In other words, Agile marketing is simple and hard at the same time. While innovative marketers have applied pieces of this approach for years, often without realizing it, true implementation of Agile marketing adopts one or more Agile methodologies (Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban) and commits to improving performance continuously. While Scrum is designed for teams of five to nine people, Kanban and Scrumban can work for teams of any size. Q: How would Agile be useful for a single-person marketing department? A: The easiest way to use an Agile approach as an individual is to create a simple Kanban board showing how work flows from conception to completion. It visualizes what they’re doing so that others outside the team understand what’s going on (making them less likely to interrupt). Backlog setup Agile teams always have a backlog (a prioritized to-do list). An Agile team should be able to pull the top item from a backlog and start working on it with confidence, knowing that it’s the next thing they should do. Non-Agile teams in your Agile workflow Few marketing teams are an island, which means that Agile marketing teams typically have no choice but to develop effective ways of interfacing with non-Agile teams. A: If you’re leading an Agile marketing team, then yes.
Despite the growing popularity of Agile marketing and the fervent evangelism of early adopters, most marketers remain at least a bit confused. Questions are to be expected. Why? Because, although the basic Agile modus operandi is fairly straightforward – release work rapidly, learn from its performance, and adjust accordingly – Agile teams need an internal system that supports a new way of doing marketing.
In other words, Agile marketing is simple and hard at the same time. It’s simple to understand in theory. It’s hard to shift to working this way.
This duality can make it challenging to tackle the topic effectively, as my time leading workshops, breakout sessions, and webinars on the subject has taught me. The questions I get vary dramatically depending on where audience members find themselves on their Agile journey, and sadly, there’s never enough time to cover everything.
Fortunately, we aren’t constrained by time on a blog, so this article can get to all those burning, unanswered Agile-marketing questions. That’s a lot of ground to cover so to make it easier to navigate I’ve grouped the questions into categories.
For those who have just encountered this topic, I’ll start with foundational concepts. I love it when people ask these sorts of questions because they help those of us who have been doing Agile for years refocus on the core ideals.
Q: Can I get a definition of Agile marketing? Is it a brand name or a new methodology/approach to marketing?
A: Agile marketing is not a brand name nor is it a new approach (if you use “new” to mean something no one has tried). At its core, Agile marketing helps teams focus their collective efforts on high-value projects, complete those projects cooperatively, measure their impact, and then continuously and incrementally improve the results.
One of the most appealing attributes of Agile for marketers is that it systematically creates boundaries around the work being done. An Agile team deliberately chooses what to work on, which means that it’s also explicitly choosing what not to work on. When the inevitable fire drill comes up, you can politely say “No,” or at least “Not right now,” citing the protection of your Agile system.
For overwhelmed and overworked marketers, Agile can offer a path back to sanity.
While innovative marketers have applied pieces of this approach for years, often without realizing it, true implementation of Agile marketing adopts one or more Agile methodologies (Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban) and commits to improving performance continuously.
Q: Isn’t it Agile when we adopt a few pieces of the process at one time and continue to do so at a reasonable pace? It seems counterintuitive to adopt all things Agile at one time.
A: In the world of software development, where Agile originated, there has historically been an emphasis on wholesale departmental transformations when moving from traditional waterfall project management to some form of Agile. (A waterfall approach requires each stage of work – planning, for example – to be complete before work can flow to the next stage.)
Marketers have proven less receptive to this jump-into-the-deep-end style, preferring to pick and choose Agile pieces one at a time. As long as the team is truly committed to steadily bringing in more components of the chosen methodology and improving the process over time, there’s no reason this iterative approach can’t work as well as a massive one-time transformation.
Q: How much time does it take for a beginner to implement?
A: This question requires one of those infuriating “it-depends” answers (sorry about that). Assuming you’ve done your homework, a one- or two-person team could roll out a Kanban system in a day or two without much interruption in its flow.
A large department of a dozen or more people, however, would need to set aside a couple of days to undertake a team-wide switchover or to create a transition schedule for teams over weeks or months.
Basically, you could visualize your workflow on a whiteboard right now, but to get the full benefits of an Agile-marketing approach, you need time for understanding its core principles and adjusting your mindset.
Q: Can you explain the methodologies (Kanban, Scrum, Scrumban) a little more?
A: Scrum is probably the most well-known Agile methodology because it drove the transformation in software development and IT during the early days of the 21st century. Scrum teams run their work in segments called sprints lasting one to four weeks.
It includes a few prescribed roles – Scrum master, product owner, and developers – and multiple standardized meetings or ceremonies: daily standup, sprint planning, review, retrospective. (For brief definitions of these terms and others, see my Agile marketing glossary.)
Scrum emphasizes teamwork and limits the additional work forced onto a team once a sprint has begun.
Kanban is less structured, using work-in-progress (WIP) limits – team-selected upper limits on how many work items can be assigned to each state (such as “being written” or “being edited”). WIP limits prevent teams and individuals from overextending themselves and failing to deliver completed work.
The word Kanban means “billboard” or “signboard” in Japanese. Kanban teams typically track their work on a board that has columns. (You’ll find an example of a one-person Kanban board in the following section.) Each column heading indicates a WIP limit. After a given column reaches its WIP limit – its maximum number of items – no new items can move into that column until one is moved out.
Kanban doesn’t include prescribed roles or meetings; it requires teams to manage their own process in a more proactive and independent way than teams who opt for Scrum.
Scrumban, as you might have guessed, combines components from Scrum and Kanban. In my experience, this methodology works best for many marketing teams because it offers some protection from external interruptions without being too rigid. Scrumban applies the visualization and ongoing improvement from Kanban to the Scrum team system, filling in many gaps the other methodologies have when used independently. While Scrum is designed for teams of five to nine people, Kanban and Scrumban can work for teams of any size.
Agile marketing for small teams
Many people ask whether it’s possible to use Agile methods with a small team. Yes. It can be immensely useful to manage your work this way.
Q: How would Agile be useful for a single-person marketing department?
A: The easiest way to use an Agile approach as an individual is to create a simple Kanban board showing how work flows from conception to completion.
Example one-person Kanban board
Here the Backlog column is arranged with the highest-priority work at the top. As work moves up and begins, it moves into the Create column. When it’s ready for review, it moves to the right again, and so on until the item is done.
Solo practitioners will want to pay close attention to their backlog – the prioritized list of what you need to work on next – to make sure it’s always up to date. It’s also important to put strict WIP limits in place so you maintain focus on completing work rather than working on tons of things at once.
A WIP limit of one on each of these columns wouldn’t be unusual. Here we see WIP limits of two on Create and Review, and a WIP limit of one on Publish.
Q: How is Agile beneficial to a marketing team of a few people?
A: Agile helps any team, no matter the size, work on the right things at the right time. It visualizes what they’re doing so that others outside the team understand what’s going on (making them less likely to interrupt). It…