Agile in the Physical World

Most business interact with customers in both the digital environment (website, social media, digital advertising) and in the physical world (in retail stores, over the telephone, through distribution reps, through outside sales reps).  If you have retail stores, you have to print signage and train retail sales people. If you have a toll free number, whether for service or sales, you have to create scripts and train CSRs and telemarketing staff. If you sell physical products, you need logistics to source and deliver those products in the physical world.

And that’s just looking at the customer interaction challenge from one direction – in addition to delivering customer experiences across both the digital environment and the physical world, you also have to listen and gather feedback and data across both.

This is where Agile gets tough, but it is also reality for many organizations that aspire to Agile.

CMO Council Study

A new study by the CMO Council called “The Responsiveness Requirement: How Agile Marketers Act on Consumer Feedback to Drive Growth” looks at this requirement to implement Agile in the physical world as well as in the digital environment.  Here are some of the key findings:

    • Consumers still want to get physical – although consumers use digital resources like a company’s web site and social media to research products and services, physical world resources like in-store sales representatives, in-store promotions and product packaging are still an important part of the consumer journey.  Here’s the key quote and the supporting data: “physical touchpoints like product packaging and in-store displays are seen as just as important, if not slightly more important, to the success of the overall experience as channels like email, direct mail and mobile apps…three digital channels that actually fail to crack the “Top 10 List” of critical channels”.

CMO Council study

  • Overemphasis on digital and organizational silos are a problem – Marketers find it easier to create, deploy and measure digital marketing, so in many organizations, digital has received the bulk of the attention and most of the recent growth of the budget. But customers don’t distinguish between digital and physical world channels. Customers want consistent experiences and responsiveness across both digital and the physical world.  53 percent of respondents to the CMO Council study admit that alignment across physical and digital touchpoints is an important focus of the customer experience. Organizations also don’t prioritize creating seamless customer experiences across the digital environment and the physical world: 51 percent of respondents feel they lack the budget to implement the systems and tools needed to manage this complexity.  And lastly, most organizations have separate digital and physical teams, making cross-functional collaboration difficult if not impossible. 46 percent say that functional silos across the marketing landscape have separated teams into physical or digital groups, enabling specialization and functional focus but making alignment and cohesion across these channels even more difficult.
  • Customers value responsiveness and marketers aren’t equipped to deliver responsiveness, particularly in the physical world –  52 percent of end consumers in the CMO Council survey said the most important attribute of a brand experience is fast response times to issues, needs, requests and suggestions. Despite the importance that customers place on responsiveness, most marketing organizations admit to being ill-equipped to deliver on that expectation, particularly if responsiveness requires changes in the physical world.

CMO Council Survey 2


How to Improve Your Ability to Respond in an Omni-Channel World

What can you do to improve your ability to respond in both the digital and physical worlds? The experts at Danaher Corporation, who sponsored this study, have three recommendations:

  • Corral all the content makers – The consumer sees your organization as one brand, and receiving different messages from different parts of the organization is confusing at best and a show-stopper for sales at worst. To support consistent messaging across digital and physical channels, some companies are gathering all of the content makers into one central customer experience team, with channel experts responsible for distributing the consistent message across digital and physical channels.
  • Connect technologies for real-time transparency – to make responsiveness a reality, you have to be able to gather data from both digital and physical channels and integrate them, present them to decision makers in an integrated and consistent way, and build the capacity to respond across all channels. This is a huge technical and organizational challenge.
  • Simplify the entire value chain – the number of steps and the attention to detail required to deliver a new customer experience is mind boggling.  Every step and every tiny detail is an opportunity for something to go wrong.  Simplify and automate where possible. Use checklists to ensure consistency and quality control. If possible, use fewer tools and tools that integrate well together.  Apply Lean and Total Quality Management (TQM) techniques to marketing and the creation of the customer experience.

I’d add two further recommendations:

  • Identify your most important customer value streams and build permanent, cross-functional teams to improve these customer value streams – For almost any business, customers realize value through a small set of critical customer experiences. For example, one of my clients provides wireless cellular services. The experience of switching wireless carriers (from Verizon to T-Mobile, for example) can either be a nightmare or easy-peasy or somewhere in between. Getting the switching experience right is incredibly important to the business success of a wireless carrier.  That’s why they have permanent, dedicated, cross-functional teams to improve this critical customer value stream. Identify those value streams within your business and build permanent, cross-functional teams to own these customer experiences and constantly improve them.
  • Develop a core competency in real-time responsiveness across digital and physical channels – Last year, Volkswagen struggled to respond across their digital and dealer channels to the revelation that they were cheating on emission tests using a defeat device.  More recently, United showed that they were totally tone deaf in responding to a video showing agents dragging a passenger off of a flight. You don’t have to wait for these kinds of brand damaging events to develop a competency in responding to customer complaints and opportunities across both digital and physical channels.  Make it a priority to develop a core competency in real-time responsiveness.

The CMO Council study can be found here.  I’d recommend reading it and deciding how your organization implements Agile in the physical world.

Doing Agile vs Being Agile

doing agile vs being agileDoing Agile is not the same as Being Agile according to Michael Sahota and I couldn’t agree more. Doing Agile can be learned in a 2-3 day class that teaches the basics of Scrum and Kanban. Being Agile requires much more: a cultural shift to an agile mindset as well as changes to the way employees are managed, motivated, trained and hired.

There’s no question that Doing Agile by itself leads to certain benefits: improved communication and visibility to what each team member is working on, some increases in productivity and perhaps the ability to set priorities with intent as conditions change.

But the transformative benefits occur from Being Agile, by which I mean consistently, predictably responding quickly in the face of change, delighting customers and achieving excellence through engaged employees all working together towards common goals.

What does it take for marketers to achieve Being Agile? Here are some ways your team can move towards this goal.

Self-Managing Teams

Scrum prescribes that teams be self-managing, but in my experience this prescription is seldom followed. It is critical for managers in an agile environment to get out of the habit of giving orders and of having all the answers, and instead give both authority and accountability to the team. Strangely enough, this can be harder for team members and middle managers than for organizational leaders.

In a top down organization, employees are trained to seek approval for every action.  Managers are the answer men (or women) and the approvers. Some employees and some middle managers will be adrift in an organization where decision making and responsibility are pushed down to the lowest possible level. Employees will feel adrift because they are accustomed to being told what to do. This doesn’t require thinking and responsibility is shrugged off with the phrase “I was just doing what I was told”.

Middle managers will feel adrift because they formerly saw their job as translating orders from above into “managing their team”, which meant telling them what to do and checking back frequently to make sure that they were in fact doing it.  Middle managers also spend a lot of time in meetings approving initiatives or decisions brought to them. If this goes away, what is the role of the middle manager?

The Role of Management in Agile Organizations

To achieve Being Agile, managers must take on a new set of responsibilities.

Providing Clarity of Purpose

I’ve recently been teaching Intent-based leadership as described by David Marquet. David describes the two pillars of intent-based leadership as clarity and competence.  Leaders must clearly communicate purpose and the current major goals of the organization. Their job is to ensure that every member of the organization has clarity on that purpose and those goals.  This is not easy.

In many organizations, I’ll ask them “what is the purpose of this organization and what are the top 3-5 goals at the present time?”.  Sometimes I get confused looks, sometimes I get multiple conflicting answers from different people in the organization, and only once in a while do I get the same clear and consistent answer from everyone in the organization.

Teaching Competence

Giving a team member responsibility for performing a certain function isn’t going to result in success if the team member doesn’t have the skills to perform that function. Another responsibility of the manager in an Agile organization is to teach. Rather than make decisions or approve decisions, managers in an agile organization should teach people how to make great decisions.

David Marquet has a great example in this video. Normally, only the captain of a U.S. Navy submarine can give the order to submerge. The reasoning is that the captain is ultimately responsible if anything goes wrong.  David Marquet wanted to give his officers authority and responsibility for submerging the ship, but of course he also wanted to ensure the safety of the ship. So it wasn’t enough for the officer to state, “Captain, I intend to submerge the ship”.  They also had to ensure that it was safe: all the crew members were below decks, all hatches were closed, the ship was rigged for diving, the bottom was deep enough, etc. Eventually, the officers would say, “Captain, I intend to submerge the ship, all crew members are below, all hatches are closed” and so on, convincing the Captain that it was safe.  In other words, the Captain passed off his competence to his men, and they in turn to their men.

When every employee makes decisions as if the CEO was looking over their shoulder, consistent with the purpose, goals and values of the organization, you’ve achieved Being Agile.

Rapid Iterations with Learning Intent

One of the core values of Agile Marketing is “Rapid iterations over big bang campaigns”.  When I teach this, heads nod and everyone seems to think this is a good idea. But implementing this in practice seems to evade many teams.

To achieve Being Agile, an organization must build a high tempo testing culture. When people hear this, they often think this only applies to search engine marketing or perhaps testing a few display ads and their click thru rate. You know this is the case when you hear, “Oh yeah, testing, that’s the responsibility of the testing group over there”.

Rapid iterations with learning intent applies much more broadly than simply testing a few ads.  It means that marketing approaches everything with the attitude that we’re going to get something out in front of customers quickly, gather their feedback, and iterate our way to success.

This requires a mindset of learning intent and a relentless focus on delighting the customer through constant improvement. It also requires that teams measure their tempo. How many tests a week are we performing? How long does it take us to build a new campaign? How rigorous are we being in terms of stating our hypothesis up front and making decisions based on customer feedback?

I hope this helps. I’ve found the distinction between Doing Agile vs Being Agile to be very helpful in my coaching, and I’m challenged every day to help organizations achieve Being Agile.

The Six Disciplines of Agile Marketing

Six disciplines of Agile MarketingAgile Marketing is not a sprint.  Agile Marketing is not a marathon.  Agile Marketing is more like a life long commitment to exercise.  You have to practice it every day, and over time, with commitment and consistency, the benefits begin to accrue.

If you make a commitment to exercise, there are different aspects of exercise to build a healthy body: cardiovascular training, strength training and flexibility. Neglect any one of these and you are not getting the full benefits.

There are also different aspects to Agile Marketing.  I’ve listed six of them in the diagram above.  Each of them is important, and if you neglect any one, you’re not getting the full benefits of Agile Marketing. That’s not to say that you need to address all of them at the start of your work with Agile.  Just like exercise, you should start off gradually, building upon a base before attempting some of the more difficult aspects of Agile Marketing like creating remarkable customer experiences. [Read more…]

Kanban for Agile Marketing

Kanban Agile MarketingIn the past, I’ve used and taught Scrum in preference to Kanban for Agile Marketing.  Sure, I’ve admitted that you could use Kanban for a few applications, and sure, I’ve used a Kanban board, but as I’ve come to understand, that’s not the same thing as practicing Kanban as a methodology. Recently, I’ve learned a lot more about Kanban thanks to a couple of excellent books (more about that below) and exposure to a new generation of Kanban tools, particularly Kanbanize and LeanKit.

As a result, I teach Kanban before I teach Scrum in my classes, and in many cases I recommend Kanban for Agile Marketing. [Read more…]

The Role of the Marketing Owner in Agile Marketing

Marketing OwnerEvery time I teach Agile Marketing, I learn something new. Last week, I was teaching a class in Northern Ireland, and one of the students asked me to clarify the difference between the product owner and what she called the “Agile owner”.

I didn’t really understand her question until she clarified that the product owners for the development sprints resided in marketing. She felt, and I think she’s right, that it’s too much to ask these product owners to take on the additional role of setting priorities for the marketing sprints.

Who should take on this role? Let’s call this person the Marketing Owner, to distinguish them from the Product Owner. [Read more…]