As more organizations are seeking ways to be more responsive and resilient to changes, lean/agile practices are moving beyond the IT department. Marketing, customer service and HR are changing the way they plan their work, prioritize their projects, and assess their workloads.
We’ve been talking with marketers over the last year about their efforts to balance the needs for planning with the need to move fast towards opportunities. We’re seeing some patterns as marketers evolve their work:
Working in Sprints – The typical, time-boxed approach to delivering working, in-market content or media. The time-boxes vary, from as little as two days to as long as a month. And, often these sprints are one-time or ad-hoc efforts (vs. being part of an ongoing schedule). Its either a “best practice” to get sustained focus on prioritized project, or a way to have flexibility in the way they choose their work.
Backlogs – We’re seeing marketers talk about the stuff they can’t get to as their “backlog”. This is a useful adaptation from the development world. It’s a way of communicating the known, considered work with out making specific commitments to timing and outcomes. The work is a blend of projects (with rough outlines of timing, budget and deliverables) or simply known work (i.e. redesign the package)
90 day plans vs. annual plans – Marketers are thinking in terms of quarters vs. full years. They know what needs to be accomplished over the year and they talk about them in terms of objectives. But, they’re building flex into their plans, and replacing “plans” with roadmaps. The goal is to have flexibility to switch fast in the event they see opportunities, or if the market dictates it. It’s not quite a full commitment to OKRs, but it’s getting closer.
And, we’re seeing more marketers looking at the tools, including the use of kanban methods and kanban boards. Kanban (the process) can be a really powerful way for marketing teams to organize their work when teams are distributed or cross-functional. It works especially well when the outputs are relatively well understood, like social posts, emails, landing pages, ad creatives, or dashboards and campaign recaps. A kanban approach helps teams do important things: Ensure the teams are prioritizing the right work, aren’t taking too much on (and reducing quality), and can communicate the work in progress. Kanban isn’t great for highly complex projects or projects that require a lot of collaborators from multiple functions. And, when the work is exploratory in nature or focused on broad innovation, Kanban might be too limiting.
The middle path, as it often is, may be the right one for marketing organizations seeking responsiveness and flexibility. The combination of scrum and kanban (i.e. scrumban) provides leaders with the ability to plan and prioritize the work in sprints, manage a backlog of projects and huddle regularly to support each other and communicate updates and priorities (in daily standups). But it also enables relatively standardized work to flow through the system at its own pace (via the kanban methods).
One of the most refreshing patterns we’re seeing is that teams are not being dogmatic about the language or ceremonies. They’re using what’s useful, modifying it to fit their needs, and putting aside what isn’t useful. Our clients and colleagues aren’t alone. In their annual “State of Agile Marketing”, Agile Sherpas found that the use of tools and methods are pretty broad.
Coming out of the pandemic and turning the corner into 2021, all marketing teams should be seeking ways to elevate the processes and approaches to adding agility into their models.