About this episode
In this episode, Andrea Fryrear, founder of Agile Sherpas dispels common misunderstandings around agile marketing and shares how you can use it to drive business growth predictably. Insights she shares include:
- How to approach agile marketing when starting out?
- How is agile marketing any different from growth marketing?
- How can agile marketing be applied in a B2B context
- How to iterate and test with agile marketing
- Can agile marketing be effectively used by smaller teams and individuals or just enterprise teams
- What are the critical elements to ensure that the process works when using hybrid agile methodologies?
- How to handle teams when using agile methodologies
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What is agile marketing?
Agile marketing is the process of managing and improving the way a marketing team does its work through the application of specific agile methodologies.
Agile marketing is designed to increase alignment between a business’s goals and sales staff, to improve communication, both within and outside the marketing team. The aim is to increase the speed and responsiveness of marketing. The process copies that of agile software development, with some differences in the details.
Andrea Fryrear says that the agile marketing process is iterative, allowing for short marketing experiments, frequent feedback, and the ability to react to changing market conditions.
Andrea Fryrear also says agile marketing –
- Is not limited to software development and helps alleviate some of the complexity of traditional marketing
- Doesn’t sacrifice planning and stability for the sake of speed
- Puts decision making in the hands of marketers, achieving strategic business objectives as well as benefiting customers
- Aims to do away with the limitations of traditional marketing
Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company shares a similar perspective –
Agile, in the marketing context, means using data and analytics to continuously source promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real time, deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating. At scale, a high-functioning agile marketing organization can run hundreds of campaigns simultaneously and multiple new ideas every week.
The truth is, many marketing organizations think they’re working in an agile way because they’ve adopted some agility principles, such as test and learn or reliance on cross-functional teams. But when you look below the surface, you quickly find they’re only partly agile, and they therefore only reap partial benefits. For example, marketing often doesn’t have the support of the legal department, IT, or finance, so approvals, back-end dependencies, or spend allocations are slow. Or their agency and technology partners aren’t aligned on the need for speed and can’t move quickly enough. Simply put: if you’re not agile all the way, then you’re not agile.
How can you use lean or agile principles to boost business growth?
Hal Conick, a staff writer for the American Marketing Association, has this to say –
Russ Lange, partner at marketing consultancy CMG Partners, defines lean as a methodology that continuously reduces waste and limits the amount of work in progress. Agile, on the other hand, improves effectiveness; Lange says that adopting agile processes means constantly looking for new tasks, experimenting with them and learning if they work. “Together, they can do wonderful things,” he says. His company, which assists larger organizations in adopting these processes, reports that 67% of companies using lean and agile marketing increase their profits and revenue.
How can marketers — whether in small business, the middle market or a Fortune 500 company — use lean and agile principles to their advantage?
The video below shares some insights.
How is agile marketing any different from growth marketing?
Agile marketing is a more holistic end-to-end change in how marketing operations work.
Andrea Fryrear says –
I think that growth marketing has oftentimes a very big role to play inside of an agile marketing organization, especially some of these more traditional groups that are very attached to their annual marketing plan.
And so getting into more of this experimental mindset is really important. But I think there’s a lot more to it. Agile is so team centric, and focused on collaboration, that it may or may not be part of a growth marketing approach. So, it’s much more about – the group can do more than its individuals can.
Whereas I think a lot of folks think of a growth marketer as like, I’m going to sit by myself at my desk, and like, kind of hack away at these things and come up with these rapid ideas that I can test and iterate around, which is great. But if we have a team that we can organize to execute work, then it tends to be even better than that. And there’s also a much larger focus on doing the right work at the right time. And sometimes those are small growth hacking type things. But other times, they’re large, long term, strategic projects, we have a huge campaign that has to get out in conjunction with a product launch or an event. And the other things that have to happen simultaneously with the smaller experiments. And that’s what agile lets us do. It prioritizes all of those types of work against one another. So we’re doing the right thing at the right time.
How do you implement agile marketing?
Agile marketing is starting to mature as a practice and as a way of working; however, there are still some fundamental issues that need to be dealt with if you want to successfully implement agile marketing in your organization. Three key factors are 1) developing an agile marketing mindset, 2) creating alignment around agile marketing, 3) approaching agile marketing when starting out.
Developing an agile marketing mindset
In order to benefit from agile marketing, marketers not only have to “do” agile but “be” agile in their way of thinking. This requires a mindset shift. Andrea Fryrear describes the effect of having the right mindset as impacting the way agile is done (see the figure below).
A good way to ensure you and your team have an agile mindset is to examine where you are through Kegan’s Theory of Adult Development, which outlines five distinct stages of development; the author of this theory, Robert Kegan, is a Harvard developmental psychologist and a professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Educational Chair for the Institute for Management and Leadership in Education.
Creating alignment around agile marketing
Nothing destroys marketing initiatives more quickly than misalignment with an organization’s leadership and sales team. Without alignment, your agile marketing initiatives could be seen as focusing on activities and metrics that have no bearing on the business objectives and, therefore, be considered ineffectual.
Communication and planning are essential in gaining stakeholder buy-in and support before starting the rollout.
To introduce agile marketing, consider starting with the following steps:
- Start with a small group of 4–7 marketers that understands agile marketing and is excited about trying out agile as a methodology
- Ensure that all members of the group are trained in the basics and comfortable using the tools
- Allow for extra time in the sprint planning, sprint review, and sprint retrospective meetings, as everyone is new to the process
- Have your marketing scrum meetings in the same place every day
- Make sure that you have a prominent visual artifact of the work like a whiteboard or a Kanban board (essentially a specialized template whiteboard) with a row per team member and Post-It notes with user stories and tasks or provide access to the software you will be using showing ready tasks, in-process and finished tasks
Approaching agile marketing when starting out
Marketing departments can often be chaotic and messy places with time and production pressures, which often result in unproductive work, wasted time, and misspent money.
To avoid this, agile marketing could be the solution but transitioning to this way of working isn’t easy. The strategy of implementation will need to be unique to each organization. However, the following are a few guidelines to help with the process:
- Don’t adopt every aspect of agile all at once as it will overwhelm your team.
- Instead start with consolidating your backlog (i.e., work requests that your team need to accomplish) in one location
- Prioritize your backlog based on impact, complexity, and hours to complete each task
- Hold sprint (i.e., a set period during which specific tasks must be completed) planning meetings
- Ensure your team understands that sprints are not projects.
- Pull in the aspects of agile that work for you and discard those that don’t.
- Everything changes all the time so don’t stop experimenting.
Can agile marketing be effectively used by smaller teams and individuals or just enterprise teams?
The short answer is yes, absolutely. And that’s where things like Kanban really come into play. A scrum team can be a few hundred people.
But a Kanban team could be as small as 1 or 2 people. Andrea Fryrear’s team at AgileSherpas is a small team with a core team of three. They consistently use Kanban.
Doing the right work at the right time is very crucial. Andrea Fryrear’s go-to recommendation for anyone who would want to try this is reading Personal Kanban by Tonianne DeMaria Barry.
How can agile marketing be applied in a business-to-business (B2B) context?
To help understand how agile marketing be applied in a B2B context, let’s get a bit more granular and look at how it would apply to content marketing, where teams traditionally take more of a waterfall approach (where a project gets planned thoroughly and taken through the various steps to completion in sequence with little deviation).
With an agile marketing approach, we design our work to release a small nugget of an experiment. We can then scale it, if successful. If it isn’t successful, we can chalk it up to learning and move on. So, instead of spending six-to-eight months building a massive content campaign and then releasing it (hoping that it works out), we release things incrementally, building on ideas, messaging topics that are useful and valuable to our audience, and abandoning the ones that are not useful.
This tactic is effective because it puts us in touch with the audience much sooner, and allows us to use their real involvement and feedback to change the way our content looks over time, instead of making an editorial calendar, marching along, and releasing things at a pre-ordained time on a pre-ordained topic no matter the feedback.
According to the Agile Marketing Report, 54% of marketers say they use hybrid agile methodologies (which is is a mix of both waterfall and agile methodologies and does not cover all aspects of an agile methodology).
How do you apply work-in-progress (WIP) limits?
Andrea Fryrear says one of the most impactful things for marketing teams using these hybrid agile methodologies is the use of WIP limits, which are not strictly part of the scrum framework but can easily be incorporated into it. WIP limits place strict parameters on the amount of work being done at any given time.
So, we might say, with a team of five, we can’t be working on any more than eight things at a time. Even though we may have committed to 30 things in our sprint, we are only going to work on a small amount of those at any given moment. This forces us to stop starting too much and start finishing things. So, you’re finishing and delivering continuously within the sprint-time box.
Because members of a marketeering team are spread so thin, and everybody needs something from them at all times, WIP limits help the marketing team stay focused.
Setting WIP limits
The easiest way to set WIP limits is across the board. For instance, if you have a Trello board or Kanban-style board, you can, as a team, put a ceiling on the number of items that can be in progress.
You can also set WIP limits by team members. For instance, put a ceiling on the number of items that can be in progress per team member at any given time. This number should be low to keep a team member from having too many things in flight at once.
You can also set WIP limits based on the stages of the board. Using the content marketing example, if writing, editing, and publishing stages exist for each project, then a WIP limit could be placed for each stage.
Ultimately, the idea of a WIP limit is to keep you from having too many things in progress at any given time.
What are other critical elements to ensure that the process works when using hybrid agile methodologies?
These additional critical elements include agile tactics that are basic but very easy to overlook:
A daily stand-up meeting. A daily stand-up meeting happens every day but is easy to view as too hard or inconvenient to accomplish. But organizational effectiveness declines when changing the stand-up meeting to even twice a week.
Andrea Fryrear says the daily stand-up meeting is non-negotiable for her team. If you’re having it every day, you just get used to it.
The retrospective meeting. This is the meeting at the end of every sprint or a meeting to talk about the work process (not work details), and how to make it better. Even non-sprint teams need to have recurring retrospective meetings. Otherwise, teams get too caught up in the next task.
Teams often don’t take time to stop and think about how things are going. Having retrospective meetings set as recurring events on the calendar is important but how they are used is equally important. You can use them to really dig into the problems. It’s easy to say how the sprint went and how much progress was made but the meeting must be worthwhile—take the time to have hard conversations. This is what will make continuous improvement possible.
Ensuring optimized efforts by implementing metrics or measures
Task efficiency can easily get overlooked and so you need to constantly ask questions regarding work status. For instance –
- Are we doing more little units of work over the course of a particular period or throughput?
- How many units of work did we get through the system in a particular period or throughput?
These are easy to track. You don’t need a fancy project management system to do it for you; if you have a whiteboard, you can check in on a day-to-day basis. This tracking will tell you if your system is improving over time.
Andrea Fryrear says that from a general marketing metrics perspective anyone thinking about trying agile in any form or fashion should take a snapshot of how well things are currently going.
For instance, how many leads does a campaign generate? How long does it take to get it out the door?
These questions should be answered for a quantifiable, post-agile, apples-to-apples comparison. Your stakeholders care deeply about what makes a marketing team more effective.
How do you manage teams when using agile methodologies?
Today few agile teams are physically present in one location; other factors also come into play:
- Coordinating across time zones
- Building rapport
- Collaborating among different work cultures
- Scheduling meetings or informal conversations when team members are online at the same time for only a few hours (or less)
So, to create a great remote agile marketing team, build rapport. Personal connections are important as they build trust, minimize missed expectations, ease self-organization, and boost morale. The stronger the personal connection, the less the likelihood of seeing remote colleagues as distant and unfamiliar.
Ways to facilitate team management include the following:
- Overcommunicate decisions
- Minimize the friction in setting up shared resources
- Clearly define the definition of “done”
- Create guidelines for your work like marketing metrics, branding, content, etc.
Know what approach you take with the agile marketing or methodology you use—it is essential to understand the core concepts of agile. These are the principles of agile marketing—adopted from the original agile manifesto for software development.
Scrum has received a lot of attention recently but is not always the best option and Andrea Fryrear explores this in the SlideShare below.
How do you improve your agile marketing with agile sprint retrospectives?
When implementing agile marketing, it’s easy to start putting new steps into place without evaluating whether or not they will drive actual improvements.
Andrea says –
The Agile mindset calls for continuous refinement and improvement, meaning that there’s always something that could be a little bit better. This is one of many reasons why retrospective meetings are SO important — they systematize the practice of regularly reviewing your process and identifying opportunities for improvement.
Often times, the fact that you have undertaken a solution to solve a problem masks lingering problems and inefficiencies.
Retrospectives help avoid this problem (and others) by achieving the following:
- Evaluating performance honestly: Improvements can only come about if you’re not glossing over errors or overhyping success.
- Providing team members the opportunity to voice feedback: Positive or negative, all fair and reasonable feedback should be considered.
- Making self-reflection a habit and not just an obligation: Setting time aside for review ensures it gets done consistently.
- Becoming a habit: A habit develops over time and helps push the team toward continuous improvement.
How do you effectively adopt agile marketing practices?
To adopt agile marketing practices that will benefit your organization for the long term, you don’t need to be concerned with mapping your agile approach to the agile development process of the software world but rather using the following key agile practices to craft your own journey to boost business growth:
- Create sprints. These work cycles will help break the work to be done into a series of smaller, yet connected, chunks of work with a specific duration.
- Clearly define deliverables. Each sprint and collection of sprints should be engineered to produce clearly-defined deliverables.
- Institute daily stand-up meetings. These short sessions are key to getting everyone on the same page through effective status updates and planning.
- Build a diverse and agile team. Deliverable assignments need to be made based on capabilities not on seniority or titles. Agile teams should, therefore, be composed of individuals from across an organization with a variety of relevant skills and experience levels.