Once upon a time, we all worked in silos. We all had our areas of expertise and preferred ways of working and that was that. But in today’s innovation-driven market, where the biggest prizes go to the firms and individuals that can most quickly adapt to and lead change, companies with strict internal divisions and creaky, slow-moving, hierarchical management styles are fast becoming endangered species. In order to keep pace we all need agility — something only the aptly named agile methodology can deliver.
The agile method started, as you can probably guess, in the software development world. As technology has developed more and more rapidly, with shorter turnaround times between new products, development companies increasingly found that the old waterfall model of sequential design led to months and then years wasted planning for and developing products the technology had moved beyond by the time a release finally came to fruition.
Thus agile development was born as a speedy, transparent, collaborative and adaptive way to develop and test products in real time. It wasn’t long before this effective (and adrenaline-pumping) methodology began to spread into other industries.
Agile and Marketing
So just what does the agile method look like when applied to marketing? I learned the answer to this question when working with one of our clients, Outsystems, a custom applications builder that’s built not just its production but its entire business model around the agile approach.
# 1. Sprint planning
The agile method is all about reducing development cycle times. That’s something you can’t do unless you’ve taken the time to plan things out ahead of time. However, the difference between the kind of planning that happens in the agile method and that of more traditional models is the way tasks are broken down both between people and teams and over time.
- In traditional models, large goals are set and then various teams go off to do their own thing without much daily accountability, meaning there’s often a large amount of drift. This is often compounded when an organization holds too many ambitious goals at once.
- In the sprint planning at my organization, teams meet monthly to develop a list of priority projects that urgently require our focus. The rest goes into a sprint backlog for the next go around. We then break each project into actionable tasks that can further be broken down into lists, making it easier for various team members to step up and take responsibility for one small piece at a time.
# 2. SCRUM
Once sprint planning is complete and the month is officially launched, we gather together as a team every morning for fifteen minute SCRUM meetings.
- This is when we each stand up and report on what we did yesterday, what we’re going to do today, and any roadblocks we can foresee.
- This ensures both that no tasks are slipping through the cracks, and that we’re able to adjust both individually and on a team level to the conditions we encounter, rather than letting ourselves slowly become buried beneath a pile of missed tasks.
- Because we do this all visually on a Kanban board, it’s easy to visualize what’s happening where, and to spot and fix inefficiencies before they become big problems.
# 3. Individuals and Interactions
The agile development method at Outsystems emphasizes individuals and interactions over processes and tools. It’s easy to see how that applies to sprint planning and scrum, which encourage cross-team collaboration, but specifically in the marketing arena. I would say that same philosophy also applies to selling your business, not your product.
- With an entire ecosystem of social media out there and an internet culture that will ultimately reveal all hidden secrets, businesses that feel the most authentic, unique, responsive, and transparent are the ones that will thrive.
- The agile marketer understands this, using social customer relationship management tools to track and respond to comments online, as well as to encourage the kind of engagement that makes customers feel like they’re actively collaborating with a brand, rather than being begged to buy their products.
# 4. Using Analytics to Promote Change
The agile systems is, well, agile. While Outsystems rolls their product out in several stages, measuring its effectiveness as they go, my marketing firm takes full advantage of analytics both during and after a campaign to determine the effectiveness of our efforts.
- In the agile system, every project is a scientific experiment. The agile marketer knows that an unexpected result isn’t a failure, it’s information they should then use to re-launch a more effective campaign.
- We know it’s about questioning your biases and assumptions with actual data, and it’s about effectively managing and acting on that data by creating a dashboard-driven culture that can both keep you on top of all the relevant intel and help you see through visualizations to the next phase of your strategy.
While it may not seem on the surface that software developers and marketers would have much in common, the agile system says otherwise. And I can tell you for a fact, it’s helped my firm get a lot more done.