I Sat Down with an Agile Marketing Expert—Here’s What I Learned
I recently sat down with the queen of Agile marketing (my words, not hers) to pick her brain about what this buzzword-sounding concept means for today’s B2B marketers.
Andrea Fryrear is the President and Lead Trainer at AgileSherpas and recently collaborated with Kapost to publish all-new research on the state of Agile marketing. The final product was a one-of-a-kind look into the way marketers are reconsidering their traditional marketing approaches. And with the report’s discovery that a full 67% of marketers plan to go Agile in the coming year, I knew the time had come to figure out what all the hype was about.
Luckily, Andrea agreed to let me throw questions at her for half an hour. Here’s what I learned:
1. The Only Way to Go Agile Is to Go Agile
It turns out you don’t need to dismantle all your processes to get started with Agile marketing. According to Andrea, the best way to get people on board is to charge ahead on a smaller scale and start demonstrating real results.
There are two ways to do this:
- Try a pilot project. Andrea warns not to be tempted to start out with a low-priority item: “Pick something that seems pretty critical. It might seem risky, but if it’s unimportant, people will be pulled off it.”
- Try a pilot team—ideally cross-functional—that can try out an Agile approach while others stay siloed and continue to deliver as expected. As the first team begins to see success, gradually form more Agile teams until everyone has made the switch.
And what if no one is on-board? Don’t let your stubborn coworkers get you down. Andrea says you can start implementing Agile practices as an individual, too.
“Visualize your own workflow and talk to everyone about it,” she says. “You have to market Agile marketing.” (Challenge accepted, eh, marketers?)
When people realize you’re achieving so much more (without the extra stress) you can take the opportunity to explain the ways similar strategies will benefit the entire team.
2. Marketers Who Say “No” Get More Done
One of the beautiful things about going Agile is that it allows you to focus in on a few important projects at a time rather than juggling a series of half-finished deliverables that leave you perpetually switching gears.
We might feel like harder workers when we’re drowning under a mountain of projects, but Andrea says the more we have to do, the worse we are at doing it. In fact, by the time we’ve taken on five simultaneous projects, we’re only using 5% of our productive time on each of these things, while 75% is wasted.
Sometimes, less is more.
With Agile, however, marketers can direct their energy toward a few projects, allowing them to finish what they’ve started before moving on to the next thing. With Work In Progress (WIP) limits, each member of the team knows exactly how their time and energy has been allocated and can share that information with a co-worker who arrives with a last-minute request.
“It gives you a really nice permission to say no,” Andrea explains. “You can say, ‘Look at our Sprint board. You can see the things that I’m committed to. Which of those things would you like me to stop working on so I can pick up your (so-called) emergency?’ ”
3. Agile Is for Everyone…
It’s not just marketers who are hopping aboard the Agile train. Andrea says the next big trend will be Agile for businesses as a whole. Today, you can find people preaching Agile for human resources, sales, and every team in between.
Andrea cites companies like Amazon and Spotify as prime examples of what can be achieved when entire organizations are bought-in. The amount they’ve been able to do, she believes, is tied to a shared commitment to working with strategic efficiency.
When everyone approaches work with an Agile mindset, it’s easier to get on the same page. With so many projects requiring collaboration, the best workplaces of the future will be monuments to agility.
4. …But Agile and Non-Agile Teams Can Coexist
In a perfect world, everyone in your company would have an Agile mindset, but we all know we can’t tell other departments what to do (though not for lack of trying).
And though a fully Agile workplace is the best way to reap the benefits it has to offer, there are proactive steps you can take to anticipate the effects of non-Agile influences on your team.
For example, what can you do when the CMO swings by your desk with a great new idea they’d like you to get working on right away? Andrea notes that, while you should work to train those around you to respect your Agile practices, there are a couple of approaches that work best for this less-than-ideal state of affairs.
First, show your executive the projects you’ve included in your current Sprint and ask what should be removed to make room for the additional item. This is a strong strategy because it helps your superiors visualize the consequences of ad hoc demands.
Second, use data to anticipate ad hoc work. “Say the team spends 30% of its time on unplanned work. Next time, you’ll know to leave that time unplanned,” suggests Andrea. And what if, miraculously, no requests pop up during that time? Not to worry. Agile marketing ensures you always have a backlog of projects waiting to be finished, so no one will sit idle if planned work is completed ahead of schedule.
5. Any Sized Team Can Benefit from Agile
Agile practices can focus the work and increase the output of any sized team. Andrea says she’s worked with teams as small as two or three.
In fact, Andrea points out that smaller teams can often see the biggest benefits from making a switch to Agile. With fewer people responsible for getting the job done, resource allocation is all the more important. Agile allows smaller teams to agree on priorities and make the most out of the resources they have, ensuring that little teams can still tackle big projects.
6. Agile Is Good News for Creatives
As a content creator myself, this is a big one.
In addition to giving you permission to say “no,” boards can help creative teams see how internal resources are used at various stages of the creative process. With greater insight into the team’s production, creatives can clearly articulate what they could accomplish if they had more resources (and the limits of their present output quota). Understanding how long things take to create and what will be sacrificed if new demands are added allows us to make more compelling, data-driven arguments about bandwidth.
Meanwhile, WIP limits allow for budgeted free time to think creatively. By building in unstructured time, creators can take the spaces they need to get their creative juices flowing or to work on professional development projects that will improve their skillsets.
Is Agile the Way of the Future?
Perhaps my biggest takeaway from my chat with Andrea was that “Agile marketing” is still a loosely defined term.
As marketers embrace the possibilities of an Agile methodology, they’ve also taken it upon themselves to adapt the strategy, putting together the bits and pieces that work best for them.
Most marketers take a hybrid approach to Agile marketing.
Whatever you choose to incorporate from the world of Agile, and whomever you get on board, the Agile strategies help marketers prioritize, align, and stay sane—all while seeing stronger and stronger results.
If you haven’t experimented with Agile yet, it’s probably time to give it a try.
Check out my full interview with Andrea here.