Agile development is not new, far from it. Its roots go back to the 1980s and its manifesto and principles have helped many companies develop better software.

As digital marketers, we can apply a marketing lens to create a manifesto that should help us develop better marketing results.

Here’s my version of the Agile Manifesto, repurposed for marketing.

Agile Marketing

We are uncovering better ways of marketing by doing it, and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Ongoing programs over one-off projects
  • Small improvements over big campaigns
  • Testing and data over opinions
  • Skills and collaboration over hierarchy

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value items on the left more.

As you can see, it’s everything a digital marketer craves: using data and tests to create tactics that get launched quickly and are refined even quicker.

That’s the theory. But when we put away the textbooks and we add a touch of reality, is marketing really ready to be agile?

I think the truth is, in most cases, no.

Let’s explore some of the reasons.

Organisational Design

An organisation is created out of three component parts: people, processes and tools. In most established companies (those that have adopted digital marketing rather than being born in it), the three components are out of sync with Agile marketing.

It’s very common for sales, marketing and creative (read: design, development, testing, etc) departments to be working in silos with very different objectives and KPIs. And when these objectives misalign, it’s impossible to avoid the internal politics that stifle the collaborative working that Agile demands.

Agile prefers face-to-face communication and daily stand-up meetings that last no longer than 15 minutes, and it welcomes change. Again, organisational design elements like office locations and IT infrastructure can make face-to-face communication difficult.

This collaborative, regular communication process is something we’re trialling with some of our key clients: having a 15 minute WebEx every day to discuss progress, plans and roadblocks might seem like overkill, but the new transparency and accountability yields progress and that alone is worth the effort.

Procurement Processes

In one of my previous roles I was responsible for digital marketing channels, and to achieve my revenue targets I needed to generate roughly 10 million website visits a month. As you can imagine, my strategy needed constant refinement to squeeze every drop of performance out of every channel.

However, my finance department insisted I raise my POs and plan my budget a month in advance. I quickly demonstrated that, to be effective, I couldn’t handicap myself by allocating my budget so far in advance. I managed to change this internal procurement process, but I imagine I was one of the few lucky ones.

An obsession with “winning gold”

Marketing folk have this unhealthy (in my opinion) obsession with ‘winning the gold medal’. Everything’s got to be big, exciting and delivered perfectly on the first try.

And if we don’t win that gold medal, we think we’ve failed – the project gets scrapped, fingers get pointed and we vow never to do that again.

Our Agile Manifesto states we should prefer small improvements over big campaigns. This means we’d need to accept that we might have only won the silver medal with the first attempt, but there’s an opportunity to make a series of small improvements to turn that silver into gold.

How Do We Get Ready For Agile?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill here.

Changing the way a whole organisation functions in one swoop just isn’t going to work.

The approach we’re taking with Agile here is to start with one project, prove the concept and then scale.

  • We’ve picked a low risk client (namely, ourselves).
  • We’ve defined our stories and set some success criteria.
  • We’ve deployed a tool (Trello) to collaborate.
  • We’re meeting regularly to move the stories toward ‘done’.

As we go through the process, we intend to document our process and what we’re learning. If the findings are safe for public consumption, we’ll share them here. Look out for #lifeatrocketmill updates on Twitter or follow @RocketMill.