Every business wants to know how to create value for its customers. But this tends to take both time and money — things that most marketers are currently short of. If only there was a way to generate value, all while increasing pace, being more responsive, and consuming fewer resources…
According to Scott Stockwell, senior brand strategist at IBM, there is. As an Agile marketing thought leader, coach, and facilitator, he’s an expert on enabling businesses to do more with less, and he joined us in the Unicorny studio to explain how to adopt an Agile approach in marketing.
You’re almost certainly already familiar with Agile, a project management methodology originally used for software development. Many of its popular practices have gone mainstream outside of the original framework, such as stand-up meetings — but, naturally, there’s much more to Agile than that.
It involves breaking work down into small chunks and organising teams around who’s doing what in what sequence. Via a series of best practices, it fosters flexibility and collaboration between previously siloed teams in a way that traditional project management tactics often fail to. But can a project management framework designed to benefit programmers really impact the success of your marketing activities?
‘From my experience, yes,’ says Scott. ‘The two things it really brings to the fore are value to the customer, and constant improvement. If you’re constantly asking “What’s the value to the customer?”, it stops you doing things that aren’t valuable to the customer. It helps you make choices of time and resources where they are best spent. [Then] the constant improvement looks back at how the work was done very frequently, so anything that’s been causing friction or helping the fluidity are reviewed and built on for the next cycle.’
In particular, one of Scott’s favourite Agile ways to prioritise customer needs is the MoSCoW method, which stands for ‘must have’, ‘should have’, ‘could have’, and ‘will not have’. It involves team members getting into a group and assigning a level of priority to each task within a project, with the must-do row becoming their minimum viable product — and forming an instant pathway to seeing results ASAP.
‘If you can deliver those things in that top row, you're probably going to deliver something of quality and value to your customer,’ says Scott. ‘That's when you get into economies of scale and efficiencies, because you're giving something useful immediately. You're not trying to wait for a massive project to be finished before you deliver anything.’
But the ‘will not have’ section is just as crucial as nailing the top priorities. Scott says knowing when to say no is key. ‘Agile is very responsive, but it needs to be responsive within the sprint or the iteration. So when a new requirement comes in, there's two ways that you can approach it. You can accommodate it in that particular cycle — which is actually the less preferred option from my perspective, because you would then choose to say no to something that you are already doing. The second thing, which is probably the better approach, is to say “Let's wait until the end of this sprint for this new requirement, then test how that will fit into the next sprint to see how we can accommodate it.”’
However, saying no to spontaneous demands from other areas of the business is much easier in theory than in practice. Even with the best will in the world, the Agile method can easily fall apart if your team doesn’t feel they’re able to decline requests that jeopardise the flow of the project. And that’s when scope-creep starts to happen. Scott believes that an environment of psychological safety is essential for preventing this, and that this has to come from the top, with stakeholder support playing a crucial role in the success of any Agile project.
‘My experience is when leaders have first-hand experience, it works much better. One of the things that can make or break the way that Agile works is responding to changes of requirements. [...] There needs to be an understanding from the leadership team that the team that is doing the work needs to work out how to accommodate that additional request,’ says Scott. ‘Leaders who are used to the way that Agile works understand that. Leaders that don't will tend to add the new requirement in and say “You're working Agile, we're expecting you to just do this quickly.” That's not the way that Agile works.’
Scott’s advice is to get your leadership team experiencing Agile principles for themselves. This doesn’t mean forcing them to play project manager for a week, but instead getting them involved in the exercises that demonstrate how Agile works — the aeroplane game, for example. Including them in these exercises demonstrates why Agile works, helping them to understand why dropping everything to field their last-minute requests is detrimental to the business, and therefore why it’s worth sticking to the rules.
This mindset of learning from experience applies to everyone involved, including the project manager. Adjusting to any new way of working doesn’t happen overnight, and Scott knows first-hand that no amount of reading about Agile can give you the same results as putting it into practice.
Just like learning to swim or riding a bike, you’ll learn much faster by trying it yourself than you would by reading about Olympic divers or watching the Tour De France. ‘Once you've found your feet, got the buoyancy in the water, then you can start to actually take a bit of flexibility and you've got a bit of freedom,’ says Scott. ‘When you've got that, you're into the ability to innovate and put your own style onto it. So it's very much learn by doing, start by watching, but you've got to actually have practical experience.’
You heard the man — get stuck in!
Or if you’re still not sure where to start, discover more of Scott’s tried-and-tested Agile marketing tips in the full podcast, including creating social charters, embracing Design Thinking, and learning how to play planning poker.
Writer, Selbey Anderson
As well as running her own boutique agency, Duckman Copy Ltd, Ornella is house writer for the Unicorny podcast which is sponsored by Selbey Anderson. She’s happy to turn her pen to all types if content from white papers to websites, from billboards to board game instructions and contributes regularly to Unicorny.co.uk, Selbeyanderson.com and Stateofdigital.com.