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Agile Marketing Can Help You Stay Sane Amid Increasing Customer Demands

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My fellow marketers, we have a problem.

Actually, we have three fairly serious problems:

1. We spend barely a third of our work time (36%) on actually doing marketing.

2. Some 89% of us are logging into work on our own time.

3. Email is drowning us, but we desperately need it to communicate with our teams.


Most of those stats are probably not news to you. Those stats may be just a reflection of your daily professional life. But do we just have to accept those conditions?

Are marketers doomed to flounder endlessly under a crushing amount of work? Is our email going to run our lives until we retire? Will we just never manage to get along with other teams?

Should we just give in to the fact that 64% of our time is spent on things that aren't marketing?

My fervent hope is that we don't have to work like this any longer. Though all those things are big problems, I believe they all have a common solution: agile marketing.

Why Agile Marketing's Time Has Come

The four disheartening statistics that I mentioned come from Workfront's recent State of Marketing Work report.

"Is it possible that marketers are so preoccupied with inefficient practices that they are unable to get to their real work?" ask the authors in the report summary.

The answer is an emphatic YES!

Sure, we are stuck on the marketing hamster wheel, a perpetual cycle of social media updating, article writing, email checking, ROI arguing, and stressing.

The cycle is not only hurting our chances at achieving a meaningful work-life balance but also preventing us from producing the best possible results for the businesses that pay us.

And as our audiences demand increasingly relevant, always-on messaging, those problems are just going to get worse.

We need to address the inefficient, irrelevant practices at the heart of nearly every marketing department, and we need to do it now.

Enter agile marketing. It has long been touted as a competitive advantage, but it's fast becoming a survival imperative for marketers.

Making Time for Doing Marketing

As stated earlier, marketers are spending a meager 36% of their work week on their primary job duties. The obvious follow-up question is, "Why on earth can't we seem to get our actual jobs done?"

Marketers, according to the study, most commonly cite these roadblocks:

  • Excessive oversight (e.g. needing too many approvals or reviews)—48%
  • Lack of "standard" processes or workflow—45%
  • Lack of collaboration with my team—34%
  • Poor work prioritization methods at my company—32%
  • Excessive delegation from my boss or manager—29%

That's a lot of stuff standing in our way, but none of it is insurmountable.

Here's how I've seen things get better after a transition to using agile principles on a marketing team...

From Excessive Oversight to Clear Visibility

Agile teams have nothing to hide. They post their sprint objectives in a public venue (either digital or physical), their future projects are clearly outlined in their backlog, and they discuss current progress in standup.

Even the most obsessive supervisors feel more comfortable letting the team move along without much oversight when there is so much visibility.

From No Standard Process to Agile Rituals

Agile rituals include daily standup meetings, retrospective/reviews (when the team reflects on their accomplishments and how to improve the process), and planning meetings that identify future projects and their priorities.

Because all the rituals have explicit goals and constraints, they don't take up too much of the team's time. Moreover, they create standard processes that govern all the work of a marketing team.

From Lack of Collaboration to Cross-Functional Agile Teams

Agile teams are meant to be cross functional, which means that anyone on the team could step in to do any of the work. That works out fairly well on development teams, but agile marketing teams rarely live up to this ideal.

Nonetheless, through smart partnering and cross training, you can make sure that your team's success or failure doesn't hinge on a single individual.

From Poor Prioritization to Well-Tended Backlog

The backlog is the list of future projects that the team plans to tackle.

The job of the product owner is to keep the backlog up to date and in the right order. That way, the team can confidently pull new work out of the backlog and into their "being worked on" queue. The team (and the rest of the company) can see the team's priorities.

From Excessive Delegation to Sacred Sprints

Once a sprint begins, no new work can be added to the team. If it absolutely must be incorporated, something else gets pushed out.

That means that upper management or executives who want to delegate tasks onto the team either have to choose what current tasks they want to postpone or wait until the next sprint begins to have their project addressed.

Moreover, many agile marketing teams get along without a dedicated scrum master, whose job is primarily to make sure agile principles are being applied and that the team isn't being distracted from its sprint objectives. But if you have particularly troublesome upper management, you may need to get a scrum master, at least in the beginning of your agile adoption.

Leaving Work at Work (Because It's Done)

As we saw earlier, a mind boggling 89% of marketers log in to work after hours or on weekends. That can only lead to overwork and burnout, negatively impacting our satisfaction and performance.

Clearly, it's not a sustainable situation.

So, why are we letting work invade our personal time?

  • 52% of marketers say they are trying to get ahead of work.
  • 37% have too much work to do.
  • 22% log in because of inefficient use of time during their work day.

There seem to be two problems here. First, we feel constantly behind where we should be in terms of our progress. Second, there is an expectation that more work is always on the horizon.

I'm generally practice-agnostic in regards to adopting agile principles, but to answer these particular marketing problems, I think scrum is a really good choice. It creates finite periods of time (sprints) for teams to work in and limits how much work they can commit to for that period of time.

The Power of Sprint Planning

Here's the thing: When you know exactly what you're expected to accomplish in a particular time frame and that you can get it done because you won't be derailed by out-of-the-blue requests, you feel much more at ease.

That's not what most marketers experience daily. By adopting agile principles, however, you can have that free and easy feeling all the time.

No, really. You can.

You don't need to try and get ahead because you and your team have committed only to what you're confident you can achieve during your current iteration/sprint.

You're free from "trying to get ahead," and you don't have more work than you can handle. (If you do, it's time to address your planning and estimation tactics.)

Finally, the visibility and focus that come from working in an agile organization should be able to free you from much of the inefficient hamster wheel work that often derails marketers' productivity.

Giving Marketers a Chance to be Productive

I'll admit that marketers are particularly prone to chasing shiny objects. (Many of us have to be vigilant about our personal productivity, but that's a separate issue.)

What we can do with agile principles is remove barriers to productivity that come from outside the team.

Workfront points out that, "although most marketers cite excessive emails and 'wasteful' meetings as the two biggest obstacles to their work, both email and meetings were rate highest in terms of communication effectiveness."

It's obvious that we need a way to keep in touch with one another without contribution to the avalanche of email or the deluge of meetings.

Enter the great agile ritual of daily standups. These 15 minute-long mini meetings happen every morning at exactly the same time.

Each team reports on its progress from the previous day, what it expects to accomplish today, and any issues standing in its way. Then you all go back to work.

A standup is a simple but remarkably effective way to stay in touch without bombarding team members with emails or blocking out hours and hours for meetings.

Time to Save Ourselves

Clearly, we as marketers need to take the responsibility to address these problems.

Workfront's overview of the problems facing marketers in 2015 and beyond lays it out pretty clearly: "As marketing teams—and the enterprises around them—grow, so do the demands on marketers in terms of productivity and communication. Too often, this pushes existing tools, processes, and schedules to the breaking point... Without visibility, conflict and misperceptions flourish, team workloads become unbalanced, and marketers work increasingly longer hours."

Don't wait until your team members are burning out, other departments no longer trust marketing, or competitors are passing you by.

Start taking your first steps towards agility today, and start having a better day tomorrow.


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Andrea Fryear is content marketer and agile evangelist at MarketerGizmo, a provider of marketing tools that allow marketers to become more agile, increase their marketing intelligence, and excel professionally..

LinkedIn: Andrea Fryear

Twitter: @andreafryear  

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