29 Jun

Agile in marketing- is SCRUM a new way for marketing project management?

“90% of our activity is in execution” (Even for those that do take strategy seriously).

What holds you back more than anything in executing on your plans? My guess is that it probably somewhere between competing priorities and changing priorities.This post is about a new and different way of managing your marketing projects. First a bit of context: The company I work for Aconex, adopted an “”agile”” software development approach a few years ago, widely used by tech companies such as Google, etc. I took part in their workshops and realised that the problems software developers face, are not too different from ours.

The traditional approach – “”The “waterfall” method

A major challenge for software development teams is that there are always far more ideas of what should be developed, than there are people/money to develop.¬†On top of that, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what the final product should look like. Think about it. You have an idea about what the software should do, but how do you foresee all the great new ideas that come about when you actually start using/playing with the software? It’s as much a creative process as a design” process.

In traditional software development methodologies, one or more people write a spec of exactly what they understand their client (the business they work for, or an actual client) wants, (takes a lot of time), hand it over to developers who build the whole thing (takes a lot of time) and then to another team who test it. It’s called a “waterfall” method, reflecting the typical GANNT chart of activity. It’s one all marketers are familiar with.Often, by the time the people who provided the input (client) see the end result, it is not quite what they expected. (We’ve all read the stories of tech projects years in the making failing to deliver little or no value at all.)

There are a bunch of reasons for this. A very common one is that people often can’t exactly visualise what they want.Another issue is that the best ideas to solve a problem can come at any time, not necessarily at the beginning of the project, when it is being designed. Finally, the people who write the code often have only a limited idea of what the business problem is that their code solves. In a traditional world, these development projects can take anything from months to years, and only at the very end it is clear that the project is a success or a failure.In comes “agile” development.

The core concept is that you work closely with the “client” (which could be an actual client or the business itself) to develop “stories” that articulate what it is that they want the software to do. (Stay with me, we’ll get to the marketing bit in a minute.)They then work in short cycles, called “sprints” involving all the team participants to deliver a “potentially shippable product”, that the client can evaluate and provide feedback on to determine the appropriateness. The key is that you are “agile” in your ability to respond to the needs of your client, or new and better ways to solve a problem. Importantly, it is the whole team who are responsible for the delivery, forcing close cooperation.

The relevance to marketing

I went to the workshops essentially to make sure we understood what the development teams would be doing, but I walked out with the idea that the problems they were trying to solve were very similar to the challenges we face in marketing.Like our development friends, we’re in a business that is continuously changing, like many businesses today. We continue to enter new markets, develop new partnerships, new products. There is always far more that we could be doing than we have time or resources for, so prioritisation is essential. Similar to the development environment, the best ideas to solve a problem don’t always get thought of in the annual planning session. To further complicate that, the marketing tools at our disposal also continue to evolve at a rapid rate.I’ve never worked on a 12 months marketing plan that:

  1. Was executed the way it was planned at the beginning
  2. Met the needs of the (changing) business during that 12 months
  3. Was actually developed by the team that was meant to deliver it

More likely than not, the plan is written at the beginning of the year, agreed, worked on for a few months at best, before the world changes and the plan is forgotten about until next year’s planning.

As always, you’re never alone

When I started looking into this, I realised that quite a few people in marketing have realised the same. Andrew Filev in his Project Management 2.0 blog writes about yahoo, H&M, John Deere using the same with great success. Another good read is Jim Ewel’s Agilemarketing.net, who’s actually seen a business opportunity in it and provides lots of resources.

Next post: read how we applied it and what we learnt