In the many industries and organizations I subsequently joined, I have been pseudo-trained in various other project management tactics—from industrial practices such as Toyota TQC, or supply chain JIT, to more basic project management tools such as Gantt Charts, Critical Path, Work Breakdown Structure, and countless others—that, to this day, I can’t even recollect.
However, the agile movement, which started in software development and product management over a decade and a half ago, has spread to other industries and functions—in part, to emulate the economic successes of the tech industry, and almost certainly because, as Marc Andreessen once said, “software is eating the world.” Literature on the agile topic still abounds on the Internet and the term has been steadily trending up till today.
To be fair, having a well-thought-out priority list for the day/week/month is an excellent start, but it has little to do with the agile methodology—besides transparent communication—if there is no explicit goal/project that the sprint team is working on. To do for the sake of doing is actually rather counter to agile, and the tasks and deliverables easily become what a co-worker rightfully nicknamed “trees falling in the forest.”
In product management and software development, agile teams are working to build a product or a feature. What is the equivalent of a product or feature for a marketing team?
Think about big, hairy projects, challenges, or goals to achieve for customers or other company stakeholders. Here are a few examples that should set you on the right track to pick your first (or next) agile project:
-A critical product launch
-Refreshing the look and feel or branding on your website
-Optimizing your website for conversion
-Increasing pipeline generation for the sales team by X qualified opportunities a month
-Market to a new customer or industry segment
-A big-bang marketing campaign
-Developing a marketing reporting system to track campaign ROI
These initiatives are meant to take the organization to the next level of performance, and require team collaboration and result in collective learning.
(2) Agile project management is not a “Lord of the Flies” free-for-all.
It’s true that one of the core principles of agile is to put together a self-managing, self-organizing, cross-functional team to tackle big initiatives. However, before that, leadership executes strategic agile planning, and decides which initiatives should be prioritized. Agile is not an all-in, bottom-up approach, it is an adaptive method for leadership to take in new ideas and prioritize business goals, and a way for the team to execute on focused initiatives in a more nimble and iterative way.
Once a strategic initiative is assigned to a team and a timebox is defined, the “how” and the “what” to get to the goal is decided—but it’s not without checks and balances—the various stakeholders and executive sponsor engage actively in the sprint reviews.
(3) A marketing scrum does not have to include the entire team.
Since agile teams are formed cross-functionally around initiatives, each initiative/product might have its own scrum. Large meetings are not exactly ideal for a scrum or sprint planning. Agile pundits suggest to never cross the double digits, or as Jeff Bezos puts it, “a two-pizza team”.
Now whom should you assign as the product owner and the scrum master? “Product Owner” doesn’t quite translate to a marketing setting. In Hacking Marketing, Scott Brinker suggests the product owner should be a marketing manager or executive. The scrum master’s role, as in the case of its agile software counterpart, is to facilitate the sprint process.
If so much of the focus is on these agile initiatives or EPICs, what about day-to-day marketing? Does it mean the PPC analyst unwinds his/her current online programs, or the event coordinator drops his/her weekly events, because these programs are not part of an agile project? This leads me to my final point:
(4) If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I find agile to be most useful for finite projects that solve complex challenges, test new ideas, and inspire innovation. The rinse and repeat, “keep the lights on” type of ongoing programs don’t need much agile, just good project management tools (e.g Asana) and enough communication so that the day-to-day work gets equal recognition. I used, for example, all-hand meetings for my team to share their marketing highlights: blog posts, e-books, events, webinars, etc.
Practicing agile the right way is not easy. Leave your comments below. I’d be delighted to read your feedbacks.