A successful Agile marketing team has two parts: the people on the team, and the formal ways they interact with each other. In other words, how the team implements Agile roles and meetings.
They’re often overlooked during the process optimization journey, but fine-tuning the Agile roles on your team and the meetings they take part in (and making sure they work well together) can be the key to creating a high performing team.
There can be no optimization without understanding, so here we’re going to dive into three things:
- What are the Agile roles in the marketing organization.
- How they contribute to the team’s success.
- Which Agile meetings help them do it.
Agile Roles for Marketing Teams
In Agile software development, there are a trinity of roles that usually make up any delivery group or team. The trinity consists of:
- Product Owner: One contributor who owns the team backlog and prioritization
- Scrum Master (or Flow Master in a Kanban team): One contributor that acts as process owner
- Execution team: A group of developers building software in a flat structure
Each of these three types of contributors to the team is ultimately accountable for the ownership of a distinct part of the process and don’t overlap in their responsibilities.
This team make-up makes total sense for development teams. However, marketing teams often find that they need to adapt this common structure to fit the context of the marketing function.
In a marketing environment, there are key differences in the way typical Agile roles manifest on the execution and leadership fronts, as well as in the support capacity.
Agile Marketing Execution Teams
A commonly held ideal in software development is that Agile team structures should be totally flat and completely cross-functional. This means all team members sit at the same place in the org chart and they all have the necessary skills to help with any project the team might be working on.
The former is often feasible, while the latter is pretty close to impossible. In fact, Agile thought leaders like Mike Cohn have begun to strenuously argue against the idea of pure cross functionality when defining the team structure.
He asserts that:
“specialists can exist on high-performing agile teams. But, it is the multi-skilled team members who allow that to be possible…These individuals can smooth out the workload when a team needs to do more or less of a particular type of work in an iteration.”
Agile marketing teams can strive for this kind of diversity on their teams. In effect, allowing specialists to shine while relying on multi-skilled team members to keep things flowing.
Agile marketing teams that include both horizontally-inclined marketers, who combine a wide breadth of knowledge across many overlapping disciplines, as well as vertically-inclined marketers who prefer to specialize in one single area, have proven to work well in harmony.
Successful Agile marketing teams can also be made up of individual contributors who are both horizontally and vertically inclined. These marketers are “T-shaped marketers” (specialized generalists ). They can also be productive participants in a cross-functional team structure. (Learn more about the various stages of cross-functionality here.)
When it comes to creating flat teams, it’s usually a matter of changing titles rather than trying to change skill sets to fit the Agile roles. This may be easier, or it may be exponentially more difficult depending on what your current org chart looks like.
Chiefmartec’s Scott Brinker offers this example of a simple Agile marketing team structure in his book Hacking Marketing:
You can see that there’s really only one leader, whose role we’ll go into more in the next section.
This Agile team structure can work well in smaller departments, but once you get past 10 or 12 team members you will need some secondary layer of leadership.
The Spotify model can be useful in these cases:
via Henrik Kniberg
Here, each Squad has a leader who makes sure they’re doing the right work at the right time. In addition, there are Chapter leads. Chapters are groups of people doing the same kind of work, e.g. content marketing or demand generation.
A Chapter lead conducts the reviews for all the Chapter members and helps them continue to advance their skills. These leads act much more like a traditional manager. However, they don’t tell their reports what to do from day to day.
There’s no single solution that delivers flat cross functionality in every Agile marketing team. Be prepared to iterate and adjust until you find the right configuration of Agile roles for you.
Agile Marketing Leadership Roles
The execution team, while central to all sorts of agility, isn’t the only success factor.
I’ve coached teams that were swimming against the current of culture on their own, unsupported by leadership. The difference between those teams and the ones who enjoy unwavering commitment from their leaders is staggering.
Findings from the 3rd Annual State of Agile Marketing Report demonstrate that lack of support from management or executives is one of the top five biggest barriers preventing marketing departments from completely implementing Agile. Leaders can make or break an Agile marketing team. Like cross functionality, Agile leadership roles come in many flavors.
The Strategy Group
Beyond the execution teams, effective leadership from the strategy group must build the connection between the business objectives and the day-to-day work items that make their way into the execution team backlogs.
Some of the most common at the strategy group level are:
- Agile Team Lead (ATL): This Agile role originated with Gil Broza, who gives it a single purpose: to help the team meet its objectives. This includes helping them get stuff complete as well as supporting the squishy, uncertain, human side of Agile.
- Marketing Owner: Analogous to the Product Owner role from Scrum, this type of leader acts as the liaison between the marketing team and stakeholders outside the team. They talk with sales, executives, product development, etc. to make sure marketing is doing the right work at the right time, but they also protect the team from unnecessary interruptions.
The Leadership Core
At the core of this interlinked departmental structure is the top-level leadership team, responsible for the marketing roadmap and vision presented on an annual or quarterly basis. On the top-level leadership team level:
- Agile Marketing Director/Manager/VP: In the Agile version of these roles the leaders maintain their traditional strategic position, but they take on more stewardship of the team. They become a facilitator and coach, not a task master. They share responsibility for the team’s success or failure rather than just evaluating the team’s performance.
Explicitly changing titles, such as going from Marketing Director to Agile Marketing Director or Marketing Owner, can help create a clear point of departure from the old ways of leading.
There’s one among the Agile roles that’s unique to marketing teams, and that’s the process owner. You’re probably most familiar with the Scrum version of this role, known as the Scrum Master.
Kanban has a similar one sometimes called the Flow Master or Flow Manager, and you could even have an Agile Team Leader (ATL) who’s only responsible for the team’s process.
Giving someone a neutral title like ATL can help free them and the team from feeling bound to a particular methodology, so if you don’t have someone shepherding the process now, you might consider going this route when defining the Agile roles.
Any and all of these Agile roles can be difficult for marketers to adopt. Some people will take to them easily, while others will struggle for months. (If you or your leadership is caught in this difficult spot, you might benefit from taking one of our open online Agile Marketing Leadership Certificate courses.)
The Role of the Agile Marketing Coach
Many marketers are unfamiliar with the Agile coach role, so I wanted to take a quick moment to introduce it.
Coaches can be internal, meaning they’re an employee on the company’s payroll, or external, meaning they come from outside the organization. Both can be immensely helpful to an Agile team, particularly during challenging stages of their evolution.
Agile coaches train in facilitation, process optimization, team dynamics, the Agile mindset, and more. Their unique skills can be an asset to both new and mature Agile marketing teams as they continually improve their work process.
Agile coaches bring an objective perspective to the team. They can also be integral in unblocking the team and helping them move towards high performance.
Some things an Agile coach can help with:
- Facilitating a retrospective meeting to uncover hidden causes of dysfunction.
- Reviewing workflow visualizations and providing recommendations for improvement.
- Onboarding new team members into the Agile process.
- Negotiating working agreements with non-Agile departments.
- Transitioning leaders from traditional to Agile roles and ways of working.
- Answering questions and supporting the team during its transitions.
- Attending daily standup meetings to ensure they’re meeting the team’s needs.
We offer coaching here at AgileSherpas that’s customized for marketing teams, so feel free to get in touch if you want to learn more about how a coach might be able to help you.
Agile Meetings for Marketing Teams
Now that we’ve covered the Agile roles on the marketing team, let’s talk about how they interact.
Agile meetings, also sometimes referred to as ceremonies, should always keep the team moving forward. To this end, they are consistently focused on the health of the Agile system. More specifically, the three stages of the system itself, namely:
- To Do: meetings that focus on the work that has not been started yet; includes briefing planning and prioritizing the backlog
- In Progress: meetings that focus on the status of the work that is already in the execution phase; includes status updates, continued alignment and identification of blockers
- Done: meetings that focus on work that is completed; includes recap of last period of active work and sharing ideas for future improvement
No matter which stage of the system they address, Agile meetings aim to improve the overall performance of the team.
If you find yourself leaving meetings feeling confused, undirected, or frustrated, they’re probably not doing their job.
Agile Marketing Planning
Yes, there are Agile planning meetings. We don’t just get up every morning and chase after the latest shiny object that catches our fancy.
In fact, since we release and iterate often, we need to plan more than most teams.
Scrum teams conduct a planning session at the start of every Sprint. Kanban teams will be planning as needed (usually on a 2-3 week cycle).
The product of any successful planning meeting should be a backlog of sufficient detail for the team to work on it continuously and with confidence until the next planning meeting takes place.
You’ll be most likely to get that outcome if you have the right decision makers in the room for these Agile meetings.
Postponing planning until you get sign off from executives or stakeholders is hugely wasteful, and will result in delays and rework that severely limit the team’s agility.
Finally, if you have more than one team inside your Agile marketing department, you’ll need to regularly get everyone (yes, everyone) in a room together to talk about how everyone’s plans intersect.
What are the dependencies between teams? Are there shared resources that need to be allocated? Any big projects coming up that might impact people’s availability? All this and more should come out in these larger Agile meetings.
A quarterly schedule for these Agile planning sessions tends to work well. But, you could do them monthly if your plans change frequently.
While the final outcome of a good planning session is an appropriately detailed backlog, you may need to have a separate meeting when you review the backlog from a different perspective.
If you find some backlog items hanging out for months without being worked on, or if your backlog just keeps getting bigger, a dedicated backlog refinement meeting is in order.
The goal is to ensure that all items contained within the backlog are relevant, laid out in detail appropriate with their priority and estimated, if necessary.
This ceremony doesn’t involve exploration of projects or prioritization. It’s simply a stay or go vote for each item in the backlog.
As with planning, make sure you have the right stakeholders in the room in order to avoid having to delay decision making. Be ruthless and make sure your backlog reflects only high value work that’s important to the team’s objectives.
Daily Standup (also known as Daily Scrum) is the most frequent among the Agile meetings. It is a key meeting that occurs at the same cadence in both Scrum and Kanban Agile implementations. The meeting should happen every day and last only 15 minutes. During the meeting, the team briefly syncs progress on the tasks that they are working on and those they plan to start on the given day.
Teams use this meeting as a platform to bring up blockers that prevent individual contributors from moving forward with their assignments.
The most common misstep here is to decrease its frequency. Meaning, you meet only a few times per week instead of every day.
This almost inevitably increases the length of the meeting because you have more to talk about. It can also slow down your process. Instead of a maximum of 24 hours between team communication, you now have 48 or even 72 hours going by.
Opportunities to help blocked teammates are lost, solutions that could help everyone stay hidden, and the team is less connected to one another.
If you are finding standup less than useful, consider changing up the format. We explored a couple different options in this article.
Just like every kind of team needs to plan, any and all Agile teams need to regularly inspect and adapt their Agile process. This moment is known as the Retrospective Meeting, and it should never, ever be skipped.
Typical discussion formats include:
- Stop/Start/Continue: What should we as a team stop doing, start doing, and continue doing?
- Liked/Lacked/Learned/Longed For: Four categories for people to sort their feedback on the most recent round of work.
Those are just to get you started though. There are dozens of different ways to structure a Retro. So, don’t get stuck in a rut and stop improving your process.
Learn more about this amazing meeting and how to get the most out of it in this article.
Helping Agile Roles and Meetings Work in Harmony
Now that you understand the different Agile roles and meetings, it is up to you to define them appropriately and agree upon their cadence, agenda and invitees.
Just like you keep optimizing your board or adjusting your team’s workspace, make the roles and meetings on your Agile marketing team part of its continuous improvement efforts.
Don’t succumb to the status quo in either case. Help each role and every meeting matter, and your team will reward you with ever greater performance.
Continue expanding your team’s understanding about Agile marketing roles and meetings and how to make the most of them through one of our upcoming online courses or seek out a sherpa to guide you to new Agile heights.