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The Basic Elements Found in Every Successful Agile Implementation

  |  May 19, 2011   |  Comments

Being agile is about satisfying today's marketing requirements, and when tomorrow comes, being ready to adapt.

In my last column, I wrote about how agile principles, made famous by the software development world, have positive applications in integrated marketing. In this column, I'll explore a few good project candidates for agile marketing, and take you through the basic elements found in every successful agile implementation.

One of the things that makes agile approaches such a good fit for marketing teams is its focus on simplicity. An agile architecture means having the simplest possible system necessary to create a plan, put measurable goals ahead of it, pull in analytics data in near real time to tell you what's happening, and make continuous changes based on that data. In effect, being agile is about satisfying today's marketing requirements, and when tomorrow comes, being ready to adapt.

When I describe agile as being simple, I don't mean to imply that it's easy. Agile coaches and trainers often give me the feedback that the most difficult part of any agile implementation is the mindset.

In this regard, new media tools allow for the use of agile methods by company divisions that would never use them before, including marketing, merchandising, and social media technology. An agile mindset in action enables project steering – collaborating with cross-functional teams, getting bad news early, and making constant improvements. To be successful in this fluid technology innovation, marketing teams need to have this kind of agile mindset, which is a big cultural shift for most companies.

Agile Mindset

Any project, such as analytics or landing pages, can look from the outside like its being agile, without feeling like it on the inside. You want your project team to feel what it means to be agile. It's not that they're following an agile process, but behaving in a way that supports agile values.

The values are very human-oriented. They are:

  • Individuals and interactions
  • Live campaigns, frequent delivery
  • Customer collaboration

The mindset doesn't necessarily arise from the process, but a good understanding of how to manage an agile implementation is important. Recently, I was invited to observe an agile implementation in Overstock.com within its merchandising department. Overstock's implementation in this particular department is very lightweight and focused on the three values listed above. Here's an example of its lightweight implementation.

Individuals and Interactions

Here is an example of daily standup meetings to keep track of work in progress. They're called "standup" meetings to indicate how brief they should be, not that you necessarily have to stand:

standup-meetings

All of the boards in front of them provide visibility to each other's work, slicing projects into small iterations, blitz (project) planning, and keeping on track with sprints (a time period in which the team iterates towards a final goal).

Frequent Delivery

Overstock uses kanban boards to keep progress on its projects visible to the entire team:

kanban-boards

How Do I Know if I'm Doing It Right?

Agile practitioners and consultants are often hesitant to describe agile in concrete terms. So how do you know if you're doing agile marketing right?

To determine how well you are doing with your agile adoption, you need to look at the properties of a successful agile implementation. I've translated six of the seven properties of a successful agile implementation (taken from Alistair Cockburn's book "Crystal Clear") to a marketing context. One of the things you'll note is the flattening of team hierarchy. Successful agile marketing implementation requires an intense commitment to team and market collaboration. Use this list to improve your marketing agility.

Delivery Frequency

Have you delivered updated marketing campaigns based on analytics data at least twice in the last month? Have you captured more revenue from each campaign delivery?

Reflective Improvement

Did you meet together within the last three months to discuss and improve your team's working habits?

Close Communication

Are desks arranged so that communication is easy, and questions and answers flow naturally? Does it take you 30 seconds or less to get your question to the eyes or ears of team members?

Focus

Does everyone on the team understand the goal? Does each person know what their top two priority work items are? Are they guaranteed ample uninterrupted time each day to work on them?

Personal Safety

Can you give your boss bad news? Can people end long debates about each other's campaign designs with friendly disagreement?

Easy Access to Experts

Does it take days or hours from when you have a question to when an expert answers it?

As marketers, we're in a position to be profit-centers for our companies when we deliver true business value – improving conversions and capturing revenue. Agile provides the tools to do this by enabling greater visibility into the results of your marketing processes, and giving you a real competitive advantage over companies who still create top-heavy programs that are nearly impossible to change on the fly.

If any of you are using agile methods in your marketing programs, leave me a comment below and let me know what you think!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ghennipher Weeks

Ghennipher Weeks has spent the past 13 years as a marketer working closely with IT teams to increase cross-functional collaboration, and helps teams excel in delivering great results quickly.

With deep expertise in creating conversion-driven and insightful search engine marketing and social media strategies for national and regional brands since the late 1990s, Ms. Weeks has increased online revenue for Philips, Wells Fargo, The Women's Information Network, The Allegis Group, TotalGym, Overstock.com, TigerDirect, LeoSchachter Diamonds, and others. She excels in formulating SEO, conversion, social marketing, and value-creation strategies. Ms. Weeks says, "Integrated marketing strategies are more effective, but much more difficult. Agility in execution requires measurement, accountability, and an unwavering customer focus to deliver value that makes both customers and business stakeholders happy. This raises customer, as well as shareholder value, or in relevant corporate terms: increases profits."

She actively contributes her expertise and thoughts through presentations, industry appearances, articles, and her upcoming book on integrated digital marketing.

Ms. Weeks has spoken at SES, Webmaster World's PubCon, EVO, WITI, Blissdom, Social Media Club, Agile Roots, Blogilicious, and other conferences. Notably, she is also certified in Agile methodologies as a CSM and CSPO. You can find Ms. Weeks online on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or on her blog, and a myriad of other social media sites.

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