Agile methodologies have been around for years now. Many of us witness the outputs of Agile, even if indirectly, through working in organizations where dev teams follow it to a T. Their sprint cycles are likely a regular rhythm for the business, and even extend out to the work of other teams outside of engineering and product (such as product marketing, operations and IT). If you’re lucky, planning cycles have made their way up the portfolio, and sophisticated PMs are managing the planning rhythm across the business from quarterly business planning meetings down to daily team standups.
But Agile isn’t just for developers. More and more, marketing teams are jumping on board. And as we struggle to work efficiently and collaboratively from afar, and to prioritize the most important work, Agile can help us take a smarter approach.
How Can Agile Principles Be Applied to Marketing?
As a marketer who got my career jumpstarted in a fully Agile organization, I’ve always had a keen interest in helping marketing teams align with Agile principles. In my opinion, Agile Marketing can apply to teams of all sizes, whether you’re a small but mighty crew of three or a global marketing team of 40+.
Before we get into the details, let’s first cover the basics. What is Agile Marketing?
Agile Marketing is a method for marketing teams to collaborate, plan and track their work, which incorporates feedback loops and continuous improvement. This type of planning ensures that marketing teams are collaborating together towards driving results and operating efficiently.
Let’s debunk a myth right off the bat: One of the biggest misconceptions I have heard about applying Agile to marketing is that it doesn’t work because we are “deadline-driven.”
So not true.
Yes, major conferences, eBook launches, webinars, and product launches all have deadlines. But with the right amount of planning done ahead of time, there’s no reason to believe that your team can’t get organized into bi-weekly sprints with a manageable backlog of tasks to complete, without ever losing sight of those bigger objectives.
Here’s what it looks like:
Work in Iterations
For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that each iteration (“sprint”) is two weeks. If we were an engineering team, say, we would scope down the work that needs to get to what could be feasibly be designed, built and tested within two weeks.
There’s a ton of work that goes into supporting engineering to get them a consolidated list (“backlog”) of tasks (“stories”). This is where the product team comes in. They’re constantly building out the roadmap with feedback from customers, sales, market analysis, bug fixes‚—you name it. Then they have to groom the backlog and write stories in the proper format that gives a developer enough detail to understand what needs to get done.
It’s pretty cool to see it come together week-by-week when the teams start to get really fast and master their throughput.
But now let’s think about how this would apply to a marketing team. My peers in Product would laugh in my face if I asked them to build our marketing roadmap and groom our backlog. There’s a lot we have to do on our own. The first step is to organize all of your plans into a single, consolidated view. What you’ll need a dedicated location for your marketing plans—which will then be your marketing team’s backlog. (You guessed it, tools come in handy here Google Sheets, Asana, Kapost all work fabulously!)
As you get set up, adding work in should be organized in a way that enables you to organize, slice, and dice the work that needs to get done. Be sure, at a minimum, to include the following on each task list—and setup:
- Task Name
- Task Description
- Due Date
- Sprint Name (e.g. Sprint 001 or Sprint – Wk. 1)
Some other optional tags you can use might include category (events, social, content, etc.) or campaign name.
*Sizing Your Backlog Tasks
If sizing is a new concept for you, the general idea comes down to the fact that we can’t do it all. So, by sizing your stories and then scoping how much you can get done in a given sprint, you’re putting in some guardrails for you and the team on what all you can commit to. There’s a lot of advice out there on how to write great user stories and how to properly size your stories. And it really comes down to a simple equation:
# of marketers on your team * their capacity = team capacity
Groom your backlog and scope out + size the stories
Pull stories into backlog until you hit capacity
Plan buffer time for ad hoc requests
This isn’t the number 40 = 40hrs./wk. We all have meetings, context switching, bathroom breaks, etc. Rather than trying to count how many working hours someone will have in a week, go for relative sizing/capacity. Start it as a point system and maybe give your self 20 points. Then size the stories accordingly (S, M, L, XL, where S is two points, M is four points, and so on). It’s all relative to the other work you’re doing, so aim to scope your work down to a level that you can complete within a two-week sprint.
Agile Marketing practices can make a huge impact on the way your team communicates and works together. And as a leader, it’s your responsibility to put this infrastructure into place to rally your team.
Agile is much less about prescribing exactly what each team member should be doing, and more about creating space for creativity and innovation. This recent article put it best: “Mastery of a craft implies control of the output. The weird thing is that it’s this mastery of output that frequently lands us in leadership positions. After all, you can’t scale output by yourself. You need a team.”
With that team, you need a process to plan, build and design…iteratively.