How to Make Marketing Planning More Agile

Agile is a buzzword marketers have been flirting with for years. Better quality work, bigger impact, and happier marketers? Sign me up!

The problem? Implementing a completely new methodology for how work gets done is overwhelming. And time consuming. And it gets pushed further and further down the list of priorities. 

Until spring 2020 when all non-agile marketers came face-to-face with the glaring flaws of the traditional planning processes. We were planning programs so far in advance that we weren’t flexible enough to pivot in the moment. Now we know. We need to change, we need to do it now, and we need to do it without completely breaking everything we already have in place.

We’ve broken this guide into two sections:

  1. Planning for Agile
  2. Best Practices for Executing Agile Marketing Plans

Let’s do this.

Part One: Planning for Agile

Get Everyone on Board

Before you think about implementing anything, make sure you have buy-in from all levels but especially from leadership. At this point, it would be pretty surprising if your CMO and other marketing leaders hadn’t heard of agile marketing. Show them that agile marketing:

  1. Reduces costs
  2. Increases productivity
  3. Gives a competitive boost
  4. Creates happier employees

When you start incorporating more agility into plans and programs, it’s not going to be an overnight fix. Trying to do that would definitely break everything! The best approach is a steady hand. Start with one or two changes at first and give them a couple weeks to settle in before adding anything new. For example, regular stand-up meetings are a great way to dip your toe in. Allocadia’s marketing team has been holding regular stand-ups for the past few years and it’s really helped us prioritize and optimize workflow. 

An area that gets lots of initial push-back is the Kanban practice of limiting work in progress. Although it’s proven to bring enormous boosts to team productivity, it can be really hard to say no to incoming requests. But it really makes a lot of sense. The less you have on your plate, the easier it is to focus on the tasks at hand, execute them well, and finish quickly without being distracted by a million other tasks. Work smarter and reap the benefits. 

Don’t Worry About the Tools – Or Headcount

Two big myths that come up again and again in agile marketing are that you need to have the right tools and the right number of people in specific roles. 

The only tool you need is a space to collaborate and plot out ideas that everyone on your team has access to. Traditionally, this was a whiteboard, but it’s 2020 – why would you use a whiteboard when there are lots of great, free whiteboard collaboration tools? The risk with basing your framework around the adoption of a single tool, is that it can become the driving force of what your team is able to achieve. 

You don’t need a scrum master to adopt an agile mentality. You need clear processes, defined deliverables, and across-the-board adoption by your team. Defining deliverables is the critical part. Regardless of if you choose to implement an agile methodology or just introduce more flexibility into your processes, understanding which members of your team are responsible for each piece is a big component of why agile helps teams work more efficiently. There’s no more doubled-work or things falling through the cracks, because every task is clearly documented and owned. 

The Agile Myth: Is It Critical to Stick to One Methodology?

Absolutely not! 47% of marketers implemented a hybrid approach because neither method was a perfect fit. If you want to really dig in, these are the two most popular agile methods:

Scrum

A framework that helps teams work efficiently by breaking large projects into two week cycles and continuously improve by reflecting regularly on wins and losses. The goal is to create learning loops to quickly gather and incorporate positive and negative feedback. 

Kanban

A fully transparent work process that relies on visualization, analysis, and iteration to drive improvement and efficiency. Work items are represented on a kanban board, so team members can see the status of all work products at any given time. The goal is to keep decreasing the amount of time it takes to run a project from start to finish by always improving workflow. 

If neither of those definitions jumped out as a best fit for your marketing team, don’t sweat it. Instead, you can cherry-pick the best practices from both and weave your own agile methodology. Or don’t adopt a full methodology and start with a few processes. After all, agile was originally developed with engineers in mind, not marketers. Adopt what works for you, and start living your best marketing life. 

Part Two: Best Practices for Executing Agile Marketing Plans

All Plans Follow From Your Guiding Objectives

Even in a stable economic market, there are still constant changes, it’s just not possible to plan in detail for an entire year. Instead, define the guiding objectives (also known as strategic targets and goals) for your marketing organization, and let those inform all your plans. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again, marketing’s objective is to support the objectives of the business. When your organization has set their strategic targets and goals, marketing can use those as a blueprint to create their own supporting strategic targets and goals. 

You’ll have the most success if you prioritize resources and limit the number of guiding objectives. The whole purpose of agile is to be more efficient, so focus resources on projects with big impact that advance your objectives.

Break Projects Into Actions With Clear Deadlines

All of your deliverables should be defined as actions and broken down into manageable pieces. If you were assigned a task labelled “Q1 PPC ads” what does that mean? Are you writing copy for the ads? Designing them? Managing budget or tracking their performance? “Q1 PPC ads” isn’t an action. Instead, the task should be “Create metrics report for Q1 PPC ads”. It’s a defined action with a clear deadline for the end of quarter. 

Aside from creating clarity, the other reason to break down projects is because having a mix of small, concrete tasks and vague, big-picture ideas mess with your workflow visibility and tracking. A task like “Update Website” is massive and will take weeks, or even months to complete. Breaking it down into tasks like “rewrite copy on use case page” or “update customer logos” helps the rest of the team see what’s in progress and what’s complete. 

Get Everyone on the Kanban Board

One of the most popular agile processes is using a Kanban board. It’s a visual tool representing your workflow and each action item is visualized with a Kanban card that has concise information about the task. The most basic version of a Kanban board has three columns that all work is bucketed under: 

  1. To Do – also called the backlog, this is where all tasks start out
  2. In Progress – these are tasks someone on your team is currently working on, but hasn’t finished
  3. Done – tasks that are complete

The pace of tasks moving across the board is a good indicator of how efficient your team works. A faster pace means a more efficient team. 

This is just a starting point! Adopting a board might wreak havoc with people’s schedules and processes. If your marketing team already has a project management tool like Workfront or Asana, there are features that will allow you to collaborate and understand the status of tasks in the same way. In that instance, you need to create a process around using the visibility your project management tool affords and take advantage of ways it can be used to communicate. 

If you decide to adopt a Kanban board, there are lots of customizations. For example, most work isn’t complete until it’s been signed off on. Adding a “For Review” column in before the “Done” column is an even more transparent view into workflow. Another example is using “swimlanes” which are horizontal rows that break the tasks in each column out by owner. This shows you everyone’s current capacity. Managers can then delegate tasks to evenly distribute work and avoid overburdening employees. 

We know that was a lot!

Applying agile to marketing planning is a big undertaking, but you can do it by breaking it into manageable tasks and following our best practices. 

Looking for more planning content? Check out our Marketing Planning Crash Course! Click the image below to sign up today!

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