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Are you interested in adopting agile marketing, but unsure if it will fit with your organization’s culture? Or, perhaps you started and it’s not working. Having practiced agile for several years now, I can fully recommend it, but there are few gotchas to avoid.
For those still not familiar with the concept of agile marketing, which is borrowed from software development, the idea is to create time-bound sets of objectives, prioritize them critically, and measure achievement frequently. Here’s how Jim Ewel puts it in his Agile Marketing blog:
Agile marketers follow a process, a process designed to increase alignment with the business aims of the organization and the sales staff, to improve communication, both within and outside the marketing team, and to increase the speed and responsiveness of marketing. The process copies that of agile development, with some differences in the details. This process is iterative, allowing for short marketing experiments, frequent feedback, and the ability to react to changing market conditions.
The biggest differences from conventional marketing operations are a) you move from yearly or quarterly planning to monthly or weekly planning, b) you are much more ruthless in your prioritization, and c) marketing meetings become much more objective. Are we done? Did it work? What’s blocking?
Aside from speed, the other great benefit of agile is that it helps with interactions between marketing and sales. Sales teams in high tech, where agile is most prominent, are used to tradeoffs with engineering: you only have so much time, money and people to build the product. Which leads to easier prioritization. Which features do you need from this sprint?
Marketing can use agile the same way: Of the ten things your team asked for, we only have resources for five – which are the most important? This gets rid of what I call the data-sheet-of-the-week syndrome, aka the if-I-only-had-[fillinassetname]-I-could-close-this-deal syndrome.
Sold? If so, here are six lessons I learned managing agile marketing teams at two companies. I hope they help you get the most out of what I think is a great concept.
- Set the right cadence – Decide the cadence that works for your team. Just because software development teams have daily standups doesn’t mean you have to. Personally, I think daily is too frequent for marketing teams. It’s just hard to get anything meaningful done in a day, and the updates would just be repetitive. I’ve used monthly objectives and weekly updates.
- Take a break – Agile marketing can be a bit of a grind. Even weekly updates can get a little monotonous, because some projects take several months to complete. Hearing that a new sales video is in production several weeks in a row is not that informative. So, give your team a break every once in a while. Skip the weekly update and use your weekly meeting for something else, like an overview of marketing experiments you have done or a guest speaker.
- Insist on metrics – Each objective or activity needs to have a goal target and metric. Get the team asking “Why am I doing this activity, and how will I know it worked?” If they can’t answer the question, should it be on your list of objectives?
- Prioritize realistically – As I’m writing this, our monthly objectives take fifty some rows in a Google Doc. That’s a lot. After about two quarters, I noticed people on my team including objectives like “Write blog posts,” and “Go to trade show.” These are not only too generic, but hard to prioritize. Per the goal setting point above, if it’s not something you can attach a goal target and metric to, ask whether it’s a high enough priority to have on the list. If you don’t nip this behavior in the bud, don’t blame me if “Show up to work” appears on your monthly list.
- Don’t allow overly aggressive goals – Especially with newer employees, I noticed they would set very aggressive monthly objectives. Too aggressive to actually achieve. Set the balance between getting enough done and killing people (which will make you unpopular with your team and HR). Let them know that realistic objectives mean high completion, which is the goal. I’ve also had to fight staff simply moving objectives to the next month. “Oh well, didn’t get that done, I’ll just move it to next month” defeats the purpose of agile. You need to fight that as a head of marketing. Put down reasonable objectives and hold people to them.
- Stop the work volume competition – The “I have more objectives than you” game was amusing. I noticed an unspoken competition going on, with the Type A folks throwing in more and more objectives to “win” on the spreadsheet. Sometimes, these took the form of generic objectives without goals, and were easily removed by yours truly. Other times, I would tell the employee that if I started seeing slippage then I was going to set their goals for them. Most of the time, simply having a word with the employee and stressing quality over quantity did the trick.
Keep in mind that agile marketing will be new to a lot of your staff. You should clearly explain not just the concept, but also the objectives. Explain how it will help the team better negotiate with sales, and explain to your managers the benefits of monthly tracking of their employees’ activities. You may want to set a metric for the agile program itself, such as increasing team efficiency, reducing time spent in planning meetings, or increasing sales satisfaction with timely, quality assets.
Once implemented, you should candidly asses how it is working. Is productivity up? Is the team better able to prioritize and measure results? Are your conversations with your sales VP peer easier?
Have you managed an agile team? I’d love to hear what you learned.