In a recent webinar, Agile marketing experts David Lesue and Andrea Fryrear explain the basics of Agile marketing. What follows is the first in a three-part recap of the webinar. If you want to watch the entire webinar on demand, click here.
Andrea: Hey, everybody, thank you for being here today. It’s my job to kick us off by talking a little bit about what it really means to talk about Agile Marketing.
You’ll notice that we’ve capitalized both the “A” and the “M” here. I was an English major in college, so I don’t throw around capital letters for no reason. They’re really important. The lowercase “a” version of agile is important, but it’s really just an adjective.
When you are an agile marketer, you are nimble. You are reacting to what’s going on around you. You are responsive to incoming data, to audience needs, and to changes in the market, and you’re adaptive to your market and to everything that’s happening.
These are all really important things for marketers to be, but they’re not everything that it means to actually practice Agile Marketing, and that’s what we’re going to talk to you about today—the actual implementation of an Agile approach on your marketing team.
What that involves is a lot of things, actually, but we’re going to have time to touch on a few today. It’s the deliberate application of a specific methodology, and we’re going to talk about three of the most common.
It’s also a change in the way that you approach work.
So, it’s a move away from a whole lot of up-front planning and then executing against that plan no matter what happens, and a move toward the more adaptive and continuous-improvement cycle that Agile embraces.
Agile is not a thing that you can do today and be finished. You can’t check it off of your to-do list and then move on. It’s something that you continually revisit so that you can improve and revise your process and your team over time. So, you’re never done. You’re always improving.
Finally, Agile Marketing is based on a specific set of Agile values and principles, which we’ll also touch on briefly here because there are a lot; we don’t have time to get through them all.
When it comes to making decisions on an Agile team, we base them on a set of preferences and principles so that we have some guiding light outside of even the particular methodologies that we use.
So, with that said, we’re going to look at these three most common Agile Marketing methodologies.
Dave and I do a workshop on this that takes three hours, so we don’t have time to go into a whole lot of depth about each one of these methodologies, but I think it’s really important to spend some time in this part of the discussion because I see a lot of articles and a lot of discussion that equate Agile with Scrum.
Scrum is awesome, and Dave is going to talk to you about how his team uses this methodology to great effect, but it’s only one option when it comes to implementing Agile on your team.
It can work really well, but Kanban and Scrumban are other options that I want to make sure that everyone is aware of as we move into the discussion of choosing the right approach for your team.
So, let’s start with Scrum. This is a basic diagram of what a Scrum process would look like. We’ll go through each piece one by one so that you can get an idea of what this all actually means.
1 - The foundation of any Agile team, and especially Scrum, is this backlog. A software team would call it a product backlog. You might call it a marketing backlog. If you’re doing this on a content team, maybe this is your content backlog.
Basically, this is the place where the team pulls work. It’s sort of like a prioritized to-do list that everybody has a hand in so that the team knows that they’re doing the best possible work at any given time.
Then, when it’s time for a sprint to start, the team pulls some of that work out of the backlog and pulls it into their sprint backlog.
2 - Sprint is a fancy word, basically, for just a timebox, a set amount of time that the team has chosen to get work done. It can be as short as one week or as long as four weeks; two is sort of the average.
The team then decides how much work out of the backlog they believe they can accomplish within that amount of time. At this point, they tend to do some estimation of how big a task is. Task 1, Task 2, Task 3, etc., so they know if they can really fit it in.
And then, once they’ve made this choice, ideally, no more work is coming in. The sprint is set, and that’s the only work that the team will be doing for the next several weeks.
3 - Once the sprint begins, we have a daily stand-up meeting where we all get together. We talk about what we did yesterday, what we plan to do today, and anything that is standing in our way.
This is usually important when you’re moving so quickly, so that you can identify any problems and deal with them as quickly as possible.
Once the sprint is over, we should have something that we could potentially ship out to our audience. This is one of the most powerful parts of Scrum. You get something done, you get something completed, every sprint.
This helps you get things out in front of your audience faster so you can learn, do more of what works, and get rid of the stuff that didn’t work. This iterative process is really, really powerful.
Scrum works really well for certain types of marketing teams. Five to seven employees is sort of the sweet spot. You can go a little bit lower or a little bit higher, maybe up to nine, but when you get too small or too big, Scrum doesn’t work quite as well.
It’s designed to work on cross-functional teams, which means that the team itself has all the skills necessary to complete work from start to finish, so they’re not relying on anybody outside the team to do work.
It can be really useful for teams that have work that sort of gets thrown over the wall at them a lot. If you are getting interrupted a lot, Scrum can sort of build a wall around your team, which protects them a little bit from those kinds of interruptions and allows them to focus on the tasks at hand.
It’s also best for teams if you have adaptable people on your team who are okay with changing their process. If they’re willing to give this a try, then they’ll be more likely to embrace Scrum because it does require some process change up front.
Kanban, which we’re going to look at next, is more lightweight, and you can put it on top of the way you already work, whereas Scrum is going to require you to make some changes.
Now, we’ll talk about Kanban. Like I said, this is a little bit more flexible, lightweight approach, and we’re going to talk about four of its basic components.
1 - The first, and in my opinion the most important, part of all of this is to limit your work-in-progress, or WIP. A WIP limit is amazing.
If you don’t do anything else that I talk about in the next 10 minutes or so, try putting limits on how much work you’re doing at any given time, and you’ll be amazed at what it does.
It helps you to stop starting on new work and to start finishing the work that you’re already doing so that you actually have something that you can put out in front of your audience.
Amazingly, a lower amount of work-in-progress actually allows you to produce higher quality work and a higher volume of work in the same amount of time, which is a little counterintuitive, but it’s actually been proven.
If you start using WIP limits, I really recommend that you start a little higher than you think you can do and then work down, rather than starting really low and trying to ratchet it up.
2 - The second piece of Kanban is to visualize how work flows through your team. This needs to be how work really gets done on your team, not how you wish it would get done or how your boss thinks it gets done.
It’s important to pick the right start and end points here, so where your team gets control of work and then where your team hands work off to someone else. You can’t include things in your workflow that you don’t actually have control over.
Then, you’ll want to map that flow onto a board with columns, which I’m sure you’ve seen. The most basic is the "To Do", "Doing," and "Done" vertical columns, but it’ll obviously be more complicated depending on how work actually flows through your team.
3 - The third component is to choose a cadence for each piece of work on your team. This is just a fancy way to say that you pick the schedule for how things happen because Kanban doesn’t have timeboxes like Scrum does.
On a Scrum team, if your sprints are two weeks long, then you plan every two weeks, and you release every two weeks, but a Kanban team can do these things whenever it works best for them.
So, each meeting and each release happen at the best time, not necessarily on a set schedule. You’ll still need to do stand-up meetings because you need to keep everybody on the same page, but otherwise, you set the schedule for meetings.
4 - Finally, it’s really important for Kanban teams to make the policies around their work explicit because this allows us to get rid of the practice of estimation. You can think of it as making buckets for your work.
There are four, five, or six types of work that your team tends to do, so when a project comes in, you put it into a bucket, and then you know how to handle all the work in that bucket, rather than having to estimate each and every project or task that comes into your team.
Policies can also include how long it takes you to finish a particular type of work and what it means for work to actually be done, and this can eliminate the need for negotiation among the team as well as among the team and people who are bringing work for you to do.
Kanban can work really well for certain types of teams, too.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, and putting one more thing or one more process change onto the team might be the straw that breaks their back, then Kanban can be an easier way to get started on the path toward greater agility without putting a lot of burden on the team.
It does work better with really small and really large teams than Scrum does.
If you have specialized team members, and you’re not truly a cross-functional team, and you rely heavily on freelancers, agencies, or other people within your organization in other departments, then Kanban can help with that.
If you have skeptics in your midst, on the team or in your organization, who want a little bit of proof that this whole Agile thing is a good idea, Kanban can get you that a little faster without requiring a whole bunch of upfront commitment.
The last methodology that we’re going to talk about really briefly is Scrumban. We don’t have to spend a lot of time on this because we’ve kind of already covered the pieces of it.
As you might guess from the name, this is taking some of the parts of Scrum and some of the parts of Kanban and putting them together.
So, we’re taking a lot of the team structure and the timebox elements of Scrum, and then putting those together with the WIP limits and the workflow visualization of Kanban, and that gets us a combination methodology that can be really, really useful for marketing teams, in particular.
It works really, really well if you have a team that is already pretty autonomous, and you have a lot of freedom to experiment and refine how work gets done on your team. Again, particularly small or particularly large teams can do well with Scrumban.
If you already have a stable team and you’re just looking to take it to the next level, if you’re really looking for a competitive advantage, Scrumban can offer that to you because, like Kanban, you can just put it on top of the way you already work and get going quickly.
And again, if you have specialized teams and are relying on people outside of your team, you can also use Scrumban.
To watch the "Intro To Agile Marketing" webinar on demand, featuring David Lesue and Andrea Fryrear, click here.
To see Part Two in our recap of the webinar, check out our April 19 post or subscribe to receive our newsletter.
About the Author
Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.Follow on Twitter More Content by Marcus Varner