• Puja Shah

Agile In Action: Applying Agile Principles And Practicing Scrum In Marketing

In Rugby, the game from where Scrum draws its name and analogy, there are five or eight players who cohesively push the ball in the same direction in order to put it in play. Similarly, a marketing organization in a digital world is a collaborative, intimate team effort delivering business value in a tightly coordinated fashion.

I have had the privilege of working on an agile marketing team focused on consistently creating and distributing relevant and high-value content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

In our agile marketing organization, agile is a philosophy and a mindset while scrum is a part of the overall delivery approach. Scrum is an agile framework for managing knowledge work, with an emphasis on software development. However, since its agile nature lacks the rigidity of Waterfall allowing it to be flexible and respond to the changing needs of the business, this makes it suitable for applying in modern marketing organizations that out of no choice have to work in a volatile environment.

But, what does agile in the Marketing context really mean?

The latest Gartner CMO Spend Survey shows us, CMOs must build a diverse, adaptable range of team capabilities to keep their brands competitive amid rapid marketplace shifts. An agile approach would serve them well.

Applying the 12 Agile Principles to Marketing Organizations:

1. Satisfy the customer: Generally, every customer wants a product or a service that solves their problem, worth their money, and is delivered with amazing customer service. Customer-centric marketing is a strategy that places the individual customer at the center of marketing design and delivery.

2. Welcome change: Change is a constant and not an enemy. If you see it as an enemy, trust me, you will be the one defeated. Embrace change to meet new market demands, innovations, trends, technologies and advances. Change is good. It is also often hard. But to succeed in marketing, you must move with it, and join the dance.

3. Deliver frequently: Value in marketing is customer-perceived value and the difference between a prospective customer's evaluation of the benefits and costs of one product when compared with competition. Continuous improvement is a form of quality management that focuses on making small incremental improvements, rather than trying to achieve major changes. Focus on delivering increments, seek feedback, improve and deliver an iteration, then repeat. Make continuous improvement a cultural thing in your marketing organizations.

4. Work together: Scrum is propagated as a team-based approach to delivering business value. Even if remote, globally dispersed, marketing organizations will need to come up with innovative ways to keep the team unified and focused towards a common goal – delivering business value. This framework promotes effective collaboration between team members so they are able to tackle large projects and accomplish them together.

5. Trust and support: Trust is the key to successful agile delivery. Person-to-person trust between team members is as important as trust v/s control style in agile leadership. The scrum framework can be compared to traffic control system where the leadership provides only a few rules to be followed – stop, go and slow down signals - and the team self-organizes, inspects and adapts on its own.

6. Face-to-face conversation: Now, I see a slight problem with this 6th principle of the agile manifesto that states: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” Without a doubt, there is great merit in face-to-face communications but a lot has changed since 2001 when this manifesto was first written. Today, most content writers, graphics designers, web developers, and even leadership roles work remote or work from home most of the times. Many roles could be outsourced to an external agency. In such org structures, the remote staff often feels disconnected and agile coaches keep wondering, if the team is not co-located is it anti-agile? Well, the short answer is: No, a geographically dispersed team is not anti-agile!

Such teams should use working agreements (or Kanban boards, Asana, Wrike) that take shape at the start of a project and evolve as collaborative working dashboards between them. Tools like Slack, Yammer and Skype are great at putting communication in our hands anytime, anywhere and in any form – text or voice. Heads and VPs of Marketing facilitate the communication, notice when the working agreements are broken and revise them through retrospectives so the CMO and stakeholders continue to receive the agreed upon increment of business value.

7. Working software: In marketing, in many cases, some of the most important marketing projects these days are software development, IT projects, and entrepreneurial (or intrapreneurial) initiatives. As chiefmartec rightly puts it, like in software development, the primary objective is a working software; in marketing, the primary objective is remarkable customer experiences. Are the expectations of prospects, customers, and partners being met (or exceeded!) in the interactions we deliver online, in person, on the phone, over mobile devices, and directly through our products and services? This applies from early awareness building and demand generation efforts through to life cycle customer service. Because in an age where all prospects and customers are connected through digital networks, everything is marketing.

8. Sustainable development: This term is concerned with people responsible for communications, brand management and new product development who must have a broad view of social, economic and environmental outcomes, a long-term perspective on the customer’s ever-evolving interests and an inclusive approach in action, which recognizes the need for all people on the team to be involved in the decisions.

9. Continuous attention: Agile principle #9 talks about “Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design”. In the technical world, it is often important to quickly adopt the new releases to avoid lagging behind. Similarly, in marketing, right from the days of print, radio and television to internet, social media and video, to voice search and AI-driven personalization we have been constantly readjusting and adopting. Over time we may have become very good at utilizing modern day research, tracking and social media tools to our advantage and yet there is room for some uncertainty, always. You learn something every day if you pay attention.

10. Maintain simplicity: Complex is easy. Simple is hard. In “The Power of Simplicity”, even Jack Trout argues that it's high time for businesses to replace complexity with common sense, banish the jargon, articulate their vision, simplify processes, and refocus on core issues.

11. Self-organizing teams: Nature is pretty good at creating networks of self-organizing systems. This is a general characteristic of self-organizing systems: they are robust or resilient. Falling between order and chaos, the moment of complexity is the point at which self-organizing systems emerge to create new patterns of coherence and structures of behavior.

12. Reflect and adjust: Last, but not the least, the core of utilizing the scrum method is to foster a culture of embracing and adapting to changes in your industry. As marketers, we cannot always predict with utmost surety how long a particular trend will last or how long until the next new trend begins. We are always playing the catching-up game!

In my view, agile marketing is not just a way for the marketing team to get work done. It may also not be required that all the essential roles, events and artifacts of Scrum be implemented to the T as it is done in the software development world. What is important though is to embrace the goal of Scrum: to become self-organizing in order to best accomplish the mission at hand with flexibility, creativity, and productivity as the main objectives.

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