What DOES 'BEING Agile' MEAN – and how can it be applied to marketing?


These are the foundational principles That Agile development was Started on:

 

  • Responding to change over following a plan
  • Rapid iterations over Big-Bang campaigns
  • Testing and data over opinions and conventions
  • Many small experiments over a few large bets
  • Individuals and interactions over one size fits all
  • Collaboration over silos and hierarchy
     

And the core Agile ValueS That Define The Entire Framework:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Since these values were originally conceived with software development in mind, let’s do a bit of translation:

Disclaimer: I feel that every business/org is different and has different needs around agile - said differently, while you are usually taking a fairly standard or common set of needs and pain points that get you to the agile doorstep, you end up focusing on different aspects depending on what your team's specific needs are. So, before diving into prescriptives, it is important to first gain an understanding of where a particular team is at. Only from there, can you engage an effective conversation about what direction to take. 

That said, as it applies to marketing, agile is really about helping marketing teams optimize the marketing equation based on customer feedback loops - as real-time as possible and practical. Since so much marketing is done online today (because this is where the customers are), the feedback loops can be real-time. The list of benefits is longer than this, but probably better for a follow up discussion.

Below, I have added my own comments for clarity as well as for the application of agile to marketing.

 

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools-

What this means is that people should communicate and interact and explain themselves - using their own words, and in a person-to-person way. Like how your parents used to say "Use your words! Use your words!". This is how needs become well understood. Sometimes people in organizations forget how to talk to each other. Sometimes they don't want to. Maybe there's an underlying lack of trust that needs to be addressed. Oh the things becoming agile will expose!

This agile value is also about transparency - so you don't hear feedback like "Making requests of person/team XX feels like throwing things into a black hole. I never know what they are really working on." This can sometimes be code for "I don't know what their value is."

 

Working software over comprehensive documentation -

Now, in marketing, you aren't building software, so is this even relevant? It is. What's relevant about this statement is that it emphasizes the delivery of customer value over extensive documentation, planning or internal sales presentations. You may have worked in teams where there is a lot of up-front documentation to gain funding or launch a piece of work, like a marketing campaign. Agile values actually starting the work and delivering tangible customer value as opposed to thinking and writing about the work. Anything that can get your team closer to the customer and closer to customer feedback is what you should do.

 

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation -

This follows on from the prior value statement. It is a challenge to be predictive about the market and about customer needs, but companies still do it. I have been part of 36-month planning cycles. In fact, I once had to forecast demand 3+ years out - ! On it's own, that's not a bad thing, but it drove marketing launch plans, resource allocations, hiring, contract negotiations, and even space planning. What follows is an escalation of commitment which makes it difficult to pivot, even in the face of new customer information that contradicts the original plan. Not knowing when to pull the plug can kill projects - and companies. Click here for a great article about escalation of commitment bias if you want to understand this topic more deeply.

 

Responding to change over following a plan -

This value is all about being customer and market focused. It is supported by how agile work gets delivered, which is in small chunks delivered at velocity. The beauty of how this applies to marketing is that so much of marketing is done digitally today. This creates an environment of iteration, experimentation, and testing, where learning can take place because the size of the iterations is more manageable.