“Agile marketing transformations are not going well,” admitted Stacey Ackerman, MarTech contributor and agile coach. “We needed something built by marketers, for marketers, in a language that makes sense to marketers.”
“Agile,” in its various forms, has its roots in software development. It emerged in the 1990s as an alternative to “waterfall,” a methodology that began with fixed requirements and scope for a product and pushed through to completion without making changes on the way. This led to lengthy development cycles, with products becoming outdated and abandoned before completion. Agile replaced waterfall with shorter development cycles within the main project (“sprints”) and the opportunity to optimize along the way.
Many marketers have seen an opportunity to apply agile frameworks in the context of campaigns and customer engagement, especially in an overloaded environment where planning months in advance and adhering to inflexible goals just doesn’t cut it any more. Some have had success; others have struggled to adapt software development agile frameworks like Scrum and Kanban to their needs.
Working with marketing professor and president of Level C Digital, Michael Seaton, and with input from the agile marketing community, Ackerman has been evolving an agile framework specifically for marketing — the Agile Marketing Navigator. We sat down with her to explore how this approach differs from traditional agile.
Stacey Ackerman speaks at The MarTech Conference.
Parts of Scrum and parts of Kanban
Ackerman started out in marketing, but developed an interest in agile while working as a software project manager for an agency. This meant implement Scrum. “Scrum is the universal language of IT. Go into 95% of software development departments, they know what Scrum is and it works really well for them.”
In the world of agile marketing, Ackerman has seen endless attempts to change Scrum, rename things and rebrand things. “There’s got to be a better way to make agile marketing stick than what is going on in the industry right now, which is taking parts of Scrum and parts of Kanban and figuring out what works.”
The Agile Marketing Navigator framework is relatively simple. Stop #1 is the Collaborative Planning Workshop; Stop#2 is the reiterable Launch Cycle; and along the way there are six key practices and six agile marketing roles.
The Collaborative Planning Workshop
Stop #1 represents a significant point of differentiation between agile software development and agile marketing. “Where Scrum and Kanban start is really at the team level. What we know about marketing is that it’s beyond just an agile team. Our starting point is not a team building a backlog. Our starting point is, let’s get together with our stakeholder requesters and have alignment and collaboration. What it’s replacing is a systemized approach where people submit a brief, no one talks to each other, and the team just goes and does it.”
The key learning here is that marketing products are not like software products. In marketing, there is much wider scope to debate the desired outcomes and what would count as success, and the debate can involve stakeholders from multiple business teams. What’s more, there’s a much wider proliferation of possible routes to the desired outcome.
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The Launch Cycle
A repeatable cadence of five or 10 cycles, with a daily huddle and periodic showcases on progress — the Launch Cycle seems not so different from a sprint-based agile framework like Scrum. “It’s fairly close to Scrum,” Ackerman agreed, “because I do think Scrum works.” But there are differences. The marketing backlog is not a product development backlog; in the Navigator, it consists of “customer stories,” or ideation about desired outcomes for customers.
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The team showcase is more data-driven than a sprint review in Scrum. “We’re giving this as an opportunity to look at campaign performance — data, analytics, how are things working and how are we going to adjust going forward? It’s more about data and performance versus ‘we did this in this sprint.’”
Key practices for agile marketers
Among the key practices identified by the Navigator, customer stories and story points seem especially geared to the needs of marketing organizations, but in fact customer stories adapts the software concept of user stories. “The benefit is understanding what it’s for, who it’s for and why we’re doing it,” explained Ackerman. “These are like mini personas, although we’re chunking things down a little bit smaller. Several tactics might come out of a single story, several different deliverables (a Facebook ad, a LinkedIn post), whereas in software development, the story is the deliverable.”
The practice of partnering does differ from traditional agile. “Instead of a copy-writer and a designer working in silos and doing hand-offs to each other, they’re going to partner from the beginning. They’re going to work in parallel.”
Key roles in agile marketing
The Navigator identifies six key roles, where Kanban has none and Scrum only three. The roles are:
- The team (self-explanatory).
- The marketing owner (prioritizes work and liaises with stakeholders).
- The agile champion (coaches the team).
- The supporting cast (occasionally work with the team).
- Stakeholders (from other teams, with a vested interest in marketing output).
- Practice leads (leaders of functional departments within marketing).
The concern was that the many people involved in making marketing work would feel they weren’t part of agile because they had no specified role. These six roles are intended to cover the universe.
For those marketers already pursuing an agile strategy based on established frameworks, is it easy to transition to Navigator? “If everything you’re doing is working great, you don’t need to change it,” said Ackerman. “But if what you’re doing isn’t working, or the marketers aren’t fully bought in, this is a really good reference.”