What words come to mind when you envision an agile marketing team? Chances are you envision marketers who are quick, flexible, and maybe even hectic.
We tend to associate agility with speed a lot, but agility doesn’t mean following the shiny object of the week the fastest. Teams that are really agile are particularly disciplined in the way they do their work.
Agile systems force marketers to make decisions and compromise. They prevent us from engaging in every conceivable tactic at the same time: They demand that we stop starting everything and instead finish the important work.
With disciplined delivery, agile marketing teams can learn, iterate, and improve first, not just first.
I discuss this concept at length in my new book, Mastering Marketing Agility: Transform Your Marketing Teams and Evolve Your Organization. In this article, I’ll outline it here.
Being focused is better than being fast
The list of all the marketing work we could do right now is endless. We need to explore new channels, test new messages, and launch new campaigns – not to mention the numerous stakeholders who are happy every day / week / month / quarter.
But the hard truth is that if we try to do everything, we will get almost nothing.
Jumping from project to project depending on who is yelling at us the loudest makes for a very busy and very unproductive day.
This is because we will spend a large part of our productive time doing what is known as context shift. It is the lag time of the human brain. Our brains don’t instantly jump from one activity to the next. You need time to get one thing done and film the next.
That downtime in the middle is a context shift that we all have to pay for.
The fewer things we do and the less waste we bring into our day, the more we achieve. This applies to individual work; At the team level, this truth is reinforced.
When we have 20 projects on a team, we will spend a lot of time changing context. However, if we only focus on a few things, we get them done much faster. Then we can move on to the next items on the list.
This is how agile teams seem to be so fast and productive. They use focusing mechanisms such as sprints or work-in-progress limits (WIP) to keep the number of active work items low.
You are not fast per se; You are focused.
Stop starting, start finishing
Sure, it sounds good to limit the number of things you work on, but what about all of the people who bring work to marketing?
As a bridge between customer and company, marketing has many groups to answer.
How can we marketers focus when everyone needs some marketing NOW?
Disciplined agile teams have a simple tool called a backlog that acts as a queue for work to be done. You can also think of this as a prioritized to-do list.
When work requests come in, they go there. They will not start immediately.
The backlog is a filter mechanism with which the agile team leader can evaluate a new requirement based on all other work of the team and decide where the new element is.
Perhaps it is actually very valuable, urgent and / or important. In this case, it’s at the top of the list. Once someone completes something they are working on, they begin with that high priority item. On the other hand, the new requirement may be less effective than other work that the team is committed to. In this case, it’s further down the list.
That’s not to say the team will never complete this work with lesser impact. However, if we take EVERY request and start right away, we are doing ALL of our projects a disservice.
Context change costs are inevitable. and the more things we start right away, the higher those costs become.
Therefore, we apply discipline in evaluating incoming requests and use the backlog to visualize the priority of our work queue.
Only with such a rigorous consideration of the real worth of what we do will we finally stop starting everything and instead start finishing what is really important.
Review, adjust, iterate
The final major mindset change that comes with being disciplined in performing agility concerns measurement. Instead of moving forward to the next deadline or putting out today’s fire, marketers need to take the time to pause, review the effects of their previous work, and then act accordingly.
Sometimes this feels like a slowdown, but only through the deliberate investigation process can we decide what works and what doesn’t. Then we can make the call to turn away from ineffective efforts and instead stick with those who move the needle.
This disciplined inspect-adapt loop makes the agile marketing teams run as fast again. In reality, they are only making small, iterative improvements over time that lead to massive success.
Speed is optional, disciplined agility is not
Agility is no longer an option. In the uncertain world we all live in, we need to be responsive and adaptable.
But what is optional is the obsession with speed.
We don’t have to go faster, we have to continue with discipline and deliberation. This is where real agility and really effective marketing comes from.