This year, our special guest star on all things agile marketing, Andrea Fryrear, will be providing agile marketing newbies with a monthly step-by-step guide to their first year as an agile marketer. This post is the first in the series. Enjoy!
The teams investigating agile marketing come in all shapes and sizes.
At one extreme are the cruisers. Their marketing efforts are doing just fine, but they’re looking for a competitive edge. They know they could do better than “just fine.”
At the other extreme are the burnouts, the teams who have hit their limit. Their marketing efforts have become one giant game of whack-a-mole: they attack one problem, three more pop up.
The good news is that no matter where you fall on this spectrum—looking for a competitive advantage or looking for an escape hatch—agile marketing puts the same benefits within your grasp:
- Better ability to manage changing priorities
- Increased team productivity
- Improved project visibility
- Increased team morale/motivation
- Faster time to market
- And more!
There are many steps on the road to this promised land of marketing agility, and every team’s journey will be a little bit different. But the first step is always the same: evaluate your team and choose your Agile methodology.
Each section below covers one area of inquiry you’ll need to tackle before your Agile journey begins. Be honest in your responses, then follow the guide at the end to choose your first methodology—Scrum, Kanban, or Scrumban.
Why Go Agile Anyway?
What made you decide to read this article?
What’s the biggest problem facing your marketing team?
How do you hope agile might help?
It’s important to spend some time contemplating these big questions before you run out and spend a month’s budget on whiteboards and sticky notes, because your “why” should inform your “how.”
Maybe your team members are buckling under their immense workloads. If you’re experiencing high turnover rates or seeing signs of burnout from your marketers, reducing the burden on your team needs to be your top priority.
You don’t want to adopt an approach like Scrum that demands a lot of up-front education or role changes; that’s just going to stress everyone out more.
If, on the other hand, your team is already healthy and stable, you may want to opt for the methodology that will give you the most significant competitive advantage in the market. In this case, Scrumban may be the right starting point.
Then again, your marketing team may not be a factor in your decision at all. If external interruptions routinely derail your projects and destroy your deadlines, you need to build a wall around your work. The structure and boundaries of Scrum may be your saviors.
Consider what you hope to accomplish by taking your marketing team agile, and choose a methodology that will get you to those goals.
Agile Marketing Isn’t Just About You
Marketing isn’t a stand-alone profession; it’s integrated at every level of a modern organization. That means that marketing’s relationships with other departments must influence our agile transformations.
To start unraveling the tangle of your interdepartmental dynamics, think about the level of political capital your team enjoys.
Do other managers and executives have confidence that high quality work will go out when you say it will, or do they see your deadlines and project descriptions as fantasies?
Marketing departments who haven’t earned trust need to focus, first and foremost, on using agile processes to set—and hit—deadlines religiously for several months. Once levels of political capital rise, continuous improvement becomes easier, because stakeholders will give you more autonomy.
If you’re already fortunate enough to control your own marketing destiny, you can start with more serious workflow adjustments, which you’ll get from tools like the WIP limits used in Kanban and Scrumban. These get you quicker results, but they require an independent team.
Think about the factors that influence your team, and make sure the methodology you choose meshes well with those relationships.
Agile Marketing Requires Agile Marketers
Regardless of the methodology that you choose, it’s the individuals on your team who are going to make it work or sabotage it from within.
Be realistic about the personnel you’re working with, and make a smart choice about your agile transformation based on the team you have, not the the one you want.
To Change or Not to Change...That is the Question
Most importantly, evaluate your team’s willingness to change.
If you have people at their wits’ end and willing to try anything to make their professional lives better, agile marketing can seem like divine intervention. You won’t encounter much internal resistance, so you can look to the external factors we’ve outlined to guide your choice of methodology.
If, however, your team is invested in the status quo and unwilling to experiment with alternatives to “the way we do things around here,” you may have a battle on your hands. You’re going to need to start with the lightest weight method available (i.e., Kanban) to try and minimize reluctance.
Adaptability is important, but your team’s cross-functionality (or lack thereof) is almost as important as their openness to change.
Are You Working With Cross-functional Marketers?
Cross-functional marketing teams have a wide variety of skills, specifically ones that enable them to complete the full lifecycle of marketing projects. They can work autonomously most of the time, relying little on other resources to move forward.
The more cross-functional your team, the greater their initial level of agility.
There’s no reason that a highly specialized team can’t be agile; they will just rely more heavily on outside help to complete their work.
Some agile methodologies, like Scrum, are designed for highly cross-functional teams. Others, like Scrumban and Kanban, can accommodate teams with more variation in skill sets.
Team Size Matters
Last, but certainly not least, the size of your team should inform your choice of agile methodology.
The classic formula for Scrum teams is 7 members, plus or minus 2, but it doesn’t always break down on teams outside that range. Teams as small as 3 can use this methodology, and, with some additional coordination, huge departments can break into multiple Scrum teams.
Kanban and Scrumban, on the other hand, scale up and down more readily.
If you’re new to agile, choose Scrum only if your team size falls in the traditional 5-9 range. Otherwise, opt to start elsewhere and adopt Scrum practices as needed.
Marketing Teams Who Shouldn’t Go Agile
If you ask me, which you sort of have by reading this far in the article, there aren’t very many marketing teams who won’t benefit from adopting an agile approach to their work. Some additional thought, patience, and experimentation should get you around any major hurdles.
However, agile was created to help manage the uncertainty around complicated knowledge work. If you don’t have any uncertainty in your work—you know 100% of the requirements before you start and nothing ever changes while you work—then agile may not significantly improve your team.
I have a hard time imagining modern marketing work that isn’t complex in at least one way, but maybe it’s out there somewhere.
Outside the team, unwilling executives may seem like insurmountable obstacles, but these are manageable too. They’ll just require you to be a little stealthy.
Pilot programs—small, low-risk, visible experiments that you can run using an agile methodology—are a great way to prove the value of transformation without up-front buy-in.
A few marketers are needed to execute a pilot program, so you’ll need at least a handful of willing souls, but it’s typically easier to get buy-in for these types of initiatives. Content marketing, social media, and online advertising all make great pilot candidates.
Choosing Your Agile Marketing Methodology
Decision time. Based on your biggest marketing headache, your relationship with other departments and stakeholders, and your team dynamics and size, which agile methodology will you choose?
Your first choice is important, but it doesn’t have to be your last.
Continuous improvement is the hallmark of any good agile team, so expect to make adjustments to how your team runs all the time.
To help get you started, here’s a chart summarizing the factors we covered and which methodology works best for common situations.
Be sure to subscribe to the Talking Work blog if you haven’t already. In the coming weeks I’ll be walking through how to start rolling out all three of these methodologies for your marketing team!
Read the next chapter in our "First Year of Agile Marketing" series, "Building And Growing An Agile Marketing Team."
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