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How to Build Your Own Agile Marketing Team

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A guest post by Jascha Kaykas-Wolff of Mindjet.

Too many businesses are ill-equipped to handle change. The problem is not the people in the organization---it’s the process.

Many organizations are too rigid and their approach is too focused on the long term to swiftly take advantage of marketplace opportunities. Teams then have only one shot to “get it right.” And if they fail, widespread frustration ensues, creating potentially serious repercussions throughout the entire company.

Marketers often find themselves on the front lines, fighting the battle to keep pace with rapidly evolving product offerings, communication channels, and business software---while stuck with time-consuming processes and procedures.

Make the Move to Agile


I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time working with software developers who have taught me the ins and outs of their Agile development process. Agile lets developers receive instant feedback from customers, so developers can make immediate changes. The method breaks tasks into small increments, with incremental successes building into high-level milestones. The goal is to minimize the overall risk by allowing the project to adapt rapidly.

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a marketing methodology that borrows heavily from that process. When applied to marketing, Agile principles provide short-program “sprints” that act as a feedback loop, which enables fast experimentation, learning and adaption. Ideas are improved upon or discarded as to iteratively improve performance.

Here are a few things that I’ve focused on as I built out my Agile marketing team.

1.
People.
Consider hiring agency veterans. They have an advantage over internal creative types because they are used to a rapid pace, can focus on many priorities in short bursts of time, and operate in an environment of high expectations.

2.
Atmosphere.
Eliminate fear. Hire smart people, and let them take risks. Create an environment that’s conducive to experimentation and open to failing---but never in the same way twice.

3.
Time.
Forget the old set-it-and-forget-it attitude or arcane processes of big presentations and sign-offs. Instead, create time-based problems to solve (e.g., in the next two weeks, we must identify how to integrate Facebook into our website) and use daily scrum check-ins to share ideas and progress against priorities, face to face.


4.
Tools.
Allow the team to focus on the task at hand by using collaboration tools that promote and dynamically capture the group’s thinking and plans. Ensure that your tools are flexible and user-friendly, so all team members can participate---regardless of platform, device, or location.

5.
Leadership.
Consistently guide and encourage members to make decisions and execute them while watching the metrics to guide future iterations. I believe in a “get it right, not perfect” approach, which allows for flexibility without obsession and offers the ability to double-down on efforts that are producing results.

How Agile Improves Your Marketing


Marketing teams are no strangers to being asked to do more with less. Through Agile practices, however, marketing teams have a clearer focus and a better vision into potential issues and opportunities, which they can then report with greater transparency to the rest of organization. Working within the Agile marketing model means understanding the scope of work, confining it to a specific time frame, and ensuring that all team members know their respective roles in making it happen.

While real-time reprioritization sacrifices marketing perfection, the tradeoff is worth it. In getting deliverables in front of stakeholders more quickly and incorporating their feedback dynamically throughout a project cycle, you ensure that the most important work gets done first. The end result is compounding successes and course corrections that also foster happier, more engaged employees.

Marketers who embrace Agile and its iterative processes are better able to react and engage. Rather than queuing “to dos” for an initiative six months in the future, teams can better focus on near-term deliverables that make the most impact on customers and the business. This iterative approach can produce smart, fast and flexible marketing in today’s ever-accelerating, ever-changing business environment.

(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Athletic Track Runner)

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff is CMO of Mindjet.


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Comments

  • by Nicholas Muldoon Tue Apr 17, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for the writeup Jascha.

    Since moving to a marketing two months ago (previously a product owner with an Agile team) I have found resistance to Agile practices similar to what you describe above.

    For instance, the daily standup is seen as unimportant and when we do have a weekly meeting it usually runs long to cover everything under the sun.

    Any tips for introducing Agile to an existing marketing team?

  • by Pam Tue Apr 17, 2012 via blog

    I like the idea of the Agile team marketing model but would like to add a modification: When you consider hiring people, I don't think there should be a hard and fast rule of always extending offers to agency vets. As an in-house marketer for the Red Cross, I can tell you that our team faces all of the constant reprioritization issues, high performance pressure and measurement standards, and fast pace that any agency faces. So my contribution to this article would be to consider each person's experience before you extend/pass up an offer to a potential employee. You may be passing up a well balanced skill, versatile skill set!

  • by Jennifer Kelly @jenkellyjen Tue Apr 17, 2012 via blog

    Great article. Thanks for the example in #3. An excellent process to show the client early and fast what is/isn't working.

  • by jascha kaykas-wolff Tue Apr 17, 2012 via blog

    Nicholas, in my experience selecting one project that is cross functional and has more traditional handoffs (e.g., writer, designer, developer) facilitates acceptance of the standup most effectively. You only need one strong success emotionally to get the team excited about the process reorganization into agile.

  • by jascha kaykas-wolff Tue Apr 17, 2012 via blog

    Pam, it's a great point you make. And to be fair, there isn't one right way to hire successfully. I've seen lots of success in hiring agency ex-patriots and seeing quick uptake and success in the agile model which is why i shared. That said, it isn't a hard and fast rule.

  • by Erik Boles Tue Apr 17, 2012 via blog

    Nicholas,

    This is common in business ranks when trying to move from the old way of doing things (waterfall) to a new, more concise, way of doing things. I have a couple of recommendations:

    1. Make sure your standups are no longer than 15 minutes and do them first thing in the morning or right after lunch. Basically a time when you don't have to worry about people feeling "disrupted" because of the 'stupid, unnecessary standup'. First thing when they come in in the morning is a great time, and it keeps people from wandering in late. If someone wanders in late, they lose, the rest of the team is up to speed and they aren't.

    2. If you simply cannot get people on-board with a daily standup, document the hell out of incidents that require redress or backtracking and when appropriate, deliver a document how that/those situation(s) could have been avoided with a daily standup.

    Erik Boles

  • by Glenn Schmelzle Wed Apr 18, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for this Jascha, especially delving into the HR implications of Agile. I noted a while back on my blog how I see agile as a response to larger forces. As far as marketing departments go, it isn't 'if' they're supposed to move to agile, but rather 'when.'

    Here's that post - thanks again.
    http://www.marketingwhatsnew.com/2011/04/like-product-management-marketing-needs-to-be-agile/comment-page-1/#comment-19454

  • by Heather Rast Wed Apr 18, 2012 via blog

    While working for a web-based software development firm in 2008, I learned the Scrum agile method. In fact, everyone in the entire company did. Adoption was a challenge - the trainer who was with the employees for a week said "Scrum is incredibly easy to learn, and very difficult to operationalize and implement." He was right. I'd guess it took about a year between all team members from project management (with client interaction) to developers (product people) adapted to the big and nuanced changes an agile approach has to product delivery.

    When I left that company, I took Scrum with me to the next two companies I worked for. It worked beautifully. I recommend implementing a visual storyboard for the Scrum cards (backlog, items for current sprint, in process, done). It helps others understand the flow of projects, makes accountability public (recommend names of the people responsible for the tasks be added to cards), and there's a great deal of satisfaction when the "Done" column gets filled. Employees actually see and feel progress...not the usual rhetoric. It can also be helpful to mirror the backlog and sprints in a project management system like Asana, Zoho Projects, Basecamp, etc.

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