What Marketers Get Wrong about Agile Methodology

 

It’s far from surprising that as Agile has become more and more popular amongst marketers, the number of misconceptions has multiplied as well. For every few teams of marketers deriving tremendous value from Agile, there’s likely one that has fallen into the “fake Agile” trap, thinking they’re doing everything right but wondering why it’s not working.

That’s where these misconceptions can easily develop and spread. Fortunately, they remain just that: misconceptions. Understanding the truth behind them is actually key to unlocking the full potential of Agile marketing. So let’s examine each one to really see what Agile should look like in action.

* Please keep in mind that when marketers discuss “Agile methodology,” what they really mean is “Agile frameworks.” For the sake of clarity, we will be using both terms interchangeably in this article.

Agile Marketing Doesn’t Involve Planning

The Agile frameworks and the Waterfall method visualized next to each other as a one-way approach vs an iterative approach.

Perhaps the single most stubborn myth about how Agile methodology or frameworks work is that it abandons all pre-planning for the sake of being responsive. We’ve covered how Agile planning works for marketing teams in the past, but we’ll go through the basics here.

Traditional marketing tends to plan in a linear way. You create one and follow it until it’s completed. It may last days, weeks, or even months, and the level of detail is often quite high. The plan also may not always be well aligned with the broader goals of the organization.

By contrast, Agile marketing begins with understanding how marketing plans can contribute to those broader goals. From there, plans should be focused and small. This enables marketers to adapt to changing circumstances far more quickly. In other words, Agile marketing actually requires planning, just a different kind of planning.

Agile Marketing Is One-Size-Fits-All

It’s easy to look at how one marketing team uses Agile to do their work and say “that won’t work for us because of X.” But the reality is that Agile methodology is designed to be flexible within limits. In fact, most Agile marketers choose a hybrid approach instead of rigidly sticking to a method like Scrum or Kanban.

The trick is to know what’s a reasonable change to make and what changes will undermine the value you get from Agile. Knowing the difference often comes down to experience, which is why coaching or Agile marketing courses can be so helpful. By educating yourself on the fundamentals of Agile methodology, you can be ready to effectively adjust Agile to fit your needs.

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Agile Methodologies Are Rigid and Can’t Be Changed

Besides the kind of adjustments we just mentioned, the way you do Agile can and should change over time. This might mean changing how long your sprints last, switching from daily standups to twice-a-week standups or honing how you manage cards on a Kanban board. 

Change management is one of Agile’s greatest advantages. Comparing traditional and Agile change management, we can see that far from being against change, Agile embraces frequent changes and experimentation to figure out what works. When something doesn’t work, Agile is designed to quickly learn that lesson and try something else.

More Traditional Companies Can’t Use Agile Marketing

The logos of Sony, Lego, John Deere, Google, and Fitbit visualized next to each other.

While its early history with software development (more on that in a moment) led Agile to be associated with scrappy startups and quirky software teams, it’s also used by some of the biggest corporations in the world. Our list of Agile marketing case studies alone has major universities, banks, and legacy firms like General Mills and IBM. Even highly regulated industries can use Agile techniques like MVPs with great results.

So it is true that larger and more traditional companies may have a more difficult time making an Agile transition compared to a smaller or younger one. This is in part because those younger companies are places in which culture, systems, and mindsets aren’t as entrenched. Often, larger organizations transition to Agile specifically to overcome those older entrenched ways of doing things.

Agile Is Only for Software Developers

While we’ve already touched on this myth somewhat, it’s worth addressing directly. Agile got its start in software development, but by now it’s expanded far beyond that realm. Early on, it was a way for those developers to move to a continuous delivery model, fixing bugs and making improvements to software all the time instead of in occasional big updates.

This meant that bugs got fixed faster, new features could be tested more easily, and software could overall become more responsive to user needs. The approach was so successful that today HR, Sales, and even Procurement are all figuring out how they can adapt Agile to their needs. The success of these adaptations shows just how flexible Agile can be for all kinds of business functions.

The Agile Methodology Requires Always Listening to Customers

As anyone who’s worked in the service industry can attest, the idea of “the customer is always right” can be burdensome, to put it mildly. So when many hear about Agile marketing’s focus on delivering stakeholder value, it can bring up some unpleasant memories of being asked to do borderline absurd work just because the customer wants it.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. The Agile methodology emphasizes regularly listening and gathering feedback from stakeholders, but all of that is focused on the what. The marketing team itself is tasked with determining the how part of the equation. So while your stakeholders are the ultimate source of your goals, it’s not Agile if they’re dictating how you should be achieving them.

Agile Requires Getting Rid of Middle Management

Portfolio Kanban visualized as connected cards.

This misconception ties in with the idea that Agile can’t be used by larger or more traditional companies. Some managers are afraid of introducing it to their companies because they feel threatened by the methodology, assuming it means they’ll have to flatten the entire organizational structure to work.

It is true that the Agile methodology emphasizes the power of flatter structures, it’s possible to achieve many of the benefits of a flatter structure without firing all of the middle managers. In fact, systems like Portfolio Kanban can be used to create alignment and visibility all the way from the C-suite down to individual marketing teams. This kind of approach enables a more traditional hierarchical structure to unlock many of the benefits of Agile without necessarily going through a total reorganization.

The Transition Is Going to Be a Pain

Speaking of total reorganizations, many people assume that transforming a single team, let alone an entire organization, to Agile is going to be incredibly difficult. We’re not going to say it’s not tough, plenty of people will go through the 5 stages of Agile transformation in the process.

But having overseen many Agile marketing transformations ourselves, we’ve observed firsthand how successful they can be when done right. However, it’s important to remember that the entire organization doesn’t necessarily need to go through a full Agile transformation. A single team can give Agile a try on its own.

Besides, the latest State of Agile Marketing report showed how Agile marketers are far more likely than traditional ones to feel that they are contributing to the organization’s long-term success. So when you do decide to make the full transition, chances are it will be well worth it.

You Know What’s Wrong, Now Learn What’s Right

One of the overarching lessons here is that Agile methodology is actually quite flexible, as long as you know what you can safely change. That knowledge comes from starting with a solid foundation in the fundamentals. To get that foundation, we recommend starting off with our Agile marketing fundamentals certification course. It will equip you with the information you need to start experimenting and getting real value out of Agile in your marketing. 

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