Agile, the project management philosophy and protocols that originated during the 1990s in the software development world, is being applied to marketing. The hope is that by empowering self-directed marketing teams, we can capitalize on insights, eliminate silos, accelerate production, ensure transparency and improve customer input and satisfaction.
The promise and the payoff are tempting. According to McKinsey, in product lines where Agile is used companies have seen as much as a fourfold increase in revenues. And the time it takes to get new marketing ideas in front of customers has compressed from multiple weeks or months to less than two weeks.
The challenge is that tech-oriented approach is a totally new way of working that requires learning the language, translating concepts from code-writing to creative thinking and being open to sharing roles and responsibilities. In some cases, senior management thinks agile is a silver bullet to overcome an array of organizational or management issues.
The key elements of the Agile methodology make loads of sense. Agile insists on the primacy of the small team to determine content and production scheduling. Working in two-week sprints, projects are stewarded by a Scrum Master who leads daily face-to-face stand-up progress meetings. Projects are carefully chunked into bite-size steps which are assessed, measured and adapted, as necessary. Ideas are tested and iterated. Contingent or dependent issues and KPIs are raised, addressed, resolved and visually boarded daily. Every team member’s role and tasks are delineated, documented and accounted for. Clients, or project owners, make decisions, resolve conflicts, manage QA and direct next steps. Project movement can be noted, measured and accurately forecast regularly.
Having been through the Agile training several times and experienced the positive and negative grafting of the Agile concept into marketing organizations, four recommendations for success seem in order.
Be Adaptable. Agile is a creature of the technology universe. Over the years it has acquired a religious-like following with both orthodox and liberal advocates. Applying Agile to marketing requires editing, translation and the ability to cherry-pick the most applicable and useful ideas.
Hardcore Agilists will squawk, but each organization needs to align the working principles with the organization’s structure and culture. In most cases, a pilot project is the best first step.
Staff Teams Carefully. A huge success component of Agile are the people practicing it. Staff the teams, especially pilot projects, with people who are open, flexible and open to learning new things and new ways. Imagine data scientists easily interacting with creative directors and IT guys mixing it up with marketing strategists. Find people who will welcome ideas and inputs without feeling threatened or turf conscious. Becoming Agile is an adventure that will take some people far from their comfort zones. Avoid putting these people on the team.
Respect the Format. The prime building blocks of Agile; two-week sprints, daily meetings, Scrum leadership, client or customer decision-making and Kanban Boards (visible score boards) take a bit to get used to. Try to stick to these structures. Ultimately, they shape the project and cement the interactions and bonding of the team.
Get Senior Support. Adapting Agile requires realistic top-level endorsement and support. The approach will create a certain amount of anxiety and friction that will need to be absorbed and resolved by a strong senior advocate or champion.
Agile is not a universal marketing cure-all. Some criticize the move to adapt Agile to marketing as a management fad. Testing Agile should aim to deliver improved project planning, team building, optimal application of specialized expertise, better and faster internal coordination and rapid response to markets, competitors and change.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.