Pillars of the Agile Approach that Set Your Business Apart in a Downturn

Economic downturns are unfortunately a reality in today’s world. It’s easy to pretend they’re never going to happen, but that’s precisely what gets many businesses in trouble when they do come. Instead, there’s actually plenty you can do now to be better prepared when the next recession strikes. Better still, those changes will help make you more competitive in good times.

So before you get caught unprepared, let’s run through the main pillars of an Agile approach that will help you survive and even thrive during the next economic downturn.

Origins of The Agile Pillars

There are several different versions of Agile values depending on your field (software development, marketing, sales, etc.) and how you approach Agile in general. These values serve as Agile pillars teams can use to guide their work. The specific pillars used here are derived from the original Agile Marketing Manifesto. That manifesto gave us the following values:

The values of the Agile marketing manifesto.

These values are what gave us the pillars we use below to outline how Agile marketing can help you in tough economic times. So it’s worth keeping them in mind as you consider how Agile marketing works.

An Agile Approach Enables Teams to Avoid Waste

The first pillar to focus on is “collaboration & communication.” This originated in Agile software development where it was standard practice to begin with a detailed customer contract specifying deliverables. The team would then go create the software before presenting it upon completion.

The problem of course was that things change, both for the team developing the software and for the customer. That’s why Agile focuses on ongoing communication and collaboration, ensuring you’re actually doing what will bring your stakeholders value instead of what they assumed would bring them value 6 months ago.

It also applies to the team itself. Visual tools like Kanban boards alongside daily standup meetings help everyone on the team communicate, see priorities, get access to resources, and know who is working on what. Blocked work gets quickly flagged and resources can be better prioritized. Managers end up with far less wasteful micromanagement and happier teams. The latest State of Agile Marketing Report found that 71% of fully Agile marketing teams felt empowered to push back on unplanned work which didn’t align with team goals.

Most marketers have seen a tremendous amount of waste as content gets produced which is unlikely to achieve anything for clients and can result in work getting stuck waiting for handoffs that take days and teams generally operating on autopilot despite changing circumstances.

This pillar therefore avoids a tremendous amount of this waste because it means you’re only doing work that will actually bring value. Add in the fact that stakeholders are far more satisfied when work provided for them is valuable and the benefits are clear. When economic times are tough, avoiding waste like this and keeping stakeholders and team members happy translates into a critical advantage.

Agile Marketing Teams Can Adapt When Circumstances Change

A visual showing Agile continuous improvement

Another pillar of Agile is taking a “results-oriented approach.” In practice, this means prioritizing quality over quantity, making data-driven decisions, and incorporating feedback loops for continuous improvement. This may mean pushing back on customer requests which won’t achieve that customer’s ultimate aims like asking you to create a large amount of low-quality blog content. Or, it may simply be finding ways to further optimize the creation of that content, narrowing in on when customer feedback is most useful and how the team can achieve a balanced workload.

In other words, Agile teams are more adaptable and responsive to changes like, for example, an economic downturn. Traditional teams tend to rely on longer-term detailed plans for entire years. Problem is, when economic circumstances change, those plans quickly become worse than useless, cementing irrelevant or unrealistic priorities in place when adaptation is needed. 

The reality is, any kind of service provider who can’t adapt to new economic conditions isn’t likely to get a contract renewal. Likewise, an in-house marketing team which can’t adapt isn’t likely to achieve successful outcomes. But there’s also the issue of quality. Many organizations cut R&D budgets, implement hiring and pay increase freezes, and reduce marketing budgets in tough economic times. A common result is reduced service or product quality.

For Agile teams, that continued focus on objective results means they can continue to deliver value even with reduced capacity or budgets. When, for example, their budget gets cut in half and their previous strategy is no longer viable, Agile marketing teams have systems to experiment and determine what will get the most value in their new circumstances.

Experimentation Is Key to Discovering What Works

Another vital Agile pillar is “intentional processes & continuous improvement.” In other words, following clear processes designed to support Agile practices. That can come in the forms of meetings like standups or retrospectives as well as how teams experiment to discover process improvements.

These processes are so important because they’re not just centered around dealing with problems (something that will happen a lot in a recession) but finding ways to improve. 

Retrospectives in particular are an excellent way to regularly step out of regular work to discuss how things are going and what can be changed or improved. These meetings usually follow a sprint and focus on discussing what went well, what could be improved, and choosing concrete next steps for making changes.

Even when marketing budgets are slashed, this enables Agile teams to find ways to genuinely improve their work. In tough economic times when most stakeholders are used to expecting and getting less, using this experimentation to deliver higher quality is an excellent way to stand out and thrive.


Impressing Customers in a Downturn Is a Recipe for Long-Term Success

Lastly, we have the fourth and final Agile pillar, “ongoing customer focus.” We’ve touched on this throughout the previous 3 pillars but it really is the bedrock of a successful Agile approach to marketing. Regardless of the economic circumstances, delivering great results for customers is always a recipe for success.

In fact, Agile or not, recessions are actually a great time to boost marketing. One study found that brands that cut paid ad spending during the last recession saw their revenue decrease by an average of 15%. By contrast, those who actually increased their spending saw an average 17% increase. 

A visual showing the difference between brands which cut ad spending and those who increased it

In other words, continuing to invest in marketing during tough economic times is an approach which really pays off. Clients and customers are more likely to remember you when you’re going against the grain and continuing to provide great results when others are cutting back.

But Agile approaches help impress customers even without spending more. The ongoing communication mentioned earlier means that stakeholders are involved throughout the process, meaning the final results are far more likely to meet their needs. From the customer perspective, teams which provide great results even when others are cutting back are teams worth investing

Preparing for Anything with an Agile Approach to Marketing

Taking a holistic look at an Agile approach to marketing through the lens of these pillars shows how it makes all the difference in tough economic times. By doing more with less, delighting customers, and constantly finding ways to improve, Agile marketing teams are capable of thriving when others panic.

But getting to that point in your Agile journey takes work. If you’re wondering where you can start, the best place is with an Agile Marketing Fundamentals Course. By starting with a good grasp of the principles underlying all Agile work, you’ll be far more prepared to apply Agile approaches for marketing success when economic times get tough.

Click to get the 7th Annual State of Agile Marketing Report delivered to your inbox