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Agile Project Management: The new go-to for marketing teams in 2021

This is a guest contribution from Monica Georgieff, Agile Coach and Trainer at AgileSherpas.

photo of Monica Georgieff
Monica Georgieff

What does this new decade have in store for marketers running projects? So far, a turbulent pandemic, uncertainty, crisis, and a volatile global situation. 

However, beyond the bad news we’ve had to deal with since the beginning of this year, these changing circumstances have ushered in a different kind of enthusiasm for making process improvements in how we work together as well. 

Brought on by the struggle to respond and adapt to these times of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity), marketers have increasingly begun to embrace an Agile approach to their project management.

Leadership in uncertain times requires The goal of staying nimble, responsive, and flexible in these rocky times has become entrenched steadfastly in the minds of the marketing community.

We’ve got the data to show you exactly how marketers are taking this period in their stride using Agile practices. Agile for marketing means making different project management decisions based on what teams know about the new normal.

Does Agile work for marketing?

Agility in marketing has been a growing trend since the publication of the Agile Marketing Manifesto in 2012. 

Since then, marketers have successfully adapted some of the common project management lingo to suit the marketing context. Products became ‘campaigns’, product owners became marketing owners.

Other semantic changes manifested in the way marketers discuss Agile to bridge the gap between this methodology and the chaotic marketing way of doing things.

The main differences between agile in marketing and its software predecessor are: 

  • Marketers don’t love Scrum as much as developers, because it doesn’t fit the marketing context. The majority of the time they opt for a hybrid framework for applying agility.
  • Typically, the marketing owner in a team also plays the role of process owner, helping the team make incremental improvements to their process.
  • Since marketers are not measuring success in working lines of code. They need far more context about customer needs and outcomes in order to track how effective they are.

Of course, nobody could have predicted that the circumstances we found ourselves in in the year 2020 would have made it so imperative for marketers to roll up their sleeves and implement Agile practices to their fullest potential.

two women sitting casually holding laptops

The State of Agile in Marketing This Year

According to the recently released 3rd edition of the Annual State of Agile Marketing Report, 41% of marketers are already implementing Agile practices in the way they work in their teams. 

Forty-two percent of non-Agile marketers would like to adopt Agile ways of working ASAP (or, as one of the survey respondents put it, “like yesterday”). For these 42%, this year is likely going to be the year during which they take the plunge and adopt agile marketing practices in their organizations. 

state of agile marketing report

In a VUCA environment, it’s important to operate in a way that allows you to adapt to the circumstances you see – not just the circumstances you planned for. 

That is why agile teams in Marketing departments are ready to keep an open mind and cultivate a new normal, not just in their daily routines, but also in the way they work with each other.

Why are marketers adopting Agile project management methods?

Widely, marketers expect agility to help them accomplish their strategic goals and improve upon the elements that contribute to their team or department success. In other words, marketers choose Agile in order to: 

  • Produce higher quality work
  • Increase team productivity
  • Align with organizational goals
  • Prioritize more strategically
  • Release campaigns more quickly
  • Increase employee satisfaction
  • Cultivate the ability to change gears based on feedback.
graph showing goals of working with agile marketers

Luckily, more than ever before, Agile manages to deliver on and exceed marketers’ expectations. Findings from 2020’s State of Agile Marketing Report indicate that twice as many Agile marketing teams reported improved productivity than in 2019, and those enjoying better prioritization nearly doubled as well within the last year.

graph showing benefits of working with agile marketers

It appears as though the longer marketing teams spend working with Agile marketing to improve their practice, the more benefits to productivity, pace, and quality they begin to experience in their departments. 

Which Agile process techniques are most popular among marketers?

Since last year’s report, marketers have further embraced a number of Agile practices like daily standups, crafting user stories, making the most of process retrospectives and more. 

Daily standups

Daily standups which are easy to implement out of the box, address a pressing issue in most marketing departments: the lack of a consistent, daily touchpoint for short-term strategy.

The daily standup for marketers represents not just a quick sync with the team, but also a platform for raising impediments and resolving them together on the spot. 

User stories

Coming directly from the software context, the practice of crafting user stories helps marketers consider all of their initiatives from the customer perspective and prevents them from losing sight of their audience’s specific needs.

Retrospectives

Marketing teams have also begun to run retrospectives, looking critically at their work process and generating ideas about how it can be improved.

For most marketing teams, it’s the first time they are experimenting with incremental process improvement at such a frequent iteration. Furthermore, it’s typically the first time that teams feel that they have a say in how the work they are assigned gets done and should get done.

The Future of Agile Project Management in Marketing 

The buzz around Agile marketing has been growing for years. Now more than ever, it seems like a truly Agile process (and mindset) could help marketing departments effectively respond to the requirements of difficult, unpredictable, times – and it feels to many that those times seem to be more and more frequent.

Read next: What does a Marketing Project Manager do?

Already, the adoption of standups, retrospectives, user stories, and other Agile practices more completely inside the marketing function is an excellent indicator of the growing maturity of the Agile movement and its impact on teams outside of IT. 

Marketing teams who consider themselves Agile are also increasingly more satisfied with the benefits to team morale and productivity that the methods bring to their teams and, on a wider scale, their organisations.

As marketers continue to make their way towards the peak of marketing agility, only time will tell whether agility or inertia will dominate in the discussion around best practice marketing processes. 

Based on the exponentially growing interest in Agile project management among marketers, it seems as though this year’s ‘new normal’ will include marketing agility.

About the author:

Monica Georgieff is an Agile Coach and Trainer at AgileSherpas. Since her role as head of marketing for Kanbanize, a Lean and Agile project management tool, she has evangelized the Agile mindset to marketers around the world.

Monica has contributed to several marketing industry resources, including ChiefMarTec, MarketingProfs, and Marketing Insider Group. Her recent eBook, Lean and Agile Marketing with Kanban, is a detailed guide to applying these tried and true Agile practices to the world of marketing.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.

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