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July 18, 2016
By Lee Ackerman
I’ve lived, taught and coached Agile development for over 15 years, and I’ve seen it work and seen it fail. When it works, Agile helps companies get products to market faster, better, more cheaply and more predictably. When it doesn’t, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
Now marketing teams are starting to adapt Agile for their own needs, with mixed results.
Agile offers a way to manage the growing complexity of marketing and capitalize on new opportunities. The addition of Big Data and martech has created the opportunity for serious innovation, along with a heightened risk of falling behind competitors who innovate faster and better.
Teams that successfully adopt an Agile marketing approach are better prepared to ride this wave of disruption. But not every company or marketing department will make it work, and you should consider whether the approach is worth your investment of time and resources.
Successfully implementing Agile depends on having the right culture and circumstances. Before you consider investing in Agile training or coaching, consider these five questions:
1. Does your team like to try new approaches or stick with the tried-and-true?
Agile requires a willingness to experiment, which means proceeding with an idea before being fully sure it will work. It eliminates long planning cycles in favor of trying things, seeing what works and quickly incorporating the feedback.
2. Is your team comfortable with lots of visibility into their activities?
A key component of the Agile approach is that people have close insight into each other’s work so they can flex to help each other make progress. Lots of teams use daily Scrum meetings, in which every team member quickly summarizes their goals for the day and what is blocking them from proceeding. This transparency doesn’t sit well with everyone, particularly when you first start sharing.
3. Do your leaders fully understand the Agile approach, and are they willing to invest in it?
Because Agile radically changes the way your team operates, you need buy-in from your direct leaders. If they don’t understand what you’re doing, they’re less likely to support your decisions.
4. Does your team possess technical excellence?
A smart, knowledgeable team is going to produce good work, regardless of their project management approach. Agile just makes it faster and more flexible. But Agile isn’t is a substitute for skill and hard work.
5. Do you have the right size team?
You can’t coordinate a 40-person marketing team into one Agile unit—it just doesn’t work. The ideal Agile unit (or Scrum team) is seven people, plus or minus a couple.
That doesn’t mean Agile can’t work for a larger department. You can organize any cross-functional group into a Scrum team as long as they’re working toward the same goals. But when you try to set up several Agile teams that coordinate, you’ll need to bring in a professional Agile coach to manage the complexity.
A typical marketing Scrum team
A successful Agile marketing unit might look something like this: social media manager, content strategist, writer, designer, front-end developer and search engine marketing manager. They work together to create cross-channel marketing campaigns to increase conversions. They start with a web project, get quick performance feedback from social media and site analytics, and they incorporate that into the next two-week cycle to build out a new campaign deliverable (e.g., an interactive calculator) based on what the analytics indicate.
While I think Agile marketing has a lot of potential, the official principles have not been given the same kind of thought the Agile Manifesto for software development has. Essentially, Agile marketing is a work in progress. (After all, software developers have had 15 years to test and refine Agile development.)
So the best way to get started is by trying it. You can certainly read a book, such as The Agile Samurai, to gain an understanding of foundational concepts. But the thing that will strike you is that Agile contains many simple ideas and practices. You’ll need to recognize and accept that there will be a bump or two in the road. However, you will be well-served by focusing on visibility and transparency, iterative and incremental efforts, inspection and adaptation, and collaboration.
Your Scrum unit should all read, discuss, embrace and agree to the official Agile Marketing Manifesto and the associated set of principles. Once you’re ready, build a Kanban board, start your daily standup meetings and see how far you get. Many teams find they need to also invest in Agile training and/or coaching to get started, overcome some of those bumps in the road, or to lead larger efforts to scale and transform the organization.
Our own Agile marketing experiment
Our marketing team at TEKsystems has recently begun implementing Agile tactics. Read about the ways we've adapted to an Agile marketing mindset. Or check out our infographic, Agile marketing: An A to Z guide, to brush up on Agile marketing concepts.
Looking for digital marketing talent? TEKsystems Digital and Creative Services can help you find creative or marketing technologists with skill in analytics, design, front-end development and other digital marketing specialties.