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Many Ways to be Agile

We all greatly enjoyed our time together at the CMO Advisory meeting in Santa Clara last month. The level of participation and feedback was all very positive and we would like to thank everyone who attended for bringing their “A” game with them.

One of the topics we talked about was Agile marketing. We keep coming back the Agile project management concept as we triangulate the issues of career path development, sales and marketing integration, and automating sales and marketing processes. Agile has something to offer on all three fronts, and may prove to be an essential catalyst for success.

First, a Word About Agile

Very briefly, Agile is a method for managing projects that is based on small teams delivering discretely defined outputs in very short time frames. It is characterized by frequent fifteen-minute status meetings (called “scrums”) in which 3 to 7 team members answer three questions: What did I do yesterday? What am I doing today? What is in my way? The project manager (called a “scrum master”) is in charge of managing all the obstacles so the rest of the team can proceed on schedule. The schedule is based on 2 to 4 week workloads (called “sprints”). Progress is tracked in a “burn down chart” that shows how many hours the team has put in and how many it has left to do.

Agile is ideal for managing high frequency activities such as digital marketing, as well as portions of larger projects such as a trade show that can be broken into smaller steps. Elements of the Agile method can also be borrowed and combined with more traditional waterfall approaches to manage the fire drills that inevitably happen in just about every other kind of marketing activity.

  • We recommend that managers of organizations new to Agile use careful judgment when introducing it. Activities that are good candidates include: email campaigns, collateral development, building microsites, and creating social media assets. You can then move on to more complex issues like product launch planning, events, field marketing, etc. The extent to which Agile is adopted should be determined by marketing staff themselves, if the culture does not embrace it, don’t force it.

Career Development
Agile can be an effective way to offer new skills and leadership opportunities to marketing staff. With its quick cycle times, small teams, and discrete deliverables, Agile offers marketing staff the ability to play different roles on different teams, including leadership, at almost no incremental cost.

  • We recommend that the career dev aspect of Agile be emphasized only after your organization is successful with Agile, it should not be an explicit objective when getting started.

Sales and Marketing Integration
Agile offers a very interesting way to get marketing and sales personnel together to quickly address issues of common interest such as: defining lead qualification criteria, setting up processes for lead transfers and clawbacks, coordinating last touch in marketing and first touch in sales, facilitating sales enablement, etc.

  • We recommend that marketing and sales managers work together to get their teams to cycle in and out of Agile based projects so that each side can better understand the other – particularly In terms of providing a seamless customer experience at the point of lead transfer.

Process Automation
Automating large scale marketing departments Is going to be an enormous undertaking, and for many companies one of the key issues will be cultural. Marketing is notoriously not process oriented, nor are marketing personnel typically comfortable with the billable resource model. But this is the world they are going to be thrust into post-automation. Processes will be formalized, optimized and measured. Individuals will be expected to track their time against specific activities – and/or it will be automatically tracked within the system.

  • Managers should not underestimate the magnitude of this transition and the fact that it will impact everyone in marketing personally. Some, hopefully most, high potential employees will embrace the change, others will find it threatening and disruptive.
  • Agile marketing is an effective way to get marketing teams comfortable with – and to see the benefit of – working in structured, measured work conditions. Agile requires everyone to not only estimate the time they expect to spend completing specific activities, but to track and measure the actual time in “burn down” charts. This is a safe and democratic way to get your marketing staff prepared for the world of the “marketing ERP” that is just around the corner – and this cultural priming may be the best way to ensure the adoption and sustainable success of future automation efforts.

So we feel that Agile marketing is worthy of careful consideration. We hope you give it a try and let us know what your experience was like.
Gerry Murray

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