The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.  -F. Scott Fitzgerald

Agile Marketing Zen
Photo courtesy of ePi.Longo

Some people object to Agile Marketing on the basis that not every marketing goal can be attained in the short periods generally associated with a single sprint. For example, the team at Salesforce.com responsible for their annual conference, Dreamforce, can’t cram all the preparation for that event in a 3-4 week Sprint. Or if someone is attempting to re-position a brand, as Wieden + Kennedy did for the Old Spice brand, the effects may take months and even years to appear in brand surveys.

While it’s true that there are many marketing effects that play out over time, that does not mean that they can’t be accomplished using Agile Marketing. Here are a couple of reasons why:

Sprints vs. Releases in Agile Marketing

Agile Developers face this issue all the time. Agile Developers solve this issue by distinguishing between Sprints, where certain tasks are completed and the software is in a state where it could be shipped, and Releases, which are the actual shipments to customers. For example, a development team may work on a 3-4 week sprint cycle, but only release the software every quarter. Each release would contain the work of several Sprints.

Agile Marketers can apply the same concept. Complex activities, like preparing for an annual event like Dreamforce, can be broken down into a series of smaller tasks, which can be parceled out into individual sprints. Just as a bicycle trip of 3000 miles wouldn’t be accomplished in a single sprint, but broken down into smaller, perhaps daily or even smaller segments, a marketing task can almost always be broken down into sub-tasks and sub-goals.

Take Time to Look at the Big Picture

A more serious concern, and one I share, is that marketers can get caught up in the tactical, executing well, but in service of a vision or strategy that is no longer relevant. How do you ensure that you avoid the myopia associated with always having your nose to the grindstone?

Agile Marketing teams must take time in between Sprints to pull back and look at the big picture. Many teams institutionalize this by building in some “down time” in between Sprints. In reality, this isn’t time where the team does nothing, but instead catches up on items neglected during the Sprint, and also takes some time to think about the big picture, and where they’re headed.

I also encourage teams, before they embark on a Sprint, to ensure that they are all on the same page in regards to some big picture marketing items, what I call the Marketing Model Canvas. These include items like the customer segments we’re targeting, what problems we’re solving for those customers, our value proposition, the partners and channels whereby we reach those customers, etc.  Re-examining the elements of the Marketing Model Canvas every 3-6 months is another way to take time to look at the big picture.

What do you think? How have you reconciled the short-term nature of Sprints with the necessity to sometimes take the long view?

Jim Ewel

I love marketing. I think it’s one of the most difficult and one of most exciting jobs in any company. My goal with this blog is to evangelize agile marketing and help marketers increase the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. jkingsbery

    Hi Jim,

    I think the “release planning” approach from Agile Software Development is the right one in Agile Marketing.

    One thing I would add to the post is that when doing release planning in Agile Software Development, you plan the release in different levels of granularity, with work that is coming up soon broken down into actionable stories and with work farther off at much higher level stories (sometimes called “Epics”). This is a major difference between Waterfall plans the next 3 months and how Agile does it.

    1. Jim Ewel

      James, great points. I really should have mentioned the concept of Epics; thanks for mentioning it.

  2. jkingsbery

    Hi Jim,

    I think the “release planning” approach from Agile Software Development is the right one in Agile Marketing.

    One thing I would add to the post is that when doing release planning in Agile Software Development, you plan the release in different levels of granularity, with work that is coming up soon broken down into actionable stories and with work farther off at much higher level stories (sometimes called “Epics”). This is a major difference between Waterfall plans the next 3 months and how Agile does it.

    1. Jim Ewel

      James, great points. I really should have mentioned the concept of Epics; thanks for mentioning it.

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