Agile Best Practices – Opportunities for Marketers

04.17.2017 | Jennifer Gehrt

Many of our clients use agile software development practices as they design and bring new products to market, but recently we’ve heard more and more about marketing teams that are also embracing agile principles. It got us thinking about how we work together and inspired us to look to other marketing teams for inspiration around best practices. Before we jump into our findings, let’s review the definition and principles of agile.

Wikipedia defines agile software development as “a set of principles for software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing cross-functional teams.” Whew. That’s a mouthful.

Let’s break this definition down. “Software development under which requirements and solutions evolve …” is pretty straightforward. This simply means the vision for the software and written code is going to progress or advance, and this is going to happen through the joint efforts of people.

Then there is the part about people being part of self-organizing, cross-functional teams. Self-organizing means the team decides how to achieve the goals or solve problems. They still have to meet deadlines and complete work within a budget, but how they accomplish the goals is up to them.

A cross-functional team means that you’re likely to have representatives from a variety of groups within the organization participating on your team. For instance, you might have someone from marketing, finance, engineering, human resources, operations, etc. The idea is that representatives from different departments will bring valuable perspective to the team as it strives to meet its common goals.

On Wikipedia there is a section devoted to the Agile Manifesto, which is based on 12 principles. I’ve reviewed and modified it for PR and marketing professionals. Here’s my version:

  1. Maintain customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable results. For PR professionals, these might mean developing content, securing placement of articles, or acquiring new followers on social media platforms. Customers may be internal or external. For someone working in an agency, their customer is external. If you’re working in-house, you’re likely to have internal stakeholders. For instance, sales managers, business development or C-level executives may be your internal customers.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in the project. As new information becomes available, accept it and make it actionable. A talented PR or marketing professional will know that market dynamics and competitive actions can change quickly, and they’ll be able to respond accordingly and shift gears comfortably.
  3. Identify incremental milestones to deliver against over weeks versus months. Make sure team members are aligned on the tactical milestones that need to be achieved. Identify clear measures when possible. Taking this step is a good way to ensure you’re marshalling the right resources and avoiding fire drills.
  4. Ensure close, daily cooperation between business people and marketers or PR. Consider short daily meetings to review the progress toward your desired outcome and discuss challenges. These meetings can be vital in helping the team adjust to problems or roadblocks.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals who can be trusted. You need to depend and rely on your teammates if you’re going to work in an Agile manner. Empower each person to make a meaningful contribution.
  6. Communicate face-to-face. In-person conversations are the best form of communication. When you connect face-to-face you have the benefit of observing body language, and assuming you’re in the same building, it is often much faster than writing an email.
  7. Results are the principal measure of progress. The team should be delivering incremental results and communicating regularly with stakeholders about their progress. Customers should not be wondering how things are going or where activity stands. 
  8. Work at a sustainable, constant pace. You don’t want your team to burn out, so work at a reasonable pace. Remember to take breaks and celebrate milestones.
  9. Pay attention to technical excellence and good design. In public relations, this might mean following AP style rules or looking for ways to infuse creativity or originality as you’re working on a project.
  10. Focus on the art of maximizing the amount of work not done. Look for the most efficient way to deliver results. Consider the probability of success. If an idea is going to take significant time with a low chance of success, look for an alternate approach. The team should zero in on strategies that have a high likelihood for success with a high return on investment.
  11. Encourage teams to be self-organizing. The team can determine how to  approach and adapt to meet the goal or new challenges in the environment.
  12. Reflect regularly on how to become more effective, and adjust accordingly. Conduct postmortems with your team to discuss successes and failures.

Marketing Leaders’ Perspectives on Agile

I had the opportunity to hear from several leaders about how they’re implementing agile practices. Below is some of their advice.

Katie Lioy, director, marketing technology for SHIFT Communications, encourages people not to try “to implement every single agile method at once.” She suggests letting the team to get used to the ideas of agile first before moving into implementation.

Christina Gunn, Chief Marketing Officer with Brandmetta, says that her team “meets multiple times weekly in short planning or sprint meetings. It’s where we communicate priorities, issues and accomplishments. Everyone functions at the same level and we don’t have hierarchy when it comes to problem solving.”

Gunn’s team also leverages a number of software solutions to improve collaboration. “Slack, Basecamp, Harvest, Join Me, Skype, and GoToMeeting enable us to easily reach our team when needed,” she says. “We rarely use email, other than to formally document key agreements or decisions. Otherwise, project- and client-related communication and documents are placed in workspaces in Basecamp and Slack.

I know I’m looking forward to applying these principles to our work here at Communique PR!


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