Agile Marketing Makes It Easier To Know What To Work On And When, If Results Are Your Objective
When you start looking at everything you need to turn awareness into revenue, the list is mind altering. Now that there are as many improvements on the sales side as the marketing side, that list is twice as long. The execution is three times as complicated and the technology associated with it all makes the entire effort 10 times more difficult to get working.
Everyone is telling you to do something, but what do you do? When do you do it? What’s the best way to go about doing it? Many companies we’ve talked to are frozen by the sheer magnitude of everything that should be getting done. But there is good news. For the first time, it’s possible for you to know what you need to do and what results you should expect from that effort.
This is why Agile makes so much sense. Here’s what you should be looking at when it comes to Agile and how to deliver marketing and sales support within your company.
Regardless of which approach to Agile you take (Scrum or Kanban), the key is to better manage the sheer volume of things you should be doing. This is where planning (and specifically backlog grooming) becomes critical. Having that list of everything you could do, and having it accurate based on your estimates around the effort and the impact, makes planning your upcoming sprints much easier.
Since this is an active collection of everything, you can add ideas to this regularly (and you should). You can also remove ideas that are no longer relevant, that you’ve decided are no longer valid ideas or that testing provided insights on and you’re no longer interested in them. Ideas will come out as much as new ideas go in.
The team should also be active in working to keep the backlog groomed and accurate. Estimated effort for everything on the list needs to be created and kept current based on their experience. The people doing the work have to be doing the estimating. On the flip side of that, they should also be buying into and supporting the expected impact of those activities. Now you have the data, effort and impact that you’ll use to do your prioritization.
This is by far the most important part of delivering marketing and sales improvements today. You simply can’t do everything at once. You’re either lacking the manpower or the time to do everything, or you don’t have an unlimited budget. The reality of business is there are constraints on what you can do, and by using a prioritization methodology, at least you’re working on the most important projects first.
Every cycle (weekly, biweekly or monthly) you prioritize the list of potential projects based on which ones will have the biggest impact but take the least amount of time. If you can get five or six projects done a month, you work on those five or six at the top of the list. If your budget gets bigger or you hire an extra hand, you might be able to get to the top seven or eight projects.
This approach ensures you’re always working on the most impactful projects and that your efforts are always going to produce better results month over month.
Sprints are primarily designed to do one thing: let the team focus. Distractions hurt efficiency. It might seem OK to shift gears midstream or stop in the middle and work on something new, but it’s not. It takes people a lot of extra time to refocus on new tasks, so you want to minimize this.
The sprint concept gives people their work for a period of time and then gets out of their way. Whether you run a sprint for a week, two weeks or a month, it doesn’t matter as long as you set the package of work pre-sprint and then don’t interfere with the team while they’re in the middle of a sprint.
Sprints can be planned and configured to match you specific business. For example, in the agency, we keep a certain percentage of the sprint allocated for client work that isn’t planned but inevitably comes up regularly. This means we’ll be able to get to everything we committed to regardless of what happens, and if we don’t need the “put aside” allocation, we can pull new work from the backlog and get that done too.
Human beings run on rhythms, and because companies are made up of human beings, they need to run on rhythms too. Agile brings with it these rhythms in the form of rituals that happen daily, weekly and monthly. These rituals improve efficiency, increase a team’s ability to collaborate and increase your team’s ability to produce and ship work.
Daily stand-ups help keep everyone on the same page, keep priorities current and quickly identify any obstacles that the team can work to remove. Retrospectives help the team look back and assess what worked well, what didn’t work so well and what they can do differently next time to prevent the issues from resurfacing. Regular backlog grooming keeps the work in a ready state. This makes it easy for people who finish their tasks more quickly than expected to have more work to pull down and deliver.
Again, these practices produce a highly efficient, highly effective and highly collaborative work environment. People practicing Agile are typically much happier, much more satisfied with their work and longer-tenured team members.
With all of this work, what’s the point if you’re not making an impact on business results like leads, sales opportunities, new customers and revenue growth? Marketing effort and sales upgrades must produce results like shorter sales cycles or increased close rates. Agile gives you the chance to see how much effort is being leveraged and match that with the results coming in.
Agile itself has a set of metrics that help you see progress. Typically you’re looking at velocity, which tracks the overall amount of work each team is producing. Over time, the velocity numbers should be increasing, but they won’t increase indefinitely. Our experience with Agile shows that typically the team runs high, then low, then high and then low. But over time, the average velocity does increase sprint over sprint.
Why might velocity be down? A number of factors could be at play, including team member changes and resource allocation changes. Even something as simple as a vacation for one team member could drive down the team’s efficiency during that vacation period. Look at the numbers on a long-term trend basis and not as much in the short term.
Scrum Vs. Kanban
Finally, we didn’t talk much about the differences between Scrum and Kanban, two terms that are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably. Significant differences exist between these two methodologies.
Scrum is a process used to organize work into small, manageable pieces that a cross-functional team can complete within a prescribed time period. To plan, organize, administer and optimize this process, Scrum relies on at least three prescribed roles: the product owner (responsible for initial planning, prioritizing and communication with the rest of the company), the Scrum master (responsible for overseeing the process) and the team members (responsible for producing work).
Kanban is a different process used to organize work for the sake of efficiency. Like Scrum, Kanban encourages work to be broken down into manageable pieces. While Scrum limits the amount of time allowed to accomplish a particular amount of work (by means of sprints), Kanban limits the amount of work allowed in any one condition (only so many tasks can be ongoing and only so many tasks can be on the to-do list). In short, it’s more free-flowing vs. the specific sprint-focused approach of Scrum.
From a marketing perspective, we’ve found Kanban to be a better match for the kinds of projects we work on, the client interactions inherent in an agency and the shorter-term nature of marketing projects. We’re not building large software applications. Agile was originally designed for software teams, so an adaptation is almost always going to be necessary. Even with the small adjustments required for a marketing department, the delivery is now prioritized, structured, self-directed and much more efficient. Everyone could benefit from that collection of gains.
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