Agile marketing is a strategic and adaptable approach to marketing. Agile marketing teams achieve flexibility through collaborative teamwork, data analysis, and, most importantly, an iterative structure.
The history of Agile marketing
Agile has its roots in the work of software developers who were looking for more efficient ways to organize their work and increase adaptability. This is particularly important in coding, where unforeseen bugs and changing demands are constantly popping up.
Iterative and incremental approaches began to appear as early as 1957 in software development, but it wasn’t until 2001 that they were formally described as Agile.
Manifesto for Agile Software Development, 2001
During the 90s, software engineers explored a variety of “lightweight” methods as alternatives to the “heavyweight” approaches that were slowing them down.
Heavyweight methods are collectively referred to as the waterfall model, where marketing efforts flow from the top plan down to design, building, testing, and then production.
This rigid structure prevented developers from responding to unexpected changes or unforeseen difficulties. In 1995, the CHAOS Report showed that an average of 16.2% of software projects were completed on budget and on time. Agile software development teams were looking for more cost-effective, efficient approaches.
In February 2001, a group of 17 top software developers met to discuss these new, lightweight alternatives. The result was the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.
Sprint Zero and the Agile Marketing Manifesto, 2012
It’s already easy to map traditional approaches to marketing onto the waterfall structure of heavyweight software methods. Before Agile, a marketing team might be given an overall plan for a campaign where they spend several months designing and completing all the required materials before reviewing, testing, and releasing.
But the Agile approaches described in the 2001 Agile Manifesto for Software Development offered an alternative. Each interaction included a cycle of review, test, and release, allowing for continuous improvement.
In 2012, after 48 hours of intensive meetings, a committee called Sprint Zero produced the Agile Marketing Manifesto, which aimed to provide a single point of reference to underpin the Agile marketing movement.
The Agile Marketing Manifesto did not provide one unified Agile framework. Instead, it laid out the marketing strategies that would form the basis of any Agile marketing approach.
The evolution of Agile marketing practices
In 2022, ten years after the Agile Marketing Manifesto was drawn up, Agile marketing was already widespread. The 5th Annual State of Agile Marketing Report cited that 43% of marketing departments use some form of Agile methodology, and 91% of marketers who hadn’t yet adopted Agile marketing planned to do so within the next year.
Core values of Agile marketing
The Agile principles from the 2012 manifesto are still used by Agile marketing teams across the world today.
Agile marketing was created as a way of countering the problems associated with heavyweight methods. As such, it’s easiest to describe the core values of Agile marketing by comparing them to traditional marketing techniques.
Adaptive, iterative campaigns
Traditionally, a marketing organization would draft a long-term plan based on collected data, culminating one large campaign with each step of the journey mapped out.
Agile marketing teams work in iterations: smaller projects completed over a short period of time, usually about two weeks. Most of these iterations will end with something being released to a wider audience, but sometimes they will represent smaller parts of a larger campaign. With each iteration comes a review process, giving the team space to learn and grow from continuous feedback.
Early and continuous delivery
A traditional marketing team might put in months of work for one final “big-bang” campaign, but it may no longer be relevant or useful once it’s released. So instead of creating big-bang campaigns, Agile marketers focus on fast-paced deliverables.
This allows Agile marketers to adapt and evolve a marketing campaign based on incoming customer feedback and sales reports. Then, the continuous iterations allow for evolution with each new piece of data.
In Agile marketing, each iteration acts as a test within itself. Big-bang campaign testing can slow down the learning process significantly, which can slow improvement too.
With an iterative rollout, an Agile marketing team can quickly review its approach. With built-in space to consider what worked well and what needs changing, they can make every component of the campaign stronger.
This process of repeated testing and review also gives Agile marketers the chance to look at how their team is running and optimize their workflow alongside the deliverables they are producing.
In traditional marketing, deadlines stretch far into the future, undivided into short-term goals. Unsurprisingly, there are periods when productivity dips and team members feel they need to be seen working regardless of how useful that work might be.
When deadlines approach quickly, only the work that is useful counts. Agile marketing relies on the autonomy of the Marketing team and assumes that all work being completed is contributing to the final output.
Certain Agile frameworks even encourage downtime to think about what might be done differently in the next iteration.
In Agile marketing programs, collaboration and teamwork are essential. In a traditional top-down, waterfall approach, managers often set the project targets and do not engage with the team until the end of the process.
But with iterative practices, Agile teams are encouraged to suggest changes they feel would be helpful. New ideas can come to the surface and the team can discuss them among the group, leading to novel and often more effective solutions.
Without a strict hierarchy, senior marketing leaders are encouraged to focus on the needs of their employees by trusting and respecting them. Servant leadership can not only lead to a better quality of life for employees, thus reducing burnout, but it also can have positive effects on job performance.
Transparency through frequent feedback
A more open and transparent approach allows for cross-functional team building, such as creating connections between departments within the company. This way, people outside of the Marketing team can share potentially campaign-changing insights that would otherwise be overlooked.
This has benefits for the team members, too. Rather than mostly working alone, the team is encouraged to ask for advice and share their successes along the way before presenting their work to a marketing leader.
Benefits of Agile marketing
With benefits at both the individual and corporate level, it is easy to see why Agile marketing is becoming so popular.
Agile marketing works by having short-term objectives, which can help the team maintain focus and produce faster results. According to one report, 93% of Chief Marketing Officers reported an improvement in their speed-to-market for ideas, campaigns, and products, with 28% more projects completed on time overall according to senior marketers.
But the rate of progress enabled by Agile methodology does not mean that marketing campaigns are rushed or less effective. In fact, revenue statistics suggest quite the opposite.
Agile marketing enables adaptable, high-quality, and rapidly delivered marketing campaigns that prove real financial results.
McKinsey reported that when Agile marketing techniques are introduced, revenue increases by between 20 and 40%, which is a pretty impressive margin.
Better integration and communication
In an Agile environment, teams are encouraged to share their results with the wider organization, leading to better communication between departments. The Agile marketing process can create new networks within the company.
For the Agile marketing team, the process of bringing a campaign to fruition relies on communication and collaboration.
With each iteration, key performance indicators (KPIs) will be collected and analyzed. KPIs include quantitative data like sales or online engagement statistics as well as qualitative feedback like survey or poll results.
Tracking these markers allows for agile responses and continuous improvement in campaign quality.
Agile marketing frameworks: Scrum, Kanban, and Scrumban
There are various approaches to Agile marketing, but to get started, there are 3 main frameworks for project management.
The term scrum is widely known in software development, but its origin is actually from rugby. A scrum describes a moment in the game when both teams have their players link arms and push against the opposing team in order to gain possession of the ball.
In Scrum methodology, an iteration is known as a sprint. Just like in rugby, the players come out of their huddle with a game plan, or a series of tactics to ensure their sprint to the goal goes as smoothly as possible.
Scrum is definitely the most term heavy and rigidly structured of these 3 frameworks, but when implemented correctly, it can be extremely effective. There are two vital components to Scrum: the 4 ceremonies and the team roles.
There are 4 types of ceremonies, or team meetings, in Scrum, which underpin the life cycle of a sprint, ensuring progress with each iteration. These are the names of the 4 ceremonies that marketers use with Scrum:
- Sprint planning
- Daily scrum
1. Sprint planning meeting
The first ceremony is the team’s planning meeting for the sprint ahead. A good rule of thumb for effectively timing a sprint planning meeting is to portion out time relative to the length of the sprint, about an hour for each week. Since sprints usually last two weeks, most sprint planning meetings should be around two hours long.
In this meeting, team members analyze the work they’ve been assigned, known as a backlog. Then, they will choose which backlog tasks need to be completed within the two weeks ahead. Finally, the team will discuss how each task will get done by estimating the time or effort needed to complete the task.
This system makes it possible to estimate the team’s productivity across multiple sprints. The planning meeting also enables team members to analyze if anything might affect the efficiency of any given sprint, like external interruptions, thereby helping the team make more-accurate predictions and better adapt in the future.
2. Daily scrum
The daily scrum is a short meeting, usually around fifteen minutes, where each team member can check in and let everyone know what they achieved the day before, if they’re finding anything difficult, and what their plan is for the day ahead.
Not only does the daily scrum keep everyone accountable, but it also helps everyone feel supported during difficult times and offers the opportunity to celebrate during successful times.
At the end of each sprint, the Scrum team presents their work to the rest of the company. The Marketing department receives direct feedback from their colleagues, and they factor it into their next planning meeting.
The retrospective ceremony is when the Scrum team discusses what went well and what needs to be changed—without worrying about what the rest of the company might think.
It’s imperative that each team member participates and listens to the others. Some teams use a format where each person presents their thoughts, but it’s even better if someone can act as a discussion facilitator. This will help ensure that every person’s insight is considered, even during a debate.
Roles within a Scrum team
Scrum teams usually have 3 key roles: a Scrum Master, a Product Owner, and a team of Developers. For most larger companies, a team of 7 is perfect, with 5 Developers working alongside the Scrum Master and Product Owner.
Even for small projects, it’s best not to go below 5 team members. Beyond that, you won’t have enough developers working on the project to make good use of the Scrum system.
Some companies hire a dedicated Scrum Master, but for many marketing teams, the best option is to get a couple of employees trained in the role and have them take turns.
Scrum Masters organize and often facilitate the 4 Scrum ceremonies. They work as a project manager would, keeping a steady overview of the sprint process as it unfolds.
The Product Owner (PO) is in charge of making sure that whatever the Scrum team produces is maximally valuable. They manage requests of the Marketing department from the rest of the company.
In an agency, the PO stays on top of whatever client work is coming in and ensures it is properly distributed across the team.
The PO also updates the backlog of work and keeps the team aware of deadlines for each project, prioritizing the most pressing work.
The title of Developer is taken from software development, so it might be more accurate to call the rest of your Scrum team marketers, but that’s all up to you.
The Scrum Master and PO take care of the organization and administration of the sprint so the Marketers are able to run the sprints and tackle the tasks with everything they’ve got.
Which teams are best suited for Scrum?
Scrum is a great tactical marketing approach, but there are certain kinds of teams it suits best.
Teams of 4 to 9
The Scrum framework is made for teams of around 4 to 9 Agile marketers. Fewer than 4, and the team can’t be self-sufficient; but with more than 9 members, it’s hard for everyone to be heard.
Cross-functional teams are multidisciplinary, so everyone has different areas of expertise and a variety of skills. This means that they can complete each task in its entirety without having to go through other departments, making the team far more efficient.
Teams with frequent interruption
The tight structure of the Scrum framework works well for teams that are often handling external interruptions and emergencies, as it allows for continuous communication without losing focus on the tasks at hand.
The Kanban framework has less of a routine structure than Scrum. It focuses on scheduling and time management to improve efficiency, which follows the core values of the Agile process.
In Japanese, Kanban roughly translates to signboard or billboard, and it’s at the center of this Agile framework. The Kanban board is a physical/digital outline with each stage of the marketing process assigned to a column. As the marketers pass each stage, the tasks progress between each column.
Try not to make too many columns or the board will become overwhelming; between 3 and 7 is a good bet. Here are some examples of what each column might have:
- Up next
- In progress
- In review
You won’t want to include columns for processes that go on outside of the core Agile team. For example, if you regularly need to have work looked at by the Legal department, you don’t need a column for this. Since you also don’t have control over the speed of each process, any irrelevant processes can appear as bottlenecks in the system and slow the flow of work across the board.
When all the team’s work is visually presented on the board, you can see where the workflow is slowing and address it. You’re also well set up for communication and collaboration; everyone can see at a glance where the other members are at, and where working together might help move things along.
Work-in-process (WIP) limits
The Kanban board is a great tool on its own, but it’s just one part of the Kanban framework. One of the best things about Kanban is the practice of work-in-process (WIP) limits, where there can only be a certain number of tasks in process (i.e., on the board) at any given time.
When there are too few tasks, team members don’t have enough work to fill their time, but with too many, certain things sit on the board for ages, only adding pressure without increasing productivity. WIP limits help keep the team in this sweet spot.
When the WIP is right, team members are not sitting idle, but they are not always under the pressure of the next task. These moments of breathing space are known as slack time.
Where Scrum has a huge amount of review time built into its structure, slack allows Kanban teams to take stock of what they’ve done and what they want to change about their individual approach before bringing it to the group. This is another great adjustment tool to ensure continuous improvement.
Kanban does not have the clear ceremonies and roles of Scrum, but as with any Agile methodology, clear policies are essential.
One of the policies that need to be clearly set out is the cadence of each project. Without a series of Scrum sprints, the time structure of reviews and analysis needs to be clearly defined. This does not have to be based on time blocking, like the 2-week iteration in Scrum.
Instead, Kanban cadences might be based around the 2 ends of the board, when the backlog has decreased to a given size, or when a certain number of tasks have been completed.
That said, you’ll want to continue having a daily 15-minute meeting to check in with everyone, looking at what they’ve done toward the tasks at hand, and flagging any issues that might be causing item buildup in one particular column.
Categorizing item types
Deciding which tasks get priority on the board requires categorizing tasks, or items, into different types depending on how soon the task needs to get done. Each item type will have a particular policy as to how it progresses across the board.
The 4 most common categories used are Standard, Fixed Delivery Date, Expedite, and Intangible:
- Standard: Tasks that don’t have a particular due date or rush associated with them. They’re usually completed on a first in, first out (FIFO) basis.
- Fixed Delivery Date: Similar to the Standard category, however these tasks need to be finished by a particular date.
- Expedite: Tasks that are top priority and need to be dealt with immediately.
- Intangible: Long-term tasks that include optimization and quality improvements. Even though they aren’t as urgent as other categories, they’re essential to keeping things running smoothly.
Tasks can change categories with external requirements; for example, a previously Intangible task might be given a deadline and move to the Fixed Date category.
Which teams are best suited for Kanban?
Where Scrum has a pretty strict structure, Kanban is more flexible and lends itself to having slightly different team configurations.
Any size marketing team
Kanban is scalable; just one person can implement Kanban to manage their workflow. For a larger Agile team with various focal points, multiple Kanban boards can be employed.
Marketing teams that are not cross-functional
Kanban works well if you often deal with projects that are not completed start to finish by one cross-functional team and instead require contributions from freelancers or other departments before they are completed. Kanban allows for an Agile approach in situations where the Scrum system might break down.
Marketing departments that are overwhelmed
There is a lot to learn with Scrum, from terminology to time frame. Scrum Masters are required to take an accredited training course, whereas Kanban marketing departments don’t require formal training.
If marketing teams that are already overwhelmed by their workload don’t have the time for training courses, they can implement Kanban without slowing down what’s already in motion.
As Kanban is designed to work alongside your current approach, you’ll start seeing the results that are associated with Agile frameworks more quickly. It’s a great way for your team to understand some Agile marketing fundamentals and to prove the benefits of Agile marketing to those who might be hesitant.
Scrumban, as the name suggests, is the combination of Scrum and Kanban methodologies. It was originally used to move from Scrum to Kanban, as the latter gained popularity. Nowadays, it is often employed to create a custom Agile framework, borrowing the best bits from each system.
Combined Agile methodologies
Scrum and Kanban are absolutely compatible. Often, more established Agile marketing teams will follow the sprint system of Scrum and use a Kanban board to manage workflow. Taking what best suits your team from each allows you to get the best of both worlds and provides a real competitive advantage.
Which teams are best suited for Scrumban?
Scrumban is ultimately very customizable, so it works for a range of team sizes and different kinds of work. But there are a couple of limitations, especially if you’re just starting out.
Agile marketing teams with some experience
Scrumban is best for marketing teams with some previous experience with Agile frameworks. Otherwise, implementing so much change all at once can be overwhelming and it’s unlikely to help if your team is already burnt out or overwhelmed. You’ll need a stable base with enough background to get started.
That said, if your team has some experience in Agile marketing—and they are in the right place to make the change—Scrumban can help you get the most out of everything Agile marketing has to offer.
Successful Agile marketing implementation
Most modern marketing teams already use some Agile practices even if they don’t realize it. That said, consciously making a shift to a more formalized Agile framework requires research, teamwork, and management tools.
Understand the Agile marketing process
Knowing how Agile frameworks function is just the first step. There is a wealth of information out there, but the most important thing is to choose a framework that is realistic to where your team is at now and fits the projects you’re currently undertaking. That way, you’ll get the most out of your marketing strategy shift.
Build a successful Agile marketing team
The team is at the center of Agile marketing work. Making sure they are well set up for the change from your previous project management approach to Agile methods is key to success.
Give team members greater autonomy
In Agile marketing, you’re ideally looking for a creative team that is completely self-sufficient through cross-functionality. They can complete each task without needing to send work out to other departments. Even when this isn’t possible, it’s important to minimize bureaucracy to keep things moving.
Trusting each team member to work well without being monitored will give them the space to do their best work, especially when you’re already having open discussions surrounding velocity and productivity. Encourage them to use whatever slack time they have to consider how the project might be improved.
Develop T-shaped skills
If you’re going to trust your team to work autonomously, you need to know that they have the breadth of expertise to take each project from start to finish. One of the best ways to build the cross-functionality necessary to make this work is to foster T-shaped skills in your team members.
Here, the T shape acts as two axes. The horizontal, or x-axis, represents a breadth of knowledge and skills, and the vertical y-axis shows a depth of experience and expertise in one particular discipline. A group of individuals who share a breadth of knowledge but have different areas of expertise is ideal for an Agile marketing team.
Create an advocacy team
The core Agile team is made up of the marketers that produce campaigns from start to finish. Within a larger organization, it can be helpful to have a separate advocacy team to encourage support from the rest of the organization.
Within the Scrum system, the advocacy team might also work with the Product Owner to aid communication with other departments. Getting everyone within the wider company on board is essential to a successful transition to Agile.
Implement a pilot program
Another great way to get the rest of the company on board is through a pilot program. This is a low-risk experiment using an Agile approach, which can help train employees and show the rest of the company the power of Agile methodologies in transforming marketing teams.
Use project management tools
Agile marketing works on a basis of organization and collaboration. Luckily, there is a huge variety of digital marketing tools at your disposal, all with a focus on Agile practices.
Integrated work management service
Bringing all elements of the team’s work together in one place helps everyone communicate and allows for a more streamlined flow of information. In modern marketing, where there are so many streams of information to deal with, integration is essential.
There are plenty of work management services out there created with an Agile mindset. When making your decision you’ll want to consider:
- Requirements, including team size, scalability, guest access, and security
- Limitations, like budget and storage
- Testing with the team and getting feedback before committing
Finally, you’ll want to see whether your integrated work management service is compatible with other useful applications or software systems, including some you might already be using. These services allow you to integrate every aspect of your workflow and they can be anything from emails to calendars to social media.
Kanban board platform
One example of a project management tool you might want to integrate into your chosen work management service is a Kanban board platform. These apps often come with industry-specific templates, so they can really guide you through the early steps of Agile marketing implementation.
Customer relationship management (CRM) platform
Customer relationship management software focuses not on communication within the Agile team, but on managing data from interactions with customers. As a key marketing technology, you can store, track, and analyze huge amounts of information from sales and content marketing engagement to email and website traffic.
Many of these CRM platforms, including Mailchimp, can be integrated with work management services so your team can consistently review and tailor their marketing efforts accordingly with up-to-date information. Customer discovery is essential to an Agile marketing strategy.
Start Agile marketing now
Agile marketing frameworks all keep a tight focus on customer satisfaction, iterative campaigns, and the data. More and more marketing agencies are leaving behind traditional techniques in favor of Agile marketing practices in order to drive growth and get results. Now you can, too.