As technology and market needs evolve, organizations are under constant pressure to deliver value and results faster than ever before. So it’s no wonder that teams from all over the world are on the hunt for new ways of working and of managing projects that can help them meet customer demands in the most efficient way possible. One of those methodologies is Agile, which may have originated in the world of software development, but can be just as effective for marketing organizations too. Read on to find out what the best Agile practices are for marketing teams and where to get started!
2020 was a big year of transformation as many companies had to quickly shift to remote working and hybrid models in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many organizations finally had to face the fact that long-standing ways of working are not cutting it anymore, and are more open than before to trying other methodologies like Agile, even for their marketing teams.
Agile for marketing teams
Just like software development teams, marketing managers are on the lookout for ways to deliver fast, at scale. The pressure is on to demonstrate results while still maintaining the flexibility that a marketing team needs to respond to external events and unplanned requests. As a result, many have turned to Agile as a framework that allows them to achieve all of this. Agile first gained popularity in the 2000s in the software development world, as a response to rapidly evolving technology and market needs.
In 2012, MindJet, a mind mapping software company, hosted an event called ‘SprintZero’ in San Francisco in order to adapt the existing Agile framework to marketing needs. The result of this gathering was the Agile Marketing Manifesto, which outlines a seven-point value system to guide marketers along their journey to Agile. Though Agile marketing is still a few years behind Agile software development, it is making progress every year, as more and more marketers are drawn to the approach of rapid iteration and data-driven decision making for a bigger ROI at a lower price. Let’s explore some of the benefits of Agile project management and marketing before we dive into useful practices.
The benefits of Agile marketing
Increasing your efficiency
Agile heavily emphasizes prioritizing the most important tasks, working to realistic deadlines and workloads, and eliminating unnecessary elements, like excessive bureaucracy, silos, and documentation. This helps deliver projects and get results faster.
One of the biggest principles of Agile is listening to the needs of the customer to define what tasks to take on, as well as validating decisions and learnings via their feedback. All of this produces consistent and fast releases, which ideally meet customer needs (or can be corrected quickly if they miss the mark.)
The ability to innovate and adapt
Agile marketing prioritizes small and frequent experiments or actions over ‘Big Bang’ marketing campaigns. In other words, it is better to consistently execute tests (for example, with your branding, social media content, or PPC ads) to rapidly gain insights and drive upcoming decisions with data, rather than sticking to an original plan which isn’t delivering as expected.
Processes that scale as you do
Agile marketing is designed to support your growth. So even if your activities evolve and your team grows, you will still be able to maintain a well-oiled marketing machine, unlike other organizations which tend to grow too fast and then implode over time.
The challenge with implementing Agile marketing
At this point you might be asking yourself, if there are so many benefits to applying the Agile methodology to marketing practices, why aren’t more marketing teams Agile? Well, it’s not for lack of wanting change, that’s for sure. According to the State of Agile Marketing Report 2021, 65% of marketers are looking to Agile as a way to manage constantly changing priorities, while 58% are looking to increase their productivity and efficiency with a new approach.
What holds teams back, however, is a lack of Agile training, the right project management tools that would support the transition, and stakeholder buy-in. Getting stakeholder buy-in can be quite difficult; many are skeptical of what they consider to be new methodologies and feel resistant to disrupting the status quo. However, if you can clearly demonstrate the benefits on the bottom line of going Agile, you can definitely get their buy-in and move ahead.
6 Agile practices that drive marketing success
Clearly defined team structure
Most Agile frameworks recommend a core, cross-functional team (in marketing this could be a campaign manager, copywriter, graphic designer, social media manager etc) of three to six people. The idea is that a smaller core team will help you stay focused and ensure a quick turnaround. However, at the end of the day, the more important thing is to clearly define everyone’s roles and responsibilities from the start, to avoid losing time and information working in silos.
A user-centric approach to defining tasks
One of Agile’s core practices which can also be applied to marketing is the use of User stories. This is essentially a way to describe a task or requirement from the perspective of the user, in order to validate making it the focus of a sprint.
User stories look something like this: “As (user), I want (product element), so that I can (goal)”. Software developers use these statements to visualize product features through the eyes of their users, but marketers can use them for exactly the same reason: to put themselves in their clients’ shoes. This way, the focus is consistently on providing value to the customer.
Adaptive and iterative planning
Just as with software development, marketing teams can benefit immensely from an iterative approach to planning. What this comes down to is instead of making a detailed plan for a marketing campaign and sticking to it no matter what because it was ‘planned’, you adapt and change the plan as you go along, responding to market events, user insights, and any other data you can get your hands on to help inform your next steps. This allows you to change direction when needed and encourages continuous reflection and adaptation in order to drop what doesn’t work and focus on what does.
Realistic, measurable goals
Estimating the time it will take to complete a task and accurately prioritizing different elements of a sprint are huge parts of the Agile approach to marketing. This helps break down your required deliverables into achievable units of work, which streamlines the whole process from planning to delivery. Ideally, you will have a backlog full of up-to-date tasks which you can, in turn, prioritize and move into production as you proceed along your sprint or campaign, depending on how you decide to manage it.
The way Agile delivery works is by focusing on getting individual tasks done as quickly and efficiently as possible so that you’re not lagging behind because of any codependencies or blockers. There are different approaches to choose from within the Agile framework which define how exactly you manage delivery. In the Kanban approach, for example, you select tasks from a backlog of prioritized requirements, with limits on how many you can work on at a time to make sure that the team retains their focus and delivers business-critical tasks first. In the Scrum approach, people work according to what are typically two-week periods called ‘sprints’. Whichever approach you choose (or how you choose to combine them), this focus will demonstrate consistent delivery to stakeholders, while reducing the impact of errors on your budget by pivoting quickly if something isn’t working.
Frequent check-ins support the communication and collaboration of the team plus any other stakeholders. This can be done through daily stand-ups, as well as demonstrations and retrospectives which take place at different key stages of the working process. This way everyone is on the same page in terms of priorities, progress, blockers, and can share feedback and user insights much more quickly. The retrospectives also serve to continuously improve working processes as you go along so that ideas for improvement don’t get lost along the way.