When it comes to learning, nothing beats real experiences. Hearing directly from people who've been to the top of a mountain gives you tons of insight you just can't get any other way (except of course climbing yourself).
That’s why, whenever possible, we try to speak with marketers of all kinds who have implemented Agile to learn from their experiences. We recently jumped on a call with Jaina Mistry, Senior Manager of Email Marketing at Litmus. As an all-in-one email marketing tool, they know the challenges and opportunities of great email marketing better than just about anyone.
Jaina has worked at Litmus for five and a half years, and in email marketing for over 15. During that time, she’s done everything from email design development and email strategies, to running the email program at Litmus.
Today, every email Litmus sends, from newsletters to onboarding, is touched by the three-person team of her, an email marketing specialist, and an email designer.
But how did this small team end up transitioning to Agile?
How They Came to Try Agile Email Marketing
It all began when Jaina and Litmus’ Senior Vice President of Marketing took the Agile Marketing Fundamentals course from AgileSherpas. Following that course, they decided to implement a pilot program. The challenge was deciding which area of the marketing team would be ideal for such a pilot.
They reasoned that because the broader marketing team had so many moving parts and was very connected to the rest of the company, it made sense to run the pilot in the email marketing team. They were fairly compact and already used some Agile processes; the transition would be less disruptive for them.
So, over the course of December 2021 and January 2022, Jaina put together an Agile workflow for her team.
In particular, she focused on integrating an iterative approach, because her team was used to “big bang” projects. In these projects, someone would come to their team wanting to, for example, rework a nurturecampaign. Jaina would then break this down into the steps needed to complete the task.
Now, they try to place the customer at the center of their process, breaking it down into more manageable and achievable steps. The result is that big projects don’t feel as big and intimidating.
Things They Would Do Differently
One major question other people considering Agile email marketing have is what Jaina and her team would do differently based on their first few months working with Agile.
The first and largest thing Jaina brought up was simple:
“I wish we had done it sooner.”
She recognizes they simply didn’t have the time to change their processes before, but seeing the early results still makes her wonder why they waited so long.
The second thing which came to mind was making changes too quickly within Agile. Currently, the email marketing team has sprint retros every two weeks, and each time they have been identifying processes to change.
While this kind of adaptation is a core tenant of Agile, she does have some concerns that it’s causing them to start each sprint “from a base level.”
For the team, this meant that process changes made it feel like they were starting a new process from scratch with each sprint instead of making tweaks. Obviously this makes it difficult to get used to Agile and start improving efficiency.
Jaina pointed out that every team has to find the right balance between making such changes and simply getting better at the processes they already have.
Main Takeaways and Advice for Other Agile Email Marketers
Aside from what the Litmus team would do differently, Jaina wanted to share other key takeaways from their Agile email marketing experiences so far.
Document everything, especially terms
Jaina realized that she needed to really flesh out this entire process: what she wanted to get out of Agile, the goals, benefits, etc. This helped her decide on a hybrid approach to Agile.
To get an idea of what this should look like, she began mapping the team’s rules, definitions, etc. Afterwards, she began setting things up in Asana.
But that’s where an issue arose.
She quickly realized that she would need to change some rules and definitions she was planning on using. Because her team worked with the rest of the marketing department, they had to be sure their terms would be understood by their colleagues (a challenge faced by many Agile marketing pilot teams).
In fact, before Agile, various teams in the marketing department each used Asana in a slightly different way.
For example, one team might define “due date” as the day when something should be 100% completed, while another team might think of it as the date when they should begin a task. All of these competing definitions created unnecessary friction, delays, and many other problems that culminated in a lack of clarity.
So the email term set rules like “no two items in the backlog can have the same priority,” and specified that the backlog should list items that are on the task level.
They also ensured that all items would be scoped and defined the same way. Having these rules spelled out in a single document everyone had access to helped improve communication and workflow.
Transparency is key
Jaina also came to immediately appreciate Agile's emphasis on visibility. Even in their three-person team, allowing each member to see what’s coming up, what’s blocking people, and what’s in their backlog has made a world of difference.
Agile has markedly improved the level of communication and visibility within her team.
Daily standups have surprising benefits
Previously, the email marketing team had a weekly hour long meeting they used for project updates. Now that they get their updates via quick daily standups, that meeting has transformed into time used for ideation, brainstorming, and other useful things that are otherwise difficult to achieve in a fully remote team.
“You’re not necessarily doing more work, but you’re more consistent, morale improves, and your work quality improves,” Jaina says.
Find and use high-quality resources
“I found the AgileSherpas blog very useful!”
There are so many different resources that help you understand the whys and hows of Agile email marketing before you really dive in. Jaina pointed out that many people tend to obsess over tools, arguing that you have to use X tool in Agile.
But she opted to use a tool they were already using (Asana) and felt that was the right choice to ensure her team remained integrated into the larger marketing team. It also means that expanding the use of Agile in the team will be easier down-the-line.
You can’t have too much communication or visibility
Jaina put it simply: “communication and visibility are two things you can’t do too much with Agile.”
She emphasized the need for daily standups and generally focusing on ensuring your processes are up-to-date, often telling her team to move something to this column when it’s done, leave comments, etc.
In other words, you need to be extra vigilant about these things, especially early on when you’re establishing good Agile practices.
Don’t neglect getting buy-in
Jaina’s team had marketing leadership’s buy-in from the beginning, because Litmus leadership wanted the marketing team to become far more efficient. She emphasized how vital that buy-in was; without their support there’s no way Jaina and her team would have been able to make the necessary changes.
How You Can Start Your Agile Email Marketing Journey
Here’s how Jaina put it:
“If you’re thinking about starting Agile, stop thinking about it and start putting a plan together: start with pain points and then use AgileSherpas resources to understand how Agile can help you solve those pain points. The thing with Agile marketing is that every team is doing it differently so you need to learn and adapt.”
Fortunately, AgileSherpas has a variety of resources to get you started on your path towards effective Agile email marketing. Check out our wide variety of resources to find the right courses, certifications, or coaching for your needs.