Agility is something most businesses hope to achieve, yet few understand how to bring it into an organization, especially when it comes to marketing. After all, tradition tells us that it takes months to land on a marketing campaign. If you’re working to embed an agile mindset into your culture, part of that process should start with testing and iterating the methodology itself.
Let's say, for example, your team has a basic understanding of agile, where you quickly measure and optimize iterations of a marketing program. The next step would be to focus on a big goal, identify and prioritize tactics to accomplish that goal, assign ownership and track the progress of those tasks, and then learn and scale based on consumer response and/or stakeholder feedback.
If a team struggles with transitions from one phase to the next, it might make sense to engage in more formal training or enlist a qualified manager to teach the value of using this new workflow. When employees are kept informed of changes (and the reasons for those changes), they’re more apt to accept and adopt new developments. Testing agile before full implementation also gives you a chance to adapt the methodology to your organizational needs.
When Pantheon was first implementing agile, my team had a progress flow to manage each of our responsibilities (brand, digital experience, and demand generation). These flows were a hybrid of backlog and in-progress tasks to enable better planning and tracking. But as the team grew, the process didn’t scale.
Since then, I've broken out the flows into separate backlog and work-in-progress boards for each function (brand, digital experience, and demand generation), clearly delineating between potential and committed work. It also enables us to have a larger backlog of tasks and ideas to pull from. From there, we formalized a more regular scrum-like schedule for the team.
With digital experience, we run weeklong sprints and hold biweekly 30-minute cross-functional stand-up meetings. On Mondays, we review any tasks left over from the previous week. Ideally, all committed work should be completed in a given sprint, so if those tasks roll over, we try to break them down into smaller chunks to "get-to-done” faster. We also groom our backlog and assign new tasks for our upcoming sprint. During the week, I hold one-on-one meetings with my direct reports to check on overall well-being and the progress of their tasks. Come Thursday, it is time for another cross-functional meeting, where we demo and celebrate the completed work, as well as review any tasks that could not be completed.
These updated processes have helped our marketing department increase productivity as it provides effective tools to engage stakeholders and team members responsible for production. According to a 2016 Gallup study, engaged teams experience 17% higher productivity. They can also lead to 21% greater profitability and 10% higher customer ratings.
Taking Your Agile Marketing to the Next Level
Advancing your agile workflow isn’t always easy, but you can often move the needle in the right direction with the following steps:
1. Build a backlog.
Agile marketing methodologies almost always start with a backlog of tasks to pull from during team sprints. Think of it as a to-do list that prioritizes next steps in order to maintain project momentum. As such, establish a process for reviewing items to build and add to this backlog. Just make sure someone on the team is breaking down larger items into smaller tasks as they’re added to the list.
2. Create a work-in-progress board.
For new methodologies to work, you need a means of organizing and managing tasks. Look into a tool like Asana, Jira, or Trello to not only help prioritize work, but also develop a work-in-progress board — a system to visualize and transition from one task to the next.
Our company uses a Kanban-style board to maintain order and better anticipate potential obstacles or delays to the workflow. You’ll see columns like "To Do," "In Production," "Ready for Review," "Complete," and "Blocked." The review column is especially helpful, as it signals to the project owner that the task owner needs feedback in order to continue to make progress.
3. Hold cross-functional meetings.
Teams are rarely successful when working in vacuums. Use cross-functional meetings to provide updates and feedback with your colleagues. And, if done with some regularity, you’ll remove communication obstacles and enable faster decision-making. In fact, Deloitte found that 89% of executives feel cross-functional teams are the best means of tackling complex challenges. Besides, the diverse perspectives that come with cross-functional teams can spur innovation and ensure everyone is moving in the same direction.
4. Host cross-functional retrospectives.
Many teams often want to move forward without investing the time to reflect on what could have gone better. But reflecting as a group can do more than provide insights into potential process improvements. It can uncover more connections to build stronger solutions, encourage a wider breadth of ideas, and contribute to greater alignment among team members for future projects. At the end of a project, sit down with all key players for an in-depth discussion.
All too often, companies get in their own way with outdated and bloated processes — processes that block teams from being more nimble. But establishing a reliable system to request, produce, and optimize projects doesn’t just serve as the foundation of an agile marketing methodology. It can take the whole process to the next level. The only remaining step is to continue finding ways to improve the process over time. You'll never get to perfect, but you should always strive for better.