The 7 Most Common Agile Marketing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

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June 11, 2019 3:00 pm

The 7 Most Common Agile Marketing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

Do you want to effectively pivot your marketing tactics based on incoming data?

What about getting visibility inside and outside the department into what marketing’s working on?

Or how about figuring out what’s messing up your process before it’s caused you to miss every single deadline this quarter?

If any or all of those are appealing, I have good news: the path to achieving all of those is paved with the exact same substance, namely Agile marketing. The second annual State of Agile Marketing Report from AgileSherpas and CoSchedule found that these are the top three benefits cited by Agile marketing teams.

The bad news? It’s a lot easier to get Agile wrong than it is to get it right.

I spend my days training marketing teams on how to translate Agile principles and practices to work in our unique world, so I’ve seen my share of missteps. In the hope of saving you some of this pain, here are the seven most common Agile marketing mistakes and how to avoid them.

Agile marketing mistake #1: Organizing around projects

You can hold daily standup meetings religiously, visualize your work meticulously, and otherwise follow Agile practices to the letter, but if marketers are sitting on a dozen different project teams none of it will make a whit of difference.

Rather than rearrange people to suit different types of project work, flow projects onto the teams best suited to handle them.

I recently coached a team who had heard me say this a dozen times, and they theoretically agreed with what I was saying.

But once we sat down and mapped out their current team obligations and compared that to how things would look in an Agile world, the light bulbs went off all over the place.

5 Reasons Not to Organize by Project for agile marketing mistakes

This marketing group supports multiple software products being sold around the world, plus they’re responsible for putting on global and regional events. Pre-Agile, every person on the team was flitting back and forth amongst 6-60 of these different obligations on a daily basis.

As you can imagine, it was taking FOREVER to get anything done.

Instead, we created four Agile teams who would focus on particular global regions. Whatever marketing work related to the products and events that matter to those parts of the world would be worked on by the team responsible for that region.

Agile team for agile marketing mistakes

In this modified version of the Spotify model you can see another way of looking at it. Here teams are organized by stage of the funnel.

However you choose to arrange your people, the important thing is to get out of multi-project purgatory and let groups focus on certain kinds of work.

Flow work to the right people; don’t force people to chase dozens of different projects.

Agile marketing mistake #2: Not aligning around strategic objectives

Agile is often closely associated with speed and efficiency, and that’s absolutely true. Our Agile Marketing Report shows that 36% of Agile marketing teams enjoy a faster time to get things released.

But without good alignment around strategic marketing outcomes, you’re just spinning the hamster wheel faster.

Ensure marketing leadership is creating (and communicating) marketing’s annual and quarterly objectives. Teams need to be confident that their daily work aligns to larger priorities.

And once those priorities have been established, don’t change them on a whim.

There’s nothing worse than coming up with a great project to support the new initiative and getting really pumped about it, only to discover that it’s been arbitrarily de-prioritized.

Support your Agile teams by clearly stating and sticking to big-picture goals.

Agile marketing mistake #3: Being rigid in your choice of framework

I often compare Agile marketing frameworks to flavors of ice cream:

Everybody has a preference, but in reality, one isn’t quantitatively better than the other.

The same goes for Agile frameworks in marketing. Most people have heard of Scrum; it’s nearly ubiquitous inside of software and IT. But being well known doesn’t make it perfect.

In fact, marketing teams get the most benefit from using a hybrid framework:

Hybrid framework for agile marketing mistakes

If Agile frameworks are like flavors of ice cream, marketers should be buying Neapolitan. We benefit from a broad spectrum of practices, so don’t limit yourself to a rigid implementation.

Agile marketing mistake #4: Assuming Agile marketing means all or nothing

If a department-wide reorganization is out of the question, and everyone works on a dozen projects simultaneously, does that mean Agile marketing is out of your reach? Definitely not.

You can begin by piloting Agile within a subset of the department, documenting their journey, and using it to inform a wider rollout.

Piloting Cross Functional Teams for agile marketing mistakes

If even that seems like a stretch, individuals can benefit enormously from using Agile practices in their own day to day work. In my content marketing days, I had a personal kanban board next to my desk, and I used it to navigate “urgent” incoming requests by showing everyone what I was already working on.

It’s amazing how visibility can turn “I need this yesterday! Drop everything you’re doing!” into “Oh, wow, ya…you’re really busy…and I need that other thing you’re working on. I can wait until you have time.”

Adopting Agile in an incremental, agile fashion is often just as effective as going all in.

Agile marketing mistake #5: Not insisting on limited work-in-progress (WIP)

One of the most paradoxical parts of Agile is its insistence that working on fewer things will let you get more done, but it’s a highly documented fact.

Limit the number of things you’re doing at the same time, and everything you work on will get done faster.

The big time suck here is what’s known as context switching, or the mental tax we pay every time we jump from one task to another.

Effects of Context Switching for agile marketing mistakes

Iterative frameworks like Scrum limit a team’s work in progress (WIP) by forcing them to confine their to-do list to a limited time box (known as the Sprint).

Flow-based frameworks like Kanban create ceilings on how many individual items can be in progress inside the team’s workflow, achieving a similar result.

However you choose to do it, don’t assume that you can dabble in Agile and get its benefits without somehow limiting your work in progress.

Agile marketing mistake #6: Dropping meetings without understanding them

I know just a few paragraphs ago I was telling you not to be overly rigid in your Agile adoption, but you also shouldn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

If, for instance, your daily standup meetings feel overwhelming and unhelpful, don’t automatically assume it’s the meeting that’s the problem and stop having it.

Instead, consider WHY we have daily standup meetings in the first place, and if the way you’re managing this meeting is true to that core objective.

Are you spending all your time problem-solving? Do outside stakeholders butt in and make the meeting go long? Are you *gasp* only meeting once a week?

Interrogate your process and see if it’s setting you up for success before you abandon a core Agile meeting.

Agile marketing mistake #7: Leaving BAU work out of the backlog

Ok, this last one is pretty in the weeds, but my Agile coach soul just wouldn’t let me leave it off the list.

When you’re building your backlog (the prioritized to-do list that guides an Agile team’s work), don’t succumb to the temptation to only document strategic project work.

You must – and I mean MUST – include all the work that the team’s committed to.

If you don’t, “dark work” will creep in and derail your work without you knowing.

This applies to all kinds of teams, both those using Kanban and those using Scrum.

If you don’t put everything out there, Agile marketers will go off and put out fires, respond to “urgent” emails, and get pulled into meetings day in and day out, and your efforts to adopt Agile practices will all be for naught.

Visualize all the team’s work, even if you know it’s an absurd amount. Only by putting it all out in the open can you hope to eventually avoid mistake #5 and not limit your work in progress.

Avoid Agile marketing mistakes with education

Agile software development has been around for a couple of decades now, which means there’s no excuse for marketers to repeat their mistakes.

Sure, marketing and development are drastically different professions, but marketers at least have some frameworks to build on; we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Education remains the most commonly cited barrier to greater Agile marketing adoption, so get a running start and clear it by committing to ongoing learning. There are online courses, free webinars, tons of written content, and even a formal Agile marketing certification available to you.

No excuses – get out there and get educated so these mistakes won’t derail your Agile marketing adoption.

Guest author: An early convert to the ways of Agile marketing, Andrea loves nothing more than seeing a team evolve from a chaos to high performance. In addition to being trained as a Scrum Master and Product Owner, Andrea is a Certified Professional in Agile Coaching (ICP-ACC) and a Certified Agile Leader (CAL-1). She shares her findings (and failures) regularly from stages around the world as an international speaker on all things Agile marketing.

Andrea is a content marketer by trade and functions best when she’s writing regularly. Her most recent book, Death of a Marketer, chronicles marketing’s troubled past and charts a course to a more agile future for the profession. You can find more of her writing on the AgileSherpas blog.

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