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Essential Elements of Agile Marketing

September 30, 2019

With proper direction and review, agile marketing can increase team collaboration, provide greater visibility into activity and drive continuous improvement

B-to-b marketing teams often seek the freedom to innovate, test new approaches to achieve their goals, and rapidly adapt in fast-paced, dynamic environments. Many marketing leaders are adopting agile marketing to help their teams develop these capabilities and increase productivity. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we describe the advantages and essential elements of agile marketing that improve marketing’s ability to execute its plans and draw insights from the results.

The Agile Marketing Approach

SiriusDecisions defines agile marketing as an approach where self-directed, cross-functional teams work collaboratively toward a shared goal; deliver work outputs in regular, time-bound increments; and collect feedback and monitor performance along the way to rapidly refine and iterate as needed. Adapted from agile product development, this approach empowers small marketing teams to be nimble and more rapidly innovate. Typical use cases for agile marketing include situations in which the teams (e.g. web development, content creation, demand programs) are focused on sets of deliverables that must be completed within fixed time periods and the teams’ goals have been established in their respective planning processes.

Marketing leaders considering agile should contrast its iterative approach to traditional waterfall project management methods (not to be confused with the SiriusDecisions Demand Waterfall® process). These traditional project management methods follow a sequential, linear process, from gathering requirements to building and deploying deliverables. Waterfall project management is most effective when the team can spend a significant amount of time on upfront design, the scope of work can be reliably estimated, resources are not fully dedicated and incremental delivery is not an option. Common examples include major system deployments, large events, major system implementations and rebranding initiatives.

Agile marketing differs from traditional waterfall approaches in several important ways, including frequent releases, experimentation and a constant commitment to transparency and stakeholder satisfaction. Marketing operations leaders should examine key internal processes to determine which development approach should be applied to improve productivity.

Advantages of Agile

Successful application of agile marketing has yielded several benefits for participating teams and the broader marketing function:

Continuous improvement. Agile marketing emphasizes regular reviews of the team’s work and productivity, allowing it to make any needed adjustments.

Testing to drive better results. By encouraging team contributors to prototype, test and continually improve their ideas, agile can improve the final deliverables, ensure better outcomes and provide visibility into final results.

Clearer prioritization. Working with all stakeholders, agile teams can consistently prioritize the work that must be completed in the near term.

Optimized use of skills and resources. By promoting the assembly of teams consisting of contributors with diverse yet complementary skills, agile improves marketing’s ability to allocate appropriate resources to achieve specific goals.

More predictable delivery. Fixed delivery times and tools provide transparency to team leaders and stakeholders, indicating when assets and programs will be available for review and delivery.

Increased focus for contributors. Working on projects in short, focused delivery cycles helps contributors avoid the distractions of lower-priority work.

Agile Marketing Elements

Agile marketing is a flexible construct that draws from several process approaches that can be applied as appropriate, depending on goals and business context. The most common agile approach is scrum, which can be modified using concepts from lean process approaches such as Kanban (a visual planning method that displays tickets as they move through columns representing progressive stages of completion). The following common elements are essential for agile marketing to be successful. Each element contains strategies for how to manage and improve the way a team gets its work done.

Clear goals that determine how to deliver value. Successful agile teams rely on a strategic vision established in a planning process (e.g. annual marketing plan, campaign plan, program plan, content strategy plan). This strategic vision is required to help the team determine how to deliver value, prioritize projects and ensure timely delivery.

Collaborative teams. Agile teams are small, multi-skilled teams focused on completing a set of tasks. Limiting the team size to approximately six members allows them to collaborate without expending the additional effort required to keep large teams aligned. The desired skills depend on the work to be accomplished. For example, a team developing demand programs may require members who are skilled in digital tactics, landing page development, marketing automation and events, with access to creative services as necessary.

Componentized work. Plans are translated into components – individual projects or deliverables to be delivered over the short, medium or long term. Priorities are based on goals outlined in the plan. Each component includes a clear definition of the work to be done, describes why and for whom it must be completed, and defines what constitutes completion. For example, the plan may require a team member to write and publish a blog post for a specific persona to attract buyers and drive them to request a demo or other content to generate inquiries.

Accountability for results. Because agile teams are largely self-directed and focused on generating results, they must commit to achieving their goals (e.g. drive 100 inquiries from a blog post) and exceeding stakeholder satisfaction. This accountability builds trust within the organization and among team members.

Iterative planning. One maxim of agile is that time is fixed, but the work is variable. The work performed during each period (often called a sprint in the scrum methodology) may evolve, but the duration of the period does not change. Projects that last longer than one period are broken into smaller projects to be developed over multiple periods. Teams must constantly re-examine their long-term plans to ensure they are optimized.

Stakeholder transparency. Agile teams must provide visibility into their progress (e.g. through a workflow tool or other portal to communicate status). For example, if a campaign manager relies on an agile content development team to build and deploy assets, he or she must have visibility into when work can be reviewed and when it will be deployed – especially if that work must be coordinated with contributions from other marketing teams or other functions. Transparency creates trust between stakeholders and those doing the work – and promotes learning on both sides.

Inputs into continuous improvement. The marketing team can derive performance insights from two elements of most agile processes: the review and the retrospective. The review is a formal meeting with external stakeholders who evaluate what has been produced, and the retrospective is an internal meeting that gives the team (including the program owner) the opportunity to address how well the process is working and make any needed adjustments.

Considerations for Adoption

Because “agile” has become a popular buzzword in business – especially within marketing – misconceptions that emerge often create hazards for marketers adopting an agile approach. When discussing the application of agile marketing with peers and marketing leadership, marketing operations leaders must keep in mind the following considerations:

Agile does not make planning unnecessary. The most common misconception about agile is that it permits marketing leadership to frequently shift directions and simply let the staff adapt. Although an agile approach includes mechanisms to review results and make course corrections, agile team success still requires a clear long-range strategy, planning guidelines and goals. 

Agile is not bottom-up management. Individual agile teams enjoy a high degree of autonomy in how they get their work done. However, the team does not set direction and strategy; it must operate in a well-integrated, coordinated marketing ecosystem guided by senior leadership.

Agile does not necessarily mean faster. Although improved productivity may lead to faster speed of delivery, agile focuses on getting high-quality results quickly, not meeting impractical deadlines (e.g. publishing a white paper overnight).

Agile is not about constant testing. The iterative nature of working in agile enables teams to test new concepts and see results to prove hypotheses, but once a hypothesis has been proven accurate, the team also must focus on delivering the results – not just testing the next hypothesis.

The Sirius Decision

Adopting agile marketing requires significant changes in day-to-day operations and management for team leaders, team members and stakeholders. Marketing operations must assess which processes and use cases are best suited for agile marketing. Pilot the agile approach with one team that has clear goals established by the relevant planning process and is led by someone skilled in agile. Observe results of the team’s current work and communicate the benefits of the agile approach. When rolling out agile more broadly after the pilot has concluded, ensure familiarity with common agile techniques, determine which techniques can be best applied to each use case and invest in training for team leaders. Most importantly, gain commitment from the organization’s leaders that they will support and participate in this change to operations.

The SiriusDecisions Agile Engine for Product Management

The SiriusDecisions Agile Engine for Product Management

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