Agile project management is an approach that’s designed to help teams be more responsive to feedback and external changes. It’s an iterative, flexible, and customer-centric approach to planning and executing projects that focuses on continuous improvement.
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Under Agile project management, large projects are broken down into chunks known as sprints. Sprints are short-term work cycles, typically ranging from one to four weeks.
At the end of a sprint, the completed work is assessed, and feedback is given. Teams will then revise the work with the feedback in mind, or if everything is in order, they’ll move to the next sprint.
Iterative work creates shorter feedback loops, making it easier for teams to keep their projects aligned with customer preferences and stakeholder interests.
Compared to traditional project management, where feedback loops can take several months, Agile project management is more flexible and makes it easier for teams to adjust mid-project.
The advantage of Agile project management is that it makes organizations more adaptable. Otherwise, projects that are planned a year in advance may be irrelevant by the time they’re finished. New technology may have emerged during that time, or customer preferences might have changed.
Who Uses Agile Project Management?
Originally associated with software development, Agile project management has become a popular alternative to milestone-driven work. Over the years, professionals working in fields like financial services, IT, human resources, and marketing have all embraced Agile project management to help them achieve company goals and objectives.
Specifically, Agile project management in marketing is an approach taken by marketing teams (or cross-functional teams) to deliver value faster by employing an iterative process aimed at constant improvement. It provides frameworks for these teams to:
- Solve complex problems
- Provide a continuous flow of value to customers
- Foster innovation so organizations can stay ahead of the competition
Currently, Agile project management is earning its hype in marketing. According to the 3rd Annual State of Agile Marketing Report by AgileSherpas, 42% of the 637 marketers interviewed acknowledged using at least some of the Agile approach when managing work. This was also the first time more marketers identified as Agile practitioners than ad hoc or traditional marketers in the report.
It’s safe to assume that Agile project management for marketing is an approach with longevity. One reason for this is that it enables organizations to adapt to rapidly changing trends and bring content and concepts to the public faster. Most notably, chief marketing officers are paying attention to its benefits.
An estimated 93% of marketing professionals who have adopted Agile report improvements in ushering ideas, campaigns, and products to market using its principles.
But before we go too far into how agile project management can be applied to marketing, let’s look at the principles of Agile and the typical roles that appear on many Agile teams.
Principles of Agile
Agile principles are known as the 12 Guiding Principles of Agile. These principles are:
- Satisfying the customer through early and continuous delivery is the top priority
- Welcoming change, even in late project stages, and use it to gain a competitive advantage
- Delivering work frequently, anywhere between a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference towards shorter feedback loops
- Teams and business leaders coordinating daily throughout the course of the project
- Structuring projects around motivated individuals, and giving them the support they need to see the project through
- Conveying information to teams through face-to-face communication (on video calls or in person)
- Measuring progress by a working deliverable
- Facilitating sustainable progress where teams learn to maintain a consistent pace
- Prioritizing technical excellence and a superior product to enhance agility
- Minimizing the amount of unnecessary work done (simplicity is essential)
- Realizing that the best work comes from self-organizing teams
- Empowering teams to routinely reflect on how to be more effective and efficient and adjust their strategy accordingly
While Agile’s 12 principles were originally designed for software development, they can work in virtually any industry. For marketers, Agile project management principles can help enhance customer-focused marketing campaigns, from promoting product launches to creating a social media campaign. Working iteratively allows marketing teams to make data-driven decisions from feedback, so products and services are aligned with stakeholder and customer interests.
Agile Project Management Team Roles
Agile projects usually consist of:
- A project manager involved in high-level strategic decision making and responsible for supporting Agile teams throughout sprints
- Team members responsible for delivering goods and services on time and in excellent quality, as well as applying feedback when necessary
- Stakeholders with interests in the project: Customers, executive leadership, and corporate sponsors
Under the traditional project management approach, temporary teams are assembled and assigned to a project. While team members are typically chosen based on their skillsets and what they bring to the project, most people have little to no experience working together. The problem with this approach is a lack of understanding regarding team dynamics. Project managers and teams don’t know:
- What each team member is and isn’t capable of
- The strengths and weaknesses of each team member
- How long it takes to complete various tasks
As a result, the project manager has difficulty estimating resources and setting deadlines.
Agile project management in marketing takes a different approach. Teams are comprised of people who work together to reach strategic goals. This means that project managers could be managing a team made up of marketers or a cross-functional team that includes other professionals, such as customer service, IT, or sales.
Agile teams are fixed and often semi-permanent. While that doesn’t mean that teams can’t change, they tend to stay together longer under this approach.
As teams become comfortable working together, they have a better idea of what they can and cannot do within a designated timeframe. This makes it easier for the marketing project manager to plan future iterations more accurately, and it enables teams to become more consistent in speed and quality.
What is Agile Marketing?
Agile marketing is the intentional implementation of a particular Agile methodology to manage and improve a marketing team’s work. A long-term commitment to the new methodology is necessary in overcoming obstacles and incorporating learnings into this new way of working.
Work smarter and deliver value faster. This sounds like a worthy motto for marketing teams, but how exactly does it translate to everyday project management? Agile marketing provides the pathway that can turn a desire for efficiency into real-world achievement.
But Agile marketing isn’t a magical approach for making anyone work faster – it doesn’t compel content producers to research, write, or design at lightning speed. That’s because of an important distinction: Agile marketing is about delivering faster.
How is this done? To fully harness the advantages, a sound strategy that employs Agile project management is needed. This approach gives teams the necessary mindset, tools, and tactics to deliver value more efficiently.
Applied to the world of modern marketing, Agile project management can help teams stay responsive in a fast-paced market where adapting quickly is essential and innovating rapidly is rewarded.
This rest of this article will dive into the key elements of Agile project management for marketing, the most common benefits, and five practical tips to help teams get started.
The nuts and bolts of Agile project management in marketing
Agile marketing is derived from the Lean manufacturing techniques used by innovative Japanese automotive companies in the 1970s and 1980s. Motivated by the Lean philosophy of continuous improvement, a group of software developers in the 1990s pioneered a new project management approach called Agile.
Tailored to knowledge-based creative work, the new methodology valued early and frequent deliveries of small increments of value, a focus on customer preferences, and other visionary principles outlined in the group’s Agile Manifesto.
Agile differs from the previous “waterfall” approach to managing projects in a few key ways. Waterfall project management values static, long-term planning and a linear, sequential approach.
Take, for example, a waterfall approach to developing a marketing campaign. Like a waterfall, such a process flows downward in one direction: The metrics setting phase is dependent upon the completion of the strategy defining phase, while the strategy phase can’t start until the end of the market research phase, and so on. The phases do not happen concurrently, and teams are siloed and not easily coordinated.
Agile, on the other hand, emphasizes adaptive planning and a simultaneous, layered approach to project management. Its more flexible, iterative approach allows a cross-functional team to collaboratively develop the elements that make up a project.
When an Agile project management strategy is applied to a marketing campaign, each element – including market research, strategy development, metrics and media selection, and content creation – goes through multiple versions prior to project completion. One phase of the project doesn’t necessarily end before another begins, and constant improvement, not perfection, is the goal.
Agile values experimentation, encouraging teams to harness failure to inform the next round of work; teams deliver rounds of work rapidly so elements can be altered according to customer feedback.
Though first used by engineers and developers at software companies, the principles of Agile have proven to be successful for other industries, from construction companies to financial institutions to product development firms, over the past 25 to 30 years. Marketing teams are among the groups that have realized how greater agility and collaboration can bring about more consistent and successful marketing content and campaigns.
Essentially, when there’s a complex project to undertake, a new product to produce, or a service to improve, the principles of Agile can help organize a marketing team to produce more value in less time.
Drive continuous improvement with Agile
Another major difference between Agile project management and the traditional waterfall method is completion points. Agile is about continuously improving, which means Agile projects are likely to have more completion points than traditional projects.
For example, let’s say a team is preparing a marketing campaign for a product launch that is coming up in three months. Under a milestone-driven project, they may plan the project over the course of the next three months. When they’re finished three months later, they launch their marketing campaign.
However, with Agile project management, the team may have three completion points instead of one. One month into a project, they launch their campaign and receive feedback. From there, the team revises their project with the feedback in mind and then launch it again. They repeat the process of launching and revising their project until they get to their deadline.
By then, the team should have a finished product that’s been optimized two or more times before the final product is released. Both project management styles involve planning and timelines, but the Agile approach has shorter feedback loops, which means there are more chances to improve a deliverable before the project is over.
Agile project management is for everyone
One of the biggest advantages of Agile project management is its versatility. Not only is it flexible enough to suit most types of work, anyone can use it if they’re striving for continuous improvement. Regardless of whether someone is an accidental project manager or a certified Agile specialist, they can use Agile to achieve their goals and objectives.
The Elements of Agile Marketing
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to Agile project management. To get the most out of the Agile method, teams can customize the way they apply Agile to complement their unique needs.
Agile marketing can be implemented through several different methodologies or frameworks, such as:
- Scrum (born from the world of software development)
- Kanban project management (built in the realm of manufacturing)
- Scrumban (a hybrid of the two)
Teams can even adopt a hybrid approach that uses high-level milestone planning and iterative work.
Ultimately, making Agile work comes down to how a team or organization applies the methodology. The most high-performing Agile teams find a way to implement Agile that helps them with their goals and continue to revisit their strategy as their goals and objectives evolve.
Below are a few of the different ways Agile can be implemented in marketing projects.
- In Scrum, work is broken up into sprints, or set amounts of time in which segments of work must be completed.
- Kanban project management favors a “release when ready” approach over timeboxed delivery and limits the number of tasks in order to maximize throughput.
The idea with either methodology is to foster a flexible, solution-oriented process, with team members constantly swarming on problems, keeping an eye on prioritization and removing blockers to progress.
Agile project management strategically uses meetings, called “ceremonies” in the Scrum vernacular and “cadences” in Kanban project management, as essential activities for teams to get work done. Depending on the preferred methodology, these events are known by several names, including daily stand-ups, prioritization meetings, sprint planning meetings, or retrospectives.
Each meeting has a slightly different purpose, but all are structured to facilitate conversations within the Agile marketing team, help the team prioritize their work and then stay focused on those priorities. These conversations cover topics such as:
- What did you deliver yesterday?
- What are you going to deliver today?
- Do you have any roadblocks or impediments?
- How can we work as a team to help you overcome those roadblocks and get that work done?
Scrum marketers advocate for working in “sprints” of activity, often between two and four weeks long, in which a team releases value for a set period, then stops to review and plan for the next sprint.
Kanban marketers prefer working in a more continuous fashion – often referred to as “flow” – to keep the execution of work, review, and planning unbroken.
And marketers who practice Scrumban take elements from each method and tailor their approach to their specific needs and style of working.
Benefits of Agile Marketing
Agile marketing helps marketers stay current and competitive by offering the following benefits.
Speed with discernment
Whether a company sells cars or shoes, software or content services, Agile project management enables marketing teams to deliver value to the market faster, then use a data-driven approach to rapidly receive and respond to feedback.
In fact, after adopting Agile marketing practices, organizations move ideas into action in much less time: from several months to less than two weeks, according to McKinsey and Company. CMG Partners’ sixth-annual survey of chief marketing officers (CMOs), “The Agile Advantage,” revealed that 93% of CMOs who employ Agile practices say their speed to market for ideas, campaigns, and products has improved.
But “faster” doesn’t mean a lack of planning or an indiscriminate push of content. Agile project management is strategic. It embraces the planning process while saving room to adapt and stay responsive to the market.
As an example, let’s look at the process to create an eBook on content marketing. A standard marketing approach would devote months and a lot of resources into creating such a project and releasing it all at once – without knowing if such content would be worthwhile to the audience.
An Agile project management approach to marketing, on the other hand, would create an outline first, then rely on analytics and customer feedback to test what, if anything, resonated with their audience. If data showed the audience responded with a greater interest in a chapter on “how to write eBooks” and less on “how to promote eBooks on social media,” then the eBook’s content could be adapted with no real loss of time or resources. The Agile approach could help deliver “The Definitive Guide to Writing eBooks” to an already-receptive audience.
If the team had spent months with its head down, writing and releasing the entire eBook, it would have missed vital lessons from its audience – who might respond with a “not interested” click away from the product instead of a “that sounds helpful” click toward more engagement.
Greater focus and productivity
Both internal and external stakeholders approach marketing teams with a breadth of needs. In a typical week, it’s not unusual for a marketing team to hear requests such as:
- The customer service team wants broken website links to be fixed right away
- The European sales team needs a product sheet translated into French
- The new product team wants to promote its upcoming webinar on social media
- The membership team would like to capitalize on a customer’s positive experience by having a case study written as soon as possible
Whether such requests come from inside or outside of a department, such a wide array of work and overlapping deadlines can be difficult for a marketing team to manage and prioritize. Determining what gets attention first is a common dilemma for a marketing team, particularly when its resources are limited.
The Agile project management for marketing approach makes those decisions easier by asking, when each request arrives, “What is going to deliver the most value to our customers?” This simple question helps the team prioritize, corral their work and set boundaries.
The team begins by embarking on a planning period in which it defines a set of goals and maps out a specific timeline when work will take place. Armed with these goals – and leadership backup – the Agile marketing team can better communicate to requestors when work falls outside that scope and needs to be added to the list of new work.
With such a clear and defined process, it’s harder for stakeholders to claim unfair or preferential treatment. It also gives marketing teams more freedom to concentrate and do their best work without the stress of conflicting priorities.
Visibility and efficiency
Agile project management tools enable each team member to easily view where projects are in the pipeline. Real-time status updates help teams work more efficiently and self-sufficiently.
In cases where someone would traditionally contact the lead project manager or wait for status meetings, these tools allow team members to simply check into the board and see the status in seconds. This visibility helps leadership respond and react to roadblocks before they get outsized and harder to overcome.
Better morale, job pride, and satisfaction
The gift of Agile project management to morale can’t be overstated. Marketing team members report feeling more satisfied with the product or service they’re helping to produce and more engaged because they have greater control over their work. Job satisfaction is also credited to an Agile marketing team’s closer alignment on business objectives, quicker identification of roadblocks, and inevitably higher quality of work.
Tips for Getting Started in Agile Marketing
While an Agile marketing strategy presents significant advantages for a marketing team, it requires a break with tradition and a significant shift in mindset. Even when presented with evidence of Agile’s ultimate value, team members might naturally resist such a fundamental change in the way they work.
An Agile marketing champion should begin by acknowledging these barriers, then working to ease a team out of its comfort zone. Here are a few guidelines to realize the benefits of Agile marketing faster.
Don’t go it alone
From accounting to marketing to IT, Agile project management is team-oriented first and foremost. No one needs to solve problems on “lone marketer island” – everyone is part of an archipelago, surrounding the challenges as a team.
And don’t forget about executive leadership: By getting their buy-in on goals and tasks, teams will have fewer roadblocks on their path to delivering on overarching company strategy.
View feedback early and often
Part of a team’s workflow should include a process for asking for and receiving feedback not only from their audience, but also from internal stakeholders, particularly those who work on the front lines with customers. Even sharing a small piece of value – releasing one sales enablement email to a subset of an audience or one white paper as part of a larger marketing rollout – can provide vital intelligence.
Invite the audience to react to help the team determine whether it’s best to continue in the same direction or change course. For example, an Agile marketing team might test its audience’s response to one webinar before investing in and rolling out a year’s worth of webinars with the same subject matter expert.
Trust data to shape next steps
Determine metrics of success for different sequences of content and use analytics to inform the next stage of an Agile project management process. Perhaps it’s important to measure the percentage in uptick of users reading an email, number of new customers engaging with a webinar, or type of lead requesting more information. These goalposts help a team decide when to pivot and move into a slightly different direction, when to persevere and move forward with a plan, or when to abandon the idea altogether and start anew.
Embrace failure as a learning experience
An Agile marketing process invites disruption and welcomes the lessons of failure, but it also encourages a team not to fail in the same way twice. (If the word failure elicits too negative of a connotation, use a different phrase, such as a pivot point, a signal post, or a trial and error moment, to help bolster the team).
Don’t require perfection – aim for discovery
Realize that the right answer might not come in the first or second iteration. Embrace a non-judgmental process where teams can all learn from each other’s mistakes and build a framework so that the next right answer reveals itself.
Releasing yourself and other team members from the restrictive idea of “This must be perfect,” allows creativity and collaboration to flourish.
Project collaboration software can help marketing teams better visualize and manage all the different tasks involved in such a flexible and fluid process. Such a solution is particularly helpful when it includes document management features that assist in tracking documents, managing the versioning process, and easing a team’s reliance on paper.
Bringing It All Together
If all processes are iterative in a sense, why is Agile project management such a transformative approach for marketing? After all, the iterative process that began with the stone wheel ultimately yielded automobiles in the early 20th century, right?
The simple answer is that today’s market doesn’t wait that long, and if teams don’t move fast, as the saying goes, they’ll get bypassed. The modern consumer experiences so many marketing messages every day from so many sources that marketing teams don’t have the luxury of years or months to craft major projects – a process of iterative improvement needs to be instituted now.
Agile project management provides the adaptive frameworks and mindset shift to propel marketing teams on a path toward continuous improvement, faster delivery, and competitive advantage.
Just how effective is Agile project management for marketing teams? See for yourself with Projectplace, project management software comes with all the tools needed to plan, launch, and manage Agile teams of all sizes. Sign up for Projectplace today and receive a free 30-day trial.