In 2021, for the first time in its four-year history, over half of marketers identified themselves as Agile in the State of Agile Marketing Report. The Agile respondents reported greater adaptability, productivity and happiness.
It seems we can finally answer the question of whether or not marketers should embrace Agile with a resounding “Yes!”
But as we move from “should we be Agile?” to “how can we be Agile?” the answers become more complex. It’s no longer a matter of finding evidence that Agile works in marketing; we have to craft rollout blueprints and scaling models and change management plans.
Fortunately, the 51% of marketers who have already undertaken an Agile marketing transformation have also shared what’s helped them adopt and sustain their Agile ways of working.
These are the five most critical tools to have in your own transformation toolbox if you want Agile to be a permanent fixture in your marketing organization.
Agile Project Management Tools
Although we’re getting into tools right off the bat, please keep in mind that a tool alone will not make you Agile. Tools support our efforts to implement Agile frameworks; they aren’t a replacement for change or a shortcut to transformation.
With that caveat in place, we can note that 55% of Agile marketers rated implementing an Agile project management tool as the most valuable thing they did during their Agile adoption. This was the most popular choice by 12 percentage points, so it’s clearly a big deal in the early days.
Earlier versions of the State of Agile Marketing Report also placed a high value on tools, but the sudden distribution of the workforce during the pandemic catapulted them from valuable to essential.
Sticky notes on a wall were untenable overnight. Everyone needed a digital tool ASAP.
Interestingly, an Agile tool was also one of the most commonly cited changes to help sustain adoption. It’s not just early on when Agile tools make a difference.
Of course, just paying for a tool doesn’t instantly unlock its effectiveness. To get the most out of your purchase keep these essentials in mind:
Mandate use by a cut-off date. People will indefinitely continue to fall back on their old work management practices without a deadline. Set aside time for getting all the work into the tool. Don’t expect it to happen outside of normal working hours. If needed, hire support from your vendor to make sure the transfer happens according to best practices.
Get your leaders to reference the tool. Even if they aren’t in there daily adding work items or moving cards on a kanban board, leaders across the marketing organization should understand the tool and refer back to it often. This includes during big meetings like a town hall session as well as during smaller reviews or status meetings. Knowing that their boss is looking at the tool is a sure fire way to ensure people keep it up to date.
Start small before you buy big. If you’re brand new to agility, try out lightweight, low-cost options like Trello, Mural or Miro before signing a major multi-year contract with an expensive vendor. You need a tool to provide support and visibility, but you don’t want to be locked into a way of working that’s dictated by the tool. Experiment with more whiteboard-style tools, then decide what your upgrade might look like when you need it.
Consistent Practices and Processes
If your marketing organization has more than 10 people in it, you’re going to end up with multiple Agile marketing teams. In those situations, 43% of Agile marketers found consistency across teams as one of the most valuable pieces of a successful Agile adoption.
For teams to work together effectively, there does need to be a high level of similarity between their ways of working. This is even more important if you plan to have people migrate among teams. A new team member shouldn’t have to relearn the Agile process every time they move.
Of course, there will also be some idiosyncrasies from team to team.
I recommend establishing a reference model for all Agile marketing teams to follow. This documents about 80% of the practices, meetings and artifacts that all Agile teams need to use, allowing for around 20% flexibility.
Your reference model might require things like:
Daily standup meeting 3-5 times a week.
Prioritized backlog of work items in your digital tool of choice.
Retrospective meetings held every 2 weeks.
Requirements for a well-written work item, including tags that allow for sorting across multiple team boards or backlogs.
Beyond these core components, each team can adapt their ways of working. You might end up with some kanban-style teams who never use sprints, while others plan a sprint every two weeks. With a reference model in place, you can get consistency alongside flexibility.
Education and Training
A lack of knowledge about Agile is consistently the biggest barrier to greater marketing agility, so it’s unsurprising that three of the most commonly cited changes that help marketers sustain agility have to do with education.
Over two-thirds of Agile marketers say they’re using some combination of training and coaching for agile team managers, ongoing resources for agile marketing training and coaching, and training and coaching for agile team special roles such as scrum masters and product owners.
Another 18% are using Agile onboarding for their new hires, while 16% have coaching in place specifically for their executive leadership.
This blend of coaching and training is great news, because adult learners tend to get only about 10% of their learning from formal training moments. The other 90% comes from learning on the job, an ideal application of Agile coaching.
As you plan a rollout, make sure to build in workshops and other training time, but supplement it with real-world application and real-time coaching to make it stick.
Plan and Budget Differently
There’s a lot of talk about the daily activities that deliver marketing agility, but the top-cited change that makes Agile stick over the long-term is a different approach to annual planning. Along with a more Agile planning cycle, we also see shifts in budgeting for Agile marketers.
The shift makes total sense, as the detailed, highly specific slide deck that often makes up an annual marketing plan is out of date the moment you hit send on the email containing it.
Instead of pouring hours and hours into their plan up-front in the hopes it stays relevant, Agile marketing organizations are reevaluating and adjusting them throughout the year. For some this happens quarterly; others make adjustments even more often.
In fact, 89% of Agile marketers have adjusted their planning in some way. Seventy-four percent have adjusted budgeting in a similar way, dynamically reallocating resources as their priorities shift.
If you’re moving in this direction, make sure that these shifts are well-communicated. It’s no good adjusting your plans and moving the money around if uninformed teams are continuing to execute on the old annual plan.
Baseline to Track Agile Marketing’s Impact
Whatever changes from among this list you incorporate to support your own shift to Agile ways of working, make sure you first take a baseline measurement.
Your goal is to track whether agility is doing the job you’re hiring it for.
If you want to move faster, consider measuring your process efficiency. Half of Agile marketers report tracking their efforts this way, often using typical Agile metrics like velocity, cycle time or throughput. You can also track general project completion times or the number of times work needs to be reviewed before completion.
If marketing outcomes are your primary focus, capture your current level of effectiveness based on current KPIs.
In both cases, compare your data from the pre-Agile days to the results you generate using Agile marketing. If you’re not seeing the impact you expected (triple-digit increases aren’t uncommon), examine your processes and make sure you’ve got everything set up properly.
While you don’t need to make each and every one of these five adjustments, keep in mind that the bigger your change the bigger its impact is likely to be.
Adopting a strong Agile project management tool, creating a reference model, setting up a training plan, improving your approach to planning and budgeting, and baselining key metrics will give you the best chance of a successful adoption and sustainable change.