Answering the Hard Questions about Scaling Agile Marketing

Scaling Agile has become a hot topic among marketers in the recent years. It brings a new set of challenges that you have to tackle and even more stakeholders to convince that this is the right move.

On October 29, 2020 three Agile marketing leaders gathered for a panel discussion on the topic to help marketers in their journey toward scaling Agile. The one-hour session, attracted huge interest and the panelist couldn't answer all questions that were sent their way.

This article showcases those that remained unaswered and brings the awaited answers.

Does it need a complete organization to be already on an “Agile” journey before you should start with a marketing team to learn, understand and apply Agile Marketing?

Andrea: Short answer for me is no. Marketing can be a great starting point for an organizational journey to Agile. You’ll encounter some slow-down areas as you bump up against other parts of the organization that aren’t as Agile as marketing yet, but that can be a great way to nudge others to join you.

We should remember that developers were the only Agile pieces of organizations for a very long time before business agility became the focus, and they did just fine. Certainly it’s ideal if everybody moves toward Agile together, but it’s definitely not a prerequisite.

Melissa: Agile initiatives can start anywhere in an organization, including in marketing teams. Generally, when others see the progress being made by a team or teams of teams, they get interested and the initiative starts to spread.

My marketing department went agile early 2020, so I'm still new to all this. And now I'm finding myself as one of the directors in the department having to still create static annual planning now in preparation for 2021 because other departments are not agile. Any advice?

Melissa: We have a philosophy that says, “take what you can get.” This is a journey of a thousand small steps. You can implement team-level Agile practices in place without Agile budgeting and planning processes in place. Think of what you can do with the annual processes as a constraint.

Andrea: I totally agree with Melissa! If you need to create an annual planning document, go ahead, just see what possibilities there are to test, learn, and iterate within it. Try to plan for agility as much as possible (even if that feels kind of counter-intuitive). Something as simple as, “if campaign A hits this target then we’ll do campaign B, otherwise we’ll reevaluate” can build in expectations for adaptation within the planning structure.

Are we seeing universities build more Agile and/or Project Management knowledge into their curriculum?

Andrea: Yes, I am seeing this happening in several institutions. The curricula are changing, and/or subject matter experts are being called in as guest lecturers to provide this perspective. I think it’s an encouraging sign for the movement overall.

Are there some soft metrics you should look at to identify a "tipping point," for going Agile, such as team turnover or satisfaction?

Melissa: To get to a ‘tipping point’ you typically need a compelling reason to drive the change. That could be employee engagement issues such as turnover or satisfaction. It could be throughput or alignment issues. Whatever you identify as your biggest challenge, start by identifying and measuring baseline metrics around that challenge in order to measure growth achieved.

Can you distinguish marketing from other non-software business functions? Is there a difference in how you would apply the Lean Agile Principles?

Andrea: This is an interesting question, because on the one hand I think non-software functions have a lot more in common with each other than they might have with software development, so their versions of agility might be similar. But each function has its own idiosyncrasies that will influence the application of Lean and Agile ideals.

So yes, I think we should distinguish between functions and allow each to build their own version of a house on the shared foundation of Agile values.

How does Agile affect budget planning cycles?

Melissa: Ideally, your budget would become more high-level (fewer line items) and more decentralized, allowing people who are actually doing the work to make budgetary decisions within guardrails. In more advanced Agile organizations, budget cycles can be semi-annual in order to better respond to change. Having said that, decentralization with guardrails is often more realistic and easier to implement than budgeting twice a year.

Does Agile have a brand image problem?

Andrea: I’m not sure if it does or not. There are certainly people who’ve had a really bad experience with Agile, and they don’t want anything to do with it. But most of the time that was pseudo-Agile or Agile theater, not real agility. Maybe we need a good agency to manage Agile’s brand strategy ;)

How do you shift from planning for "outputs" to planning for "outcomes"? It makes sense to me, but it’s not as easy to get the concept across to others.

Melissa: Take a look at how you are writing your stories. What value is being delivered in the story? Is the language output oriented or outcome oriented? Output oriented might look like, ‘complete three graphics for the landing page.’ Outcome oriented would look like, ‘develop a landing page that helps customers better understand our value proposition as measured by X.’

As an Agile Coach just starting to help a marketing company in their journey to agility, what would be your advice on how to get everyone bought in?

Andrea: Don’t get fixated on doing things by the book. Allow the marketers to co-create the Agile implementation. And don’t use software-centric trainings! Asking people to fundamentally change the way they manage their work AND translate software speak to marketing is just too much cognitive load. Tailor everything to their context; don’t bring software examples and expect them to be excited about it.

My organization is over 200 years old, and whilst our tech transformation has been largely successful (for around 600 staff), our marketing team have an allergic reaction to the language. They want to change but they hate the language of Agile (and even more SAFe). Has anyone created a translation? Any marketing keywords that work?

Andrea: I’d say don’t get hung up on calling things the “right” Agile names. Backlog can have a negative connotation, for example. Some people assume that’s the big pile of work that we aren’t ever going to do. So call it the team’s queue or their to-do list.

Also take the time to let the marketers engage with the frameworks being used throughout the organization rather than mandating what they have to do. Maybe have them take the SAFe training Melissa mentions and then let the marketers decide how they want to join in with the framework.

Melissa: Consider taking a marketing-centric Agile course that is geared toward marketing. Agile Marketing with SAFe is now available. Start speaking marketing language to open ears and do the translation work for them.

How do you scale a marketing department to effectively utilize Agile?

Melissa: Determining Agile teams can be one of the challenges when organizing marketing groups at scale. SAFe advocates to align around value and value streams. What value are you delivering to the customer? Who is involved in delivering that value? Can you involve people from other teams to create truly cross-functional teams? Start thinking about how those teams would look. Are there supporting functions or shared functions across teams? Consider how they might be organized to support the teams delivering value and/or product directly to the customer.

Andrea: Yes to organizing around value for the customer! We’ve found it useful to think about the stages of the buyers journey as a potential lens for creating teams. If one team focuses on the early stages and generating demand, another team focuses on converting that audience into customer, and a third is all about retention, it’s easy to establish KPIs and goals around value delivery.

How do we break up the departments? Is it better to utilize a "pod" structure with a resource from each discipline? Or keep pods for each discipline (functional vs. cross-functional)?

Andrea: Agile best practices tell us that cross-functional teams are the ideal. They move faster, communicate more effectively, innovate more often -- the list goes on. I have seen functional teams work in marketing, usually when resource constraints dictate them. However, eventually even those groups realize the power of cross-functional teams and strive to move in that direction.

How do you address resistance to change with switching to Agile?

Andrea: Address people’s concerns like a good marketer. Focus on their pain points and how Agile can alleviate them. Don’t fixate on getting the process right, but on solving for people’s problems.

Melissa: Everyone wants to be with the winner. Start with those who are leaning in and start developing the “wins”. Document those through metrics and share them throughout the organization. Wait for the next group to lean in and form your next team or set of teams. Invite people to observe. Different personalities come around to change at different rates; allow for that.



Click to get the 7th Annual State of Agile Marketing Report delivered to your inbox