One of the most central tenets of Agile is to always be focused on delivering value to your end customer (which is one of the reasons it jives so nicely with marketing).
In that spirit, our AgileSherpas (myself included) spend a lot of time sharing information on marketing agility with anybody and everybody who’ll listen. As part of that effort, I recently joined the Content Marketing Institute and Workfront on a webinar about Agile marketing, and, as happens so often, there were far more amazing questions than we had time to get to.
Many of them are questions I hear quite often, so I’ve collected (and answered!) them all here. In some cases, we’ve provided very thorough answers elsewhere. In those cases, I’ll offer a short response and a link for additional exploration as needed/desired.
Don’t see your question here?
Shoot it to me at andrea [at] agilesherpas [dot] com and you can be sure the answer will find its way to our resources section!
Integrating Recurring and Project Work
How do you get everyone on board with real agility vs. continual last-minute pivots?
This is an Agile marketing question that we get very frequently. Put on your marketer hat. Identify the key pain points people are experiencing and demonstrate how Agile will solve those issues.
Where possible, document the impact frequent last-minute changes have on the work being done. For example, work in progress is left unfinished, deadlines are missed, etc. We like to say, "if you can't fix it, visualize it." Then, use this data to build a strong argument for true agility in your specific case.
Is Agile best for project type work OR can it help with the "always on" or "run" work and how?
Agile is for everything, and, ideally, everything blended into a single backlog. When we separate “always on” work from strategic projects, one of them almost always gets neglected.
The power of all Agile ways of working is their ability to create focused effort through strict prioritization. We need this to happen whether we’re launching a major campaign for a new product or publishing content every week. So, in short, Agile marketing makes all our work better.
Last month, I contributed a guest post to CMSWire that addresses the many pitfalls of piloting Agile ways of working only with some strategic projects, instead of applying it to all of our work item types.
Is this used for projects vs. ongoing tasks that may not be part of one project but part of the work that needs to be done during the same time as project work? Is that a different type of Kanban for one-offs?
This is similar to the question above. I wanted to answer them both because of the different ways they’re framed. What’s at the heart of this question is a sense that timeboxes, they are also known as sprints in the Scrum framework, don’t always line up to pieces of a project and other recurring tasks.
Sprints can be great for putting up guardrails around a team -- “We’ll take that in the next sprint, but we don’t accept new requests mid-sprint” -- but it can be challenging to section off bits of work into 2-week chunks. If that’s you, a more flow-based framework like Kanban may align more closely to how you work.
Whichever way of working you choose, don’t split your work onto multiple boards. This awesome collection of marketing kanban board examples will help you find a good way to integrate all your work together, as mentioned earlier.
Training and Education
Are there any Agile certifications you recommend?
Yes!!! We offer certifications in Agile Marketing Fundamentals (ICP-MKG) as well as Agile Marketing Leadership (ICP-LEA). All of our (live, virtual) open certification courses pop up here, so you can keep an eye out on what’s upcoming in the calendar. Designed by marketers for marketers; not software-focused, as nearly all “off the shelf” Agile certifications will be.
Don’t send everyone to Scrum Master training, because chances are they won’t be an SM or even using Scrum to run marketing projects.
I didn’t plant this one I promise :)
What's the most important thing to do that a traditional project manager can start to make the transition to an Agile mindset?
Get out of deadline mode. Agile planning is more iterative and usually applies for a shorter period of time. As a result, you can easily adapt to changing circumstances without having to pull heroics.
You have to focus less on the timing of deliverables and more on getting value to the customer sooner.
In addition, make sure you connect with stakeholders and team members early and often to maintain a higher level of transparency. Doing so will also make it easier to react to changes in a timely manner together.
Do you have resources about implementing Agile practices in marketing?
For years, we have been constantly publishing free Agile marketing resources on our website. They are suitable for both people who are just getting started with Agile marketing, and adept agilists looking for a solution to a very specific problem.
Here are some good places to start:
Also, we offer a free 80-minute introduction course (it used to be $79, but it's free forever because all marketers need agility post-COVID).
How long (on average, in your experience) should it take a newbie team member to learn Agile?
Agile is one of those things that doesn’t take long to understand but takes a while to master. A 1-day crash course should be enough to get someone up to speed on the basics, but it may be months before they’re really an integrated part of an Agile team/system.
Visualizing Your Work with the Right Tools
How do you define "In Review" and can there be more columns than the ones shown?
“In Review” often means that work has gone to someone outside of the team for their review and feedback. In other cases, “In Review” may equally refer to an internal review from a team lead or a team member with a particular expertise. The boards you saw in the webinar are definitely just examples.
Here are a few more examples of marketing team Kanban boards to give you more ideas about how to structure your own:
This example of a digital marketing Kanban board provides a clear perspective on the status of each work item that is passing through the “review stage." A single look is enough to understand whether the card is in a queue column, awaiting review (Ready for Review) or the person accountable is actively providing feedback on the deliverable (Review in Progress).
Another way to visualize the review stage is by breaking it down into multiple steps. For example, a content marketing team’s board is likely to have two distinct stages of review:
- Concept Review -- for feedback on the outline for the piece
- Content Review -- for feedback on the final written piece
The goal is to keep alignment and create consistency around team and external feedback at various phases of the process of creating a single asset.
Are there any free or very inexpensive Kanban tools you would recommend? Due to the massive impact on my industry, I am now a marketing team of one, and paying for a new platform will be a very hard sell.
For free tools, you really can’t beat Trello. It’s also nice that it mimics sticky notes on a wall pretty well. We’ve created a free sample start board that you’re welcome to use: https://trello.com/b/KTAgR9Xm/sample-team-kanban-board
By adding power-ups (1 power-up comes with any free Trello account) you can even add further Kanban functionalities, like WIP limits, beyond workflow visualization. The Agile Tools Trello Powerup from Corrello is a favorite among Trello teams we have coached.
How do to-do's from stakeholders and others make it into the project management tool or onto the board? Do they email the team lead/project manager and he/she enters it in?
Digital tools like Workfront allow external requests to be submitted through a form and get automatically added to the system. This makes it easy to consolidate all requests from a single submission point and avoid the email avalanche.
Other tools can do similar things, e.g. you can connect a certain email address to Trello so that whenever someone sends an email to that address it creates a card.
However you take in work, I recommend keeping it simple and having a single point of contact. That way, one person can accept (or reject) incoming work items without having those requests derail the team.
Do you have any templates that show how a marketing team can fill the roles that a Scrum team needs?
My first caveat of this answer is that most Agile marketing teams won’t end up being true Scrum teams, so you may not want to spend a whole lot of time on perfectly lining your team up to traditional Scrum roles. We discover in our annual research that hybrid frameworks are around three times as common as Scrum in Agile marketing teams.
With that said, if you need a Scrum Master, a project manager is probably going to be your closest fit to the skills and aptitudes needed.
A Product Owner is usually someone rather senior, maybe director level, who combines strategic understanding with a strong connection to the team(s) doing the work.
This is a very personal transition that depends on teams, roles, and culture, so there’s not really a template I can give you. We’ve talked about the Scrum Master role in particular here -- that may be a helpful starting point.
How granular should the "post it" task be to be clear without causing too much of a backlog in the backlog?
The most specific version of your backlog that contains actual tasks should be fairly small. Other versions for projects may exist (more on that here), but here tasks take a couple of days at most.
We keep them small. This allows us to quickly move work through the system. As a result, we can minimize the impact of unplanned work requests.
Individuals, Teams, and Leaders in Agile Marketing
If you are a small team with one prioritized list, how do you provide a list for each person of their own priority list as we all don't work on all projects?
To begin with, place the cards with the highest priority on top of the board. This way your team can easily differentiate tasks with high significance from assignments with lower priority.
Tag people on the cards they’re responsible for in the backlog. When they have the capacity, they look for the highest priority item with their name on it.
Another option is to draw horizontal swimlanes across your board and place the work items of each person in a separate lane. When a person has free capacity, they only have to look in their lane for a new work item to start.
What is the average team size of groups using these techniques and Workfront?
High performing Agile teams are usually made up of 7-9 members. Of course, that’s not the whole marketing function. Enterprise Agile marketing orgs can have dozens if not hundreds of Agile teams.
We keep teams small to allow for effective collaboration as well as less relationship overhead:
With a self-organizing mindset, are individuals assigned a specific project as a project lead even though other team members will also help and have tasks to get a campaign/project completed? In other words, how do you balance individuals knowing what they are accountable for or have "ownership" over vs. letting the team self organize?
Projects may have leads so someone is driving them toward completion. Good candidates for project owners are team members who have extensive experience in the appropriate areas or have working on something similar before. They may also act as the final reviewer for any collateral built for this project because they are most familiar.
Beyond that, people on the team should volunteer to help with the completion of that work. This creates the balance and makes sure projects don’t flounder because no one is truly owning it.
The focus should still be on delivering value as a team. People might own a project but it’s still the team’s success that’s their top priority.
How involved do you think leadership needs to be in the overall transition for a team?
Very, very, very involved. You can optimize the delivery of work all you want. However, if leaders continue to swoop in and derail the process nothing will improve. Agile also asks us to plan and strategize differently. This means that marketing leaders need to adjust their behavior just as much as the execution level teams.
Tough Agile Marketing Questions
Does daily standup really help a marketing team? I feel the weekly sprint is tight enough, what's daily standup really adding to the value?
This is often a point of contention among marketing teams. I can tell you that the Agile marketing teams who use daily standups find them enormously useful. As a result, they won’t ever go back to less frequent standups.
Things move so fast -- especially now -- that a full week going by without a check-in introduces a huge amount of risk. There could be a delay or block that’s halted a project completely. If we had talked as a team the day after it showed up, maybe we could have eliminated it. Instead, now we’ve lost days and days to the delay.
Like it or not, people hold onto problems and opportunities and wait to bring them up at standup (instead of addressing them ad hoc as they come up) when standup only happens once a week.
The other argument in favor of daily meetings is that they’re MUCH shorter. If you only do standup once a week you need at least an hour for it to be effective. Daily meetings can stay under the 15-minute mark.
For a large team wanting to transition from Waterfall to an Agile method, what is your recommendation for how to roll out the change?
Pilots are awesome for this. Pick a team, dedicate them to Agile 100%, and measure their performance. You should be able to see strong improvements from the Agile team. Compare it to their non-Agile counterparts. Then, have a good case for rolling Agile out to more and more and more teams.
Have you come across any working styles or personalities that don't seem to jive with Agile?
There’s no clear cut type of person or personality that I’d say is never compatible with Agile.
More traditional marketers sometimes struggle with the fundamental shift that Agile brings. Other times, it’s the folks who’ve been at an organization for two decades who are most excited about the change.
Do you have any tips for agencies with multiple clients and teams adopting Agile?
Talk to your clients about it! So many of our brand-side clients want their agencies to be more Agile. If you want to experiment with it, find out if you’ve got clients who’d want to try with you.
If you find several clients, build an Agile team that runs entirely on Agile frameworks, and collaborates closely with the Agile clients. Then, as with all pilot efforts, test the effectiveness of the Agile teams. Compare it with others, and see whether the switch will be worth it for all your teams.
Keep the questions coming
I hope that by reaching the end of our brief Agile marketing "Quora," you've discovered the answers to at least some of your queries related to Agile marketing. Please share any unanswered questions in the comments section, or by dropping me an email.
I'll include new answers to your submitted questions and keep building out this piece with your help!