Understanding the Role of PMs in Agile Marketing

As a project manager facing the prospect of leading an Agile marketing team for the first time, you might be feeling a bit intimidated. After all, your first introduction to Agile marketing can easily feel like drinking from a fire hose. You’ve got the terminology, the new types of meetings, and a whole unique mindset to wrap your head around.

But there’s also good news!

Agile project management translates into significant improvements in marketing outcomes without requiring more time and resources. In other words, done right, it can enable you to achieve your goals by working smarter, not harder.

The important thing to understand as you evaluate how the role of PM will change under Agile is that mindset is most important. Don’t get too distracted by the finer details of Agile processes. Instead, we’ll walk you through the essentials you actually need to understand for Agile project management success.

Key Differences in the Role of Project Managers

Let’s start with a quick rundown of the key differences between traditional and Agile project management. Then we’ll explore how these differences affect the role of PMs.

At the most basic level, the role of PMs in Agile marketing is to support team members in order to provide value to stakeholders. It’s not to act as a traditional “command and control” leader who either tells people what to do or swoops in to do it themselves. 

This is why a lot of what Agile PMs do revolves around answering questions like “who are my stakeholders?”, “what do my stakeholders need?”, and “how can I support my team to better deliver what my stakeholders need?”

But answering those questions requires understanding some basic Agile concepts. Let’s start with the most basic: Agile principles.

Guiding Principles

Unlike traditional project management, Agile is built on a core set of principles: the Agile Manifesto. Part of the role of Pms in Agile marketing should be to familiarize yourself with the Agile Marketing Manifesto and its principles.

Agile Marketing Manifesto Principles

The reason?

Everything we discuss below originates from the principles in this manifesto. But that doesn’t mean Agile is extremely dogmatic and rigid. The principles are quite general and function as guidelines to help figure out the best way to solve a problem. The underlying idea is that the world is always changing, so Agile is built around adapting to that change.

The Role of a PM in Planning

Chances are you’ve worked on a project that began with a large and intricately detailed project plan. If you think back to how that project actually played out, we can bet it bore little resemblance to what that plan envisioned.

This is what led to the creation of Agile in the first place. Instead of wasting time creating plans that become irrelevant almost immediately, Agile is built on flexible planning that adapts to on-the-ground realities as they evolve. Considering how quickly circumstances tend to change in today’s business environment, this flexibility has only become more important with time.

But there’s also an important myth that needs to be dispelled here. One of the most common misunderstandings about Agile project management is that Agile teams don’t do long-term planning. Instead, they just go with the flow and sort of “live in the moment.”

Thankfully, this isn’t true.

The role of PMs in an Agile marketing environment should involve long-term planning. The difference is that the planning shouldn’t be overly rigid and prescriptive. This usually comes in the form of quarterly big room planning

Crucially, these meetings aren’t about building out a detailed list of to-dos for the quarter. Instead, they’re just as much about building alignment and visibility, gathering information from stakeholders, getting ahead of risks, dependencies, and opportunities, and simply creating a better-shared understanding of your goals.

The role of PMs in these meetings is to ensure that planning happens early and the meetings themselves are run well to ensure success. You may also work to get leadership and other stakeholders involved where needed.

Before moving on to learn the fitting leadership styles for PMs in an Agile marketing environment, why don't you take a second to get the most recent edition of the Annual State of Agile Marketing Report?

Applying Fitting Leadership Styles

We mentioned earlier that Agile is, above all else, about a mindset shift. That comes into play heavily when looking at the role of PMs as leaders.

Agile leaders practice servant leadership. This means that their role isn’t about telling everyone else what to do. Instead, it centers around empowering and supporting team members to do their best work. 

Traditional Leadership VS Servant Leadership

Instead of measuring success by outputs, servant leaders look at the growth and development of team members. Don’t get us wrong, more output is great, but improvements in people are what generate long-term improvements there. Otherwise, traditional leaders often end up just working team members to the point of burnout.

So be sure to read up on servant leadership to get a foundational understanding of how you should approach the role of a PM in Agile.

Working with Stakeholders

The word stakeholder gets thrown around a lot in Agile circles and for good reason. They are the fundamental reason for Agile’s existence. Its goal is ultimately to deliver value to stakeholders.

If that sounds like a corporate dystopia to you, hear us out. Because stakeholders in Agile encompass everyone from our customers to other departments like sales. Anyone with a stake in the success of our marketing efforts counts as a stakeholder and should be considered when planning and making decisions.

As a PM, it’s easy to begin optimizing around you and your team. You slowly end up doing what makes things easier for you and not your stakeholders, but this is suboptimal in the long run. Instead, by focusing on delivering stakeholder value, you’re better able to find the best way to manage projects for everyone involved.

For you, this means identifying and managing those stakeholders throughout your project, and getting feedback when needed to ensure you ultimately deliver something valuable to them.

Process and Workflow Visualization

Whether you’re using Kanban, Scrum, or a hybrid method, nearly all forms of Agile marketing center around a visualization tool. These tools are essential for ensuring everyone on your team has visibility, obviously, but also autonomy. They function as information radiators, creating a single source of truth about project status, goals, responsibilities, etc. 

In this way, they prevent team members from getting blocked waiting for information. This is always valuable, but especially so for remote teams where time zones can easily create huge delays from a simple lack of information. 

These boards also offer a great opportunity to gather data about how your team is performing. Armed with this information Agile PMs can more easily test ways to improve team performance.

Iterations and Experimentation

Another core element of the role of PMs in an Agile team is facilitating a culture of continuous improvement. We mentioned how important it is for Agile plans to evolve as circumstances do. That evolution extends to how teams function. Without regularly pausing to evaluate how things are going, brainstorming ideas for improvement, and setting up structured tests for those ideas, teams stagnate.

Often, this means working in sprints. These are structured periods of work lasting a few weeks during which teams try to achieve a specific set of goals. But sprints also provide a great framework for experimentation because they have a specific beginning and end.

The standard way to approach experimentation within sprints is to hold a retrospective meeting at the end of each sprint. Here, you discuss what went well and what can be improved. After gathering ideas for improvement, you set some changes to make during the next sprint.

Crucially, the PM should ensure these are well-structured experiments backed by data. For example, you might see that your team is only achieving around 60% of its sprint goals. You may try reducing the number of goals you assign for the next sprint to see how that affects your overall output.

At your next retrospective, you will review the data about how your experiment went and decide whether to stick with your new approach or try something new. This cycle repeats and forms the backbone of not just how your team functions but its very culture. You are all working together to figure out the best way to achieve your goals, the team isn’t just a crew of worker bees being commanded by the PM.

Scope Estimation

Whether you’re working in sprints or not, estimation is essential for any successful project. You need to reliably know how long tasks will take if you’re ever going to deliver on that project’s ultimate value.

But herein lies the problem. Even experienced marketers and PMs tend to be very bad at estimation. Consider how often people who have been doing one type of task for years utterly fail to answer that most basic question: how long will it take?

The costs of not being able to answer that question effectively are huge. Promises get made and broken, people get blocked waiting for work to be done, team members feel like they’ve failed to live up to expectations, and morale takes a beating.

That’s why Agile PMs need to take estimation seriously

Your first step is to get systematic about it. Adopt a structured system for estimating the amount of work a task will require. This could be with t-shirt sizes, the Fibonacci sequence, or anything that works for your team. The point is to have a single system you all understand and can use.

Armed with that system, you can begin gathering data. How accurate are your estimates? How much work are you able to deliver in a single week, month, or sprint? Once you have a benchmark, you can start to use the experiments we talked about to improve your overall productivity.

This is also a helpful way to ensure no one gets overburdened. In fact, another aspect of the role of PMs in Agile is to fight burnout. This can be as simple as asking how people are feeling, do they have too much work, too little, etc.? 

Ideally, you want team members to operate at around 70% capacity. This ensures they have spare capacity for an emergency and that the pace of work is sustainable in the long-run. 

Organizing Daily Meetings

We talked before about how the role of PMs should be built around serving their team members. But actually doing that requires understanding what’s going on. Daily standups are a great place to do this. These short, simple, daily meetings are centered around quickly learning what people are doing, and what might be blocking them.

There are many different ways to structure these meetings but a basic format you can start with is having everyone say what they did yesterday, plan on doing today, and whether they’re blocked on anything. This creates a lot of visibility and ensures that blockages are quickly identified and resolved.

Your Role as an Agile PM Starts Here

Clearly, there are a lot of individual elements an Agile PM has to get right. But understanding that all of these elements that make up the role of PMs stem from those core Agile principles is key. Once you have that down, you’re in a great position to really run with Agile and unlock all the value it has to offer.

But while this article only has time to run through the basics of these concepts, our online learning platform The Ropes has all the resources you need to really master them. Designed with busy professionals like you in mind, its 30-minute lessons enable you to work through topics like:

  • Understanding the Agile Marketing Manifesto
  • Roles & Responsibilities of Agile Team Members
  • Capacity Planning & Estimation
  • Maximizing Your Daily Standup
  • Effective Agile Leadership

And dozens more… Try it out and start unleashing your Agile potential today.

Before you leave, don't forget to get your copy of the most recent Annual State of Agile Marketing Report.


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