What Software Developers Can Teach Marketing Pros About Becoming More Agile

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“Becoming agile,” “enterprise agility,” and “agile transformation” sound like marketing buzzwords. But they call back to a document published nearly 20 years ago – the “Agile Manifesto” – designed to help software developers more consistently deliver products that met users’ high expectations for quality and performance. Today, it can serve as a blueprint for how marketing teams can facilitate collaboration, raise productivity levels, and improve project success rates.

 

In February 2001, 17 software developers gathered at a Utah ski resort to brainstorm a new approach to IT project management. Little did they know they would influence entire organizations’ growth strategies.

 

According to McKinsey & Company’s March 2020 report, Enterprise Agility: Buzz or Business Impact?: “Agility across a whole enterprise combines speed and stability; helps role clarity, innovation, and operational discipline; and can produce positive outcomes for organizational health and performance… Agile organizations can quickly redirect their people and priorities toward value-creating opportunities.”

 

“Agility” has become the code word for becoming more responsive to market trends, raising customer satisfaction and employee engagement levels, and improving operational performance.

That’s not to say that the agile method can remove the complexities from your multi-faceted marketing campaigns. Your team’s success requires a 360-degree strategy incorporating research, campaign strategy, creative, copy, execution, and more, and the involvement of several people with varying skill sets.

However, there are five key steps you can follow to more effectively plan, execute, and deliver results on-time and within budget, beginning with gaining an understanding of how to apply the Agile Manifesto’s key values and principles.

Step 1: Channel your inner software developer

Although a group of IT professionals wrote the Agile Manifesto, it is not a technical document. It establishes, in plain English, an alternative to the traditional “waterfall” IT project management method. And once you read the following description, you may find yourself nodding your head in sympathetic agreement.

Waterfall requires developers to compile long lists of their customers’ wants and needs, then work heads-down without pause to build and ship the final product as soon as possible. But too often the software contains “bugs” that frustrate users and force the development team to scramble to create and issue updates. The results are blown deadlines, blown budgets, and poor customer service scores.

Sound familiar? A marketing project plan includes a timeline and specific deliverables – then the work begins. How often have shifting deadlines, budget fluctuations, stakeholders’ last-minute requests, and made it difficult to achieve the project’s goals?

The Agile Manifesto recommends building software in incremental stages. Developers gain the time they need to identify and fix bugs and even introduce new features that are not part of the project’s original scope.

This approach also applies to creating and managing agile marketing campaigns.

 Step 2: Schedule regular reviews

The creative brief is exactly that – a brief. It provides an outline of the desired outcome for a marketing campaign. But as we’ve stated above, there are a variety of factors that could impact the original brief once the project begins. While the brief should establish specific project start and end dates, it should also allow for regular informal review sessions – with an emphasis on “informal”. These should be simple, casual, and friendly sessions that team members look forward to as opportunities to discuss issues they’ve encountered, lessons learned, and whether to re-allocate individuals to other tasks without delaying the steady march of progress towards completion.

Step 3: Mastering collaboration

A common thread woven throughout the Agile Manifesto is the need to facilitate better collaboration among individuals and teams. The overarching goal is to “create and support a work environment that is focused on the customer, that aligns to business objectives and that can respond and pivot quickly as user needs and market forces change.” (Source: SearchCIO.com)

The same desire to constantly improve collaboration should drive marketing teams. Break down the silos that often separate teams by competencies, such as graphic design, video production, and event planning. Getting them to work together more closely will make it easier to address unexpected issues when they arise while still keeping everyone aligned and working towards the project’s ultimate objectives.

One activity that developers have found useful is the “Daily Standup” meeting. The entire team meets every day for a quick status update with a focus on brainstorming how to overcome any issues or challenges that are holding up progress. The meeting serves an important purpose in addition to problem-solving: reinforcing the team dynamic. It can be difficult for one person to feel like part of a group if they don’t regularly engage with their teammates. That’s never been more true with so many people working remotely.

Once the Daily Standup meeting adjourns, centralizing workflows on enterprise-wide collaborative work management (CWM) platform will help to maintain the sense of teamwork. Additionally, using integrations to whatever combinations of communications and file-sharing tools the IT department has implemented, such as Salesforce, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom, will compound the benefits of increased productivity and connectivity.

Step 4: Define and clarify goals

Establish project goals that are as precise as possible to allow for their easy communication within the marketing department, other lines of business, and senior management. It is also important for teams to be constantly aware of what these goals are to ensure all efforts are moving towards the same destination.

Therefore, in addition to the timetable, the creative brief should specify the project’s objectives, target audiences, activities, tone, and budget. The more thorough the creative brief is, the more likely you are to achieve the desired outcomes.

Step 5: Grant teams their independence

One of the key tenets of the Agile Manifesto is to recognize that the best work emerges from self-organized teams. Empower individuals with the environment and support they need, then trust them to get the job done. We’ve all learned the hard way that this has never been more important.

The tendency among leaders during periods of uncertainty is to consolidate control and take it upon themselves to navigate the ship through the figurative rough waters. However, uncertainty is no longer something that occasionally erupts and then fades: it has become a constant.

Therefore, organizations need to empower and authorize teams to make decisions. Getting a project team to a high level of functionality requires trust and communication. This applies to all teams but is especially important when individuals work remotely part- or full-time. Embracing the Scrum framework can accelerate this transformation.

What is Scrum?

If becoming agile is your goal, then Scrum lays out the framework for how to achieve success. It’s the blueprint for how to empower teams to work independently with minimal oversight and get work done faster. It’s popular among software development teams because it is proven to help them be more adept at managing projects with rapidly-changing requirements. Now it’s spreading to other business functions including marketing.

The Agile Alliance’s website has an excellent description of the values and principles that underpin Scrum, including having individuals commit to helping their team achieve its goals. This requires creating a transparent environment where everyone is aware of any issues their colleagues encounter and work together to solve them. The entire team address problems immediately so they don’t fester and doom a project to delays or failure. The Daily Standup meeting I described earlier is a key component of Scrum.

I also recommend designating someone to be the “Scrum Master” to connect and align all project work across multiple teams.  Mature organizations will hire someone to fill this role, but your marketing department can simply tap a project manager.  Their chief responsibility is to make sure the new agile approach doesn’t devolve into a waterfall approach with days full of unnecessary meetings.

Be patient

Don’t give up and prematurely pull the plug on your agile experiment because it does not appear to be working. The transition to agile for your marketing organization may take 18 months because it requires both overcoming the challenges of implementing new technologies and workflows, and changing the company culture.

Implementing agile requires a different approach in which managers empower individuals to make decisions from traditional decision process models. The right perspective, outlook, and behavior are required to make agile work and have it accepted as a viable and beneficial model.

It’s true that your colleagues in the IT department may make embracing an agile methodology look simple. Just remember, they’ve had about a 20-year head start.

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