Secrets of Success With Agile For Marketing

Three Keys

Thinking of applying the Agile for Marketing approach, what we call A4M™, in your marketing organization? In our research and our work with companies adopting A4M, we have seen the same elements highlighted as either obstacles to or reasons for success. Change is hard, and it makes people uncomfortable. As such, the adoption of Agile for Marketing requires a holistic and whole-hearted approach. One VP at a software provider explained, “Because agile is not just ‘let’s do what we were doing before and do it faster,’ you need individuals to adapt to the new roles that are required in an agile process.”
There are three keys to success that you really need to be thinking about to make a successful transition in the way you operate, and it all starts with the people.

1. Commitment

Working in an A4M fashion requires some big changes. Executives will need to give up some control and empower their staff. Team members will have to step up and take some risks. And everyone will be more accountable for accomplishing work. With such a change in day-to-day operations, it’s critical that you not only have buy-in across key leadership in the organization, but also that leadership show their enthusiasm and commitment to making A4M work. This includes clearly setting the vision of what you are trying to achieve and why, but also making sure people have the time and freedom to make the process work.

In our research we talked with agile marketers who have experienced the value of commitment. Two-thirds of the agile marketers in our CMO’s Agenda™ study reported that adopting A4M led to a more motivated team, one even described it as a “kinetic energy that’s occurring with the teams.” Jim Ewel, CEO of InDemand Interpreting emphasizes the persistence required, “Commitment – it’s a little bit like working out, you’re not going to suddenly have that beach body the first day that you work out.” Working out how A4M will fit your teams and your company is a process that takes patience and open communication.

2. Empowerment

Agile for marketing teams are intended to be self-operating, empowered teams that organize, plan and figure out the best way to get the work accomplished. A4M places decision-making at the level closest to the work, as opposed to hewing to a hierarchy (also known as a bottleneck). Business leaders are involved in every project—in fact, they set the priorities—but the team decides how to best get the work done on a day-to-day basis. This transfer of power to the team fosters innovation, leads to faster solutions and increases motivation.

With A4M, the planning exercises preemptively answer many of the questions that can come up and delay a traditional project. The team members will define the Persona(s) of their customer, outline the steps of the Buyer’s Journey and write the User Stories. From this foundation, they create a backlog of tasks for each Sprint (project iteration). By creating the backlog of work themselves, they are empowered. Leadership helps to set priorities and participate in the learning process during sprint reviews.

Kirsten Knipp, VP of brand and product marketing at Bigcommerce defines it this way, “Success is having a well oiled team that feels empowered. They know what to get done, they feel like they can go do it quite easily and know when to ask for help. They have sense of not having roadblocks that are stopping them from achieving these things in this time.”

3. Leadership

At CMG Partners, we like to say, “Leadership can make or break Agile for Marketing.” It is such a vital organ for the framework that without it, we know the road ahead will be rough. As we said, change is hard. So it’s critical that the CMO and marketing leaders act as change agents who model the behaviors they expect of their teams. It is their job to ensure that the culture of agility exists in the organization, that employees feel that they are able to take calculated risks and learn from them, and have the time and patience to allow the learning process to work.

Furthermore, it is critical to the success of a4m that leaders clearly communicate and reinforce how the A4M process will impact business performance. They need to set the vision for what they are trying to achieve with the agile for marketing teams, while reinforcing the change in the way individuals are measures and rewarded.

Allen Olivo, former VP of global brand and marketing communications for PayPal explains, “What a leader does is set the bar for what the organization is trying to accomplish. They put a mark on the wall and say ‘we’ve got to get there, guys.’ And then the leader becomes on some level the water carrier. It’s up to you as leaders to help move people and help prioritize these things.”

As you can see, the first two keys to success are dependent on the third. Leadership makes the commitment and empowers the teams. It all starts with the leadership and requires a change-oriented risk taker who really wants to transform marketing to serve the customer better, perform more effectively and create more growth. Done well, Agile for Marketing will help you achieve all three.

This article first appeared on CMO Central on the CTAM website here.