3 of the Biggest Agile Marketing Challenges

Marketing comes with its own set of unique challenges:

“Be timely and relevant, but run that tweet by legal first.”
“Personalize everything to me individually, but don’t come off like a digital stalker.”
“Maintain a work-life balance, but make sure to respond on social media 24-7.”
“Don’t chase every shiny new tool, but keep up with the most important innovations.”

If it was easy they’d call it sales, am I right?

(Just kidding sales friends. You guys work hard. We love you.)

As you may know or suspect, I’m a huge believer in Agile marketing as the solution to many of marketing’s current conundrums.

Agile, however, isn’t perfect. It comes with its own particular problems. We need to go into an Agile transformation with open eyes, fully aware of the Agile challenges knowing it’s not going to be all puppies and rainbows.

rainbows and puppies

Each Agile marketing team will encounter its own special blend of issues, but here we’ll look at three of the most pervasive:

  1. Inhospitable culture and uncommitted higher-ups
  2. Team-related difficulties
  3. Superficial change

Agile Challenge #1 - It’s Not You, It’s Them

Whether you’re in software, marketing, project management, or human resources, you need some degree of high-level buy-in to make Agile work outside of small teams.

Emanuele Passera, a project manager and software engineer, says immature organizations are one of his most common obstacles. “It is not always easy for the business side of a company to engage,” he says, adding that “Agile project management simply cannot fit every organization.”

Agile coach and change agent Mario Lucero agrees. For him, it’s a matter of culture: “If a company wants to adopt agile they must build a culture to support the agile principles.”

Out in Silicon Valley, where you might imagine innovation reigns supreme, Tanner Wortham still encounters resistance when he attempts to roll out Scrum. “Scrum often runs counter to an organization’s culture,” he reminds us.

Coaches and practitioners need to have a dual focus; they have to address change in the process, but they can’t neglect the ways the people must also change. “Scrum is easy,” Tanner says. “People are hard.”

Agile Challenge #2 -Agile is a Team Sport

If people are hard, teams are exponentially more so. From fear of failure to a lack of trust to insufficient understanding, there’s no shortage of Agile challenges around marketing teams.


Personally, I’ve encountered many situations where Agile in general, and Scrum in particular, feels like a loss of personal achievement. In my contribution to the ebook where all this sage advice originally appeared, I suggested that “The Superman complex that many marketers harbor can definitely get in the way of a team-centric approach and cause some friction.”

Martin Wickman has seen many teams get stuck in the forming phase if they don’t receive some guidance.

(For those unfamiliar with the concept, there are four traditional phases of group development as articulated by psychologist Bruce Tuckman: forming, storming, norming, and performing.)

Forming is exciting, because everything is new and innovative. But the storming phase, Martin says, “is where the struggle for power and control happens. People show distrust, disagreement and form alliances. It can be nasty.”

This is natural, but you can’t turn a blind eye and expect teams to fix themselves, according to Martin: “The team needs guidance to reach awesomeness. They need someone with experience and coaching skills to navigate this part...Whatever you do, don’t let them handle it on their own.”

Agile Challenge #3 - Just Changing the Name Won’t Help

You may have heard the phrase “lipstick agile,” a reference to putting a veneer of agility over existing processes without making any fundamental changes. Nearly every contributor to this project touched on the need for real, substantive shifts in how a team works if we want to see real improvement.

Tanner, for example, has seen teams change the names of meetings only and then wonder why Scrum isn’t working for them.

“They adopt Scrum,” he recounts, “but instead of doing anything differently, they simply relabel existing meetings and processes with Scrum nomenclature...Instead of calling it a status meeting we’ll call it a stand up. It’ll continue to be 30 minutes, but we’ll have more of them, and we’ll stand up when we do.”

Martin agrees wholeheartedly, ascribing much of the difficulty to a lack of understanding of “what agile is about.”

He often sees a “tendency to simply map known concepts with this weird Scrum thing and then carry on as if it’s business as usual...Result: disaster.”

Free Agile Therapy: Share Your Agile Challenges

Do any of these issues sound familiar?

If you need a space to vent about your own personal Agile challenges with marketing, give us a shout in the comments. You can see more from the folks quoted in this article in the infographic below, or download the complete ebook via Knowledge Train.



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