blowing bubbles
There's some wrong ideas floating around out there about agile marketing. Let's dispel them, shall we? PHOTO: Allan Holmes

When I co-founded SCRUM50 as a born-agile marketing agency three years ago, we checked our traditional processes at the door. We are all Agile, all the time, and it has never been any other way.

Agile marketing is not just another industry buzz word. For the uninitiated, Agile is a workflow methodology born out of software development. It uses a fluid process that relies on collaboration, communication and — most importantly — learning and iterating work based on in-market feedback.

Dispelling the Myths Surrounding Agile Marketing

Agile allows you to launch rapidly and test/learn as you go, versus the traditional model that employs endless rounds of testing and tweaking prior to launch.

Creating an Agile marketing environment has a little bit of a learning curve for clients and new employees, but we find that it’s mostly due to some misconceptions about the methodology. After fully committing my entire organization to the Agile marketing methods we developed, I can confidently dispel these five myths:

Myth 1: Agile Marketing Only Works With Small Teams or Organizations

We’ve been dividing staff up into teams for years, and this isn’t so different. Smaller, multi-discipline scrum teams are assigned to specific, time-boxed deliverables. Small groups allow for quicker communication and fewer personal roadblocks.

In fact, even large corporations are adapting Agile methodologies and concepts. GE, one of the world’s largest organizations, has implemented lean (a sister to Agile) practices on a global scale. The critical requirement for bigger companies is that all levels of management must embrace the model and support the model. Everyone must be in it 100 percent.

Myth 2: Agile Marketing is Disorganized and Often Chaotic

From the outside looking in, this approach might appear unruly, and some ideas may be stress-inducing at first glance for an Agile rookie. But once you’re in, you experience a nimble, adaptive method that is anything but chaotic.

In fact, Agile marketing is very organized. A published backlog provides the whole team with visibility to all the work that needs to be accomplished, while the sprints keep teams hyper-focused on what needs to be done to move the ball forward.

Short daily stand-up meetings quickly communicate what was accomplished yesterday, what the team is working on today and what’s getting in the way of progress right now. There’s much more order here than you might find in, say, an hours-long weekly status meeting. Agile marketing helps teams get out of their own way. 

Myth 3: It’s All About Speed … Right?

We have spent lots of time making sure our employees and clients don’t confuse ‘Agile’ with ‘chop shop’. Speed is a benefit, but not the driver of Agile marketing. 

Yes. Work progresses swiftly. That’s because deliverables happen on a regular basis. At SCRUM50, we work in two-week sprints. So, teams deliver something at the end of each sprint. This timeframe is the norm in Agile, but it is adaptable to one week, four weeks or whatever schedule works best for your product.

Even before that main sprint deliverable, we’re sharing work in progress with clients. In Agile, you don’t wait until things are fully baked before you share or launch. We consider these informal check-ins to be critical learning opportunities. We gather feedback that helps define and refine the deliverable, or even course-correct if needed.

This lets us gauge the potential for success before delivery, instead of scrambling to address a lengthy list of feedback items later. And it allows us to take creative risks and really push the envelope without sacrificing the timeline if those risks don’t pay off. It’s a smart way to work that just so happens to be pretty fast as well.

Myth 4: Agile Marketing Lacks Rigorous Planning

In fact, Agile employs a very detailed planning process. However, the tools, techniques and timeframes look very different from a traditional waterfall work plan. 

Luckily, we’re evolving past sticky notes on a white board. New software and project management tools that help plan and manage an Agile workflow are popping up all the time. A few favorites:

  • Trello: card systems to manage backlogs, current tasks and sprint deliverables
  • Slack: team communication with file exchanges for peer reviews
  • Dropbox: cloud-based for accessible-anywhere file storage and feedback tools
  • Jira: workflow tools designed specifically for Agile teams

And those are just the tip of the iceberg. We’re trying and testing out new tools all the time because the list seems nearly endless.

Myth 5: Any Type of Organization Can Adopt Agile Marketing

Well, maybe not. There are certain types of cultures that prevent Agile from working. Senior management must empower the organization to make quick decisions on an autonomous basis. Without that, work comes to a grinding halt.

Agile is a fundamental mind set, not just a project methodology. Teams need to get comfortable with delivering a minimally viable product and getting real-life feedback that may require a quick pivot. They need to embrace the practice of scaling ideas and initiatives mid-stream.

There is also the notion that subjective opinions play a very small role in decision making, in favor of the objective behavioral feedback we get from end users or our target audience. If you have an organization that loves to spend most of the day in a conference room debating the efficacy of your marketing programs, Agile may not be for you. Agile delivers real results in real time, but you need to be ready to act, not discuss.

Committing to Agile

Once you get past the myths, the benefits of Agile marketing become clear. Problems pop up when key people in the organization hang onto these misconceptions and don’t fully commit. Everyone, especially senior management, needs to be fully dedicated to the methodology. While Agile doesn’t mean fast, it is fast — and those who aren’t on board will certainly get left behind.