Agile marketing is a methodology that allows for exceptional results in a chaotic environment. Not all marketing teams work in a rapidly changing and chaotic environment and for them, the waterfall model is perfectly fine. I suspect however that most digital marketing teams will be working in a pretty hectic environment. I say this because:
“completely unordered and unpredictable and confusing”
“of or relating to a sensitive dependence on initial conditions”
In the process of digital marketing, it’s difficult to predict things and the variables keep changing, everything is in constant flux. The web is particularly dynamic and so if for example we work towards gaining as much traffic to a website as possible from Google, we rely on the factors we are aware of to achieve that. We’re not in control of them though, and they can change at any time. Often they do. Social networks are a collective living organism if you will. They move so fast and change shape so quickly that it’s hard to make predictions without sitting down for some time with a lot of hard maths. The requirements also can change. A website goal may alter and this alters the entire strategy around it. We may launch a site a find that users are behaving in an unpredicted, unanticipated way and that we need to change our plan. There are so many shifting factors (not to mention new technology and methods dying and appearing) that it isn’t a good idea to pretend that “everything is under control!”
Because in fact:
“Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news”—Chogyam Trungpa
From chaos comes a lot of good. If we are able to go with the grain rather than against it (i.e. accept that we work in changing environments rather than pretending we don’t) then we can achieve great things. In fact Steve Martin was spot on when he said:
“Chaos in the midst of chaos isn’t funny, but chaos in the midst of order is.”
Which is where Agile comes in. I wrote a post introducing the concept of Agile and relating it to the SEO industry last year called “Agile SEO” and you’ll find a good introduction to the basic concepts there. Jim Highsmith writes:
“Agility is the ability to adapt and respond to change … agile organizations view change as an opportunity, not a threat.”
This means that:
- Planning is problematic: you cannot create a plan at the beginning of a large complex project and expect it to just be a case of going through each stage of your plan to achieve the end result. It simply doesn’t happen. Maybe your lead developer will be off sick, or maybe your client changes their mind mid-project. Your client should be allowed to change their mind as they are also working in a changing environment. Unanticipated problems are the norm.
- Change occurs all the time. It’s inevitable. Markets change, technology changes, requirements change and so does the weather.
Ok this is all pretty obvious stuff, but the client will want to have delivery of the project at some point in the foreseeable future. How do you keep them happy whilst being caught in all this chaos? You still need to deliver.
Agile allows you do so but instead of making inflexible, “best guess” plans that lead to a lot of stress when things don’t go to plan, you accept the dynamic nature of your environment and use it to deliver exactly what the client wants at the highest quality possible. If things change and you don’t change the plan, you won’t deliver what you need to. Agile allows us to take advantage of chaos and deliver efficiently.
Some key methods from Agile that are easy to implement and very effective in a marketing environment:
- work in 2 week sprints: You deliver something that has measurable business value every 2 weeks. This means that your client is constantly seeing progress and you are able to break big complex things down into manageable chunks. Waiting 3 months for delivery on something you’ve put a lot of money into is pretty stressful for you and for the people working on it. If something needs to change, it can be done as the project builds. No dramas.
- Get everyone to write down each chunk of work they’re doing on a card and place it on the wall under the “Completed”, “In progress”, “Initiating” or “Backlog” column. Write a score between 1-5 on each of them representing the size and complexity of the task. This way you can all take responsibility for your work and for delegating. You can also easily see where there’s a problem and where work isn’t going through. This gives you the opportunity to change things as you go. It might look something like this. Or like this for example.
- Oh yes, after every 2 week sprint have a quick chat about what went right and what you could have done better. Then apply the learnings in the future.
- Get your client involved. They’ll see the output every 2 weeks, get their feedback and move forwards.
- Trust your team to self-organise. Everyone has a collective responsibility for the project being a success. Don’t micromanage people, the more responsibility you give them the better they will do (this is true in teams where there are experienced and qualified people only).
- Use daily 5min stand ups for everyone to point to the wall and say what they’re working on. Set a timer for this so no time is wasted. Then get to work.
- Only have meetings that you really need to have. To make sure that they’re useful, have a set of things you want to accomplish in the meeting and allocate time to each one. Stick to this in your meeting. If something needs to be discussed further, you can always call another meeting. This avoids everyone sitting around meetings and meetings where one sticking point is discussed every time and nothing else gets addressed.
- Only write documentation that you actually need. Don’t produce it for the sake of it. This is a waste of time and resources.
- Involve the client. Work with them not for them. This is a collaboration and this will ensure that everyone is on the same page at all times.
- Have a deep, diverse skill set within your team. Agile is a lot about the people!
There are a ton more things that you can do, the nice thing about Agile is that you can implement the bits you like without having to implement the whole thing. It’s efficient and will help your team work in greater harmony. And if you ever get a strange idea or requirement that seems to put a spanner in the works,
“Our real discoveries come from chaos, from going to the place that looks wrong and stupid and foolish.” — Chuck Palahniuk
Here is a cool case study on Agile marketing by Jason Cohen in Pecha Kucha format.