Stop Treading Water: The Case For Agile Marketing

PAR’s Vice President of Marketing, Kevin Jaskolka was recently featured in Forbes Magazine:

Many marketing departments are struggling to keep up amid the rapids and undertows presented by the organizations they support, along with competitive pressures and increasingly sophisticated requirements from the sales department. The demands on marketing teams to go faster and do more with less are increasing like never before.

Complicating matters for the chief marketing officer is a chief financial officer who is appropriately holding the line on incremental investment and headcount to balance the needs of the organization.

Treading water will not cut it, and if you cannot swim to shore, you are in a lot of trouble.

One sure way to avoid drowning is to get out of the waterfall. No, not Niagara Falls, but the traditional sequence-based, gated “waterfall” approach to marketing that no longer cuts it in the pace of 21st century business. Agile marketing can help you go from just treading water to swimming to shore and surviving.

Many of you are likely familiar with agile development, as it started years ago and has become popular with software development communities around the world. Its success and methodologies have started to migrate into the marketing discipline.

Agile marketing is still in the early adoption phase. According to a report by Wrike, “How Marketers Get Things Done: The State of Agile Marketing in 2016,” which surveyed 800 marketers, only 21.2% are fully using an agile approach, but 52.2% said they are experimenting with aspects of agile marketing.

At PAR Technology, we recently made a full transition to agile marketing and are very pleased with the results. Here are some things to consider as you look to implement this method.

  1. Agile marketing will not fix a poor team dynamic.

While agile marketing will help a high-performing team get better, it is not a fix for a dysfunctional team. If you have a poorly performing team, put agile on hold and focus on improving the team dynamic.

To work on building better teams, I recommend reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick M. Lencionis, and Who Will Do What By When, by Tom and Birgit Hanson. Once the team dynamic has improved and there is cohesion, begin introducing agile principles.

  1. When getting started, pen and paper are your friends.

There are many digital platforms available to do visual workflow, ranging from simple and free to complicated and expensive. Common platforms include Microsoft Planner, Trello, Favro and Jira. All these platforms offer great capability and can be very helpful, especially with remote teams. But here is another example where people and process can trump the importance of a tool.

In your early days of implementing agile, consider physically creating the visual work board on a wall or whiteboard. Write out the sprint backlog on index cards or large sticky notes. Then decompose the tasks on smaller sticky notes and have the team move each task through the workflow. The process of physically handling and managing each task through the workflow creates a useful experience in terms of learning the discipline.

I have found that the 15-minute daily sprint meetings are a bit more meaningful for my team when the members are in front of their peers talking about what they did yesterday and what they plan to accomplish today — actually moving the cards across the board. While analog processes are never perfect in the long run, they are a great way to learn and build discipline. Remember, tools and technology are great, but if the people don’t fully understand the methodology and the process is weak, the tool won’t make up for it.

Crawl and walk the workflow of the product owner through the scrum master (agile facilitator) and the team first. Get that solidified, and then move to a digital tool to manage and measure the workflow and pick up the speed. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with different digital platforms before selecting one. Most offer free trials or month-to-month options that will give you a chance to run a sprint or two before standardizing.

Remember, the goal is to go faster, and the optimization of the people and process are what makes that possible — not just the tool used.

  1. Approach the adoption of agile in iterations.

Finally, do not overthink the move to agile, except as it relates to the team dynamic explored above. The question is not so much if you are doing it “right” or “wrong,” but if your team is getting better and faster because of agile marketing. Build your agile practice in iterations, and give yourself permission to be messy as you go.

I can’t overemphasize the importance of just jumping in and experimenting. Early on, one-week sprints are better. The short runs provide frequent iterations and opportunity for retrospect on what is working and what can be improved.

Give the team broad latitude to get the work done. After the work priorities have been set and the definition of what successful completion looks like is determined, let the team figure out how to accomplish the work, and give your team members the freedom to do the work in a way that is best for them.

As your team members get a few early sprints behind them and show competence and confidence in the process, the next sprint should be used to set a baseline of capacity as a metric to build off of going forward.

By working in agile, we have been able to realize double-digit-percentage gains in marketing capacity. Our team is satisfied with the methodology, and members are getting the opportunity to contribute in new ways and develop new skills as we get out of the silos of functionality and begin to work more horizontally.

“Kaizen,” or continuous improvement, is key. Continue to learn, stay curious and refine your methods to keep gaining more efficiency by using retrospectives to sand rough edges and eliminate bottlenecks. Use these three steps to get underway and build your team into an agile machine that will help you get more done without incremental resources.