"Change is the only constant" may sound like a fortune cookie -- with apologies to Heraclitus -- but it accurately describes the state of digital business today. And in a study by Forrester Research earlier this year, 96 percent of marketing leaders agreed that the pace of change in technology and marketing will only continue to accelerate.
This is why one of the most interesting trends from 2013 -- and one that is poised to grow explosively in 2014 -- is the adoption of agile management in the marketing department.
Everyone agrees that marketing needs to be agile today, at least in the sense of the adjective: nimble, able to move quickly and easily. But agile marketing isn't an aspiration. It's actually a relatively well-defined management methodology that began in software development circles back in the 1990s and has recently been adapted to serve the needs of marketers.
Principles of Agile Management
The essence of agile management is straightforward and rests on three main ideas:
First, instead of defining rigid and detailed quarterly or yearly plans, agile handles planning in a more iterative and adaptive manner. Agile breaks down work into bite-sized "sprints" that last for one to four weeks each. At the start of each sprint, there's an opportunity for management to adjust priorities based on results from the previous sprints and external changes in the market. There can still be an overarching yearly plan -- really, more of a vision -- but how that plan is achieved can be determined in a more emergent fashion.
The agile marketing cycle
Second, agile enables transparency. Everyone can see what is planned for the current sprint, what's complete, what's in progress and who's working on it, as well as the backlog of priorities -- what is queued up to be tackled in subsequent sprints. "Everyone" can mean everyone on the team, everyone in the marketing department, or in many cases, everyone in the company who is interested in marketing's initiatives. Among other benefits, this transparency gives people visibility into the trade-offs of incorporating new requests into marketing's to-do list.
Third, agile emphasizes small, cross-functional teams. Teams are often composed of individuals who cross traditional organizational silos and focus on the collective work of the team as much as their own speciality. Daily stand-up meetings among the team keep them in sync and quickly identify any bottlenecks or impediments. Agile empowers the people on the front-line to influence sprint planning, make commitments to tasks that they will own, and take significant liberty with how they accomplish them. Agile balances top-down vision with bottom-up innovation and responsiveness to unexpected problems and opportunities.
A Tipping Point and the Year Ahead
The mechanics of agile management are relatively simple. But truly embracing agile can be challenging, especially in organizations where big, long-term, top-down planning has been the primary way in which things worked. It's often a fairly significant shift in management philosophy: acknowledging that we can't plan everything in advance and instead, actively pursue emergent strategies and implementations.
It's because of the difficulty of evolving organizational culture that -- for a while -- agile marketing practices were isolated to a relatively small group of early adopters. A couple of years ago, many of the people to whom I mentioned agile marketing would reply, "Sounds interesting, but that would never work at my company."
But 2013 was a tipping point. The number of marketers I met at conferences who had started to experiment with agile -- or were considering experimenting with it -- increased by an order of magnitude. Hundreds of marketers have joined Agile Marketing meet-ups in San Francisco and Boston. More events such as MarketingProfs B2B Forum, the Marketo Summit and Eloqua Experience featured agile marketing sessions. At the Gilbane Conference earlier this month, more than 80 percent of the audience in a session I ran were familiar with agile marketing.
The reason for this blossoming of agile marketing is that the pace of change has become so rapid that the old way of managing marketing is clearly not working. Instead of "that would never work at my company," I'm hearing a lot more people say, "that might help with some of our biggest problems."
Collectively, as an industry, we're gaining momentum behind agile methods in the marketing department. My bet is that 2014 will be a really big year for agile marketing. I hope it is for you.
Title image courtesy of Matthew Benoit (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: Read more from Scott in In Between Websites and Landing Pages, A Better Post-Click Experience Awaits