When you imagine an agile marketing team, what words come to mind? 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 be the first to learn, iterate, and improve, not just the first.
I discuss this concept at length in my new book, Mastering Marketing Agility: Transform Your Marketing Teams and Evolve Your Organization, and I outline it here in this article.
To be concentrated means to be fast
The list of all the marketing work we could do right now is endless. We have to explore new channels, test new messages and launch new campaigns – not to mention the numerous stakeholders who have to do a number of recurring tasks 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 results in a very busy and very unproductive day.
This is because we will spend a large part of our productive time with the so-called context change. 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 middle downtime is a context switch that we all have to pay for.
The less 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.
If we have 20 projects in a team, we will spend a lot of time on context changes. 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 like sprints or work-in-progress limits (WIP) to keep the number of active work items low.
You are not fast per se; they are focused.
Stop starting, start exiting
Of course it sounds good to limit the number of things you work on, but what about all of the people who bring in work for marketing?
As a bridge between customer and company, marketing has many groups to answer.
If everyone needs marketing NOW, how can we focus on marketing?
Disciplined agile teams have a simple tool called a backlog that acts as a queue for work ahead. You can also think of it as a prioritized to-do list.
If work requests come in, they go there. They are not started automatically immediately.
The backlog is a filtering mechanism with which the agile team leader can evaluate a new request based on all other work of the team and decide where the new item falls.
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 has been committed to. In this case, it's at the bottom of the list.
This does not mean that the team will never complete this work with lesser impact. But if we take EVERY request and start immediately, we are doing ALL of our projects a disservice.
Costs for context switching 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 strict consideration of the true worth of what we do will we finally stop starting everything and instead finish what is really important.
Inspect, adapt, iterate
The final major change in mindset associated with the disciplined execution of agility concerns measurement. Instead of running until the next deadline or putting out today's fire, marketers need to take the time to pause, review the effects of their past 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.
Once again, it is this disciplined inspect-adapt loop that seems to move agile marketing teams so quickly. In reality, they are only making small, iterative improvements over time that lead to massive success.
Speed is optional, disciplined mobility is not
Mobility 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.