An agile approach to marketing is here to stay

15 July 2021. Thoughts in Featured, Industry by
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Agile has been a buzzword for a while now and typically describes a wide range of approaches to project management and software development – and although there’s a fair amount of misunderstanding about what it actually is – if done right, being Agile can make a big difference. And lately, there’s been more and more talk of an Agile approach (and its benefits) in a marketing environment. In fact, the State of Agile Marketing 2021 report reveals that more than half of marketers surveyed – 51% – reported using agile marketing methods in their work.

This comes as no surprise as marketing has experienced tremendous changes over the last decade and it is no longer just about engaging audiences on digital channels – but about using the flexibility and robust nature of the digital medium when doing so. Due to this shift, marketers now have much more in common with software developers.

What is Agile?

With collaboration, autonomy, and iteration at the heart of this methodology, Agile is about conversation, constant feedback, continuous adjustments, and ultimately, it is about innovation. The official manifesto for Agile software development was published two decades ago but the Agile approach can be traced back to the 80s. And because the Agile approach was created by a diverse group of developers, the result is a focus on common values. So, in practice, an Agile team shares the same vision, work towards the same goals, and define – by their own standards – when a task has been completed.

The Agile Alliance loosely defines an Agile approach as the capacity to create and respond to change. Agile authority, Atlassian, describes it as “an iterative approach to project management and software development that helps teams deliver value to their customers faster and with fewer headaches”. This means that an Agile team in, for example, a software environment delivers constant small improvements, instead of pouring all their energy into one big update. Along the way, results and roadmaps are evaluated regularly to give teams a way to respond to change quickly.

But to be clear: An Agile approach is not just a blurry belief of always being nimble, it is a set of defined practices selected to harness the ability to operate in a constantly shifting digital environment  – with clear priorities and continuous performance measurement.

Key Agile concepts

The Agile Alliance highlights six key concepts that make it easy to start seeing what an Agile approach in a marketing environment might look like.

  • User stories: Working closely with the customer or product owner, an Agile team divides up all the work that needs to be done into increments called “user stories”. Basically, a user story is the smallest unit of work and can be defined as a task a team member will complete to achieve a certain outcome.
  • Daily meeting: Alignment is crucial to the success of the Agile approach and therefore teams meet every day at the same time to bring everyone up to date on vital information. Each team member gets an opportunity to outline what work they’ve completed as well as obstacles they are facing.
  • Incremental development: Incremental development involves consistent, small changes. It’s about breaking up your plan into smaller pieces that build on each other.
  • Iterative development: As the name suggests, the idea behind it is to develop something through repeated cycles.
  • Team: Small groups of people are put together and assigned to the same project. Some may only be involved on a part-time basis and the team might even consist of people from various disciplines.
  • Milestone retrospective: This gives your team an opportunity to discuss what has been achieved and takes a closer look at a specific event.
  • Personas: If the user experience is critical to a project – it will be worthwhile to invest time in creating detailed, fictional biographies of target users – also called personas. In essence, creating fictitious characters based on your knowledge of your users.

How Agile software development differs from Agile marketing

One cannot assume that all marketers have the same level of understanding as software developers do. Developers may have let some Agile best practices slip over time, but the majority of marketers will have all kinds of misconceptions and won’t be familiar with concepts like daily standup meetings, never mind how they’re supposed to work.

So if your marketing team is transitioning to an Agile approach, be sure to clarify what Agile terminology actually means; to somebody in marketing a backlog could sound like a place for things that won’t ever get done when it is actually a prioritised list of deliverables and a helpful decision-making tool.

It is pivotal that marketing teams remain open to the uniqueness of their situation and strive to find new ways to adopt an Agile approach. Marketers need to remember that they have chosen an Agile approach so that they can respond to feedback from consumers quickly and adapt to changes in the marketplace without undoing an enormous amount of planning.

Agile techniques to get you started

Until recently, an Agile approach may have been associated with the startup world, but there are no good reasons why marketers can’t also benefit from this methodology. Try the following techniques to allow for rapid feedback, iteration and experimentation – everything modern marketers need to thrive in a digital world.

  • Daily standup: Called a huddle, scrum or a standup, this is a daily 15-minute event dedicated to answering the following three questions:
                – What did you do yesterday?
                – What will you do today?
                – Is anything blocking your progress?

This allows the team to align and establish what they still have to complete and get a clear picture of their progress. Listing obstacles/blockers also give teammates an opportunity to help each other.

  • Retrospective: An Agile retrospective is a meeting where a team reflects on what happened during a sprint (an iteration) and what can be improved. Again, three questions provide a good framework for retrospectives.
                – What went well?
                – What didn’t go well?
                – What can be improved?

This forces the entire team to think closely about a project and discuss ways to improve their efforts going forward.

  • Sprints: A sprint is a fixed timeframe like a week, two weeks or a month in which a team works to complete their goals for that sprint. At the beginning of a sprint, the team will have a meeting to do sprint planning. This is where the team decides what items on the backlog they will work on.

List of references:

Agile Marketing: Is It Really That Different? A Data-Driven Perspective [online] Available at: https://resources.scrumalliance.org/Article/agile-marketing-is-it-really-that-different-a-data-driven-perspective

Manifesto for Agile Software Development [online] Available at:
https://agilemanifesto.org/

The Agile Coach: Atlassian’s no-nonsense guide to agile development [online] Available at:
https://www.atlassian.com/agile

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