Unless this is the first article you’ve ever read about Agile ways of working, you’ve no doubt been introduced to the idea of Agile mindset. Typically we hear about a partnership between Agile frameworks (the things we do) and the Agile mindset (the way we think).
It can be pretty easy to see whether frameworks are in place. You’ll observe visualized workflows on kanban boards, notice different meeting cadences on people’s calendars, and experience more frequent delivery of value from Agile teams.
But how can we tell if we’ve got the mindset right?
It turns out that mindset, unlike process, is most often manifested in the way we communicate.
An Agile approach to communication inside our teams can align our efforts to purpose, so we can identify how everything we do supports the strategy and benefits our customers.
But effective communication built on an Agile mindset isn’t easy to achieve.
There are countless traps we can fall into, and many of these are laid by these three dragon enemies: silos, inadequate stakeholder interactions, and the lure of sophistication.
Here’s how to slay these enemies to agility before they weaken our process, our productivity, and our purpose.
Enemy 1: Silos that Frustrate Progress
Many marketers are frustrated by the silos inside their organizations. Silos creep in at the team and department levels, as well as between business units and across a global enterprise.
At every level, there’s a tendency for everyone to stay “heads down” in the functional groups where they think they belong.
Individual team members can be siloed too, with everyone focusing on their own personal “to do list” while minimizing collaboration with their peers in the name of getting things done.
But within a real high performing team, one plus one can equal more than two! Get collaboration right and throughput increases exponentially.
Silos and Burnout
At AgileSherpas, we’ve seen teams risking burnout simply because they’re not working to common goals, supporting each other, and sharing the load.
Consider the relationship that exists in your organization between the business development teams and the marketing function.
Are they working closely, sharing knowledge about the customer, supporting the business development dialogue through follow-on materials? Or are they isolated in silos?
What about customer advisors, customer support teams – are they fully up to speed and able to reflect the thinking, language, and spirit of the latest marketing campaigns? Or are they also isolated in silos?
Whichever way you look at it, we increasingly need to collaborate across a wider organizational span to get the right things done, and to do those things right.
Martech and the Rise of Specialization
While technology is undoubtedly the greatest connector of all time, implementing it along won’t build the bridges and working networks we need to avoid getting siloed. We need the Agile mindset for that.
Recent decades have seen marketing become increasingly dominated by technology; Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape features no less than 8,000 tools! Martech has opened a whole new world of capabilities to marketing.
In just a generation, we’ve moved from creating overhead projection slides using acetate film (and pre-internet we transported these around on motorbikes!) to an automated martech stack filled with new and ever-growing insights.
This expansion of skills has created a growing army of specialists, and where there are specialists we also find silos.
So what can we do about it?
Using Identity to Eliminate Silos
Working in an Agile way is essentially about identity. It’s about identifying as a team rather than as an individual professional.
It’s about establishing communication routes that link the perspective of a department with that of the business unit, and then the organization as a whole.
The Agile process gives us the structure to pull teams together around an agreed upon goal. It encourages small cross-functional teams, populated by T-shaped marketers with all the skills needed to fulfill their purpose, so they can work together from a strategically prioritized “to do list” to get the job done.
Example 1: Low Webinar Registration
Imagine you’re organizing a webinar. Signups aren’t in line with expectations and publicity needs a boost. Should be an easy fix, right?
But what if the events organizer is siloed off from the social media and the email marketing specialists?
Now you’re having to negotiate what’s important to you into someone else’s workflow.
The social media manager has filled their schedule for the next two weeks and isn’t inclined to disrupt their careful planning to satisfy your current need.
Working from your own to do list isn’t effective for marketers, because marketing is most successful when its channels and platforms are fully integrated, with messaging and effort all working together.
"After all, it takes every color in the rainbow to create a bright white light. We need to work together."
- Pam Ashby
Example 2: Siloed Head Office
Consider a scenario where you work in a corporate marketing head office that serves a number of overseas business units. The Business Unit Managers are up in arms that a set of brochures produced by the “head office” were not what they needed. For this to happen, it’s clear there’s been no transparency, no sharing of goals around targeted audiences, budgets, or needs. The brochures have been produced in a head office silo.
Likely result? The business units are frustrated, feel ignored, and take it out on the marketing department.
They start doubting the value of the central marketing team, and so they start to work around them, doing their own thing and deepening the divisions and the silos.
Communication with transparency is needed to break down silos and the walls that create them.
Without this, we invite criticism that has no context; it’s undermining and destructive.
Where there’s criticism without context, people run with their emotional response, because they have nothing else.
Silos separate people from organizational purpose. An Agile workflow, and the Agile mindset of collaboration, pull people together around a shared purpose, one that’s commonly understood so that everyone can openly ask and answer the key question: “Does this activity truly serve our purpose?”
Enemy 2: Lack of Transparent Stakeholder Communication
What do we do to break down silos?
Share our strategy by communicating with transparency and authenticity.
People like to know where the train is going before they jump on board.
Marketers are good at communication, but we can underestimate the value of using this skill to benefit from valuable internal feedback loops, particularly when we’re busy and just want to drive forward.
If we can get away with it, we’ll run straight past the dragons without actually slaying them.
It’s quicker, but then they can come at us from behind later. Ignoring communication needs now tends to create problems in the longer term.
Agile offers ways to get the balance of communication just right, so that everyone stays informed and yet the time committed to achieving this remains low. The ceremonies in Scrum offer fixed communication points in a workflow.
Where there’s transparency and visualization of progress, time consuming reporting processes can be replaced by the art of go and see.
Stakeholders can participate in Sprint Reviews; leaders and collaborators can check out progress on a Kanban board.
For instance, are you creating customized PowerPoint updates for leadership that could be simplified, consolidated, or replaced?
When everyone has the exact same information, interesting things happen.
Individual contributors no longer assume they know what information leaders need; leaders can access exactly what they need. Then those leaders can provide informed feedback from their unique perspective in the organization.
Suddenly we’ve left behind silos and misunderstandings and replaced them with conversation and collaboration.
Communication and the MVP
An agilist will aim for the early delivery of a minimum viable product (MVP) that gives the customer the value they need as quickly as possible.
There’s a reason MVP doesn’t stand for Minimum Viable PowerPoints.
Evaluate results against purpose and intention, nothing else, and then deliver just enough to let your stakeholders know about progress on initiatives.
Marketers spend a lot of time interacting with stakeholders, and this can sometimes separate us from our real customers. Sticking to the Agile mindset can help by re-aligning us around customer centricity.
While marketers may support internal stakeholders, we always need to center our discussions with them around the end customers.
We need to keep sight of the actual end customer, the one that brings revenue into the organization. Fortunately, where strategy is collaboratively created and transparently shared, there should be no conflict.
Stakeholders’ goals will map to organizational goals, which in turn generate revenue by delivering value to customer and prospect audiences.
The important thing here is that we need to know the difference between stakeholder preference and customer value.
Stakeholders VS Customers
The impact of a stakeholder responding to marketing collateral with “I don’t like it” is very different to an end customer having the same reaction. “I don’t like it” is an emotional response. If a stakeholder is responding in that way, we need to remember that where people don’t have information, they’re likely to follow their emotions.
But, as marketers, we need to be able to follow evidence not opinion.
We need to be able to turn around with confidence and say, “I hear you, let’s talk about it, but in this instance, you are not the audience for this. Take a look at our feedback from the customer.”
We can’t afford to follow the Hippo: the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.
If the actual customer says “I don’t like it,” it’s our job to drill into that. We use tools such as the Value Proposition Canvas to get closer to our customer.
Our Agile mindset drives us to understand their pains, their aspirations, their tone of voice, and what really resonates for them.
The Agile Manifesto calls for “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.”
The customer is our center of gravity and our pivot-point.
Developing a Customer Feedback Loop
A focus on communication provides feedback loops with the customer and allows us to benefit from the customer contact taking place right across the organization.
Marketers should be drawing insights from the help desk, advisors, business development teams, and anyone else who’ll talk to us. Agile gives us the tools and techniques to integrate stakeholder interaction into our workflow, so that, as marketers, we can benefit from their knowledge of the market and the customer.
What’s more, an Agile approach forces us to clarify how everything we’re doing serves our agreed-upon purpose and strategy.
The Agile backlog is a prioritized task list that visualizes everything in play against the context strategy, forcing and facilitating tradeoff conversations that help ensure continuous delivery of customer value.
So when stakeholders disagree with something we’re doing, or want us to drop everything to pick up a new project, we can evaluate the new need effectively alongside the tasks already in place.
It’s no longer just marketers complaining that we don’t have time.
An Agile approach brings stakeholders into our communication network, aligning goals, deepening collaboration, and extending opportunities for learning.
Enemy 3: Sophistication That Doesn't Deliver Results
Now, we come to our third enemy: the tendency for marketers to be perfectionists.
We justifiably aim for excellence, because we’re the stewards of the brand.
But when we’re concerned about our own profile as ambitious professionals rather than identifying first as part of a team, we can get distracted by the lure of sophistication.
We want to demonstrate what we know and produce award-winning work worthy of being a textbook example. But chances are the actual goal is not to win awards.
What if the textbook example won’t serve our audience or our organizational goals?
Agile principles invite us instead to do just enough to achieve our customer’s goals.
To be mindful, pause for thought, and know when the value needed from the customer’s perspective has been reached by our outputs.
To achieve this we need to be very clear about our purpose.
Thankfully, Agile also gives us the tools and techniques needed to keep us on track, focused on purpose and results.
Keeping it Simple with User Stories
Take user stories, for example. While originally a developer invention, marketers can take a bit of license with these and use them widely.
The user story format centers around three key components:
We can use this to check the who, what, and why for everything that we do inside our teams.
User stories can define the purpose of a specific deliverable; they can be the starting point for every creative brief.
That focus will help us communicate our “definition of done,” check it against the strategy, and stick to it.
Done is done, and we can stop and move on.
Outcomes are what we’re after, not beautiful, useless outputs.
An Agile approach encourages pragmatism, simplicity, and focus.
It comes down to communicating the real purpose and prioritizing what serves that purpose, then avoiding doing every task in the “best” way possible when best hasn’t really been defined.
An Agile approach constantly pulls us back to the real purpose and the real value of our work.
Conquer These Dragons. Stay on the Path to Marketing Agility
Marketers worldwide are discovering the power of Agile principles.
According to the latest research, marketers reaping the benefits of Agile ways of working are more satisfied in their roles than those who adhere to traditional process practices.
Seventy-five percent of Agile marketers are satisfied with how their team is working and the results they can achieve, compared to 58% of traditional marketers and 34% of ad hoc marketers.
A focus on how and where we communicate surfaces the real purpose of our initiatives, the real beneficiaries, and the most pragmatic route to satisfy our customers’ needs.
The rigor and the flexibility of Agile marketing gives us the structure and techniques needed to avoid silos, interact purposefully with our stakeholders, and focus on value not sophistication.
But it’s the communication system around it that allows Agile to endure, evolve, and ultimately be effective.