Is there certification for Agile Marketing?

 Yes, certification is provided by the International Consortium for Agile, IC-Agile. I helped create the learning outcomes for this certification, and I was one of the first three people certified to teach a certification class. For more information about my classes, click here.

Who’s practicing Agile Marketing today?

According to the latest survey of Agile Marketers, about 40% of marketers practice some form of Agile today, with 42% of the remainder planning to adopt it. If you’d like to see some examples of companies practicing Agile marketing today, take a look at my Agile marketing case studies page.

My team would like to practice Agile, but our boss isn’t on board. Any tips for getting him or her on board?

First, don’t tell him that you’re practicing Agile. Just tell him that you’re trying some new ways to organize your work or to prioritize your work. Cool it on the Agile language: don’t talk about Scrum or Kanban or Daily Standups or Sprints. Second, figure out what’s important to your boss and make sure that what you’re doing delivers benefits to your boss. Most people respond to the WIIFM principle (What’s In It For Me). Third, engage your clients or business units. While not using Agile language, tell them you’re trying something new, and make sure that you deliver something that they really like. Your clients (if you’re an agency) or the business units you support can argue much more effectively than you can for continuing to use Agile.

I’m the boss. Not everyone on my team is on board with Agile marketing; how do I get them on board?

Involve the team from the beginning. Give them a say, if not decision making authority, on how they practice Agile marketing. Let them choose the length of Sprints. Let them choose whether they use Scrum, Kanban or Scrumban. People support what they help to create.

Second, make sure that you explain clearly why you’re adopting Agile to manage marketing, and listen to their feedback. Ask them what they want to make sure doesn’t get lost as you adopt Agile, and take steps to make sure those things don’t get lost. Ask them about their concerns, and address them.

Last, adopt Agile yourself. Try using personal Kanban to manage your own work. Hold periodic standups with your peer managers (probably not daily). Use Portfolio Kanban to manage priorities and track projects.

How do I get started with Agile marketing?

This is such an important topic that I wrote an entire book about it called The Six Disciplines of Agile Marketing. While I can’t cover the entire book in this FAQ, here are a few suggestions:

  • Get certified. Not scrum master certification (most of your team won’t be scrum masters), but Agile Marketing certification, taught by marketers, not Agile specialists who generally know more about Agile for software development than for marketing.
  • Align the team on 3 key questions: why are you adopting Agile marketing, what does success look like, and how will you measure success.
  • Consider a trial, particularly one involving a cross-functional team. You definitely don’t want to re-organize the entire marketing organization as part of your initial adoption of Agile. Instead, start small, learn, and iterate on your learnings.

Can Agile marketing work for virtual teams?

Absolutely! Extra care should be taken to ensure everyone gets a chance to speak in virtual meetings. You should also use tools like Slack and notifications from your Kanban tool to make sure that everyone is kept up to date. And make sure that you have some fun virtual events that include lots of social time.

The Scaled Agile Framework folks have published a good article on working remotely in Agile virtual teams.

How do you implement Agile marketing in large organizations?

Agile was designed for small teams (3-7 people); implementing it in large organizations takes special care. I’ve devoted an entire chapter in my book about scaling Agile marketing. Here are a few thoughts.

Begin with a pilot. Start small, learn, and iterate on your learnings. Don’t try to take your entire marketing team or an entire division to Agile at once. Develop best practices for your organization, document them, and apply them to new teams as they adopt Agile.

Scaling Agile also takes special care. Software development teams use various frameworks and models to scale. The most commonly implemented framework is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and the most common model is the one used by Spotify. While marketers should be aware of both SAFe and the Spotify model, neither is a perfect fit for marketing. Marketing teams should examine both and determine what techniques from these two approaches works best for their team. They can also use techniques such as Scrum of Scrums to coordinate multiple teams.

Does everyone need to be re-organized in to cross-functional teams for Agile marketing to work?

Absolutely not! Like anything else in Agile, start small, learn, and iterate. As much as I love cross-functional teams (and I do), I don’t believe that everyone should be organized in cross-functional teams. Some skill-sets lend themselves to sharing. For example, if you have only one videographer in your marketing group, they may need to be shared among the teams. Or perhaps you have a central team responsible for all website updates, and they are very responsive, typically updating the website within 12 hours of any request. If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.

What tools would you recommend for Agile marketers?

While I don’t recommend any particular tool, I have written a blog post about tools that can be used for Agile marketing. The key consideration should be does it make you more Agile? Or does it slow things down? Many pre-agile tools have added Agile fairy dust and sometimes a few features to their non-agile underpinnings. This is true of many ticket based systems, which tend to induce a check the box, close the ticket, mentality. In my opinion, they do more harm than good.

Where can I find other Agile marketers to learn from, share best practices, etc.

There are about 50,000 marketers in 20 countries who are part of the 55 Agile Marketing meetups worldwide. There are a similar number of business agility meetups worldwide and although not everyone attending these meetups will be from marketing, many of the topics they discuss will be of interest to marketers. I would also encourage you to attend one of the business agility conferences put on by the Business Agility Institute.

Are there any Agile marketing podcasts?

Yes. Frank Days and Roland Smart have been doing the Marketing Agility podcast for a number of years and have interviewed some fantastic guests. John Cass has recently started the Deep Dive into Agile Marketing podcast and also has some great guests.

How do you recommend handling last minute requests (or random requests)?

If you are practicing Scrum, where possible you want to refuse last minute requests and add the to the queue for the next Sprint. If that’s not possible, decide what should be removed from the Sprint backlog commitment in order to handle this unscheduled work. If that’s not possible, some teams build in a limited amount of time, typically 10 percent of their capacity, for these last minute requests.

If you’re practicing Kanban or Scrumban, add the unscheduled work as the next item in the Ready queue, where it will be pulled by the next person available. If it’s so important that it can’t wait, you should have an expedited swim lane with certain policies attached – who can add items to the expedited lane, how many items at one time in the lane (usually just one), and whether everyone drops everything else in mid-execution to handle expedited items.

How do I handle budgeting if we don’t write long-range marketing plans?

Most budgets are triumphs of optimism over reality. They are seldom accurate at the end of the year. Ideally, Agile organizations budget quarterly, at least at the project level. But many managers still ask for yearly budgets. If that’s the case, start with known fixed expenses such as your yearly user’s conference, marketing technology licensing fees, etc. Then budget in the most general categories you can get away with – perhaps by business unit or product line.

I don’t like budgeting by the typical marketing categories (PR, paid advertising, content, events, etc.) Why? Because if you find that a pandemic has hit and live events are impossible, you’ll want to shift the budget. Or more commonly, if you find that certain kinds of content marketing are more efficient than PR (for example), you’ll want to shift your spending appropriately.

My boss wants a 3-year marketing plan; what do I do?

Those of you who know me know that I hate multi-year marketing plans. In my experience, they take up resources and time that could better be used to try out some marketing angles and see what resonates with customers.

If you have to produce one of these exercises in futility, here are some suggestions:

  • Write a short document, 1-10 pages long. Don’t use PowerPoint. Writing forces you to be more specific, without the hand waving that accompanies many PowerPoint presentations.
  • Present a few angles that you’d like to try, along with how you’ll test them.
  • Make the plan the basis for a strategic discussion. Bring up important questions, without necessarily answering them (but do be prepared to discuss your answer). Do a SWOT analysis, with an emphasis on the threats and the opportunities.

How do I handle daily or weekly recurring tasks (email, Slack, certain meetings, social media posts, a daily summary) during a Sprint?

I advise teams to subtract 20-25 percent of their capacity for these kinds from the total available before they calculate how much is available for the Sprint. These tasks do not get tracked on the Kanban board or other ways. I think of them as necessary overhead.

What are the most important changes in mindset that a team or an individual has to go through to make the transition to Agile?

I devoted an entire section of five chapters to this topic in my book The Six Disciplines of Agile Marketing. I can’t cover all of that in this FAQ, but here are two of the most important shifts in mindset for Agile marketers:

  • From Outputs to Outcomes – Marketers need to shift their mindset from we succeed by producing campaigns or content to we succeed by producing business results or outcomes.
  • From Campaigns to Continuous Improvement – Marketers need to move from a campaign mentality, take a long time to get everything perfect, then run it without any changes and declare victory to a mentality of get it out there quickly, test it, and continuously improve it.

How granular should tasks be in the Agile marketing backlog?

Most tasks should be granular enough that they can be finished with 2-3 days of work for one person. The occasional task may take as long as 5 days. If tasks are more complex or will take longer than that, break them up into smaller tasks. This will help the team move more quickly and get a regular sense of completion.

Do I need to write a user story for every task in the backlog?

Your backlog should have two kinds of entries: tasks and deliverables. Deliverables are something that is eventually going to be delivered to a customer, either external or internal. You should write a user story for every deliverable. Be aware that each user story may have multiple deliverables. For example, you may deliver content for a single user story in multiple formats: a blog post, a video, a webinar.

Tasks are not delivered to customers. For example, you may have a task to do an audit of your website to determine if you have enough content for every persona at every stage of their buyers journey. You do not have to write a user story for these tasks.

If teams are self-managing, how do you ensure accountability?

In Agile, accountability resides with the team, not with individual members. Hold the team accountable, either for completion of the Sprint backlog or for flow in Kanban.

If someone on the team isn’t pulling their weight, my experience is that the other team members will hold that person accountability. If that isn’t the case, managers should coach members of the team to work together to ensure accountability.

If teams are self-managing, what’s the role of the manager?

The role of the manager changes fairly dramatically in Agile organizations. Some managers will become marketing owners, setting priorities and creating and clarifying the backlog. In addition, managers in Agile organizations should practice the 3 C’s as I call them:

  • Coach – managers in Agile organizations should shift from managing the work (that is the job of the team) to coaching. Their job is to hire and develop people for the team.
  • Clarify – In his influential intent-based leadership approach, David Marquet says that the two most important pillars of leadership are to provide clarity and ensure competence. For any project, rather than manage the work by reviewing everything, Agile managers ensure great results by clarifying up front what the customer is looking for and what they (the manager) expects. Spend the time upfront to clarify the scope and the desired results of every project.
  • Clear the Way – Agile managers should be servant leaders who clear the way for their people by eliminating obstacles, advocating with senior leadership for resources and securing the help of other departments to move projects along.

Do we really need to do standups every day? Seems like a waste of time.

Holding standups on a regular basis improves communication and ensures that blocking issues are identified so that they can be fixed before they delay the delivery of the Sprint backlog. For example, if you practice two-week Sprints and you hold just weekly standups, you have only one opportunity, at the end of the first week, to identify a blocking issue and resolve it. If you hold daily standups, you have 9 opportunities to identify and resolve obstacles.

If you feel like daily standups are wasting time, go back to basics. Make sure that the standup lasts no longer than 15 minutes. Answer only the three questions (what did I do yesterday, what will I do today, and what’s blocking me).  Don’t do status reporting. Don’t try to resolve obstacles in the standup; instead, resolve them outside the standup and involve only those people who are necessary to resolve the blocking issue.

How do you hire for Agile marketing? What personality types work best?

Again, this is a topic I cover in more depth in my book. However, here’s the short answer. Hire t-shaped people, lifelong learners, and marketers who have a laser-like customer focus. T-shaped people are those that are deep in one particular area but also have a broad understanding of other areas of marketing and business. T-shaped people help improve a team by being more empathetic and understanding of the perspective of people with other skills, as well as by providing backup capacity in skills that aren’t their primary area of expertise.

Can Agile marketing be used in agencies?

Absolutely. I’ve trained a number of agencies in Agile marketing. It does require working with the client to establish different expectations. Many agency clients are accustomed to the model of paying for hours and for deliverables (ads, content, campaigns). Shifting them to a model where they pay for business results may take some effort, but those who make the shift will be very loyal and won’t want to go back to the old model.