The Great Agile Marketing Myth: 3 Strategies to Kickstart Your Agile Transformation

Agile is a dirty word.

A word that will make most dev & marketing teams shuffle in their seat, flashbacks of that time your boss learned a new buzzword and never once used it correctly. Queue facepalm 🤦🏽‍♀️

You see, Agile is a methodology, not a buzzword (more on this below). And, I’m guessing most of you reading this blog have heard of or tried Agile at least once.

As a buzzword, you’re over it, WTF even is Agile? Moving fast and being nimble? I’m flat out how can I even go faster or do more? HELP!

You may have even given it a good hard crack only to watch methodology splinter and implode amongst the turbulent uncertainty of the marketing world.

Don’t worry, your team isn’t broken. The truth is, Agile, in its acronym-packed pure-from, doesn’t work for marketing teams.

….However, the principles of Agile 100% do, and here at MI we’ve been using these principals to transform marketing operations and results all over the country!

Before we get to the guts of it, I better soothe some questioning minds and tell you first, what exactly is Agile.

What is Agile?

According to the Oxford dictionary, Agile is relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterised by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.

Oxford Dictionary

Snoooooooze! Stick with me. It gets much more exciting.

Agile isn’t a new concept. To truly understand it I need to take you back to where it all began. Picture this, the year is 2001, you’re on a ski trip in the Utah mountains surrounded by 16 of your closest software programming buddies.

Your name is Alistar Cockburn, you’re one of the 17 revered “Grandfathers of Agile.”

The Grandfathers of Agile.

In 2001, while the rest of us were busy learning the lyrics to Lady Marmalade, you and your fellow early Agile pioneers were searching for a better way to do work.

Your mountain-top ramblings resulted in what we call the Agile Manifesto: A series of values and principles designed to make work more efficient and enjoyable.

And that for me, is the definition of Agile: a better way to do work!

The 12 Principles of Agile are

  • Early and Continuous Delivery of Valuable Software
  • Embrace Change
  • Frequent Delivery
  • Motivated Individuals
  • Business and Developer Cooperation
  • Face-to-Face Conversation
  • Working Software
  • Sustainable Development
  • Technical Excellence
  • Simplicity
  • Self-Organising Teams
  • Regular Reflection and Adjustment

From these principles, many of today’s popular working methodologies were born. Including Kanban, Retrospectives, Lean, Stand-Up / WIP Meetings, 90-Day Goals and Scrum.

In fact, if you can’t tell, at MI Academy, we are quite the fan!

Over the years Agile has evolved, reshaped and emerged stronger.

Corporations like Toyota put their own spin on it, popularising the likes of Lean, which saw a complete revolution of the manufacturing industry.

Agile boomed like Bieber in the early 2010s, and it wasn’t long before marketers wanted a slice of that pie.

Making Agile Work in a Marketing Context

Now, this is where it all got a little tricky.

You see, industries such as software, manufacturing and technology are in a sense sheltered. They are able to work on projects in isolation, with little to no interference by fast-moving trends and platform updates. Lucky buggers…

Their teams are largely focussed on internal work, deadlines are moveable and they are solely focussed on delivering a superb product.

Marketing and customer focussed operations, on the other hand, are split between strategic and BAU work. They are closely attuned to changing trends and are working towards often unmoveable deadlines (seasonal holidays, stocktake etc.)

This is where the big fat myth comes from: Agile doesn’t work for marketing teams.

All goes well for a week or two, and then suddenly a deadline is moved or a tech update sends you into an existential crisis, and boom you’re left in a mess of and heartbroken Scrum masters.

Today I am here to bust that myth!

Let’s Get Real on Agile for Marketing Teams

Agile marketing is the deliberate, long-term application of a specific Agile methodology to manage and improve the way a marketing team gets work done.

It differs from traditional marketing in several important ways, including a focus on frequent releases, deliberate experimentation, and a relentless commitment to audience satisfaction.

Agile Sherpas

That’s it in a nutshell. Let’s not overcomplicate things!

We like to call Agile Marketing: Frankenstein-Agile. An odd mismatch of Agile strategies and practices that champion the original principles of old mate Alistar Cockburn.

As you get to know Agile, you’ll learn a lot of power comes from its ability to evolve as a methodology and this is how we landed with Frankenstein-Agile.

The benefits of which are:

  • Greater project transparency and visibility – There are no surprises in Agile!
  • Greater speed to market, with incremental development and predictable delivery
  • Highly adaptive to changes in market and business objectives
  • Shortens project scope and reduces the risk of failure
  • Greater team collaboration with an emphasis on developing cross-functional skills
  • Constant improvement (my personal favourite)

If you’re an Agile purist stop right here. The rest of you; who like Alistar, are just searching for a better way to work, let’s get into it!

Here are 3 Strategies to Kickstart Your Agile Transformation

Strategy #1: Assemble Your Cross-Functional Team

Have you ever reallllllllly struggled to write a new job advert?

You are looking for someone with email and social marketing skills, a little design experience, and the ability to help out with customer service.

What do I even call this?! Marketer? Nah, that doesn’t sound right. Customer Service…Nah! Ah, I give up! Let’s go with ‘Digital All-Rounder’… eh, that’ll have to do!

Some would stick their nose up and say you’re looking for a unicorn. We’d say you’re looking for the perfect fit for your cross-functional team!

You see, people are on twice as many workplace teams as they were five years ago and now spend about 50% more time engaged in collaborative work.

Source: Harvard Business Review

In today’s workplace, traditional pillared teams are proving pretty bloody unproductive. Communicating anything between departments feels like a game of Chinese Whispers or a blame game, and collaboration is non-existent. It just doesn’t work!

Slowly but surely, we are moving towards cross-functional teams: groups of employees with varying capabilities that are unified by a shared goal.

Let’s take the music streaming service Spotify for example. The company has popularised what has come to be known as ‘The Spotify Model’ in which the term ‘Squads’ was born.

Source: Atlassian

Similar to a scrum team, Squads are cross-functional, autonomous teams (typically 6-12 individuals) that focus on one feature area.

Source: Atlassian

Spotify’s developers don’t work on a product, pass it on to design, who passes it on to marketing – they have all these functions working simultaneously within the one team or ‘squad’.

Their approach to cross-functional teams is the main driver behind their insane speed to market. Precisely what has left Apple Music quaking in its boots!

Bringing it back to the OG Agile Manifesto, ultimately cross-functional model creates motivated individuals, self-organising teams and brings business and developers together.

So, how can you apply this?

You don’t need Spotify’s close to 6,000 employees to achieve cross-functional teams.

Start by focussing on the capabilities of your team. How can you encourage greater collaboration between individuals and departments?

Consider methods of “extreme working”: where cross-functional team members will sit together and work on something simultaneously. This is a great place to start.

Future forward… Ask your team what skills they want to develop and start nurturing those skills.

BTW, if you are actually struggling with a new hire, read:
The 3 Quintessential Qualities to Look for When Hiring a Growth Marketer

Team Alignment Workshop
Or visit our website at www.miacademy.com.au

Strategy #2: Experiment, Learn, Repeat

Mutli-month-long strategies are out. Quick iterative campaigns and strategies are in.

When was the last time you took a real risk on a campaign? Tried something new that wasn’t in the trusty old marketer’s playbook?

Now, we are not saying you should go out and spend $3.7 million on a TV ad that’s so bad that we could only liken it to drinking a curdled milkshake through our eyeballs. That’s not experimentation, that’s bad marketing!

HOW NOT TO EXPERIMENT WITH CAMPAIGNS
The government was left with a little egg on their face…or milkshake

We are talking about taking a chance on a new campaign, product or internal process.

Booking.com is a well-known experimentation expert!

By running some 25,000 tests a year, the company has transformed itself from a small start-up to the world’s largest accommodation platform. 

They didn’t funnel millions into one campaign or website test. They simple asked ‘What if’….25,000 times over!

Once again, I’m bringing this back to the Agile Manifesto. With experimentation with are championing the principles of embracing change, frequent delivery and regular reflection and adjustment.

Rather than focus your energy on long, expensive projects or campaigns. Follow this process:

  1. Hypothesise – What if we tried this new idea?
  2. Prototype – Develop your Minimum Viable Product (MVP), the bare minimum you need to launch
  3. Experiment & Test – Put it out there into the big bad world
  4. Learn – Unpack why it didn’t work, or, if it did, SCALE IT!

We see too many marketers either putting a finger to the wind and winging it, or entirely paralysed by the fear of doing anything that hasn’t already been tried 100 times over.

Teams that develop a culture of innovation and experimentation will thrive. We’ve seen this first hand with MANY of our clients!

So, how can you apply this?

Whip out the bunsen burner, we are approaching this high-school science style. Write your hypothesis:

I believe ___________ will result it ___________ because___________.

Develop your prototype, test it and learn from the results. It really is that easy!

Strategy #3: Retrospectives

🎶
What you want
Baby, I got it
What you need
Do you know I got it?
All I’m askin’
Is for a little REFLECT when YOU ARE AT WORK (just a little bit) 🎶

Now, there are hundreds of strategies we could have had in our top three.

We could have shown you some project-management wizardry, a meeting style with the ferocity of a dramatic closing monologue, even a framework for driving organisational change. But, we are going for impact here!

Instead, we wanted to remind you of the most simplistic of strategies because arguably, it’s the most important!

In the heat of competition and a rapidly evolving business climate, very few companies give their teams time and space for reflection.

And this is a darn shame. Reflection is the cornerstone of the Agile methodology. Like a Bunnings snag and tomato sauce, you can’t have one without the other.

The research shows that reflecting on the work we do ultimately improves business performance.

“Now more than ever we seem to be living lives where we’re busy and overworked, and our research shows that if we’d take some time out for reflection, we might be better off.”

Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino,

To go full circle here, strategy three really comes down to the last, but certainly not least, of the principles on the Agile Manifesto: Regular Reflection and Adjustment.

So, we ask you? When was the last time you intentionally put time aside to reflect on a project or campaign? When was the last time you paused long enough to hear what your team (and customers!) are saying?

If you apply just one of the strategies we’ve covered in this blog, make this be it!

Sit down to reflect on a previous campaign or project:

  • First: What worked?
  • Then: What didn’t?
  • Finally: What will you do differently next time?

Then pretty please read THIS BLOG. It’s time to slow down before you speed up, baby!


Can we be the Frodo to your Bilbo?

We’ve ranted, we’ve dove deep, we’ve had a little sing-along with Aretha Franklin. By now you should be able to tell just how passionate we are about Agile.

The principles explored in this blog underpin all of the work we do with clients, partners and the public in our events. We live and breathe Agile and stand by its life-work-TEAM-changing abilities!

If this blog has motivated you to search for a better way of work then let us be the Bilbo to your Frodo on your journey.

To learn more about how we can Agile-fy your team and organisation, book in for a FREE 30-minute training exploration.

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