Welcome to a milestone moment! This year marks the fifth time I’ve put together a deep dive into the results from the State of Agile Marketing Report (SOAM).
Each year has had its own idiosyncrasies and its own special insights, and this year is no exception.
For the first time, we asked our Agile marketing respondents how successful they felt their Agile transformation had been. Then we compared the responses from those who thought they had been “very successful” to everyone else.
What we uncovered were multiple activities that are strongly correlated with transformation success (if you want to jump ahead to that, check out “Anatomy of a Successful Agile Marketing Transformation” below). It turns out that changing your team composition, taking every single team Agile, and getting strong executive support (among other things) give you a much better chance of successfully adopting Agile marketing.
We’ve also started to deepen the exploration we began last year about what other functions around marketing are starting to adopt Agile, including how many marketers are longing for agility to spread beyond their confines.
In the section “Business Agility on the Rise” you’ll see more about where agility has gone, where marketers wish it would be, and how the Agile marketing movement may be a precursor to what’s next.
(If you’re looking for more details on the previous four reports, you can check out StateofAgileMarketing.com, where we’ve collected all five reports and various takeaways from five years of SOAM.)
Table of Contents:
Agile is a Must-Have, Not a Nice to Have
The number of marketers planning to adopt Agile and those not planning to do so is nearly identical, with 51% of our respondents saying Agile is on their roadmap and 49% saying it’s not.
But, among those who are planning to go Agile, the sense of urgency is strong.
Forty-eight percent say they’ll be starting their transformation journey in the six months, with another 43% saying it’ll happen within the year.
Fortunately for those about to start their journey, a growing number of Agile marketing adopters are multiple years into agility and provide a strong set of data to use as guidance. This year 44% of Agile respondents say they’ve been using Agile for 3 years or more.
There’s also strong consensus among Agile marketers on how Agile made its way into their organization. The top four responses were:
- We experimented with a few Agile projects before rolling it out to everyone (31%) (PSA: here’s how to do that the right way.)
- Someone who used Agile in a different company sponsored its rollout here (28%)
- Executives mandated agility across the organization (20%)
- It started in a different department, such as product development (15%)
All of these are valid ways for an organization to adopt Agile ways of working, but none of them are bulletproof.
Agile projects are prone to mismanagement when we ask people to use Agile on a part-time basis. A new Agile champion may want to replicate their previous transformation and ignore the nuances of their current organization. An executive mandate can backfire if individual teams don’t feel ownership over Agile ways of working. And translating Agile from product development to a non-technical function requires a careful balance between staying true to Agile principles and adapting practices to suit the new function.
If you’re facing any of these challenges, a seasoned guide can help navigate them. Our AgileSherpas are standing by to support you.
How to Ensure Agile Success
Whether you invest in your own Sherpa or not, there are clear correlations between certain best practices and a successful Agile rollout in marketing.
Training and Education
First and foremost, we need to point out one of our most consistent year over year data points: training and education is the biggest barrier to entry for marketers looking to be more Agile.
While this barrier does persist from year to year, the available resources for overcoming are also growing all the time. You can explore more and more Agile marketing podcasts and webinars, books, case studies, and, of course, certifications.
These activities are all common during an Agile marketing transformation, and when used tend to deliver value. Over three-quarters of marketers who've used Agile certification courses said they were effective, and well over half of those who used self-paced learning got value from it.
Even simpler learning options, like articles, books, and conferences, were useful to about half of the Agile marketing respondents.
Changes to Sustain Agility
As Agile marketing has matured over the years, we’ve begun to probe more deeply into what makes Agile stick. This year we asked our Agile marketers what parts of the process they’ve adjusted to help ensure their transformation is permanent.
As you can see, there’s no overwhelmingly clear answer here. But it’s obvious that simply adopting Agile practices in isolation isn’t enough.
Standardization tool usage across the department, supporting leaders and individual contributors with ongoing training, and shifting the way Agile marketing teams work with other parts of the organization are all helpful.
We also continued a question that we introduced in the 2021 report, asking Agile marketers how their adoption of Agile has impacted their approaches to planning and budgeting:
While a little more than a third of Agile marketers say they haven’t yet implemented any changes to budgeting, 82% have changed their planning practices in some way. Again, simply asking Agile marketing teams to change their ways of working without shifting the foundation activities that support that work doesn’t bode well for lasting transformation.
Anatomy of a Successful Agile Marketing Transformation
Since 2022 marks our fifth year of exploring the state of Agile marketing, and the movement has matured significantly since our first report, we introduced a new question this year:
As you can see, the vast majority of Agile marketers feel that they’ve been at least somewhat successful in rolling out Agile ways of working. But the real insight comes from comparing the most successful adopters with their unsuccessful counterparts.
Here are the statistically significant factors that lead most strongly to marketers saying they’ve “very successfully” implemented Agile:
- Length of the transformation: Very successful Agile marketers tend to have been working on their transformation for more than three years.
- Completion of Agile rollout: When marketers take the entire function Agile, as opposed to keeping some teams functional in a more traditional way, they’re far more likely to report a successful rollout, as well as a greater degree of confidence in their ability to align their work to the organization’s goals, collaborate effectively, handle fast-paced digital work, and more (see the table below for more detail).
- Business agility: When other departments, specifically finance, human resources, and product development, are also on an Agile journey, the chance of a very successful rollout increases.
- Executive buy-in: Of the four main originators of Agile (executive mandate, Agile champion brought it from another organization, starting with pilots, and migrating from another department), the executive mandate is the most strongly correlated with marketers rating their transformation as very successful.
- Measuring impact: Highly successful Agile marketers measure their impact; only 2% of them said they weren’t measuring results, compared to 50% of those who felt their implementation wasn’t successful, and 10% of those who found it only somewhat successful.
- Budgeting shifts: As we saw earlier, not all Agile marketing departments have managed to change their budgeting approach just yet. But, those who are most successful are much more likely to have achieved this adjustment than their less successful counterparts.
- Alternative structures: Those marketers enjoying great success with agility are more likely to also be experimenting with alternative ways of bringing their teams together. Whether that’s cross-functional teams built on delivering customer value, or groups focused on serving a single line of business, changing the way we bring people together is often key to making Agile work.
When 100% of marketers have adopted Agile ways of working, the benefits are far greater:
Of course, even though fully Agile marketing departments are more likely to enjoy greater success, that doesn’t mean you have to wait until you can go 100% Agile to start your journey.
Launching pilot teams, delivering basic training, incorporating Agile practices (like the ones later in this article), and testing out Agile project management tools are all great ways to take baby steps towards a total Agile transformation.
Agile Marketers vs. Everybody Else
While it’s interesting to compare the differences between 100% Agile marketing departments and those not yet completely transformed, it’s also illuminating to explore how Agile marketers differ from their non-Agile counterparts.
Long time State of Agile Marketing followers will be familiar with how we define different kinds of marketing processes, but to refresh your memory, here are the three categories we use in the report:
Agile: We use at least some parts of an Agile marketing approach to manage our work, such as daily standups, a backlog, sprints, kanban board, etc. We have plans, but they’re flexible and change often.
Traditional: We plan our work in advance using a lot of detail and try to stick as closely as possible to that plan.
Ad hoc: We don’t make long term plans. We work on what seems right from day-to-day and don’t have a well-defined process for man- aging incoming work.
Each respondent self-selects the category that best describes how they currently manage their work. Then we ask them to rate their marketing department on various capabilities that are central to modern marketing success.
Not surprisingly, agilists feel better equipped to deal with many of marketing’s challenges:
Here we see 83% of Agile marketers agreeing that they’re up for the challenge of digital. Traditional marketers are slightly less prepared, with only 76% agreeing. Ad hoc marketers are the least able to manage digital’s pace at just 62%.
As we’ll see later, unplanned work is often the thorn in the side of Agile marketers, but they’re still much more confident than their non-Agile counterparts in their ability to jump on new opportunities.
This chart makes my Agile coach soul smile. The ability to say “no” or “not right now” is vital for creating focus, and we see Agile marketers agreeing they have this power much more than Ad hoc or traditional marketers. Over two-thirds of the Agile respondents can push back, compared to just over half of the Ad hoc marketers.
Last, but, in the era of the great resignation certainly not least, we see how much happier agilists are with their ways of working. As more and more marketers experience Agile environments, fewer and fewer will be willing to work in any other way.
For marketing leaders looking to differentiate themselves and attract top talent (and hang on to the high performers they already have), adopting Agile marketing is a no-brainer.
Nuts and Bolts of Marketing Agility
Everybody wonders if they’re doing Agile “right,” so it can be highly useful to see how other Agile marketers are working. Here we’ll take a look at where and how Agile shows up for marketers.
I often get asked what kinds of marketing go well with Agile, and what things just won’t fit. As you can see from this chart, there are really very few places where Agile doesn’t belong.
The usual suspects are well-represented here; social media, creative, and web are often bastions of Agile adoption. Their need for quick execution and frequent iterations makes these activities a natural ally for agility.
But even event marketing, which is often trotted out as an example of somewhere we don’t need agility, is in use by about a third of Agile marketers.
The takeaway? If you’ve got any uncertainty, inefficiency, or room for innovation in what you’re doing, Agile is a good fit.
This is another repeat appearance in the State of Agile Marketing Report that we always need to emphasize: Agile marketing is hybrid. Any single framework, including the IT favorite Scrum, won’t be enough, so marketers need to mix and match to build something that works for us.
When we dig a little deeper, we find that marketers often land on a hybrid framework through trial and error. Specifically, just under half (45%) tried an “off the shelf” version and found it didn’t work for them.
Another 45% realized up front that their unique activities wouldn’t align with a traditional framework and jumped right into something tailored (high fives to all of you in this category!).
Note that even for the 23% who operate in a highly regulated environment, that factor didn’t prevent them from using Agile. By taking a hybrid approach they were able to employ Agile ways of working, despite the restrictions of their sector.
Every year we ask about the practices marketers are using, and this year we saw some interesting shifts. Some of this might be due to fewer B2B respondents this year, but it’s nonetheless worth noting that the use of sprint planning declined by 20 percentage points. This may indicate that fewer and fewer marketers are employing sprints, and are instead gravitating toward a more continuous flow, kanban style of hybrid.
We also see a 14 percentage point decline in the use of physical kanban boards year over year, which makes sense as hybrid and distributed work looks to become a permanent part of marketing.
Challenges and Benefits of Agile Marketing
Although most people have long since acknowledged the benefits that Agile can bring to marketers (and anybody else willing to adopt it), it’s always helpful to see the data that backs up the benefits.
In addition, when we look at the data from certain angles, we can better understand what causes marketers to miss out on potential benefits.
What you’re seeing here is the percentage of marketers who achieved the benefits they were after when they went Agile. For example, 63% of the marketers who hoped to better manage changing priorities through Agile ways of working are now enjoying that benefit.
That’s not a bad success rate, but this chart begs the question: what happened to the 37% who wanted to better manage changing priorities, but failed? It’s possible that the lackluster use of adoption best practices, such as training, coaching, and changing how marketers plan, are hurting the chances of seeing these upsides.
Keep your eye on the blog in the coming weeks, as we’ll be digging deeper into this question and providing concrete recommendations to help make sure all Agile marketing transformations get the benefits they’re seeking.
Difficulties with unplanned work continue to plague Agile marketers, but this challenge was surpassed this year by the tendency for people to revert to their non-Agile comfort zones.
As we’ve seen in other data throughout the report, Agile transformation isn’t a short-term process. To sustain the change over multiple years, leaders need to be prepared to support their teams through coaching and ongoing education. One-off training simply isn’t enough to make agility stick, and it’s far more likely to lead to this kind of backsliding.
Business Agility on the Rise
The last significant change we made to our survey this year was to include a handful of questions about agility outside of marketing. As the Agile marketing movement has continued to mature, we’ve become increasingly adept at bringing others along for the ride.
We wanted to start exploring the relationship between success in marketing agility, and the potential for more holistic business agility.
This isn’t a new question, and unsurprisingly IT and product development continue to be the most likely to be using Agile. We also saw a big jump in the percentage of sales organizations adopting Agile; 18% of Agile respondents last year said their sales staff were Agile, compared to 33% this year.
Finance and HR are also accelerating in their adoption (you see the current users in the dark blue bar).
The interesting thing you’ll see in this chart, however, is the green bar. It shows how many marketers would like their counterparts to be Agile. A huge percentage of our respondents want others to come along on their journeys.
And it’s not just so that they can get better discounts on bulk seats that marketers want more of their colleagues to go Agile. Seventy-four percent of the respondents believe collaboration with other functions would be easier if Agile was more widely used.
What’s Ahead for Agility
The percentage of our respondents who say sales is using Agile isn’t too far off from the Agile marketing adoption levels we found in our very first State of Agile Marketing Report, and it jumped significantly year over year.
Could we be seeing the rise of Agile sales? Are finance, HR, and other non-technical functions following fast?
I think the answer to both of these questions is yes.
Agile marketing has led the way, but we need larger business agility transformations to truly unlock everything that Agile has to offer. To get value to customers faster, innovate consistently, and keep pace with the ever-evolving environment we all inhabit, agility needs to permeate the entire organization.
I think the future is coming up fast, and we’d all do well to get ready for its arrival.