Agile Solutions to Common Marketing Problems

There have been several discussions about agile marketing and the benefits it offers to organizations, but the recent release of Workfront’s State of Marketing Work report was a sharp reminder that individual marketers need agile practices just as much as businesses do.

I've outlined exactly how to go agile in several other articles, but today we’re going to dive deeper into the why.

These are the four most serious problems facing marketing departments today, and how agile marketing can help us tackle them before it’s too late.

The Why and How of Agile Marketing

The Workfront survey, which focused only on companies with 500 or more employees, revealed some staggering problems in marketing:

  • Marketers spend only 36% of their work time on their primary job duties.
  • 89% of marketers log in to work outside of their normal working hours.
  • Although 55% rate email as a very effective means of communication, it’s also the second most common barrier to getting work done.
  • Interdepartmental conflict is a problem for 98% of marketers.

Clearly there’s a problem at the heart of marketing that needs to be addressed. We can’t continue to rush around using outdated and inefficient practices to try and market to increasingly sophisticated audiences.

It doesn’t create good results for our organizations, and it takes a huge toll on us as individuals.

The answer? Adopting agile marketing practices.

Problem 1: We Don’t Have Time for Marketing

Workfront’s summary wonders, “Is it possible that marketers are so preoccupied with inefficient practices that they are unable to get to their real work?”

I believe the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

We are being increasingly hamstrung by the inefficient waterfall practices that govern the vast majority of marketing departments. The litany of things that get in the way of doing our jobs reveals that the source of practically all these problems is in the “old school” way of doing marketing.

These stats may seem a little depressing, but the good news is that adopting agile practices will improve all of these situations.

  • Excessive Oversight Becomes Clear Visibility: Any agile methodology that you choose will force you to focus on visibility. This should eliminate your higher-ups’ need to babysit all your projects.
  • Lack of Standard Process Becomes Agile Rituals: Whether they are event-driven triggers in Kanban or Sprint meetings, agile practices created repeatable, standardized processes.
  • Lack of Collaboration Becomes Cross Functional Teams: Agile teams succeed or fail as a unit. You don’t need a team of experts in everything, but you do need to be able to support one another’s projects in times of crisis.
  • Poor Prioritization Becomes a Well-Tended Backlog: Backlogs are a clear list of what’s up next. They’re maintained by stakeholders and/or product owners, and they should be constantly kept in prioritized order. Better priorities, better communication, all in one place.
  • Excessive Delegation Becomes Sacred Sprint Space: No more executive delegation derailing your carefully planned workday. You know what you’re supposed to do and when, and every member of the organization has to respect it.
  • Poor Alignment Becomes Constant Backlog Communication: Goals changing? No problem. Update the prioritization of the backlog, and we’ll take it into account during our next planning meeting.


Problem 2: We Don’t Have Time for a Personal Life

We log in outside of normal working hours, spend our weekends checking email, and generally never let our brains unplug. This hurts our personal happiness and relationships, and can also negatively impact our productivity and creativity during the week.

Why are we letting things like these happen to us?

The solution seems very clear: we need to have better control over how much we have to do and the amount of time to get it done. Scrum can be the perfect solution to this, because it creates finite spaces for work and calls for teams to precisely estimate how much they’ll do in that time period.

On an agile team, you can expect these kinds of transformations:

  • Trying to Get Ahead Becomes Confidence in Stability: You’re not worried about trying to get ahead if you confidently know exactly what you’re responsible for each sprint, that you’re backed by a committed team, and that priorities won’t turn on a dime.
  • Too Much Work Becomes Accurate Task Estimation: The team should not be allowed to commit to more work than they have hours to complete in a sprint. Tasks and team bandwidth should be accurately estimated so that each team member and the team as a whole can state with confidence that they will reach their goals in an allotted amount of time.
  • Inefficient Use of Time Gets Addressed in Standup Meetings: If you have to report to your teammates what you did yesterday, what you plan to do today, and what blocks are preventing you from reaching your goals, it forces you to be utterly clear about how you’re spending your time.

But let’s be clear: team members who consistently over promise and under deliver will need to figure out why.

I suggest keeping track of your time religiously to identify your time sucks, then culling them ruthlessly.

Problem 3: Barriers to Marketers’ Productivity

Certainly there will be come individual inefficiencies that need to be tackled, regardless of what sort of team you’re on. But the larger institutional barriers can be solved by adopting agile principles.

Workfront points out that, “although most marketers cite excessive emails and ‘wasteful’ meetings as the two biggest obstacles to their work, both email and meetings were rated highest in terms of communication effectiveness.”

Dealing with email overflow can sometimes be a personal issue, but when teams use it as a primary means of communication that can contribute to inbox rage.

The same goes for things like status meetings, or other meetings whose only purpose is to communicate information to other people.

Daily stand up meetings can go a long way towards eliminating the need for both of these.

In these hyper-efficient, 15-minute daily get togethers every team member reports on three simple things:

  1. What they did yesterday to achieve the goals of the sprint
  2. What they plan to do today to achieve those goals
  3. Any blocking issues that are preventing them from proceeding

Standups should happen every single day at the same time, and attendance must be mandatory for all team members. Co-located teams can have the meetings actually standing up to make sure they don’t extend beyond their 15-minute allotment.

Dispersed teams may have to get more creative with ways to gather all team members in a way that fosters communication and addresses any time zone constraints.

Take time to make sure you come up with a plan that meets your team’s needs; you’ll be rewarded with a decline in email and meetings and a corresponding uptick in productivity.

Problem 4: Interdepartmental Conflict

According to Workfront, 98% of marketers experience conflict with another department, group or team. Ouch. Can’t we all just get along?

Forty percent of marketers say that these problems arise due to lack of communication or miscommunication, 24% because of conflicting priorities, and 10% because of a lack of understanding about urgency or the time sensitive nature of tasks.

These are serious problems indeed, but again agile marketing offers solutions.

The intense focus on visibility lets all departments know exactly what marketing is working on at any given time (their current sprint objectives), as well as what their department has identified as its top priorities for future work (the backlog).

Teams that need a little extra clarity can also display a burndown chart, which shows the team’s progress against the ideal completion rate of the work. This makes it instantly obvious if the team has encountered a roadblock, or if they’re killing it this sprint.

Ideally other departments will have similarly transparent systems to show what they’re working on, but even if they don’t marketing can help heal the rifts by taking the first steps toward better communication.

Marketing Pushed to the Breaking Point

In their executive summary of their findings, Workfront gives this overview of the problem facing marketing in 2015 and beyond:

“As marketing teams — and the enterprises around them — grow, so do the demands on marketers in terms of productivity and communication. Too often, this pushes existing tools, processes, and schedules to the breaking point…Without visibility, conflict and misperceptions flourish, team workloads become unbalanced, and marketers work increasingly longer hours.”

It’s time to get in front of these problems by bringing agile marketing to your team.

Don’t wait until workload imbalance is terrible, hours are unbearable, and conflicts are beyond resolution. Take the steps toward agility today, and reap the rewards tomorrow.

This article originally appeared on

Header image via Death to the Stock Photo. 


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