that Agile marketing is just an excuse for having no strategy or plan, or that it is simply about being quick on your feet or having a daily stand-up meeting. (It’s not.)
Today, we will try to find lessons that you can learn from true Agile and use them to really make your marketing team better (not just so you can say you are doing Agile marketing).
Plan only as much as you have to
We touched upon this passingly in the introduction when we said that many supposedly Agile marketing teams use it as something of an excuse not to do strategy and just wing it all the time. This is not what Agile is about.
Even in Agile software development, the team has some kind of roadmap that guides the overall vision of the product. Translating this to marketing, an Agile marketing team will still have a good old-fashioned strategy in place. The big difference is that an Agile marketing team will do less planning when it comes to putting the strategy into action.
For instance, an Agile marketing team will not plan out every little detail of carrying out a massive marketing campaign in advance. Your team will figure out the high-level tasks and the order in which they should be tackled. Then, as the time comes to actually do them, the team will break those big tasks into smaller ones and handle them according to their priority.
As new information emerges, the list of tasks (the Product Backlog in Agile parlance) will be modified and reprioritized to better serve the team.
The idea behind this is to easily accommodate for external and internal changes (inherent to any marketing initiative) and new circumstances, as well as to quickly notice if something is not going the way it should.
Keeping the team focused and in sync
The subtitle of this part of the article outlines some of the most common issues marketing teams experience:
- Keeping the focus on concrete goals
- Keeping the team in sync as they work on various aspects of the campaigns
- Ensuring the pace of work is sustainable
- Having (at least somewhat) precise estimates for future efforts
The good news is that Agile has a number of tools and mechanisms that are aimed at exactly those things.
For example, with an Agile approach, your marketing team will employ a transparent Product Backlog where the entire team will have access to tasks that will move them towards the goal. Also, your team may use some kind of a visualization board (e.g. a Scrum or a Kanban board) where they will track the tasks as they are worked on. This will help both keep the focus of the team and synchronize it so that no dependent tasks are waiting and that no one works on the same thing.
Scrum is particularly good at providing focus and syncing the team thanks to its iterative nature (working in short timeboxed cycles (sprints) with defined goals) and meetings which, among other things, ensure the team works in unison.
For marketing teams whose work sometimes feels like an uninterrupted process without beginning and end, this can be sobering.
Another big part of Agile, and one that is often overlooked, is that it should help teams work and deliver in a sustainable way. In other words, good Agile teams have a certain cadence of work which allows them to take on the right amount of work and to estimate precisely for future work.
Once again, this is achieved through certain events and tools that transparently show the team how much it achieves over a certain period of time and how they can factor this in when planning future efforts.
We all know how difficult it can be to estimate how much time and effort a marketing team will need to do a certain amount of work and learning a few lessons from Agile can be of huge help here.
Treating the Team as Adults
Perhaps the biggest change that Agile introduces to the team environment is the way it empowers teams. Instead of a hierarchical composition where a manager delegates and oversees work being done by the team, it introduces self-organized and cross-functional teams.
While this does require a certain level of expertise from team members (or at least the majority of them), it also promotes a feeling of ownership of the product (in our case, marketing efforts) across the team.
In Agile, there is no one person who dictates who will do what and how they will do it. Instead, the team pulls work from the Product Backlog and decides on the best way to complete it. The team should also be assembled in a way that it becomes self-sufficient and requires little to no outside help.
The Agile approach is based on being transparent about the work and this is an alternative mechanism that ensures the work is done and done the right way instead of having individual performance reports and other command and control practices.
In essence, in Agile, you treat your marketing team as adults who know what they are doing, why they are doing it, and who feel pride in their work.
Agile is not a silver bullet that will solve any problem your marketing team might have. However, by applying some of the lessons from Agile software development, it is possible to improve the way your marketing team works and provides value for the rest of the organization.
AUTHOR: Jug (pronounced differently than what you’d think) is a member of VivifyScrum’s marketing team that is striving to be as Agile as possible.
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