Making Agile Work for Marketers

Agile, real Agile, the stuff of legends, can be used in a marketing environment, and when done well, it changes the game of marketing. You’re about to hear proof of that…actually hear it.

Why should Agile matter to marketing? Because the marketing function is one of the most chaotic functions in any organization. Agile was designed to solve a chaos problem — not the same one, but Agile can be adapted to fit the bill. We’ve seen a lot of feckless Agile in marketing organizations…people going through “Agile motions” without a lot of results.

Marketing chaos is really workflow chaos. This type of chaos is naturally-occuring and is driven by the shape of the work that the organization does. Check out this short list of the types of chaos found in a NOCO, the Naturally-Occurring Chaotic Organization.

But does Marketing need Agile? Yes, I think so. When you listen to the podcast below, you’ll hear some awesome themes of how the marketing organization, once it started taming its chaos, became more integrated with the rest of the organization, at times, “connecting the dots across the enterprise.”

Last week I spoke at Australia’s CMO Summit. The 150+ audience was heavy on top marketing leadership and the presenters were no less worthy. If you could index the vocabulary used during that day, I’m sure that “agile” and all of its variants would come up as the second or third most commonly used term.

But my question, of course, was “What do you mean when you say Agile?” and “What real results have you created?” Key points from my recent article on how people are butchering the promise of agile because they don’t understand it. It makes a big difference what people really mean when they use the A-word.

It is important that marketers understand the difference between “big-A” and “little-A” forms of agile. Agile, with the capitalized A, is a rigorous set of methods; and agile, with the lower case A is, well, whatever you want it to mean, basically a synonym for “nimble,” as in stepping aside in the grocery aisle to get out of the way of someone’s shopping cart. My point: defining “agile” as the same as “nimble” is the same as saying nothing…we are all nimble, we all adapt.

None of the other presenters had actually done real big-A Agile, nor did they claim to. Okay, one presenter had done design sprints with a part of her team — she had a dedicated team focus on a single project for a fixed period of time. That IS a solution to chaos…but it doesn’t scale to the other 200 projects, large and small, that her organization was juggling on a weekly basis.

On the flight back from Sydney, I had a moment (actually, way more than a moment) to listen to a podcast just released by one of our marketing clients, Insperity, a $1.5bn publicly traded PEO (professional employer organization) services company. The podcast was created by their 50+ person marketing organization in order to tell the rest of the company how well their marketing style of Agile was working.

We scored a copy and posted it to YouTube so that you can listen to the 18 minutes of controlled giddiness between Larry Shaffer, Senior Vice President Marketing & Business Development and JaNette Thweatt — Connell, Managing Director, Marketing and Events. You can tell Larry is pretty excited because at times he forgets to be the interviewer and just starts answering the questions before he poses them!

Here are a few highlights from this reel, in case you’re short on time. (note that I’ve edited them a bit to give them context outside of the broader conversation.)

“[Before this] we were struggling with how to prioritize.”

“Sprints allow our creative team members to get focus”

“Biggest difference [versus software Agile] is that we need to be able to plan for the unknown during our sprints.”

“[this type of Agile] helps us deal with changes with more flexibility that software Agile.”

“Context and Roadmap [the “planning method” for NOCO teams] allows us to bring the stakeholder into our process.”

“At any given time, we have 200 or so projects that our teams are working on”

“Has enabled us to connect the dots across the enterprise”

“We were able to complete some very complex programs very quickly…more quickly than we might have done in the past.”

“Helped us communicate as a team in a way we could not before.”

“We’re able to operate at a much deeper level…the quality of the work we’re producing is much better. And we can attract and retain employees in a way that we could not before.”

“Going through this process, we’re more of a team than we were before.”

“When we walk into a session, everyone is on equal ground.”

That’s what real Agile sounds like — big changes in the way an organization operates. Can Agile work for Marketing? Yeah. Does Marketing need Agile? Hell, yeah.


Jack Skeels is a recovering client services executive, and the founder and CEO of AgencyAgile, a productivity training and coaching firm that helps agencies, marketers, and other complex service organizations go better, faster and happier. He wakes every day driven to create a revolution in leadership and management practices, optimal organization design, and delivery excellence.