What is ‘Agile’? Agile is an approach to project management that helps teams respond to unpredictability through incremental, iterative work cadences (known as sprints). This gives us the ability to develop a subset of high-value features first, while incorporating feedback sooner.
You can also think of it as a mindset shift away from the idea of a project (that has a start and end date) to a ‘product’. So long as the ‘product’ exists, whether that be executing a global promotion campaign, building an analytics dashboard, or integrating a new marketing app, then there’s the potential to add value.
Recently, Lucy asked me how an agile methodology can be applied to marketing operations. Instead of your marketing strategy drawing a straight line from start to finish, an agile approach works using adaptive planning and evolutionary development to keep on top of the changing reality that surrounds you and your team.
Benefits to Working Agile in Marketing
When living in a fast-changing world, anything can happen. Just think about what happened in 2020. How many unfinished projects have been compromised as organisations were forced to shift their focus?
Think of mastering agile as a grade – the closer to agile you can be, the better you will perform against your competition.
The Alternative to Agile: the Waterfall Approach
Sometimes it’s easier to understand the benefit of a concept by comparing it to the alternative option.
You may have come across the traditional project management method called ‘Waterfall’.
The waterfall model is a sequential (non-iterative) design process, in which progress is seen as flowing steadily through strict phases. You can see this in the image below:
As it is so structured, gives it a sense of control and defined steps to follow. In other words, it feels comfortable. There’s the assumption that you know the least about the project at the beginning of the project lifecycle.
In an ever-changing environment, of tech, teams, market, products, consumers etc. working like this could equal project ‘suicide’. It generates waste, in terms of time and budget resources, and can deviate from the overarching goal. Even Dr. Winston Royce, to whom the waterfall model is attributed, said: “I believe in this concept but the implementation described above is risky and invites failure”
What happens in the cascade when it comes into contact with reality, is that you only start building anything tangible with value towards the end. This can be the stage that surfaces unexpected things outside of the ‘pretty’ linear path. Key activities such as quality assurance, testing etc. get stretched and compromised.
How Does Agile Apply to Marketing (and Salesforce)?
You may be a Pardot/Marketing Cloud admin, or a marketer using Salesforce, wondering how this can relate to the marketing operations you’re involved with day-to-day.
In Salesforce/Pardot/Marketing Cloud terms, this means executing campaigns or enhancing Salesforce incrementally instead of a big launch every couple months.
Modern marketing has a lot more in common with software development that you may not have considered:
“it requires rapid adaptability to an ever changing environment and constant refinement.“
Why not take what has been working well for software development teams, such as your Salesforce development team, and apply it to marketing projects?
Getting Started with Agile Marketing
As you may have guessed, the agile approach is something that I have been passionate about for a number of years. I will say though, that if someone is selling you a step by step guide to agile, it’s a lie! Run away, fast!
Agile is a mindset, not a methodology.
A Taste of the Scrum Framework
The scrum framework uses timeboxes to harness uncertainty to your advantage. Your bigger timebox is a sprint (generally 1 or 2 weeks in duration), and a smaller timebox is 24 hours.
- At the beginning of the sprint, come together as a team to define the goal of the timebox. As a collective team, you refine the different items that are required to reach that goal, broken down into tasks.
- At the start of every day during the sprint, come together as a team to align your achievements and how your efforts in the next 24 hours will work towards the common goal.
- At the end of the sprint, you show any stakeholders (or anyone interested internally) the tangible product (the output from the sprint’s goal)*. Or, if this relates to a marketing campaign, compile customer feedback or the campaign results. The purpose is to gain feedback, ask questions, and inform the next steps of the product.
*whether that be executing a global promotion campaign, building an analytics dashboard, or integrating a new marketing app.
- Gather your team to discuss how you are doing things and how it can be tweaked to make improvements. We focus so much on what we are building that we forget to look into how. This time to pause and reflection is key.
Getting started with agile is not something that can happen overnight. I do share a couple of examples specific to marketing my book, but here are a few tips to get started with:
1. Move from a linear approach to constant experimentation:
You may have experienced already trying to define a detailed vision of the future but it doesn’t materialize. By the time you have requirements down and design signed off, the reality has changed.
Instead. ask yourself: what is the smallest thing I can try to prove me wrong?
Example: You have an automated reengagement program for subscribers to select their subscription preferences, from looking at the engagement and lack of click-through with these emails you have the assumption that your lists may need updating.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, rethink buckets for outbound reoccurrences and who knows what; you can send a one-off to a randomized segment (so you have a control group to also compare with) that meets reengagement requirements with a table of 3 statements that redirects to further content that you already have. So you can learn what and if you are interested in.
2. Learn by measurement:
How can you measure your marketing performance so that you learn if it’s worth pursuing, or if it’s time to pivot? How can you carry out A/B tests, and also maintain a control group in your experiments?
3. Keep things simple:
Concentrating on a few key elements allows you to fine-tune operations and reduce waste, and also extend what works easily, and of course, amend ones that don’t.
4. Visualise the work in progress:
You will be surprised by the activities going on that are not bringing you closer to your goal, also known as ‘busy work’. This becomes very clear when we begin to work in sprints.
We often get distracted by tools, there are just so much of that so avoid the noise generally the simplest thing is best to start with and evolve as you go. But if I did have to point you to some tools you can use to visualise your work in progress:
- Jamboard, is like where Google Slides and Google drawings meet. If you have GSuite you already have this and I bet you collaborate via other documents. It’s simple, flexible and people can get their heads around easily.
- Salesforce! Of course, you can have a simple custom object with a Kanban view on it. Records are your backlog, items in view are the ones you are working on that you are moving towards completion.
- Salesforce option B, you have the Agile Accelerator app which is a free app in the AppExchange created by Salesforce Labs. Is like a slice of what’s mostly used from what Salesforce uses themselves, although worth mentioning that may give you a level of complexity you do not need to start with.
The list is endless, you have Miro, Trello, Jira, stories on board… Remember ‘keep things simple’?
5. Pause and reflect:
We get so tangled up ‘busy work’ that we don’t take the time to step back and see with perspective. At the end of each week, we should gather with our team to ask ourselves: what did we set ourselves to achieve this week? What actually happened? Why? What are we going to try out next time?