May 7, 2018
How To Create An Agile Marketing Team
By now, you’ve likely heard of Agile Marketing and, with the growing popularity around this methodology, it’s no surprise. Unlike the traditional, Waterfall, marketing approach (a linear process with phases cascading one after the other) which can take months to develop and execute a plan, Agile Marketing allows for project flexibility, client feedback, and a team-based approach.
So, what exactly is Agile Marketing? Well, Agile Marketing is a new mentality (or a mental shift) for marketers—a mentality that comes from a set of Agile guiding principles. These principles are then applied to marketing work via Agile-compliant work frameworks like Scrum and Kanban. Agile principles and work frameworks put together create a strategy for managing projects by focusing on improving the speed, productivity, adaptability, and responsiveness of the marketing process, both internally and externally.
In the past, and even today, many marketing teams—and businesses in general—have followed a Waterfall work management approach, which typically means a more drawn out process focusing on four distinct phases: discover, plan, build, and review. The problem many marketers run into with this approach, however, is it leaves very little room (if any) for changes, creates rigid plans and deadlines, and can result in missed opportunities and breakdowns in communication.
Poor communication is already a significant issue for most organizations as it is. According to a Harvard Business study, 95% of a company’s employees are unaware of or don’t understand their company’s strategy, the result of which is limited collaboration, more inefficiencies, and a chaotic work environment.
Departments that utilize Agile Marketing can avoid these inefficiencies and loss of productivity by facilitating clear communication. It allows you to set clear team and individual goals that align with company goals to ensure everyone understands and meets the determined objectives.
When it comes to marketing, how Agile are you and your marketing team?
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Agile Marketing starts with knowing the user story.
Put simply, a user story is a high-level definition of a work request. It contains just enough information so the team can produce a reasonable estimate of the effort required to accomplish the request. This short, simple description is written from the user’s perspective and focuses on outlining what your client wants (their goals) and why. Since the term “user story” comes from the development world, it may help for marketers to think of it as a “client story,” which applies to both internal and external customers.
Identifying the user story is important because, without a solid understanding of your clients and customers, you’re not likely to create content or campaigns that attract people to your products or services.
As you make progress, reference the user story to start the conversation around what your client wants and how you can deliver on the project. That said, remember that the user story is a guideline and is subject to change.
The customer and their story (what they want) are number one when it comes to Agile Marketing. When starting, structure your work around the user story and their needs. One way to capture your customer’s story is to follow the format: As a [role], I want to [task], so that I can [goal or benefit].
To help you write this, consider these 3 important questions:
- Who is the target audience? — As a [role]
- What is the intention? — I want to [task]
- Why are we creating it and what value will it bring? — so that I can [goal or benefit]
Here’s an example of a user story: As a marketer, I want to learn about Agile, so that I can manage my team’s workload more effectively.
By answering these questions, you can better understand which tasks and strategies will be the most beneficial for reaching the client goals. The more you know about your customer’s needs, the more you can remain focused on meeting the user goals and creating something that will be of value.
Agile is a methodology for managing work that focuses on improving speed-to-market, productivity, adaptability, teamwork, and responsiveness throughout the marketing process. A primary benefit of Agile Marketing is that it allows you and your team to work smarter, not harder.
To do this, the Agile work framework, called Scrum, emphasizes rapid delivery of smaller parts of a bigger project (or epic) or goal via short time frames of work called sprints.
How can you implement Agile in your marketing strategy? Here are 3 key components of an Agile approach:
A big part of Agile Marketing is creating enough of a plan to get started, going through the process of planning, building, testing, and reviewing, and then breaking your plan down into several incremental releases known as sprints.
Sprints usually last between one to three weeks to complete. As you move forward, the idea is to continuously repeat these sprints until your product is feature ready. In other words, you are taking your product or service, setting goals on what you want to accomplish, and working to complete that goal (within the sprint). Once the sprint is over, you review the product see what is and isn’t working, make adjustments, and begin another sprint to improve the product or service.
How to implement sprints into your Agile team structure:
Executive support. When implementing Agile Marketing, having the support from top executives and leadership is important in making Agile work.
Pull in your team. Some people may resist the change, so take some time to understand their concerns and help them find a role that fits their strengths, skills, and personality. Agile revolves around small, self-managing teams that are transparent and highly collaborative. As you move towards Agile, assign roles (see below) to certain team members who you feel will excel in these positions. Or better yet, allow your Agile team to decide who from among them should fill those roles.
Provide training. Agile marketing will be new to most, if not all, of your team. Make sure everyone is provided some professional training to help execute the changes and set your team (and company) up for success.
Inform internal parties about the change. Managing your team’s work in sprints will impact internal parties and when they can expect their tasks to be delivered. Inform them about your new strategy and how it will influence their workload.
Establish boundaries and availability. Before you begin your sprint, confirm everyone understands when the sprint will start and end, and make sure you know each team member's availability (vacations or other time conflicts). To make this easier, use this Agile Marketing sprint capacity calculator.
Set assignments. Assign individual tasks to your team where they can use their strengths and skills to deliver on the project. This is also important so everyone understands their responsibilities and what they are accountable for.
Check in with your team. Once assignments have been specified and the sprint plan set, schedule time to check in with your team to ensure everyone is on track and moving forward on their individual priorities. A popular strategy managers use for this is daily standup meetings, which we’ll go over in depth below.
A key takeaway from Agile Marketing pros:
Plan out your sprints. “We've found that our velocity as a team goes up when we plan out our sprints and stick to our set of tasks. Everyone knows what they need to be doing and it keeps the team moving forward. Before, we used to just say what we were doing each morning and try to blindly work on those tasks. With Agile, we've been able to stay on plan and knock out tasks quickly and efficiently.” - Jake Lane, LawnStarter
Focus on achievable goals. Matthew Mercuri, Digital Marketing Manager at Dupray, says the key to implementing marketing sprints is to focus on achievable and controllable goals. The biggest issue he’s seen relates to the fact that Scrum teams often set goals that simply cannot be achieved (i.e. get 500 new followers). Instead, focus on deliverable tasks such as setting a goal to upload X number of videos on social media via YouTube, Vimeo, or another platform.
Daily standup meetings (under 10 minutes), also known as “daily Scrum meetings,” are a great way to ensure everyone is on track and informed. These daily interactions are known as “stand up” because the participants are required to stay standing, helping to keep the meetings short and to the point.
Steps to implement stand up meetings:
Assign stories/tasks. Based on the user story, tasks are ordered based on their priority and are self-committed by team members during a sprint. Once they’ve completed their current task, they select another story and begin.
Discuss the progress of the sprint. It’s also a good time to review the progress of the sprint during these meetings. Hold each team member accountable for staying on task and evaluate the progress on the burndown chart. While reviewing the progress, each person should share what they did yesterday, what they’ll work on today, and what is standing in their way to completing their task (if anything).
Reorder backlog as necessary. Your backlog is an important tool to keep teams organized and allows you to prioritize your (and your team’s) work. While you complete your sprints and evaluate the ROI, you can reorganize and add new tasks to the backlog. Typically, reordering the backlog is a task done by the Product Owner role and the rest of the team.
Pro tips for stand up meetings implementation:
Don’t sit down. Abbey Brown, Marketing Manager at FM Outsource, recommends not going near a meeting room. Instead, hold the meeting near the water cooler at the same time each day. Set a 10 minute limit, 15 max, where everyone is given the chance to talk at least once. Once the time is up, move on.
Have a plan. “Any sprint meetings that are unstructured result in off-topic conversations and inefficiency. Using a democratic voting system while simultaneously avoiding debate is the best method to breeze through a meeting.” - Matthew Mercuri
Take a moment to learn more about leading meetings more effectively to cut down on time waste.
To be successful with Agile Marketing, you must have the tools and resources to track your work or sprint progress. In addition to managing a backlog, project management software with Agile functionality allows you to create a storyboard where you can see all your current user stories and break them down into smaller subtasks that can be assigned to specific members on the team.
“Most people get distracted by their work during the sprint process. It’s crucial that they take 15 minutes per day to input the progress updates. You could and should incentivize the upkeep process by stimulating employee desire.” - Matthew Mercuri
As you look at the various software options out there, here are some questions to ask:
- Will the software automate a repetitive task?
- Does the software have a backlog, timed sprints, storyboard, and burndown chart functionality?
- Does the software allow you to clearly see where your team has allocated time?
- Can you pull reports quickly that are accurate and easy to read?
- Does it allow for cross-functionality within the company?
- Will the software integrate with other systems?
- Does it provide good ROI?
Are you reading this and thinking, I’m not sure if we really need project management software? Then you may find the following points to be helpful during your decision-making process:
- Drive greater productivity by automating repetitive manual tasks
- Increase collaboration and transparency through social-style updates and dashboards
- Reduce project failure with real-time views into project progress and resource workloads
- Provide data-driven insights for constant improvement
A key factor to remember: Agile is all about being more transparent and proactive in dealing with situations as they arise. Project management software not only allows for this, but provides you with tools and resources to measure and evaluate your progress so you can serve your clients better, update executives and shareholders with current information, lead your team with clarity, and ensure work will be completed by the deadline.
While you take steps towards tracking your work management process, now is the time to also look at your own marketing strategy and reflect on what changes you can start implementing—what’s working and what isn’t. As you establish the best course of action for your work, use the project management software you’ve installed to help you determine how to proceed with your next sprint.
Is there someone on your team who has some extra time to work on a new task, who is taking time off and what tasks need to be completed before they leave, or is someone on your team being assigned too many hours and is headed towards burnout? As a project manager, all of these factors are important to consider while you’re moving forward.
Steps to implement continuous improvement in your marketing:
Maintain your backlog. The backlog is an ever-changing list of work requests that lets the Agile team know which projects need be completed first. Task requests are based on the user stories with assigned estimates (i.e. hours, points, etc) and prioritized accordingly. Regardless of how you manage these backlogs (work management software, whiteboards, etc.), sort these user stories by priority, such as deadline, ROI, or by client.
Revise your storyboard. The storyboard allows you to see where the project falls during the sprint, from ‘incomplete’ to ‘in progress’ to ‘approval’ to ‘complete.’ While your team works on their various assignments, everyone should be able to see their project progress as close to real-time as possible.
Update the burndown chart. Burndown charts allow managers and executives to view the progress of a sprint including the number of stories and tasks included in a given sprint, hours completed, velocity of hours, and an estimate on the completion date. This chart can also provide a real-time calculation of the percentage of work completed during a specific sprint.
Review the sprints. Once a sprint is completed, review the progress of the sprint with your team and see where you can improve for the next sprint. Pull in stakeholders and executives to provide feedback and suggestions.
Plan next sprint. As you prepare to move forward into your next sprint, take a moment to evaluate your team’s total availability, per person, for the time period.
Once you have a clear idea on the availability of your team, you can add tasks and deadlines to better suit your team and their workload.
Learn more about tracking your progress in our article, Agile Project Management...And Any Other Methodology You Want To Use.
In Agile Marketing, although each team member is accountable for completing their own work, the overall success or failure of the sprint and end product depends on everyone. The entire team needs to be prepared to step up to the plate in collaboration and execution.
Amy Medeiros, Marketing Manager at BroadbandSearch, says, “We really love using our board. Having team meetings where everyone can talk about roadblocks and discuss options for moving tasks forward has been really helpful; we've been able to readjust our goals based on these conversations.”
Agile Marketing thrives on collaboration and ideas, which you can present to your clients to ensure you’re meeting their objectives and collect their feedback. As you build and strengthen your relationships with your clients, you'll be better able to anticipate their needs in your brainstorm sessions. You'll also be better at proactively addressing their concerns and issues before they arise.
There are some important roles that need to be present for Agile Marketing teams to be successful:
Scrum master. The scrum master ensures that each sprint stays on track and helps to remove or resolve any issues or challenges that may come up. They are the team’s advocate.
Project owner. The role of the project owner is to define the goals of each sprint, manage and prioritize the team backlog, and be the voice of the customer or internal stakeholder.
Scrum team. The people on this team are the ones who execute the work in each sprint. These teams, usually of three to seven people, can be composed of different specialties and strengths, or they can be teams of people with the same job roles. .
Stakeholders. This is an informational role only. The stakeholders should be kept up-to-date on the product and sprint goals, have the opportunity to review and approve work during a sprint, and provide feedback during the sprint retrospective.
Ready to use Agile Marketing on your marketing team? Check out this guide on becoming an agile marketing team.
Agile Marketing is changing the way marketers do business and collaborate with their clients, whether internal or external. Now, marketers can plan an effective campaign and project outline for their clients, which can be easily adapted to modifications depending on the current project status.
Matthew Mercuri, Digital Marketing Manager at Dupray, foresees Agile Marketing becoming the norm because of it’s goal-oriented focus. Since marketing departments who consider themselves Agile are 3 times more likely to significantly grow market share, you can easily see why more businesses and marketing teams are adopting Agile methodology.
Agile Marketing is a process that everyone—stakeholders, executives, managers, and employees—needs to embrace. As you move forward with implementing Agile into your marketing strategy, remember it takes time to adjust to this new approach. Avoid feeling overwhelmed by applying one or two of these strategies, such as sprints, into your overall marketing plan.
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