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Dave’s Guide to Getting Started with Agile Marketing

June 20, 2016 David Lesue

Getting Started with Agile Marketing

If you’ve caught the vision of agile marketing (perhaps because of articles like this one and this one), and you believe it may be a great fit for your team, there are several different ways to get started.

You can hire a consultant or a project management professional to help design your processes, educate your team, and take you through the transition.

You can check out our series called "Your First Year of Agile Marketing" for a professional's guide to getting started.

You can consult expert resources online, like this beginner’s guide. You can rely on a solution implementation specialist who works with your project management software. (If you’ve chosen one, like Workfront, that supports Agile teams.)

But no matter which path you choose, I have five big “don’ts” for you to keep in mind.

Why should you trust what I have to say? Because I’ve been where you are.

I made the switch from traditional to Agile processes almost three years ago. I’m speaking from the trenches, and I’ve definitely learned what not to do, both from personal experience and from speaking and presenting about Agile marketing at conferences nationwide.

About My Agile Team

As the creative director at  Workfront, I lead a team of seven video producers, illustrators, graphic designers, and production designers. We shoot for 30 hours of planned work per person per week. This leaves 10 hours open per person for unexpected requests, meetings that don’t map directly to tasks, and the daily realities of office life.

When we first started transitioning to Agile, we planned for 20 hours per person per week, because there was so much disorganization and chaos around us.

As we adapted and refined our processes—and trained stakeholders and other requesters to adapt to the new way we work—we were able to tame that chaos and increase each person’s planned capacity by 50 percent.

Tip 1: Don’t Implement Agile in a Waterfall Way

If you’ve always worked in a waterfall-style world, you will be tempted to approach your Agile transition in that way. You’ll want to pull together a committee to build out a three-month plan, execute on that plan sequentially, and achieve your stated goal by a specific date. (“We will be fully Agile by August 17.”)

Resist the temptation. Instead, start small. 

Don’t ask for permission. Handpick a few open-minded people and get them some training. Start implementing bits and pieces of the Agile methodology, both so you have some evangelists for the Agile cause and so you have some real-world data when you’re ready to make the case for a full-scale transition.

Agile marketing backlog and sprint

Tip 2: Don’t Try to Adopt Every Aspect of Agile All At Once

Transitioning to Agile means changing the fundamental paradigm for how you approach your work.

To keep your team members from becoming overwhelmed and feeling like you’ve just pulled the rug out from under them, implement Agile gradually, starting with the following three steps. (For a quick definition of terms, check out my SlideShare, “Agile Marketing: A Beginner’s Guide.”

1. Establish Your Backlog First

A Backlog is an evolving list of all work requests your team will complete in the foreseeable future. Start by consolidating all of your existing assignments into one location. Then set up a process for receiving new work requests into that space.

For best results, make sure this isn’t a manual process. Use the tools built in to your project management software, if you have one. If you don’t, you can create a Google form that feeds into a Google spreadsheet.

Or, require everyone to send all requests to a dedicated email address. (Of course, someone will have to regularly check this inbox.)

2. Use Story Points to Prioritize Your Backlog

Story Points are an estimation unit that measures the complexity and hours required to complete each story or task. As a team, decide how many points to assign to each task in your Backlog. This makes it easy to choose the most important and doable stories to work on first.

Where does the term “Story Points” come from? In Agile, individual tasks are often called User Stories, a label that grew out of software development, where tasks are expressed from the perspective of the user. (“I want to be able to sort this list of products by price.”)

While Agile marketing does use the terms “Stories” and “Story Points,” I don’t believe it’s important to express each task from the end user’s perspective. Why? Because marketers are trying to catch users’ attention and create need, rather than building functionality to address an existing need.

But the idea of breaking your tasks down into bite-size chunks definitely applies. If a story will take more than six hours, consider breaking the story into two or more bite-sized stories.

3. Start Holding Sprint Planning Meetings

With your Backlog all sorted and prioritized, hold a meeting to decide which items your team will work on in its very first Sprint. You can make your Sprint duration however long you want, but I recommend starting with one-week increments.

On Monday morning, meet as a team to decide which items from your Backlog to focus on now through Friday. Move those items from the Backlog onto your Storyboard—a public wall chart or digital graph where cards representing each user story are moved from “incomplete,” to “in progress,” to “approval,” to “complete.”

These three steps will comprise the core of your new process. As you proceed along your Agile journey, you can add daily Stand Up Meetings, Sprint Retrospectives, and other elements of Agile marketing.

Agile marketing storyboard

Tip 3: Don’t Confuse Sprints with Projects

When first introduced to Agile, some people think that Sprints replace the “projects” they used to work on, but this isn’t the case. I like to think of it this way:

A project is a frame of reference for the requester or project manager: “Here’s the bucket of things I care about that I need to assign to other people.” The person in charge of the project will portion the tasks out to different teams, making sure all the pieces come back together at the right time.

A Sprint, however, is a frame of reference for you: “Here’s a bucket of all the things we need to complete for all of our different requesters this week.” It’s how you prioritize and organize the 28 individual tasks you were assigned from 12 different projects that are being managed by five different stakeholders.

Keep your Sprints a consistent length so you get used to the cadence of your work. Over time, you’ll start to understand intuitively how much capacity your team has—how much you can fit into each week’s “bucket” without causing it to overflow.

Tip 4: Don’t Be an Agile Purist

Just because a concept is outlined in the Agile marketing manifesto, that doesn’t mean you have to adopt it.

Pull in the pieces that work for you, and discard those that don’t.

We used to hold daily Stand-Up Meetings to answer three questions:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What will I do today?
  • What are my roadblocks?

But since we use Workfront to manage our Agile processes, we’re already communicating those things throughout the day via the online tool. We found the daily meetings were redundant, so we suspended them. Base all of your decisions on results, not on Agile dogma.

Keep experimenting with your Agile marketing process

Tip 5: Don’t Stop Experimenting

Agile marketing is a system that recognizes the truth: that everything changes all the time.

The size of your team will change, the nature and scope of the work will shift, the goals of the company will evolve. They always do. So don’t expect to one day “arrive” at a final, documented process. That kind of thinking might work for a factory, but it won’t for a marketing team.

The whole point of Agile marketing is to continually adapt and improve. So keep experimenting. Keep trying new things.

Keep allowing your processes to evolve, so they can keep up with the exciting, unpredictable, ever-changing nature of your work.


Be sure to explore our collection of Agile marketing resources, including cheat sheets, guides, videos, and more, here.

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