Agile Ascending: 3rd Annual State of Agile Marketing Report

Late in 2019, we began updating the survey that serves as the foundation for our annual State of Agile Marketing Report. 

Between then and now, the world and the way we market within it utterly transformed. 

We all work from home. Our live events got cancelled. Salaries and budgets are shifting. New channels are exploding. Tiger teams are forming to deal with the Coronavirus response.

But in the midst of all this upheaval, one thing hasn’t changed at all. 

Marketers still need real, lasting marketing agility. 

That’s why I’m delighted to be writing this deep dive into our Third Annual State of Agile Marketing Report right now. The report has some really good news in it, along with key insights for using marketing agility to navigate our newly uncertain world. 

As I’ve done for the past two years, this article will explore the findings from the 2020 edition of this report (you can find the 2019 version here, and the inaugural edition from 2018 here). In addition to unveiling the reports contents, I’ll take you through the research methodology, the way we arrived at our conclusions, and offer a few bonus insights from the data that didn’t make it into the final report. 

There’s a lot to unpack, so you can use the table of contents below to jump to individual sections if you wish. 

And of course, if you haven’t downloaded the report yet you’ll want to grab it here so you can follow along. 


Key Takeaways

Why Marketers Go Agile

Experience vs. Maturity

What’s Holding Us Back

How Marketers Make Agile Work

Ad hoc vs. Traditional vs. Agile Marketers

Shifting Survey Demographics for the State of Agile Marketing Report 2020

Key Takeaways from the 3rd Annual State of Agile Marketing Report

  • I’m not going to bury the lead here: 42% of our respondents labeled themselves Agile this year, compared to 41% traditional and 16% ad hoc. This marks the first time in the history of this study that Agile has been the most commonly cited approach for our respondents. Woot! 
  • 43% of non-Agile respondents tell us they have plans to start going Agile, and 95% of that group say it’ll happen within a year. 
  • If you want to keep your marketers around, agility can help. Seventy-five percent of Agile marketers tell us they’re satisfied with how their team works, while only 58% of traditional marketers and 34% of ad hoc marketers feel satisfied. 
  • If you’re not in the Agile army yet, don’t fret. Even Agile marketing teams who’ve been up and running for years are likely to say they’re “still maturing.” There’s plenty of time to get marketing agility right. 
  • Hybrid frameworks, i.e. not “pure” Scrum or Kanban, remain the approach of choice for most Agile marketers. Forty-seven percent of them say hybrids are the way to go. Lean comes in second with 17%, followed by Scrum at 14%. 
  • Daily standup is the most commonly used Agile practice by marketers; 58% of them make use of this awesome meeting. 
  • Want to give your Agile transformation the best chance of success? Consistent practices and processes, a solid training plan, and an Agile-specific tool are your best bets. 


Why Marketers Go Agile

Each year we ask all our respondents what their top priorities are for the coming year. Like last year, quality improvements were at the top of the list for everyone, but many other goals are nearly as important. 

We saw the biggest uptick in marketing departments focused on productivity (+10%), followed closely by improving alignment with organizational goals (+9%) and improving team morale (+9%). 

Those marketers who have already adopted Agile ways of working have a similar, yet clearly distinct, set of drivers. Productivity is high on the list, as we’d expect, but there’s also an emerging connection between agility and innovation. 

“Increase innovation” was cited by 49% of Agile marketers as the one of the most important reasons they went Agile. Since Agile helps eliminate multitasking and reduces burnout, this is a common (but not always obvious) benefit of agility. 


When we compare these goals with the benefits that Agile marketing teams enjoy, we can see that Agile is delivering the goods. 


One of the most encouraging things about this particular question for me is the jump in the percentage of teams reporting these various benefits. Let’s look at the 2019 data compared with this year:

Benefit 2019 2020
Faster time to get things released 36% 53%
More productive teams 25% 53%
More effective prioritization 28% 53%
Ability to change gears quickly based on feedback 53% 51%
Higher quality of work 39% 51%
Better visibility into project status 44% 46%
Better alignment on business objectives 28% 46%
Improved team morale 33% 40%
Roadblocks and problems identified sooner 40% 36%

This is really cool. Not only are more marketers adopting Agile, more of those people are enjoying the benefits of doing so. 

More than twice the percentage of Agile marketers are more productive, and nearly that amount are seeing more effective prioritization. 

When we look at the increased adoption of Agile practices this year, it becomes quite clear how Agile marketing teams are achieving these major jumps. We’re getting better at agility, not just doing it more.

Experience vs. Maturity

Yes, Agile marketing is expanding and delivering on more of its promises, but that doesn’t mean we rest on our laurels. There’s still quite a lot of work to be done. 

For instance, we see that 66% of Agile marketing teams have been practicing Agile for 3 years or more. But from that same group of self-described Agile marketers, 53% say they’re “using Agile practices but still maturing.” 


Just 20% of Agile marketers say they have a “high level of competency” in using Agile practices. A similar amount, 18%, say they’re just experimenting with Agile “in pockets.” 

This year's State of Agile Marketing Report concludes that we’re getting better at marketing agility, but even those groups who’ve been at it for several years recognize that the journey is far from over. 

What’s Holding Us Back

We might have reached a new threshold of Agile adoption (42% this year), but that’s just barely above the percentage of marketers who label themselves as traditional (41%). What’s keeping some of us from embracing agility


In many ways, this data remains consistent with previous years:

  1. We don’t know enough (44% of respondents, up from 31% last year) 
  2. We’re complacent about our current operations (43% of respondents, up from 27% last year)

That first hurdle is far and away the easiest to solve (and is in fact the whole reason AgileSherpas exists). You can get training in a whole host of different ways, including online, at the drop of a hat. There’s even an internationally recognized Agile Marketing Certification.

It’s easy to say that we’re too busy to learn or adapt our processes, but doing the work to change processes makes each and every activity that flows through that process better. In other words, the ROI on Agile education can be enormous. 

So no excuses allowed. If uncertainty about agility is your hurdle, make time to overcome it. 

If you’re in the latter group and think your current work management approach works well may have recently been proven wrong in a dramatic and unpleasant way. 

Crises like the Coronavirus pandemic reveal the true scope of operational shortcomings. Many marketers have felt the pain of their “good enough” processes intensely over the past several weeks/months. 

Good enough is good enough...until it’s not. 

Agile teams weather uncertainty far better than traditional or ad hoc teams. Use this unfortunate situation as the catalyst to drive you towards better ways of working. 

In case that’s not enough of a motivator, you should also know that 43% of non-Agile respondents told us they plan to start going Agile, and a massive 95% of those said they’d be doing it within a year. So the choice is rapidly becoming adopt or fall behind. 


How Marketers Make Agile Work

As I mentioned in the key takeaways section, hybrid frameworks remain the most commonly cited approach for Agile marketers at 47%; the next closest response, Lean, only got 17% of responses. 

These numbers are consistent with data from last year, and it’s become such a clear choice for Agile marketers that we expanded our question set around the topic. For the first time this year we asked those using a hybrid approach what prompted them to do. The responses are fascinating: 


The top two responses represent similar experiences: one group who recognized up front that their unique activities weren’t compatible with traditional Agile frameworks before they got going, and another group who tried “out of the box” methods before shifting to something more custom. 

Based on our experiences with clients, the first path is more common in marketing activities that are very different from development (where Agile frameworks like Scrum originated). Content, communications, public relations, and creative services teams tend to intuitively realize that they won’t be able to operate very well using Scrum and avoid even starting there. 

Other more development-like teams, such as martech or digital, may start their journey with something more traditional and then evolve it over time. 

Either way, hybrid is the way to go with Agile marketing. 

We also asked Agile marketers what specific practices they’re using as part of their implementation, and saw an awesome uptick in basically all responses:

Practice 2019 2020
Daily Standup 44% 58%
User stories 42% 46%
Retrospectives 32% 43%
Frequent releases 26% 41%
Digital kanban board 13% (we didn’t split physical and digital in 2019) 38%
Sprint/iteration planning 27% 37%
Work in Progress (WIP) Limits 31% 34%
Short iterations (sprints) 28% 30%
Sprint/iteration review 22% 28%
Physical kanban board 13% (we didn’t split physical and digital in 2019) 22%

Ad hoc vs. Traditional vs. Agile Marketers

Each year for the State of Agile Marketing Report, one of the first questions we ask our respondents is how they’d classify their marketing team:

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 managing incoming work. 

Then later on we ask how they feel about different parts of their work. The differences among these groups is always super interesting:


Agile marketers are far more likely to label themselves as satisfied or very satisfied than their ad hoc colleagues (34% ad hoc, 74% Agile), which isn’t surprising. But they’re also considerably happier than traditional marketers too (58% traditional vs. 74% Agile). 


We also see how much more confident Agile marketers are in their marketing organization’s potential. Agile teams believe they can handle fast-paced work, that they’re aligned with the organization’s vision, and that new emerging opportunities will be seized. 

Traditional marketers aren’t too far behind the Agile cohort in these areas, but there’s a major decline when we look at the ad hoc group. 

Despite their clear need, ad hoc marketers consistently report that they’re less likely to be considering the move to Agile than traditional marketers. It’s truly a case of being too busy to innovate. 

Shifting Survey Demographics for the State of Agile Marketing Report 2020

The last thing I want to be sure and cover is the demographics of our respondents. Last year we ended up with more “in the trenches” marketers and fewer senior leaders; this year we achieved a more balanced perspective along the org chart. 


We also worked hard to access marketers from a wide range of organizational sizes. One third of respondents came from small teams of 10 or less, but another third were drawn from teams of 100 or more. 

And as always, we filter all our respondents very aggressively. Each person must tell us their current role, and if it’s not marketing-specific their response isn’t included. 

We also ask what are known as qualifying questions throughout the survey. One is designed to test basic marketing knowledge (if they get it wrong their response isn’t counted), and another is designed to make sure they’re simply paying attention and not randomly answering questions. These three filters help ensure we’re getting the highest possible data quality for the final report. 

While the survey remains North America-focused this year (96% of respondents are from that part of the world), we’re already making plans to broaden the scope to a more global perspective next year by providing translated versions for different regions.

Where Will Your Climb Take You? 

I hope you see you and your team(s) reflected in the positive improvements from this year’s report, but if you’re more traditional or ad hoc than Agile, it’s not too late to change. 

Adoption is accelerating, which means it’s easier than ever to get educated and get started. 

Whether it’s an intensive online certification course or a simple introduction, it’s the perfect time to exercise marketing agility. 

Keep climbing, and we’ll see you at the summit.


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