It's time for CMOs to embrace ‘agile’ as a noun

Scott Brinker

Scott Brinker is the CTO of ion interactive, a marketing software company specialising in post-click experiences. He is also the author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog, where he covers the intersection of marketing, technology and management.

Agile isn't just a pretty adjective.

You already know that modern marketing has to be agile. You feel the pressure to respond and adapt to new threats and opportunities at a heart-pounding pace.

And it's not slowing down. A recent survey of marketing executives, conducted by Forrester and the Business Marketing Association (BMA), found 96 per cent of them agree that the pace of change in technology and marketing will continue to accelerate. This is the new normal.

So obviously, you want to be agile. But how?

For all the cataclysmic changes that have rocked marketing in the past decade, some things haven't changed. In particular, the organisational structure of the marketing department and the processes of marketing management have remained largely the same.

And that's the drag that's holding marketing back.

For instance, consider the annual marketing plan. In that Forrester/BMA study, 69 per cent of CMOs and VPs of marketing reported that annual planning is challenging because the pace of change is so much faster. We know this practice is at odds with our rapidly evolving environment. But still this routine persists.

It's time to fundamentally rethink our approach to marketing management. A new model is required.

The new model that I recommend is called agile. This agile is not an adjective. It's a noun. Agile management methodologies, which were born in the software development community, are now being adapted to marketing.

Early adopters have experimented with several variations of agile marketing. After all, marketing is different than building software — albeit less different every day. But almost all of these variations share the same fundamentals.

Why Australia Post and NAB have adopted agile methodologies

First, agile revolves around small, cross-functional, and highly open teams — typically no more than eight people per team. One team member serves as the coordinator. Teams meet daily for a quick stand-up, a huddle that's literally held with everyone standing up. Everyone, even specialists, pitch in on any work to be done. Transparency is paramount.

Larger organisations can have multiple teams, synchronised by stand-up meetings between team coordinators. People periodically switch teams to promote cross-pollination of ideas and strengthen department-wide collaboration.

Second, agile works in a cyclical rhythm of sprints. Each sprint lasts 2-4 weeks. It starts with a quick planning session, where the team commits to work for that sprint, taken from a prioritised backlog. At the end of the sprint, there is a review — a presentation of what was accomplished. The team also does a retrospective where they reflect on their processes, not just the work produced.

And then the cycle repeats.

Instead of the rigidity of yearly or even quarterly plans, agile marketing provides much greater management flexibility. Sprints encourage work to be done in a more iterative and adaptive fashion, responding more nimbly to market feedback. If priorities change, they can be addressed in the very next sprint planning — avoiding the chaos of unplanned ‘drop that, do this’ fire drills that sap productivity.

I can't do justice to the full mechanics of agile marketing in a single column. If you're interested, Google ‘agile marketing for a world of constant change’ to read a more thorough introduction.

If you want your marketing department to be agile (the adjective) then agile (the noun) might be the answer to how.

Tags: leadership, agile marketing, CMO role

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