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Earlier in my career, I worked as a product manager in an agile environment. Like most project managers, I defined requirements and user stories, triaged bug requests, and ensured that the backlog was optimally groomed.

Years later, when I joined VersionOne, my role would be slightly different than my years working closely with developers, QA, and UI/UX. As product marketing manager, I was tasked with building messages, crafting positioning, and aligning with Sales.

In 2011, agile wasn't talked about for Marketing—yet I had joined an agile team that "walked the talk."

The experience, however, wasn't free from friction and difficulty. Agile is change, and change is difficult for everyone, from newbies to experienced professionals.

But I learned from the best, and the following tips, based on long experience, can help the next agile marketing team be more effective and efficient.

1. Remember that team size matters

Most agile businesses consider the ideal team size to be five to seven people.

As our company had success, the team grew, which introduced unintended consequences to our high-performing team.

Planning with 10-12 people (some of them virtual) become cumbersome. Stand-ups moved from a quick check-in event to a deep-dive discussion. Sometimes, I felt like I needed an agenda to keep track of the stand-ups conversations.

The team tried to self-organize into smaller sub-teams. However, we were unable to find the right group chemistry, a problem when so much of marketing is collaborative and cross-functional. (For example, many different marketing disciplines and skillsets are involved in building an e-mail campaign.)

Back in my earlier years as a development-focused project manager, I was involved in large agile planning and stand-up sessions with development teams. Those sessions didn't feel as heavy or disjointed as the ones with the marketing teams. Perhaps that's because of the nature of development work vs. marketing work.

I am not saying marketing teams of 10-12 can't be effective agile teams. But be cognizant and intentional when you start seeing your teams slog through some of the main agile ceremonies and rhythms.

If the agile process is getting in the way of your team being its best, consider reevaluating what you are trying to achieve with agile.

2. Don't be afraid to experiment

 Our team had one of the best creative directors I've ever worked with, yet the team was constantly pushing this talented gentleman to jump higher, faster, and smarter than he did yesterday—sometimes with no vision or strategic insight. That's the quickest way to burn out even the hardest-working, shrewd visual genius.

The nature of design always introduces changes—sometimes on the last day of the sprint. The team would commit to have a piece of collateral done by the sprint's completion then wouldn't deliver the final text changes, layout, or graphic suggestions until minutes before deadline.

Worst case, the designer did not even see the concept until the last day of the sprint, so he was left scrambling to produce something far from his best. In this case, quality was thrown out the window in favor of getting something done by a date.

Designers and creative directors need hours (not minutes) to think through the best way to introduce a new design or communicate a new product launch.

3. Consider experimenting with Kanban to remove or soften a potential bottleneck on the team

Let's face it: Even the best designers have a WIP (work in progress) limit. I've never known a designer who can work on five things at once and deliver flawlessly. Quality will suffer.

By enforcing a pull-based system and a WIP (core tenets of Kanban), you are increasing your odds that you'll get an asset that will get everyone smiling.

I plan on never going back to a dated, rigid, bureaucratic approach to delivering value to customers. That's just bad business.

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image of Dan Naden

Dan Naden is director of Products at the Lower Colorado River Authority. He is also publisher of the How Do Brands Win Business? ebook.

LinkedIn: Dan Naden

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