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Creativity Marketing Transformation

5 Agile Marketing Steps that Business Leaders Can Take Now


I recently read an article on LinkedIn about the death and destruction of agile software development. In his article titled “Agile is Dead,” Matthew Kern writes, “All these hyped trends have a lifespan. Management fads especially have a lifespan.” Based on the hundreds of comments the article attracted, Kern’s controversial take on a trending project management trend frightened some people—myself included.

2015 Agile TechBeacon SurveyParts of the article made relevant points about agile development and how it’s fallen short, with senior leaders at technology companies chiming in. As Xavier Amatriain, VP Engineering at Quora wrote, “I think there is some truth to the writing: most enterprise mindsets only respond to hypes and labels without putting enough time and thought into understanding the important ideas behind them. Agile, and DevOps have both powerful transformative ideas behind them but very few large enterprises have the time or corporate IQ to understand them…”

The article’s argument is scary for business leaders—because aren’t some of us just starting to develop using agile methodologies, especially in marketing?

Coming from an agency background, the discussion around agile software development’s demise resonated with me, but as a marketer, it made me wonder if the same was true for agile marketing as well. Could it be that this type of marketing was going the same way agile software development was, even before it went mainstream across enterprise businesses?

The recent rapid adoption of agile processes across IT departments is clear: According to a recent TechBeacon survey among 475 IT and development professionals, by 2014, 100 percent were using “some adoption of agile methods.” Their success with agile has led to other tech-focused departments like marketing wondering how to reap the benefits.

So if the discussion has shifted to the death of agile, are marketing leaders implementing already irrelevant processes?

I’ll explain why I don’t think this is the case, but first, a quick review on what it means to be an agile marketer compared to agile software development, and why it’s is still going strong.

2015 Agile TechBeacon Survey - Agile Methodology BenefitsA Comparison of Agile Software Dev and Agile Marketing

You’re familiar with agile software development, right? Agile in development means sprints, Scrums, user stories, and burn-down charts. While you’re likely familiar with what it means to be agile in software development, I wanted to compare and contrast what it means to be agile and what it doesn’t mean.

Agile Software Dev Is…

  • Focused on the user
  • Reliant on effective communication
  • Adaptive to changing environments or requirements
  • Inherently light on requirements—agile requirements are not comprehensive to a full project plan, instead learning over time what is needed by having conversations with your teams and customers through feedback loops
  • Short “sprints” of development
  • Challenged to measure ROI and support a long-term strategy vision
  • A cross-functional team approach, which leads to better quality of product by getting multiple perspectives

Agile Marketing Is…

  • Focused on the customer
  • Reliant on effective communication
  • Responsive to change
  • Obsessed with time to market—taking advantage of new or previously unseen opportunities
  • Not just digital initiatives
  • A cross-functional team approach (product marketing, content and SEO, social media, mobile, video, print, etc.)

As you can see, agile marketing has many similarities to agile software development. It’s also not new. Organizations have been employing its techniques for a few years already, in various forms.

Agile is also not foolproof. It’s not a quick fix your triple constraint of scope, schedule, and budget. It won’t turn your teams into marketing superheroes, but it may improve productivity and morale. Using an agile methodology is not a silver bullet solution and it’s also not easy for some individuals and teams to get used to. Quite frankly, it’s not for everyone, just as agile development isn’t.

On a Cliff - Cindy Tang

Isn’t it Time to Disrupt the Disruptors?

Changing the way an organization thinks and works isn’t easy, especially in an enterprise environment. And it’s difficult to acknowledge that if we don’t adapt we will be left behind. If we can’t (or won’t) provide the customer with what they need, there are others more than willing to step in and do just that.

That’s why it’s imperative that enterprise brands begin to think and market differently. We need to think and behave more like startups when it comes to marketing. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but nothing short of our livelihoods and our organizations’ futures are at stake. If we continue to try to steer our Titanics, we will end up going down with the ship.

A more flexible and responsive marketing mindset can save us. We can disrupt the disruptors by becoming what they are. We can begin to transform our teams, we can adapt to change more easily, and we can speed our time to market, just like they do. We are actually in a better position to give our customers what they want when they want it—we just have to act.

But do you make your organization more agile? Where do you start?

How to Start Marketing Using Agile

You and your organization can become more agile, more responsive, more productive, and more startup-like. You just need a path from point “A” to point “B.” Here’s that path.

  • Step 1 (Today) – Make the decision to “go Agile.” Just remember there’s a difference between doing agile and being agile. Doing agile requires a change in mindset that’s facilitated by training.
  • Step 2 (One Week) – Collect, organize, and prioritize projects. What are the immediate tasks that can be performed? Who can work on them?
  • Step 3 (Another Week) – Assign tasks and track them. Who has the capacity and the skills to complete an identified task? Get them started!
  • Step 4 (Ongoing) – Start your daily Scrum. Put it on everyone’s calendar so they don’t forget. Keep it as short as possible while still providing value. Talk about what you’re working on, what (if anything) is slowing you down, and your overall status (on schedule, behind schedule). Take longer conversations “offline.” Try it every day in the morning and don’t be afraid to adjust. The key is communicating—when, how, and for how long is up to you, just try to stick with it. If something isn’t working, have a retrospective meeting and discuss what could have been done better. From there, you can either choose to continue with improvements or change directions.
  • Step 5 (Two Months) – Chew through that task list and also keep adding to it. Something new just came up? That’s cool—add it to the list! See how you do for two months, and then do an inventory of what you’ve accomplished. Did it help? If so, keep going. If not, have that retrospective.

Of course, there will probably be some opposition to going agile. If your brand’s leadership team (or even the marketing team as a whole) is old-school and change-averse, how do you convince them? The key to change in an environment that resists is to implement change incrementally and keep moving forward. Keep in mind the two most important elements of going agile: communication and organization of tasks.

Perhaps your morning Scrum isn’t formal, but rather, you and a few other team members simply walk around the office and get updates on projects water-cooler style. I had to do this in a past role. My leaders were locked into a protracted strategy that took months to plan and equally as long to implement. We learned a hard lesson when the competition went to market with a brilliant campaign (for an existing service), seemingly changing their strategy overnight. Meanwhile, it took us nearly five weeks to regroup and come up with our own plan, then another three months to get it to market. We were too late.

After this lesson, I played the role of the one-man agile team for a short period, “secretly” gaining insights on what teams were working on, what was holding them back, and how myself or my team could pitch in to help. We adopted a pseudo-agile process that helped us get out of our own way and accomplish tasks faster, and we did it without a dedicated agile tool like JIRA or Wrike, but rather, just tracked our key projects and tasks on a whiteboard until we were able to prove the value of the process.

You can go “all in” with agile, but if you think that’s too risky, start small and ease your teams into the new processes and tools. You don’t have to put it in your “done” column this year, but you should at least be able to see you’re on your way to being more agile.

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