Never Stop Learning: 3 Stages to Keep Your Agile Marketing Mastery Growing

August 24, 2017 Andrea Fryrear

This year, our special guest star on all things Agile marketing, Andrea Fryrear, will be providing Agile marketing newbies with a monthly step-by-step guide to their first year as an Agile marketer. This post is the ninth in the series. Enjoy!


Agile teams have retrospectives to help them hone in on ways to improve their process and become a better team, but finding ways to make each member of those teams better over time can be challenging.

This is particularly true for Agile marketing teams, whose unique application of Agile practices often falls outside of standard training and education parameters.


Download our free Agile marketing cheat sheet for an easy-to-use Agile resource.


To help Agile marketers of all levels continue their Agile journey, we’ve compiled this collection of educational possibilities, complete with recommendations on when and how to apply them.

Remember, once the initial excitement of an Agile transformation subsides the real fun begins. It’s then that we can move away from trying to understand the basics and toward using Agile principles to deliver consistently amazing results.

Stages of Agile Mastery: Shu, Ha, Ri

There are lots of ways we could categorize different phases of learning on an Agile team, but here things are arranged in three categories: Shu, Ha, and Ri.

These terms refer to stages of proficiency that can describe any skill set, but they’re often used to describe Agile teams as they move from learning to high performing.

In the Shu stage, you follow the rules. A student in this stage copies “the technique as taught without modification and without yet attempting to understand the rationale” guiding them.

For a new Agile practitioner, this means learning and following rules associated with Agile methodologies.

Once you’ve become adept at following the rules, you can then start investigating their underlying principles and ultimately upend them. But first you follow, and resources in the Shu section reflect this goal.

As you’ll see in the Ha resources, this is a stage during which “the student carefully upholds the principles underlying the practice” while breaking free of some of the rigor the rules may call for, according to Lyssa Atkins in her book Coaching Agile Teams.

Basically, we want to deepen our understanding of the “why” behind Agile practices while starting to adapt them based on our unique contexts.

Scrumban, with its emphasis on flexibility and customization, is an ideal topic for exploration in this phase, and you’ll find some resources to guide you in that direction.

Finally, we arrive at the Ri state, which you’ll notice contains the fewest explicit resources for education.

That’s intentional, because in this state an Agile practitioner “is now learning and progressing more through self discovery than by instruction,” as the Shuhari Dojo Martial Arts center puts it. 

Your own experiences will teach you a lot in this stage, as can interactions with other advanced practitioners, so you’ll see a focus on those types of learning opportunities here.  

Shu: Resources to Follow the Rules

As you begin your Agile journey and prepare to follow the rules, you may find it helpful to attend some “traditional” Agile trainings, meaning those that weren’t designed specifically for marketers.

In this arena, an Agile Fundamentals course is an excellent place to start. If you’re ready to apply those general learnings to a marketing context, I’m offering some workshops designed for Agile marketers

Additionally, if you already know which methodology you’re going to use, you might find a more specific training helpful:

If you plan to attend a non-marketing focused course, reach out to your instructor in advance and let them know you’re particularly interested in applying Agile outside of IT.

This is becoming an increasingly popular use case, so it’s likely they’ll be excited to stretch their course to cover it, and it will give you a better chance at getting a less software-centric learning experience.

For those who prefer independent learning, here are some foundational texts you can explore:

  • Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, by Jeff Sutherland and JJ Sutherland. This book should be required reading on all Agile marketing teams. While the examples offered all come from software, the explanatory sections apply to all kinds of knowledge work. It cuts through the roles, ceremonies, and rigidity of Scrum to get to its brilliantly simple foundations.
  • Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business, by David Anderson. Marketing teams tend to have their best success with Kanban, so follow up your reading of Scrum with this text. There’s less inspirational language, but it points the way to an equally outstanding approach to getting work done. You can also follow David’s more recent writings on his blog.  
  • Hacking Marketing: Agile Practices to Make Marketing Smarter, Faster, and More Innovative, by Scott Brinker. Normally I’m not a big fan of “hacks,” but I make an exception for Scott’s dazzling book. Clever, concise, and written entirely for a marketing audience, it doesn’t get much better than this. Scott isn’t afraid to adjust traditional Agile practices as needed, so you’ll find a more flexible application than what you’ll see in other methodology-focused books.
  • Death of a Marketer: Modern Marketing’s Troubled Past and a New Approach to Change the Future, by Andrea Fryrear. OK, I have to put my own book on here or I’ll never hear the end of it from my publisher. But I do hope this is a truly helpful resource for Agile marketers interested in where this approach came from and why it represents our best hope for a brighter future. I also introduce all four major Agile methodologies (Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, and Lean) as they apply to marketing, so it’s an efficient introductory text.  

Ha: Tools to Help Break the Rules

At this point in your Agile journey I think it’s appropriate to dive deep into the hybrid methodology known as Scrumban, because it’s really all about bending rules.

Rather than strictly apply practices from Kanban or Scrum, Scrumban suggests that you intelligently and deliberately pick the best ones from both for your unique context.

Think of it like getting access to the whole Agile buffet and choosing the perfect meal. But it works best when you already understand some of the recipes behind the food you’re choosing.

So, as you enter the Ha stage, pour yourself a tall beverage and check out Ajay Reddy’s The Scrumban [R]Evolution: Getting the Most Out of Agile, Scrum, and Lean Kanban. Warning: this book is dense, and it can be a little hard to dig out the most applicable nuggets.

If you’re looking for a quicker introduction, try this SlideShare that I put together on Scrumban.  

This is also a great time to start exploring case studies featuring the success of other Agile marketing teams, because now you’ll be advanced enough to know what’s a good fit for your organization and what wouldn’t work.

Check out the Marketing Agility podcast, hosted by long-time Agile marketing advocates Roland Smart and Frank Days. They’ve collected dozens of great stories over the years.  

Depending on your organization and team size, you might also begin exploring how to scale Agile marketing and more ways to practice effective Agile leadership as you move outside of functional silos.

This workshop on Leading Agile Marketing Teams is one way to start down that path.

Ri: Helping Others Be the Rules

As you enter the Ri stage and become your own rules, don’t let your drive for learning dissipate. Expand the kinds of workshops and trainings you attend and the kinds of books you read so you can improve different aspects of the team and your own practice.

Check out literature on the Theory of Constraints, Lean, and Business Agility as you look for new ways to make your workplace more Agile.

If they’re available in your area, try local Agile meetups that aren’t marketing specific. By this point in your journey you’ll be able to critically evaluate the content and apply or reject it based on your unique situation.

And please, once you reach this stage, share your journey with others!

Present at conferences, publish blog posts, and help others down the Agile path. This will not only accelerate other marketing teams, it will advance your own Agile practice by solidifying and clarifying what you’ve learned.

Learn, Break, and Be The Rules All the Time

While we’ve used these three stages as a helpful way to divide up educational resources, you’ll move between them throughout your Agile journey. So even if you’re comfortably in Ri on one team, you may return to Shu once you join a new team or start educating a new hire.

Likewise, keep circling back to resources from each section. New experience often provides fresh eyes, revealing insights from old sources that you missed the first time around.


Get our free ebook, Agile Marketing Tips from 10 Experts, for more advice from thought leaders, including Andrea Fryrear.

About the Author

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea is the president and lead trainer at AgileSherpas (http://www.agilesherpas.com/), a training, education, and consulting company designed to help marketing teams transform their work from frantic to fantastic. Her most recent book, *Death of a Marketer*, chronicles marketing’s troubled path and the steps it must take to claim a more Agile future. She geeks out on all things agile and content @andreafryrear.

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