Agile Methodology for Marketers: A Brief History

June 21, 2016 Sam Petersen

Marketing Team Using Agile Methodology

When I first heard the buzz phrase, “Agile methodology,” I honestly didn’t find it too revolutionary.

I assumed it was a self explanatory phrase that meant you’ve gotta be quick and nimble and willing to change plans. I thought, “Has there ever been a time when that wasn’t the goal of a company?”

Not until I joined Workfront, whose product supports Agile practices, did I learn that the Agile methodology is in fact a specific approach to work very different from traditional frameworks.

You can use our Agile Marketing Cheat Sheet to learn about Agile terms, team roles, and basic Agile Marketing principles.

It has its own manifesto and set of principles—and virtually every software development team has adopted it, with marketing teams fast on their heels.

I am now intimately familiar with the Agile methodology, as I’ve spent the last six months researching and writing on the subject. I’ve hobnobbed with Certified Scrum Masters and dev groups and the likes.

More applicable to my own job, I’ve also delved into the world of Agile Marketing, a relatively recent movement where marketers are adopting Agile principles historically followed by software development teams.

Agile methodology for marketers is a progressive idea, but it’s already proven beneficial to many daring marketers (including me and my team here at Workfront).

But hearing my story doesn’t clear up the ambiguity of what Agile methodology for marketers actually is, so let me use this post to explain.

A Quick and Dirty History of the Agile Methodology

Software folks in the ancient dot com age were growing weary of following meticulously planned project blueprints, only to have to wait for the next meticulous project plan to update or fix software bugs.

So, they got together and discussed the limitations and rigidity of Waterfall project management, and invented Scrum, an approach to development work that quickly became ubiquitous in the industry.

Instead of having rigid deadlines and complicated project dependencies, the Scrum approach centers around an ever-evolving backlog of tasks (called stories), and iterations of the product.

In this format, teams discuss together what they can commit to accomplishing in the next week or two (these finite lengths of time are called sprints).

Because their backlogs are flexible, they can take on whatever kind of work they need to, whether it’s updating software, creating a piece of new software, or addressing urgent issues. Also critical to the Scrum framework is a strong focus on constant improvement, both in terms of the product and work efficiency.

In time, similar frameworks to Scrum emerged from the development world, including Kanban, XP, DSDM, and others.

The Agile Manifesto

It wasn’t until 2001 that these new approaches to work were given an official descriptive title. A group of developers met in the mountains of Utah, not far from where I’m writing this post. (Okay, it wasn’t as romantic as it seems. It was just at a conference at Snowbird, the ski resort.)

Their meeting resulted in the Agile manifesto, an electronic statement that summarized what being Agile really meant.


It’s kind of philosophical, but pretty profound too. This manifesto essentially explains why Scrum and Kanban and the others are such successful frameworks: because they focus on people and end results, not means and processes.

The Agile Marketing Manifesto

A few years after the manifesto was published, marketers began sniffing out the wisdom in the developers’ simple, yet revolutionary ways. Granted, marketing has always been customer driven, in theory.

But, the regularity and scale of campaign after campaign has the power to draw marketers away from the customer’s needs and suck them into a world where the means matter more than the end. (Don’t try to tell me your team hasn’t fallen victim to this.) Thus, the relevance of the Agile methodology for marketers.

In a marketing setting, it’s obviously a nuanced mindset to account for the differences between marketing and software development, but the essence of the original Agile principles are there.

Jim Ewel, an early Agile Marketing evangelist, wrote a marketing version of the Agile manifesto:


Most marketing teams that subscribe to the Agile methodology have adopted, to some degree, Scrum, Kanban, or a mix of these two frameworks.

And actually, because the shift to Agile thinking and these frameworks is so different from the traditional Waterfall approach, teams will often practice a Waterfall-Agile mix when they’re getting started.

My own team practices a modified Scrum approach, where we take our projects and tasks, planned in Waterfall format, and fit them into a Scrum framework of stories and sprints. We haven’t found a groove that feels completely comfortable, but we’re constantly evaluating what’s working and what needs to be adjusted.

Sounds pretty Agile, doesn’t it?

As gradual as our transition to Agile might be, however, we feel more productive, informed, and effective at our jobs.

Is it Time to Join the Agile Marketing Revolution?

So would the Agile methodology work for your marketing team? Yes. Would it be hard to shift your mindset to Agile thinking? Probably. Should you learn more about Agile Marketing and how it would help your marketing team be more successful? Yes. Yes you should.

For an in-depth read on Agile methodology for marketers, download The Complete Guide to Agile Marketing.

About the Author

Sam Petersen

Sam believes that every marketing pain has an effective solution, and he's ready to evangelize that solution to the masses. His evangelism especially focuses on topics related to creative services, in-house agencies, content marketing, and Agile Marketing. He works with the solutions marketing team at Workfront Monday through Friday, and goes to the mountains or the pickle ball courts on the weekends.

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