By Andrea Fryrear published March 3, 2016

Your Content Team Can Sprint With Agile Marketing

Sprint-with-agile-marketing-cover

Agile marketing is fast becoming the way for marketing teams to produce impactful, audience-focused resources consistently. I was delighted to hear members of the content marketing community embracing Agile methodologies in my recent #CMWorld Twitter chat. As I answered questions, others chimed in, making the conversation a gold mine of insights and ideas on Agile marketing that I wanted to share with you.

What does it mean for a marketing team to be Agile?

Some teams are naturally adaptive and data-driven, and could technically be considered agile (lowercase “a”). To qualify as Agile (capital “A”), a marketing team needs a structure that enables it to adapt and iterate.

This structure could take various forms, including Scrum (the classic Agile process based around sprints), Kanban (a pull-based system that uses work-in-progress limits), or a hybrid of the team’s invention. Most Agile teams work in sprints – set periods during which team members aim to complete a set amount of work that’s connected to a long-term plan. Each sprint lasts between one week and one month, with two weeks being the most common duration.

A mainstay of the Agile approach is the stand-up – a 15-minute meeting, usually held at the beginning of every work day, during which team members stay on their feet. They take turns updating everyone on what they did yesterday, what they plan to do today, and what obstacles they need help to overcome.

Whatever form the structure takes, some kind of systematic foundation is needed to keep an Agile team from descending into frenetic reactions disconnected from a long-term plan.

Changing your mind all the time does not make you Agile.

Changing your mind all the time does not make you #Agile says @AndreaFryrear #contentstrategy Click To Tweet

Agile marketing teams, like Agile teams in other departments, share the following hallmarks. They:

  • Respond to change based on data
  • Follow a flexible plan
  • Keep their focus on the audience

How do you convince others (teammates or higher-ups) to use Agile marketing if you’re the only one who’s interested in it?

In the #CMWorld Twitter chat, three themes emerged:

  1. Try it as an individual and show off your increased productivity.
  2. If you have allies, create some low-risk pilot programs.
  3. Use force.

I’m a fan of the first approach – going Agile alone – because even if you can’t convince anybody else, your own sanity and output will benefit.

Many chat participants reported good success with the second approach because it produces data that you can use as an argument. On the flip side, you could identify examples of the pitfalls of non-Agile teams and encourage your organization to avoid similar mistakes.

Finally, some mentioned NERF guns and hostages. I don’t condone the use of force except in extreme cases.

Do Agile marketers produce more or less content than those on non-Agile marketing teams?

I loved the responses to this question because people resoundingly agreed that the metric that matters is not more content but better content.

So, while Agile marketers typically produce more content due to their ability to focus within project parameters, they also typically are more audience-focused. Agile marketing fires both barrels: Quantity and quality.

One possible detriment to output: Agile marketers often are cross-functional; they can perform just about any marketing function as needed. If a priority project is in jeopardy of failing, they may need to join the rest of the Agile team in swarming it, pulling away from content during that effort.

What’s the biggest hurdle your team faced in its early Agile days?

As echoed by dozens of chat participants, communication – within the team and across the organization – is especially vital in the early days of an Agile transition.

When your team comes upon hurdles, you can feel like you’re the only ones in the world trying to make this process work. You’re not!

I recommend attending an Agile marketing meetup. These gatherings are springing up around the country. Also, more marketing conferences are creating training and breakout sessions to help guide marketers along this path.

When in doubt, tweet me your Agile problems @AndreaFryrear. I’m happy to help if I can.

What strategies does an Agile team use that a traditional marketing team might not?

I can’t say enough about the power of daily stand-up meetings for enhancing communication within the team and between departments.

For non-Agile teams, the idea of meeting every day to talk about what you did in the past 24 hours can be horrifying. But, when done right, these meetings clear up many issues before they create bottlenecks.

Between these daily check-ins and the visibility of the marketing backlog (a prioritized list of upcoming projects and tasks), you all but eliminate the question “What the heck does marketing do all day?”

What are your favorite tools for managing the Agile process?

I’m not a fan of blowing your marketing budget on a tool that promises to make you Agile overnight, but tools can be a big help in the process.

Slack, Trello, and Wrike were mentioned a number of times during the chat. Many practitioners swear by their white board and sticky notes – and pencils. You don’t need special tools, but if your team finds a tool that enhances communication and visibility, by all means, use it.

Agile teams focus on sprints – heads-down content production with no small interruptions. Is that realistic?

You could almost hear people scoffing at this question through their Twitter feeds. No interruptions? Are you joking?

Notice that the question is about small interruptions, not interruptions in general. Interruptions always rear their heads. If Agile teams could figure out a way to obliterate interruptions, we would rule the business world.

Agile methodology does help team members decide which interruptions to act on immediately. An Agile team member might respond to an interruption by saying, “I’m in the middle of project X. Is your issue more important than that?”

An #Agile approach helps teams decide which interruptions to act on now and which can wait. Click To Tweet
  • If the interrupting issue is more important, cool. You stop and address it.
  • If the interrupting issue is not more important, you record it as something to address in a future sprint, and you keep on keeping on.

Our team limits our sprints to two weeks for this reason. When we tell people, “not right now,” we can assure them that we’ll get to their requests soon.

After you “go Agile,” how long until you start seeing a payoff?

Getting data that you can compare with your pre-Agile output can take several sprints. Likewise, it can take a couple of weeks or even months for a team to fully get onboard with everything that falls under the umbrella of “going Agile.”

At the same time, as a content marketer, I experienced an almost instant relief of pressure when our team started doing Scrum. The chat participants reported that, although it took a while to get comfortable with the process changes, they saw some payoffs immediately.

For me, deadlines didn’t seem so scary, and I felt secure in what I was expected to produce in a defined amount of time. Here I am, 200 articles later, still going strong. I think that’s a pretty good argument for Agile marketing. (If you need more persuasion to adopt Agile marketing, check out my other CMI posts on the subject.)

To learn more from Andrea on Agile marketing, attend her sessions at the Intelligent Content Conference March 7-9. Use code BLOG100 to save $100 off of the main event and all-access passes.

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Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixabay.com

Please note:  All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team.  No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

Author: Andrea Fryrear

Andrea Fryrear is the chief content officer for Fox Content, where she uses agile content marketing principles to drive content strategy and implementation for her clients. She also writes for and edits The Agile Marketer a community of marketers on the front lines of the agile marketing transformation. She geeks out on all things agile and content on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Other posts by Andrea Fryrear

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  • 813DigitalMarketing

    Andrea, thanks for your insightful and revealing findings on the benefits of Agile marketing and how it can transform modern marketing processes. It’s great to know that Agile is having such a positive impact on so many marketing teams!

    • Afryrear

      Glad you found it helpful! It was so inspiring to see how many passionate practitioners there were on the chat. Would love to hear about any agile success stories you encounter :)

  • http://www.sproutcontent.com Dechay Watts

    Great article Andrea. Our team fully embraced Agile in January and we’ve consistently seen an increase in productivity every week. It’s a great way to plan for growth too since you can see how much capacity is left in your current team to know when to bring on more resources. We’re believers.