project manager with a kanban board desk behind him, implementing an agile marketing process.
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Tom Cruise’s character in Top Gun isn’t the only one who feels “the need for speed.” According to a CMO Council survey, 52 percent of consumers said the most important attribute of a brand experience is fast response times to issues, needs, requests and suggestions. 

Many marketers have turned to the practice of Agile marketing to help deliver on the need for speed. According to VersionOne’s State of Agile report, 94 percent of respondents said their organizations practiced Agile but think they can do better. Although 44 percent of respondents stated that they were extremely knowledgeable regarding Agile development practices, 80 percent said their organization was at or below a "still maturing" level.

“Agile marketing significantly helps marketing teams to better plan and prioritize,” said Katherine Kostereva, CEO and managing partner at bpm’online. Using this methodology not only aids in syncing the most recent information between team members, but it can also help identify potential roadblocks before they become major problems. "Marketers are better able to understand the priorities and scope of work that’s been planned, enabling them to be more focused and efficient in their task execution," she said.

We caught up with some experts who shared tips for marketing teams delivering on Agile marketing programs.

Related Article: An Introduction to Agile Business Process Management

What is Agile Marketing?

But first, let’s define the practice of Agile marketing. According to Agile Marketing, Agile Marketing is “an approach to marketing that takes its inspiration from Agile software development. It values the following:

  • Responding to change over following a plan. 
  • Rapid iterations over big-bang campaigns. 
  • Testing and data over opinions and conventions. 
  • Many small experiments over a few large bets. 
  • Individuals and interactions over one size fits all. 
  • Collaboration over silos and hierarchy.

Solves Resource Wrestling Match

Bryan Semple, chief marketing officer at SmartBear, leads marketing teams that have implemented an Agile marketing methodology. They work on marketing projects in two-week "sprints," jumping from one sprint to the next. 

Semple’s marketing teams have six product divisions to support. Ultimately, there are six work streams that are running at any given point in time, and with that, comes resource conflicts. “Everybody needs the graphics team at the same time. So Agile helps to solve those resource constraints, where everyone needs a particular resource at one point in time,” Semple said.

One thing Agile does well, is help teams answer the question of what can be done in a particular timeframe. “As we know, there's an infinite amount of things that we can do. There's just a limited amount of time to get them done.” Running an Agile program, you know that in a given timeframe, you have X number of hours of work that is available, and it allows you to schedule that work, Semple said.

Marketing teams should brace for a lot of planning with an Agile marketing team, according to Andrea Fryrear, an Agile marketing trainer, who wrote about Agile marketing in a Medium post. "Agile marketing includes planning. Requires planning. Embraces planning. Quite a lot of planning, actually. Heck, there’s a meeting in Scrum actually called 'Sprint Planning.'" 

Everyone Knows Their Role 

Agile marketing helps organizations take multi-step projects and coordinate them so that everybody knows their role in a project, much like traditional project management. “If done correctly, it also can give you kind of the big view of all the things that are going on your organization at a given point in time,” Semple added.

Stay Focused On Metrics and Goals

Unless your marketers' work is grounded in metrics and goals, they won't know what to do, Semple said. Have quantifiable metrics and then let achievements of goals and metrics drive what's got to get planned out either through project management or through Agile. Everything, he cautions, must be rooted in the operating metric.

“So for us, we know where we have problems, generally, and therefore when it comes time to plan the next sprint, the first thing is, well, we know we have a problem here. What are we going to do in this sprint to solve that problem?” That, Semple said, gives his teams prioritization and the ability to ask, “Is this work going to solve any problem we currently have with the metrics?” And if doesn't solve a problem they currently have, it may be a good idea to scrap it. "Without things being grounded in metrics and performance and results it's very difficult to make week-by-week decisions on what to do," Semple said.

Related Article: Step Up Your Agile Marketing Game

Set Mini Projects

Semple’s teams include in their Agile marketing process “epics.” It's a mini project that includes tasks. A sample of an Epic may be, “Produce and launch new white paper and drive awareness.” Within that epic the team will list all the tasks that are required to get that white paper done. 

Define Your ‘Sprints’

Semple's organization found that working in two-week “sprints” keeps projects on point and focused. It constantly has the next sprint in mind while working on the current one. “You need the sprints short enough to be nimble that you aren’t constantly telling people to wait for the next sprint that's coming in three weeks.

Hiowever, he cautions you shouldn't make them too short either. When that happens the sprint itself becomes too much of a focus. “You spend too much time talking about sprints, arranging sprints and doing sprints,” Semple said. “You’ve got to get the optimal time.” When the Sprint closes, there are accountability checkpoints.

Project Managers Not Required

Semple's organization Smartbear, does have a Scrum Master that is the team’s Agile expert. But she does that 1/10th of her time. “We're always faced with what do we do next. Do we spend time and money and hire a professional Scrum Master or do we hire, say, another content writer and usually the content writers win out. You hire someone that drives content and drives traffic or do you hire someone who manages the process, and almost always the person that drives traffic is going to win out,” Semple said.

Related Article: Is Agile Marketing a 'Thing' or Just Business As Usual?

Welcome and Plan for Change 

We also caught up with Jim Ewel, marketing consultant who runs the site Agile Marketing. He agreed that no one person takes charge in an Agile environment. “Instead, teams react based on clear responsibilities and based on decision making at the right level in the organization. From the highest management levels, managers decide on the breakthrough business objectives and the big themes or epics that the company is going to invest in," he said.

That’s reflected in a practice called Portfolio Kanban. The teams then execute either through sprints or through a smooth flow of tasks in Kanban, and they continuously test their marketing against the changing realities of the marketplace, Ewel said.

Deliver Marketing Content and Programs Frequently

Emphasize iteration rather than one-and-done, Ewel said. Teams should be focused on quality and effectiveness of content rather than simple quantity. “If your only measurement is quantity of content, then you might very well see a huge spike at first, when you’re filling in all the gaps, and a dropoff later in quantity,” he said. 

Content should be relevant to the reader, and that relevancy is going to change over time. Content marketing groups should focus on that relevancy, generating content that helps customers understand new issues that have just come up. “Content marketing groups should be thinking speed, not perfection,” Ewel said.  

Related Article: Popping 5 Popular Myths of Agile Marketing

Rely on Testing and Data Over Opinions

If a marketer is running an Adwords campaign, typically they will run multiple ads and multiple combinations of keywords. They’ll adjust their budget over time to favor those ads and keywords that are getting the best click through rate (CTR). “They don’t ask the CEO which ad he or she likes best. But when it comes to big campaigns, involving TV or digital billboards, companies make decisions all the time based on the highest paid person’s opinion, what I call the HIPPO method. This is ineffective. Start testing and go where the data leads you,” Ewel said.

Implement Cross-Functional Teams

Marketing teams practicing Kanban should also be implementing process policies, which document policies that should be in place as work is handed off from one team to the next team. Ewel cited an example where something is handed off from the strategy team to the creative team. Then, the process policy might specify the content that needs to be in the creative brief, the budget, the dates, the target audience, etc. “Teams that are rigorous about specifying and following these process policies produce better quality of work and have less finger-pointing,” he said.  

Also, Agile organizations implement cross-functional teams which have entire responsibility for a project, and they have the skill sets on the team necessary to complete the project. “They work more quickly, they tend to be more innovative and they also have less finger-pointing and more collaboration because everyone on the team is aligned on the same goal,” Ewel said.