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Agile Marketing: A Personal Story

We were given the opportunity to discuss Agile Marketing with the United Kingdom’s David Hay. Here’s some input from someone who’s been using Agile Marketing and the story of how it helped his organization.

  1. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and your current role? 

    My current role is Director and Co-founder of a software company called Allthings Ltd. We started the company in early 2013 and having all worked for a large corporate, we were totally fed up at seeing how massively inefficient departments and teams can be without the right planning tools. Having just secured our second round of investment, we’re looking forward to getting the name out there within businesses as a tool to help you better Plan, Share and Get Things Done!

  2. What motivated you to embrace Agile marketing in the corporate marketing team? Where did the inspiration come from? 

    The inspiration came from working for a software company in our previous lives, whereby the development guys followed the Scrum methodology and quite quickly as a Sales & Marketing department we quickly saw the need to get more organised and bring some routine to what we were doing. Making sure everyone knew what they were meant to be doing for a 2-week period, were able to focus better as a team towards common goals and also have visibility of the end goal.The idea to adapt Agile to marketing came from our software development team, they were rolling out Scrum to improve the visibility and planning – and to make the delivery of software features more predictable and progress/issues more visible. That just struck a huge cord with the exact same challenges we had at the time, the fit was perfect.

    We needed to know how much capacity we had within the team, an easy way to prioritise, and a highly visible way to show everyone what was being worked on, in what priority and when things would be delivered. It also gave us an extremely powerful mechanism to show what was standing in our way to making progress and an upward management tool to make sure that bosses didn’t constantly change priorities.

    The exact approach was changed a bit…the way software developers work is different. What we had was a more task oriented team, but tasks that interlinked with each other -so we needed a simple approach that gave some of the benefits of MS Project, but without the hugely complex overhead that brings, also we struggled to get conventional scrum software tools to work for us (because we worked differently), so survived for more than 120 sprints (that’s 240 weeks) using a spreadsheet.

  3. How did you get started? What were some of the challenges you faced in adopting Agile marketing, and how did you overcome them? 

    We were running teams in many locations, supporting many disparate disciplines. This gave us a number of real challenges…
        - lots of good ideas for things we could be doing
    - constantly changing priorities
    - overbearing bosses – full of “good ideas”, demanding colleagues (especially sales)
    - lack of clarity around exactly how much capacity we actually had to get things done (which results in a “just squeeze it in” approach
    - inefficiencies around sharing tasks, sometimes even duplication of tasks
    - time poor – knew we had to get processes agreed around repeated tasks – but never the time to get them down on paperAnd as the boss, I couldn’t easily see how the teams were spending their time, it felt like there was a lot of unproductive stuff getting done, but couldn’t really get close enough to fully understand what was going on day to day, especially as by now we were 25 people in 4 offices around the world.

    So the biggest challenge we faced was scaling it as the marketing operation grew. We were working across split locations, with more than 300 discrete tasks every two weeks to manage. We were doing this until very recently with one huge scrum planning meeting (2-3 hours long) every 2 weeks all managed through an excel spreadsheet.

    There are hundreds of tools out there designed for software development, but none with the flexibility to manage this number of tasks and this size of team – so we decided to go and build this ourselves. We knew our problems weren’t unique and as others adopted Agile marketing techniques, others would need a custom built tool to support this hugely powerful approach.

    This tool has made a huge difference to the efficiency of the scrum process. Its fun to use, has been easily embraced by the whole team and means less time running the agile marketing process and more time doing the real job. As an estimate its probably saved us around 30 hours a week across the marketing team – that’s a huge saving in time (and money).

  4. What are the different roles and responsibilities in your Agile marketing teams? 

    Now being a much smaller company and working for ourselves things have obviously moved on for us somewhat. Previously though, there were 20-25 members in our Agile marketing team, two people were focused on looking after it. One was Scrum master and had responsibility over keeping our system together. As mentioned, having tried lots of different tools out there, we couldn’t find one we wanted to use, so we ended up reverting to type and building a mammoth spreadsheet. This grew and grew and started to take half a day to prepare before a two-week sprint, then a further half a day to run through it at the end of a sprint with the team. This definitely was a chore no one really looked forward to, and took the edge of our Agile marketing efforts!

  5. Can you walk us through the process – what are the steps of an Agile marketing project with your group? 

    1.  Planning meeting every second Monday (2-3 hours)
    2.  Prior to the planning meeting – ScrumMaster pulls items from Backlog to Current Sprint list. Assigns items to team members, applies priorities and deadline to task
    3.  During the two-week sprint, team members update the system to reflect status of tasks and how they are getting on
    4.  Once completed these are ticked off and this is then reflected in the system how much work each team member has completed
    5.  Tasks that are not completed or started are either re-assigned to the backlog or included in the next sprintThe important part of this is also the outward communication of the sprints and priorities, as well as checking that the share of time makes sense and the team is focused on the tasks that have the most commercial impact and we are not seeing a vanity project drift.

    The business owner checks the mix of activities, does a quick sense check on the time being spent on the bigger activities and then communicates out to the business stakeholders what has been achieved/completed in the prior sprint and what the “top of wave” priorities are for the coming week.

    We also very carefully track unplanned tasks – we let things that aren’t in the initial backlog into the workload – so as to make sure there is some flexibility to react to things that just happen. But we carefully measure this (and keep this to less than 10% of effort ideally), we also run a strict one in… one out rule… so if something unplanned needs done, something else is agreed to be pushed back… AGREED is the important part here.

  6. Do you have a backlog accessible to your marketing team and stakeholders? What is it? Where is it? How often is it updated?
    Before it was on an excel spreadsheet, easy and not a problem when the team was small. But that quickly became impractical and was making managing the sprint labor intensive. There was also the headache of items getting deleted by mistake or files becoming corrupt and having to rebuild the backlog.

    Now, the backlog is incredibly accessible and a lot less painful to manage now we’re using Allthings, over the behemoth that was our spreadsheet system!

    Everyone has access to their own Allthings account and within that we have the current live sprint and also the Backlog. What’s great about using a system like Allthings is that it gives everyone the ability to be in the sprint updating their own tasks, wherever they are. We’ve designed it so that it is easy for everyone to use, scalable and most importantly customisable which was key to us as we were not following Scrum to the letter, turning it into more of a scrummy-ish Agile marketing tool! Being able to have our own custom fields was key as well as being able to filter information out of the system in an easy way so that everyone from the top down can dig into the system and get what they need.

  7. Can you share with us one or two examples of the kinds of projects that have been successful with Agile marketing?
    Our on-going work planning list within the team. Before, it was being able to deliver on what was asked of us, being able to recognize the number of hours a task was going to take v’s the number of people in the team (time off, planned holidays, etc.) and the working days across that 2 week period.

    Having Allthings in place means no more spreadsheets to manage work/resource planning and one of the biggest bonuses is massively reduced e-mail communication between the team. Allthings has a great commenting feature as well as real-time updates, so you can see comments about the things you’re collaborating on with others – all of which would more than likely have come in the shape of e-mail and being copied into round robin e-mail trails!

    It’s amazing how many less e-mails you receive if you don’t send as many!

  8. Looking back, what would you say has been the greatest benefit of Agile marketing?The obvious one is working together better as a team. Everyone headed in the right direction, very quickly able to identify bottlenecks and when we’re going to need extra resources as work keeps piling up!

    The big thing is that it has built a highly productive, focused results based marketing team. The method and the tools are now being rolled across the marketing teams in other areas of the business. This is testimony to the success of the teams using the Agile methodology and the software to support it.

  9. If you could offer one key piece of advice to CMOs who are considering adopting Agile marketing, what would you tell them? 

    It’ll bring some much needed organization and calm to what can be the everyday chaos of running a marketing team – being pulled in every direction by different department heads, having the visibility to say ‘No’ or ‘It’ll have to wait, here’s what we’ve got on just now’Empowerment to your team and a massive sense of satisfaction regaining control!

  10. What are your thoughts about an Agile Marketing certification? 

    I think it’s a great idea, being able to show that you fully understand the concept of Agile, able to apply the concepts immediately and start making a difference immediately!

Learn more about Agile Marketing or check out our Agile Marketing Boot Camp.

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