So You Think Your Marketing Process is Working? Think Again


We humans are so often terrible at seeing the forest for the trees. In marketing, that tendency manifests itself with managers focusing on the quality of the work produced and forgetting to look at the processes involved.

In fact, this tendency often leads to processes bloating as managers decide the solution is something like another round of reviews. The result is bloat disguised as marketing process improvement.

Two true things come to mind:

  1. Improving marketing ROI more often comes from genuine process improvement.
  2. Making those process improvements happen requires going beyond ad-hoc attempts.

Thruths of Marketing Process Improvement

Done right, all of this can improve your ROI, lower costs, and even make your team members more satisfied. In our experiences, these techniques usually result in teams that deliver better quality work faster than before.

The High Cost of Bad Marketing Processes

But let’s start by really understanding how bad marketing processes affect teams. Appreciating just what a bad process is costing you is the first step towards putting in the work needed to fix it.

Missed Deadlines

Bad marketing processes usually have too many steps. To make matters worse, those steps often create delays that lead to frustration and missed deadlines. For example, you may have someone reviewing completed work who takes a week or more to do so. A single step like this can easily double the amount of time it takes for work to get done and to deliver value, delivering a crippling blow to your team’s ability to perform.

Re-work

Some teams have the opposite problem, where sloppy work gets pushed through quickly, leading to costly and demoralizing re-work. In these cases, a focus on optimizing speed of delivery can easily backfire.

Endless Reviews

This example comes up often because it’s the bane of most marketers’ existence. Reviews can be tremendously helpful, but they can just as easily drive marketers mad and grind processes to a halt.

 

Wasted Time

All of these issues translated into wasted time and money. Using process efficiency measurements like throughput, it’s easy to see how adding additional days and weeks to the time it takes to deliver value quickly adds up. It may not feel like it’s hurting the effectiveness of your marketing process, but even if you just end up with lots of work in progress, that’s damaging your effectiveness.

What is Throughput

How to Improve Your Marketing Processes

The way you approach marketing process improvement with Agile will depend on the Agile framework you employ. So let’s begin by running through the main three options to understand how each tackles process improvement.

Scrum

At its core, Scrum breaks work down into sprints. These can last any amount of time, but two weeks is fairly standard. These sprints begin with a planning session in which the team reviews the work of the previous sprint and decides what to commit to in the next one. Then, once a sprint is over, a retrospective meeting will offer everyone a chance to discuss what can be improved and make concrete suggestions to be tested in the next sprint.

For example, you might find that an email campaign you’re running is performing badly during a sprint. This is brought up in the retrospective, where team members discuss what might be the problem and propose possible solutions. The team decides to test sending three versions of that email to different types of users to see if they perform better. That test is run during the next sprint and the results are discussed in that sprint’s retrospective.

If the performance improves, great! If not, the team can brainstorm more possible solutions to test during the next sprint.

All that is to say, iterative marketing process improvement is built into Scrum. The fact it offers regular meetings specifically designed to discuss and propose those improvements is a major advantage. On the other hand, process improvements that will take longer than one sprint to test may need to be broken up or tested over multiple sprints.

Kanban

While Scrum breaks work down into Sprints, Kanban is about a continuous workflow. Without work being broken up into sprints, you’ll need to be more proactive about discussing, brainstorming, and testing potential process improvements. This is why it can be useful to schedule occasional retrospective meetings to make sure you don’t forget.

Kanban also relies heavily on the visualization power of the Kanban board. This board makes it far easier to see priorities limit work in progress (more about that in a minute), keep important information easily accessible to everyone who needs it, and empower everyone to just see what’s happening at a glance. All of this helps empower individual marketers to act on their own and deliver more value because it gives them the information they need.

Continuous improvement in Kanban isn’t that dissimilar to Scrum, except the tests you run won’t be limited by the length of your sprints. So it’s up to your team members to identify problems in retrospectives, run experiments, review the results, and implement those learnings without being reminded to do so by the cadence of a sprint.

Hybrid

Our latest State of Agile Marketing Report found that while 21% of marketers use Kanban and another 23% prefer Scrum, the clear winner is actually the hybrid approach used by 34%. This (shockingly) combines aspects of both Scrum and Kanban to better match the needs of teams who face problems with either framework on their own. Because there’s no single hybrid framework, there’s no single way to approach process improvement. But luckily there are some techniques any Agile marketing team can rely on.

But why are hybrid approaches so popular with marketers? Put simply, Kanban was originally developed for improving manufacturing processes, while Scrum was designed for software development. So it’s hardly surprising that neither is a perfect fit for the unique challenges marketers face. But by combining elements of both, marketers are able to craft something that suits their needs extremely well.

Before exploring some universal process improvement steps you can take, why don't you check is bad processes are eating up your marketing budget?

Universal Process Improvement Steps You can Take

While each of the three Agile frameworks we just mentioned has their own way to approach process improvements, there are universal steps you can take regardless.

Begin by Understanding Where Your Process Waste Is

Process waste is work that’s in progress and therefore wasting resources without providing value. Bad processes create this kind of waste by extending the time needed to complete work and deliver value. But identifying that you have process waste is only the beginning.

Often a major hurdle in optimizing a marketing process is understanding where the process could actually use improvement. One step in the process may take a long time but be incredibly important. Alternatively, a step might be so minor that no one notices it doesn’t really add any value.

This is where value stream mapping comes in. By systematically breaking down every step in your processes to determine their costs in terms of time and resources relative to the value they provide, you can really understand how to begin improving that ratio.

Visualize!

While occasionally using value stream mapping is great, simply using a visualization tool is better for spotting problems and opportunities for improvement day-to-day. The most powerful visualization tool out there is the Kanban board. By representing work in cards that move through columns to represent work status, such boards enable you can see where work is getting stuck at a glance.

Kanban Board

Limiting Work In Progress (WIP) in any specific column can also help flag where your processes might need improvement. If in-progress work keeps getting stuck in one place, this means you've got a process bottleneck at hand. Bottlenecks are when work piles up in one place because, for example, lots of things need to be reviewed by a person without nearly enough time for all those reviews.

When this happens, you can try to add more capacity (in this example, perhaps hiring another person to help with reviews) or shifting capacity (getting an existing team member to step in to help).

Reduce the Number and Type of Handoffs

When you try value stream mapping, you’ll likely find that handoffs between teams are one of the most costly steps any marketing process can have. Internal handoffs tend to be better because the people involved probably share a lot of context and can more quickly address the work. People on the same team also share a better understanding of priorities.

External handoffs on the other hand often translate into long draw-out processes requiring lots of reminders and explanations. This is why one common way to improve processes is to build cross-functional teams that keep work internal as much as possible.

Continuously Improve

The last thing worth mentioning is the vital topic of continuous improvement. Too often organizations throw resources into process improvements only to stop there. But even the most efficient marketing process you’ve ever seen won’t remain so forever. This is why it’s so important to regularly review and find ways to improve those processes.

If you’re using Scrum, this is built-in, but it also may be useful to employ the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. Building these steps into your regular marketing process improvement cycle helps ensure you don’t forget to regularly check back in to see whether anything can be improved.

Better Marketing Processes Begins with the Right Training

If you’re seeing a lot of marketing process improvement ideas you’d like to employ but have no idea where to start with Agile, we’ve got the perfect place to start. Our Agile Marketing Fundamentals course has everything you need to build a solid Agile foundation you can use to begin improving your most vital marketing processes.

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