Pragmatic and Agile Marketing

In many ways, we’re living in the golden age of marketing. We can reach customers in real-time on their preferred channel at the moment they’re prepared to make a purchase. Opportunities abound, but they  bring with them huge to-do lists.

When we add in the breakneck speed of innovation, long term planning becomes virtually pointless. At the same time, marketing teams are continually pushed to deliver greater results from these emerging touchpoints, often with little improvement in the number resources available. 

Marketers are expected to have an immediate impact, while still being supremely adaptable to changes in the marketplace and technology.  The only way to meet these demands is to improve the sophistication with which we manage our marketing programs.

Three interrelated methodologies can be used together to focus your marketing team on the right priorities so you can boost bottom line results for your business:

  1. Pragmatic Marketing, which uses a scoring methodology to determine which projects are most important.
  2. Pragmatic Roadmapping, a methodology that then helps teams sort through scored projects to create the ideal sequencing. 
  3. Agile Marketing, an approach that helps teams break their roadmap of prioritized initiatives into bite-sized chunks so progress happens quickly. 

Getting all three to work together seamlessly will bring structure to marketing priorities while ensuring the most impactful work gets done first. Here’s how to make them work in harmony.

How to Use Pragmatic Marketing

Pragmatic Marketing asks that you score projects on a scale of 0 to 5 across three dimensions:

  • Pervasiveness
  • Strategic Impact
  • Revenue Impact

The sum of these three scores is the Total Evidence, which is then multiplied by an Impact score. 

Impact is based on the audience impacted by the proposed marketing initiative, which falls into one of the following categories:

  • Evaluators are the highest value audience and are actively comparing options to solve their problem. They receive a score of 5
  • Potentials are the second highest valued and get scored a 4.  They actively have problems that your product or service can solve, but are not yet in the market. 
  • Customers addressing a primary goal receive a score of 3.  An example could be a repeat purchase. 
  • Customers trying to solve a non-primary goal would receive a score of 2. This designation can be tricky, and could loosely be defined as non-revenue generating. For example, maybe they’re looking for an instruction manual or have a quick question that could be addressed with an FAQ. 
  • Non-Targets would receive a score of 1. This audience includes job seekers, the press, and current employees.

The formulas are:

Pervasive + Strategic +  Revenue = Total Evidence

Total Evidence * Impact = Priority

It’s not necessary to get overly precise with the scoring. The goal is to get some relative quantification around project importance to better understand which ones the marketing team should be focusing on. 

Pragmatic Scoring With the Team

The scoring can be done exclusively by the manager, but collaboration will go a long way to getting buy-in and getting necessary support to keep projects on track. At a minimum, find another key stakeholder or two and go through the list, discussing an appropriate score for each dimension. 

A highly inclusive way to do this is through a simple survey. Ask each team member to do the scoring exercise and then take an average of the results. The survey technique can also be used with senior leadership; this is an effective way to manage-up and get buy-in from the top. 

Doing this exercise in a spreadsheet makes it easy to do a quick sort from high-to-low. Go through the list with your team or stakeholders and ensure that it makes sense, that nothing seems out of place. This now represents an ordered list of marketing projects based on impact to the organization. 

As you go down the list, understand that the items at the bottom may never get done. That’s totally fine.

One of the axioms of productivity management is to never complete your to-do list.

The low priority items are low for a reason, and often completely disappear. Be proactive, go talk to the project sponsors and see if the low-ranking projects can be removed entirely, or rescoped to be either smaller or have more organizational impact.

Creating a Pragmatic Roadmap

In the real world, actual project sequencing rarely follows a strict ranking of the Priority Scores. Instead, we use Pragmatic Roadmapping to create the actual sequencing. 

There are three main constraints that you’ll need to balance against the Priority Scores:

  1. Project dependencies. Invariably some projects will have to be completed prior to starting other ones. 
  2. Resource availability. You may be nearing the end of your fiscal year, or out of budget earlier than anticipated, and a high-priority items needs to be deferred until new budgets are set.
  3. Project clarity. At this stage projects will have varying degrees of fuzziness. It may be necessary to spend time to gathering more details around the project’s requirements in order to fully understand timing and costs.

To help you prioritize effectively, high-level time-to-completion estimates need to be applied to each project.

This should be highly collaborative as the actual “doers” will need to weigh in on what the completion time would look like. It’s not important to be overly detailed at this stage and estimated ranges will work fine. When it doubt, estimate projects at the high-end of the timeline.

You now have a sequence and estimated time to completion for each project, which means you can start mapping projects to a calendar. PowerPoint has several templates to help you create a nice visual. 

Pragmatic Roadmaps should be no longer than 24 months and only up to 36 months if absolutely necessary. 

The fact is, opportunities and priorities will change. What’s important today may not be in a year and a half. Also bear in mind that projects further out on the roadmap require considerably less detail.  Conversely, projects coming up in the next three to six months should have a fair amount of detail so the team and management understand the commitments they involve. 

The roadmap should include a narrative that explains why projects are sequenced the way they are. 

The Priority Score provided the initial guidance, and now it’s time to reverse engineer the numbers and explain business impact and how constraints impact the ordering. 

Executing the Roadmap Using Agile Marketing

Working through the first two steps of the process shows what needs to get done, but there’s still a lot of work ahead before marketing material can get out in front of the audience. Fortunately, Agile marketing has several practices available that will help us start making progress. 

Minimum Viable Marketing

The first Agile tool that fits nicely with Pragmatic Marketing is the MVP, or Minimum Viable Product.  This concept calls for creating a deliverable, of acceptable quality, that can be shared for feedback or approval as soon as possible. 

For example, if the project is a landing page, don’t wait until it’s completely done to show it to the relevant stakeholders. Get approval on a wireframe first, then on the copy, then on a final mock up. 

The idea is it to create opportunities for quick check-ins throughout the project as opposed to driving for approval and feedback against a finished project. MVPs work best when you chunk projects down into their smallest possible tasks because this creates multiple opportunities to solicit input.

Employing Agile Sprints

The second core principle of Agile marketing that aligns with the Pragmatic approach is to operate within a fixed timebox. Scrum teams use sprints to timebox their work, and that’s the approach I’ll be detailing here. But there are other ways to manage the amount of work a team is handling, which you can find in these guides to Kanban and Scrumban.

By creating a timebox of two weeks, Scrum teams focus on hitting all their committed deadlines in that period. 

If you’re unfamiliar with managing your work using these kinds of short iterations, I recommend giving Trello a try. It’s a great tool to help organize Sprints, and it’s accessible from any device. This means all team members and management have visibility into what the team is working on. Notes, updates and questions can be captured on individual cards, which helps facilitate communication among the team and throughout the organization.

Setting up a Sprint Using Trello

Trello uses boards, cards and lists to create a virtual Scrum Board. Using Trello, create a separate board for several upcoming Sprints.  Within those boards, create columns labeled Parked, To-Do, In Progress and Complete. Then work with the team to make cards for each near-term task and put them in the Parked list. 

At the very start of the Sprint have team members go through each of their Parked items and move top priorities into To-Do. They’re now fully committed to getting that done within the next two weeks.

Before work can begin, each card needs to include data about how work will proceed. This could include the task name, an assigned owner, and a color-coded score that indicates the level of effort. 

Sizing Work and Measuring Velocity

Some Agile marketing teams size their work using a Fibonacci sequence of 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and 21, while others use t-shirt sizes and still others simply estimate the number of hours for each task.

My preference is for the Fibonacci sequence, because it reduces wasted time as the team tries to fine tune their estimates. It’s simpler to assign a value based on a rough guess of difficulty. The other advantage is that no number in the sequence is divisible by 2. That means team members can’t just say “it’s about half.” Instead they need to think through a task’s real level of difficulty to make the distinction between say an 8 and 13. 

In Trello it’s easy to assign a color code to each of these numbers. For example, red = 21, orange = 13, yellow = 8, green = 5 and so on. This kind of tagging, along with adding the task owner’s picture give a quick visual of who owns the task and how much effort it will take to complete. 

At the end of the Sprint you can add these points up to find the team’s velocity. Ideally the team’s velocity should improve from Sprint to Sprint, but don’t measure their success solely based on points or they’ll start gaming the system pretty quickly. 

It’s also important not to compare one team’s velocity with another’s. Velocity should only be used as an indicator of continuous improvement for a particular team.

Facilitating With a Scrum Master

Another key to running effective Sprints is to have a Scrum Master that helps lead and focus the team. 

Scrum Masters help set up Sprint boards, help team members assess the difficulty of the tasks, and work throughout the rest of the organization to remove roadblocks that are keeping the team from succeeding.

Most importantly, Scrum Masters guide the team toward a more effective use of the Scrum methodology. 

The team should be largely self-managing, meaning the Scrum Master operates as a facilitator, not a traditional manager.   

Core Principles of Combining Pragmatic and Agile Marketing

This may sound like a lot to take in, and it can be overwhelming at first. But at the end of the day, implementing the Pragmatic and Agile approach to managing digital marketing boils down to two core principles: 

  1. Quantify the qualitative. This is where the scoring comes in. Projects can be highly subjective in nature, so by applying a scoring methodology and gaining by-in from stakeholders you create a well-informed, defensible position for project prioritization. 
  2. Minimum viable product. This doesn’t mean short cuts or producing shoddy work. This means understanding at a project or down to a task level, what activity will drive the most value for the least amount of effort. Sometimes this means getting an early draft to a key stakeholder for feedback, other times it means launching something sooner than later to begin to gather data about its performance.

Pragmatic, Agile Marketing Just Makes Sense

By combining two proven methodologies it’s possible to make sense of all of your digital marketing to-dos, improve team communication, be more effective at prioritization, and increase the production velocity of your team. 

The end result is a team that delivers great short-term impact to your organization while skillfully navigating emerging threats and opportunities. 

Pragmatic and Agile Marketing provide the structure to plan ahead, keep your team on track, and allow for much needed flexibility in a rapidly evolving field.


About the Authors

Greg Marta, MBA

Greg has more than 20 years of experience developing and leading data-driven digital marketing programs. He has a BBA in marketing, an MBA and recently completed a 12-credit graduate program in Applied Statistics through Penn State. Greg currently leads a digital marketing consultancy in New Jersey. Find out more by visiting www.martamarketing.com

Jimmy Fitzgerald, PMP

Jimmy has nearly 10 years of experience in project management within marketing organizations and ad agencies. He recently completed his PMP certification and is currently the Scrum Master for an agile marketing team in New York City.

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