Amplify Your Agile by Walking on the Moon

Guest Post by Steve Gilbert

OK, you are thinking, what the heck does a Police song from the 1979 have to do with Agile Marketing? We all know the genius of Sting, the iconic songwriter, but was he really 35 years ahead of the curve for agile? Well let’s see.

Here are 20 words from the chorus describing the mixed feelings one might have while venturing into outer space….

Giant steps are what you take
Walkin’ on the moon
I hope my leg don’t break
Walkin’ on the moon

Now that the unforgettable and fabled tune is solidly stuck in your head, are you able to make the connection to effective Agile Marketing? Not quite yet? Well let us take a look at the following diagram, maybe that will help.

Agile progress curve

Picture the “Giant steps you take” as the wavy Agile Progress line in the chart. Each peak represents another bound while the 1/6th gravity environment of the Moon accelerates you toward your effortless increase in customer engagement and response. These large advances in marketing effectiveness, message to market or other target activity are easy to make when empowered by the iterative and adaptive approach of Agile Marketing. You take “one small step” and it is amplified into a “giant leap”.

But how do you know that your small steps will be amplified into “giant leaps”? Well that’s the secret isn’t it and ultimately where the genius of Sting really shows when he says ‘I hope my leg don’t break’ when ‘walking on the moon’.

Even Sting may not have realized it when he was writing this song, but he was profoundly describing the customer feedback loop of the Agile Process. This is undeniably the most significant yet most difficult part of any agile engagement, taking the time to listen to customers and act on their feedback.

Let’s put this concept into a real world example. Imagine that your company is experiencing an unexpected viral event (a positive one) where you are creating an explosion of traffic to your website. This event will be short lived (maybe 48 hours) but presents a positive opportunity to engage with a new audience.

Because this event is unexpected, many companies typically would not make a substantial change to their site but simply let the viral activity run through a standard experience. In some cases the reaction would be a 12-24 hour turn around fire drill with approved updated content released after missing the initial spike or fresh visitors. Either way it is a one shot approach to get it right and hit or miss on the content to create a longer tail for the event.

Now, if your organization is leveraging an Agile Marketing approach, where empowered team members constantly review page activity and make incremental real time alterations to your pages, giant steps are indeed possible.

Picture this scenario. Your team intercepts the spike in activity within minutes of the viral activity. Then, they quickly alter your homepage or microsite experience to align with the traffic drivers and capture the visitors attention. As the wave of traffic continues to increase you leverage this unique opportunity to aggressively test different messages, offers or images using your A/B testing model. The result is that your team has maximized this opportunity, leveraging the increased traffic to gather an incredible amount of customer feedback in a very short period of time. In the greater scheme of things this is a low risk situation given the alternative of doing nothing.

The message: Create an environment where teams are comfortable in altering the experience by listening to visitors and using the data to take educated risks on message and content. This way they find out quickly and in a data driven way what offers are engaging and what areas of the experience are compelling.

If this real time example does not seem like something immediately accomplishable within your organization, you can take the same scenario and make it more ‘real’ where you slow down the timeline to say a week or month when a press event increases site activity but then still apply the same ‘feedback loop’ principal. Either way, by using a “process of customer discovery over static prediction”, you can see how building an organization around listening to customers and providing the freedom to innovate sits at the core of Agile Marketing and will offer you a competitive advantage when developing content and messaging that effectively target your key persona.

To wrap this up and help you to implement this mindset into your marketing organization we will look back to Sting one more time for guidance and wisdom on Agile.

Giant steps are what you take
Walking on the moon
I hope my legs don’t break
Walking on the moon
We could walk forever
Walking on the moon
We could be together
Walking on, walking on the moon

This message is about enablement and empowerment of the agile teams. “We could walk forever” and “We could be together” both use the term we and expound on the endless possibilities of Agile. As a manager, team leader or executive, you have to empower your teams to try things (albeit small things) fearlessly, give them space to be creative, put those early ideas to work in controlled environments, while staying within bounds of the sprint cycles, budget or other fences that may be around them. Giving them this freedom to occasionally have that ‘broken leg’ while gathering meaningful information to improve results is the true secret of Agile Marketing. If you listen to your customers you can be sure “Giant steps” you too will take, “Walking on the moon”.

Steve Gilbert is a Digital and Agile Marketing addict who enjoys sailing and coaching hockey in his ‘spare time’. For more insight into these and other topics you can follow Steve @stevegilbert4 or on LinkedIn @

Pairs Agile Marketing

pairs agile marketing

Courtesy of Menlo Innovations, LLC

The developers who gathered in Snowbird, Utah in 2001 to write the original Agile Manifesto represented many different approaches to improving programming productivity: Scrum, Extreme Programming, Dynamic Systems Development Methodology (DSDM), Adaptive Software Development, Pragmatic Programming, etc. Other than rejecting the traditional waterfall methodology, they had little in common. It’s amazing, really, that they were able to agree on anything in 3 days, much less something as crisp and influential as the Agile Manifesto.

Since 2001, Scrum has emerged as the most commonly used Agile methodology, and many of us have applied Scrum to marketing. However, I’ve been asking myself if some of the alternative Agile methodologies can also be applied to marketing. The answer, I think, is yes. Over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to look at several of these alternatives, beginning with Pair Programming.

Pairs programming requires that two programmers sit in front of one computer – one drives, or enters code, the other observes, looking at the big picture, looking for mistakes or for unwarranted assumptions, commenting as the first programmer types. Every so often, they switch roles. The emphasis is on communication and quality.

There is some evidence that although pairs programming may take somewhat longer initially, it reduces the number of defects, and leads to long term productivity. Pairs programming has other benefits as well:

  • It improves communication among the team
  • It spreads knowledge. If one developer leaves, his partner has knowledge of the code
  • It can be used to mentor less experienced programmers

How might this apply to marketing? Can we adopt something I’ll call Pairs Agile Marketing? Imagine a marketing team, divided up into pairs. Rather than having lots of group meetings (something us marketers seem to do a lot of), brainstorming  particular marketing programs or deliverables, pairs of marketers divide up, one outlining or even creating marketing programs or materials, while the other looks over his or her shoulder, suggesting improvements, correcting mistakes and generally contributing to the finished product. After 30-60 minutes, they switch off.

The emphasis is on deliverables, not meetings. Quality control is built in. The pairs take a list of stories from the Sprint backlog, and complete them in a timely fashion. They could also use more of a Kanban style methodology to pull the next work item into their pair. Let’s call this Pairs Agile Marketing.

Can this work? I honestly don’t know. We’re going to try it at my office, and we’ll let you know.  Has anyone else tried this? Is anyone else willing to try it and report the results?

Interview with John Mardlin

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to interview John Mardlin of PMRobot. John’s video isn’t very clear (some kind of problem with his camera), but he has some very interesting things to say about how to (and not to) bring Agile Marketing into an organization, and his own experiences using Agile Marketing from his background in formal project management.

The Transformation Agenda

transformation agendaOne of the toughest jobs for any marketer is to repair a damaged brand. Sometimes, it’s not repairing damage, but simply changing the attributes that the market associates with the brand. In early 2008, Howard Schultz of Starbucks was faced with this challenge. Starbucks, while a well recognized brand, had become associated with cookie-cutter coffee houses and mediocre expresso drinks. Their stock had fallen by almost half, and Howard Schultz, the founder, had returned as CEO after several years away from running the day-to-day business.

Schultz re-invigorated the Starbucks brand through what he called the “Transformation Agenda”. This was a concept he borrowed from Michael Dell, and it allowed him to articulate on a single page his vision, his strategy, and the key moves or tactics that he would take to transform the brand. He communicated this Transformation Agenda through a series of 15 memos to Starbucks Partners (their word for employees) in his first four months after returning as CEO.

As Agile Marketers, we can use this concept of the Transformational Agenda to articulate our own vision for where we want to take our brand. We can use it as a roadmap for a series of Sprints to take us on a long journey of transformation.

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Guest Post: Roadmaps for Agile Marketing

Agile Marketing RoadmapAgile marketing owes the world of software development a debt for the origination of agile methodologies.  Agile software development is quite mature and much thought has gone into modifying its processes to suit the needs of individual teams and organizations.

Though Agile Marketing is relatively new, the benefit of showing up late to the game is that agile marketers get to pick and choose the best moves from the players who’ve been at it longer.  That’s how agile marketing has learned from agile development, but there are still more tricks to be learned from the software world.  This post is inspired by Roman Pichler’s excellent article about roadmaps in agile development

The practice of creating a roadmap for software products is well established and is used in both waterfall and agile development to keep the team focused on the long road ahead, and let stakeholders know what to expect.

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The Agile Marketing Scrum Master

Scrum Master

Photo courtesy of Søren Cosmus

What are the duties of a Scrum Master? How do you choose someone who will make a successful scrum master, what personality traits and skills do you look for? And are there differences between the role, duties and skillset necessary to become a successful scrum master for Agile Marketing, as compared to Agile Development? I’ve been asking myself these questions lately, and I’d like to share my thoughts and ask you to share yours.

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How Not to Do Agile Marketing

199747855_6f2219703e_nI’ve been working lately with Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing. If you don’t know Matt, he’s one of the most consistently insightful marketing practitioners around. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, hire him. If you’re not, subscribe to his newsletter, which is full of nuggets of goodness.

We had just finished our first Sprint together at a company I’m now running, and we were conducting our Sprint Review, working our way into planning for our second Sprint. I’ve introduced Matt to Agile Marketing, just as he’s introduced me to some of his techniques, and he made a comment that I found particularly insightful.

We have to be careful that we don’t let all this great activity that we’re getting done because of Agile Marketing lull us into thinking that we’re accomplishing our goals just because we’re moving so much from the Sprint backlog column into the done column.

I think that’s exactly right. The point of Agile Marketing isn’t just to get more done, it’s to get the right things done so that we can hit our goals and ultimately generate more business for the company.

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Swimlanes, Subscriptions and Standups

KanbanToolWe’ve been using a new tool (new to us at least) for managing our Sprints: KanbanTool. In using it, we’ve found several features very useful, and it has also changed how we do our standups. Just to give you some background, in previous Sprints, I’ve used either whiteboards and large colored index cards or Trello.

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Winning at Planning Poker

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Planning poker is one of the most useful tools in Agile Software development, and yet most Agile Marketing teams don’t practice it. Here’s why, if you’re not already practicing planning poker, you should start.

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Strategy is Delivery

UK Government siteOne of the best curators on the Net, particularly of all things agile, is Neil Perkin at the blog Only Dead Fish. I sometimes have to translate the british-isms (We are two nations separated by a common language), but I always find something interesting in his weekly fish food. This week is no exception. Neil led me to a wonderful article by Mike Bracken, the Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office of the UK, responsible for all things digital for the British government.

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