Agile Elephant

Agile marketing is all the rage. Not a day goes by that I’m not addressing agile marketing questions from CMOs. What is it? Should we be doing it? Are we already doing it? What tools do we need? Do we have to put one of those big Kanban boards in the common area? Is sitting permitted during the daily stand-up meeting?

Agile started in the software world as an alternative to the traditional, serialized, Waterfall development approach. Agile is the new leaner, meaner, faster, more flexible way to build software. Agile also comes with its own set of jargon and culture. Terms like scrum, scrum of scrums, scrum master, cadence, backlog, burn down charts, sprints, and my personal favorite, chicken, are all part of the agile development lexicon. In agile cultures, work is in the context of sprints, and the ebb and flow of everything are shaped by the agile work style.  Rigid agile processes work beautifully as a way to build software, but a strict application of agile to marketing is not always a great fit.

Rather than focus on rigid agile processes, marketers should focus more on applying higher-order agile principles. Here are the major Agile elements for marketers, detailed further in 4 Steps for Building an Agile Marketing Organization (Subscription required):

Discrete work cycles — Work is broken into a series of connected but smaller chunks (sprints) that have a specific duration.

Clearly defined deliverables — Each sprint and the collection of sprints are designed to deliver clearly defined deliverables.

Frequent calibration — Agile methodologies are well-known for the daily stand-up meeting. These are short status updates and planning sessions to get everyone on the same page for the work that needs to happen that day.

Capability-based contribution — Agile teams are composed of individuals from across an organization with a variety of skills and experience levels. An individual’s agile team assignment isn’t based on seniority or organizational placement; rather, it is based on the alignment of capabilities with the work to be done.

These are really the core ideas behind an agile marketing approach and the most important principles to keep in focus. Not everyone will agree that a personalized adaptation of Agile is best, but my experience is that organizations reporting the best results from an agile style of operation have adapted agile practices, are true to the principles mentioned above and are continuously evolving how they work.

So don’t worry so much about a literal 1:1 mapping with a software development style of Agile. Instead, use the four principles above as the anchor and adapt what works best for you and your team around those ideas. You can still call it agile, just don’t tell the scrum master.

My colleague Elizabeth Shaw is doing a webinar on October 17th to go into more detail on agile marketing and help you understand how your organization can apply these ideas. Register here, it’s a webinar you won’t want to miss!

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