In a digital world, driven now more than ever by customer demands, marketing teams are struggling to keep up. Many organizations are turning to Agile, a work methodology first adopted by software developers, to meet customer needs in an “always on” market. Now, it’s catching on like wildfire with content marketers across all industries.
IBM’s 2019 Marketing Trends Report, Agile adoption makes the list at number six. And, according to AgileSherpas, 37 percent of American marketing teams have already gone Agile. That includes teams at IBM itself, as well as at major companies like Google, Facebook, General Mills, and Mozilla.
If you’re interested in transitioning to Agile, there are steps you can take to get your team ready.
First, a little background information.
What You Need to Know About Agile Content Marketing
As I mentioned before, Agile was initially created for software development teams to increase efficiency and decrease budgets.
Instead of working in siloed teams to deliver one entire software product at a time (called the waterfall methodology, because workflows through stages), dev teams reorganized into smaller groups that included other stakeholders across the company. They broke down product plans into smaller iterations that could be completed in two to four weeks.
With every two- to four-week iteration, called a sprint, testing and customer feedback can be integrated, and product planning can pivot to meet changing needs.
Now think about how your marketing team can use the agile marketing methodology.
You probably have a whole list of marketing “priorities” that need your team’s attention. You could be producing content on a weekly basis, launching a campaign around a product release, improving the website, and running a direct email campaign.
Instead of tackling those one at a time, using your entire team, imagine if you could break down each project into pieces that individual team members would own and complete in a smaller amount of time.
How Content Marketing Teams Can Benefit From Going Agile
Going Agile can help marketing teams plan, organize and prioritize work. It encourages communication across the team and company, and it gives companies the opportunity to pivot and implement change more quickly.
This Agile marketing manifesto by Agile Sherpas goes into great detail about the numerous benefits of this methodology. Let’s take a look at some of the big ones. If you’re interested here are some agile content marketing use cases from which you can learn.
Organize and Prioritize Work
Whether you use the scrum method, Kanban or a combination of both, working in an Agile framework allows companies to organize and prioritize work.
With both methods, a project manager (a scrum master or Kanban designer) calls for project requests from all stakeholders and place them in a product backlog. They then bring everyone together for a planning meeting to rank work based on company goals.
Once everyone is clear on the priority of the work, the project manager organizes projects into sprints or stages on the Kanban board, and the work begins.
By organizing work into sprints or Kanban boards, it’s evident what teams should be working on and when. No one is guessing what should be a priority because it’s already defined.
Communicate Without Endless Meetings
Agile teams are encouraged to communicate regularly. Instead of sending an email or setting up a meeting, members are encouraged to use chat tools like Slack or raise issues through the team’s Agile platform (typically JIRA for scrum and Trello for Kanban).
And while there are daily stand-up meetings, they are meant to be quick. Members sum up the status of their work, and if an issue needs further discussion, it’s taken into a separate conversation with only those it affects.
Because there is more communication between team members, issues are raised quickly, and teams can move to solve them almost immediately.
There is better visibility into projects through stand-up meetings and planning tools. For example, projects move through predetermined stages on a Kanban board. If a project seems stuck with a particular team member, the Kanban board designer can reach out to solve the bottleneck.
If it’s a regular occurrence with a particular phase or member, the designer can meet with key stakeholders to figure out the issue and restructure to eliminate bottlenecks.
Work in a Cross-Functional Team
This is one of the biggest shakeups Agile brings to company culture. There is no longer an us-versus-them mentality within an organization. With Agile teams, members from various teams, from Marketing to DevOps to Product Management, all work together.
Think about it, when was the last time you worked on a marketing campaign that didn’t affect other parts of your organization?
If you’re working on a new product blog, for instance, you’ll certainly need to communicate with Social Media, Editorial, and Marketing Analysis in your own team. But you’ll also need help from Tech, DevOps, Product Development and Sales.
Having members of these teams available via Agile makes work much more collaborative. If you involve everyone from the beginning, you’re more likely to have buy-in throughout the project.
Integrate Analytics and Customer Feedback More Quickly
The great news about marketing in a digital world is that there are plenty of tools to give you feedback and analytics on every aspect of your projects, often in real time.
IBM, for example, has a system called Pearl, where marketing managers can log in and see how much their campaigns are costing and how much revenue they’re generating in return.
Google Analytics and the built-in analytics tools all social media platforms have will give you a wealth of data on your content and social media marketing initiatives. Customer feedback can be gathered through chatbots, email surveys and even rater buttons on blog posts.
All of this data can be quickly collected and analyzed for integration into your next sprint.
Possible Drawbacks of Agile Content Marketing
There can be a few drawbacks of Agile for content marketing. Most of them, though, can be remedied merely by ensuring all members have a full understanding of the process and tweaking it to fit your team and your work needs.
Lack of Buy-In From Members
If you see resistance to Agile methods or a breakdown in the scrum process, it may simply be a lack of understanding. Providing the right support, education, and culture to make people feel comfortable working in Agile is essential.
Simply dropping it in your team’s lap will only end in a breakdown of the process.
Loose Supervision of Teams
It’s not good have an unhealthy list of backlog items. If team members aren’t communicating on a regular basis, you run the risk of work that isn’t finished when it should be. Because individual members own their part and work independently, if they run into an obstacle and don’t raise the issue, the process breaks down.
Stress to team members the importance of Agile methods. Communication tools and stand-up meetings are there to create transparency and clarity, and to come to the team with issues as soon as they arise.
Too Much Innovation
There’s that old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s a good mantra to have in the back of your mind as you transition to an Agile framework.
Most people think of Agile as a way to continuously innovate and improve. And while a lot of Agile is about that, you shouldn’t be innovating simply to innovate.
Use planning meetings to prioritize projects that will genuinely support the goals of the company. Any other innovation can be a nice-to-have for sprints with less high-priority work.
Agile Content Marketing Implementation Roadmap
Now that you’re ready to transition to an Agile work methodology, it’s time to plan out your roadmap to get you there. Here are five steps to get you started.
1. Understand Company Goals
Before you do anything else, get a clear understanding from the C-suite what the company’s goals are for the quarter, year, and overall. Knowing what the goals are, whether it be turning a profit for the first time, recruiting talented workers, or launching a new product, will help you plan and prioritize projects within sprints.
2. Determine Team Members
Once you know what the company goals are and what marketing can do to help achieve those goals, it’s time to assemble your team members. Your team should be made up of people who will have a stake in your projects. That could mean someone from your dev team, your sales team, your product team and so on.
3. Train in Agile Methodology
Many organizations offer courses and certifications for Agile, and they all have different titles.
Consider getting a certification in Agile. Available for both scrum masters and Kanban designers, students learn the basics of both methodologies – how to set up a team, and how to run a sprint or Kanban board.
Agile project management courses teach pretty much the same thing. Continuing ed courses will dive deeper into different aspects of Agile, like user stories and testing and automation.
4. Set Up a Workflow
Implementing Agile for your team doesn’t happen overnight. It took Mozilla’s CMO, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, to become a completely Agile team.
First, determine whether scrum or Kanban will work for you and your team. In scrum, work is organized into those two- to four-week sprints and begins and ends within that time frame. In Kanban, work is organized into stages, and it flows through the stages until it’s done.
Once you’ve chosen a method, set up your workflow.
For software engineers, Atlassian, the company that makes the JIRA sprint-planning software, recommends starting with a simple workflow.
They suggest four primary stages: to do, in progress, code review, done. For a content marketing team, you may just replace the word code with final.
Once you have that basic framework set up, you can adjust as you go. Perhaps you find you need categories like editorial review, front end planning, or analytics review.
5. Test and Pivot as Necessary
Use post-sprint review meetings to assess the process. Encourage input from stakeholders to identify parts of the process that are really working and those that need improvement.
In a constantly moving marketing landscape, switching your team to an Agile methodology will help you work more efficiently and produce compelling content that integrates customer needs and feedback.
Need more help? Take a look at our collection of agile content marketing resources.