Agile Marketing vs Waterfall Marketing

 

Asking a traditional marketer about how the Waterfall method is working for them is a bit like asking a fish how the water is. They probably don’t even realize that they’re using the Waterfall method or that there are other ways to work.

In fact, according to the 5th State of Agile Marketing Report, almost half of marketers still use the traditional project management method, also known as Waterfall. The other half swear by Agile methods for achieving their outcomes.

Both Agile and Waterfall are terms that have been circling around different departments for years now, originating in software development and spreading into marketing functions. While both process management methodologies have a clear, dependency-based task flow, there are some core differences between these two ways of managing work. It's exactly these differences between the approaches that make each suited to different contexts and environments.

Even though Agile is widely applicable and promises significant benefits, there are certain situations that do call for the traditional Waterfall approach. 

Understanding the differences is the only way to find which method is best for you and to unlock your full potential as a marketing team.

Agile Marketing Overview

Agile marketing is centered on being flexible and responsive to the current circumstances over following a static plan. It allows marketers to adapt accordingly to the rapid shifts in market conditions. Unsurprisingly, Agile marketing is known for its short iterative planning cycles and cross-team collaboration. 

Pros of Agile Marketing

It’s no coincidence that Agile has been gaining popularity among marketers for years. The 5th State of Agile Marketing Report found that 43% of marketers surveyed use some form of Agile in their work. Let’s see what benefits make Agile valuable to so many marketers.

Customer satisfaction

The great advantage of Agile marketing is that the customer is put in the center of any internal initiatives. The first value of the Agile Marketing Manifesto advocates “focusing on customer value and business outcomes over activity and outputs.” Throughout every stage of the process, feedback is provided from stakeholders, and project requirements can be changed quickly to continue serving evolving customer needs and the business objectives.

Prioritization

Strong prioritization is one of the reasons why Agile teams complete tasks more rapidly than traditional teams do. Agile marketing allows you to focus only on the action items that bring the most value and limit the amount of work in progress. Instead of working on five activities simultaneously, Agile marketers fully complete a task before moving to the next one without getting their attention split in countless directions. 

Flexibility

Adapting to evolving circumstances and making changes along the way is Agile’s strongest advantage. Instead of sticking to a 6-month old plan simply because so much work went into it, Agile emphasizes the importance of shifting strategies when circumstances change. This allows marketers to respond accordingly to any given situation while keeping the quality of their deliverables consistently high.

Speed

Agile marketing teams produce results more quickly than traditional ones because they limit unnecessary meetings and documentation. This enables them to focus completely on the workload and improvement of processes. That’s why Agile teams can deliver faster results at a lower cost.

Where to Apply Agile Marketing?

Fortunately, Agile can be applied to most marketing activities. The methodology is especially applicable to teams that look to deliver valuable outcomes in a timely fashion. Ideally, it’s suited to projects that have many unknowns and an uncertain endpoint.

Cons of Agile Marketing

There’s no such thing as the perfect methodology or tool. Even Agile can slow you down if you don’t have your practices and mindset in place.

Lack of structure

The flexibility that Agile offers can be a double-edged sword. The lack of a set structure and plan can sometimes lead to poor estimation. It’s difficult to predict when a project will be completed and how many resources will be needed to see it through. 

Risk of never-ending loop

Sometimes, the constant iteration and adaptation can result in a completely different outcome than what you initially anticipated. In the process, you may even lose sight of the big picture if you are not consistently checking in with your customers.

Co-dependency

Agile relies on strong autonomous teams to manage their workload. Having weak spots in the team can set drawbacks, and waste valuable time and resources that could be used more efficiently. For example, an Agile marketing team without a designer may experience delays. Work gets blocked while everyone waits on that external person who isn’t working using the same Agile methodology.

Waterfall Marketing Overview 

Nearly every marketer has likely worked using Waterfall project management, whether they realize it or not. This system follows a linear traditional process that flows downward through set phases - conception, information gathering, analysis, design, construction, testing, implementation, and maintenance.

The Waterfall method of working requires teams to complete each phase of the project before moving on to the next. This can easily drag projects on for months. On top of this rigid structure, marketing deadlines and resource allocation are defined before the start of the project leaving little to no room for changes over the course of execution.

Pros of Waterfall Marketing

While there are many downsides to adopting a Waterfall approach to your team projects, Waterfall marketing has perks that still make it a preferable system for many. 

Predictability

Waterfall produces comprehensive plans and clear visions to guide the creation process. It’s predictable in terms of resource estimation, planning, and completion of the project without unexpected surprises (except maybe the outcome at the end).

Easy to manage

The predictability is why the Waterfall method thrives in hierarchical organizations. A predictable method is simply easier to manage, unlike Agile marketing which doesn’t easily fit with traditional corporate structures.

Defined resources

As a result of the extensive upfront planning, stakeholders and management are able more accurately forecast the timetables and budgets of marketing projects.

Where to Apply Waterfall Marketing?

Waterfall marketing may be the system for you if you’re operating in a highly regulated and structured environment or dealing with repetitive content strategies and tons of administrative work. It’s a great approach for system migrations as well since you must follow one step before moving to another for the sake of project success.

Cons of Waterfall Marketing

Even though Waterfall marketing is a familiar system for managing large-scale campaigns and big strategic objectives, its flaws can jeopardize the success of entire projects. 

Excludes the client

Throughout the phases of the Waterfall methodology, stakeholder input and active involvement are unaccounted for. As a result, stakeholders that are unsatisfied with the final deliverable can set the whole project back, often even requiring a return to the beginning.

Testing only happens in the completion phase

Usually, testing and feedback occur in the last phases of Waterfall marketing. Since all requirements are determined at the beginning phase of the project, you may be headed down the wrong path without even realizing you need to change course until the very end.

Rigid

The rigid structure of the Waterfall model lacks room for revision and improvement throughout each phase of the process. New work can only start when the previous phase has ended, so teams can't work in parallel. This makes them slower as a unit. With a largely inflexible system like this one, you can miss out on opportunities to optimize and create better value for your clients.

Differences Between Agile and Waterfall Marketing

When evaluating Waterfall versus Agile marketing, marketers should focus on how each works in specific circumstances rather than focusing on which methodology is “better” in the abstract. 

 

Waterfall Marketing

Agile Marketing

Core difference

Waterfall is designed for large implementations of systematic projects.

Agile is designed for projects that require quick delivery, flexibility, and frequent iteration.

Planning

Each phase is defined from the beginning of the project.

As the project evolves, so does the plan.

Flexibility

A lack of flexibility because of the set deliverables in each phase that allow moving on to the next one. 

Even at later stages of the project, Agile promotes adapting to new directions. There’s a lot of room for improvisation and creativity.

Timeline

Waterfall marketing has clearly defined timelines for each phase of the project.

Usually, Agile marketers work in short, iterative timeframes (2 to 4 weeks).

Client-involvement

A Waterfall project follows certain steps that don’t involve the client or project owner until the end goal has been reached.

Including clients in all stages of the process is a core principle of Agile.

Budget & Resources

Fixed.

Flexible.

The Better Choice for Marketing

Modern marketing processes usually require speed, transparency, flexibility, and liability to stay in the loop and remain competitive. Agile marketing does a great job of delivering on those critical elements.

Fully Agile marketing departments tend to experience invaluable benefits including the ability to handle fast-paced work, clarity on how marketing contributes to organizational success, and confidence that marketing can take advantage of emerging opportunities.

With the right resources to support an Agile marketing transformation, your team can unlock new opportunities for delivering value both to the clients and the business faster than your competitors. 

 

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