Agile Marketing: Keys to Alignment and Scalability

Agile applied to marketing is not new. The application of the IT concept for development of marketing programs has been adopted by many firms, each firm often giving it a unique take. With Agile, we have seen marketing productivity and quality increase, but potential to achieve new levels of performance as, more and more, companies get on board with marketing transformation.

Prior to Agile, marketing managers advocated classic (long) waterfall process and workflow concepts, and applied agency-like project management and trafficking skill sets to manage them. The expectation was that marketers would need fewer and fewer project and traffic managers to move “jobs” through the factory to distribution through various channels. At the time, the tools available to marketers were not ideal. Marketing Resource Management (aka project management and workflow) tools were built on workflow concepts that run counter to Agile, with long campaign planning cycles and linear task-based workflows that did not allow for planners and content creators to work iteratively, as they actually work. Workflows were often over engineered, and often slowed work rather than speeding it up.

Then social media, always on, digital marketing, etc., exploded and broke the camel’s back. In response, Agile has been adopted around many marketing organizations; however often times it is deployed in pockets across the organization. As a result, those who have take on Agile may struggle to align to the greater organization and achieve scale. Left to individual sprints at the team level, outcomes cannot not support a greater vision and goals that span all touch points. Agile is strategic ONLY if it aligns to shared goals and the team has organizational and technological context.

Challenges to Alignment

In many firms, marketing scrum managers are managing the trees, amidst the dense forest. It’s no wonder. With the technological complexity and new ways to engage buyers comes the fog of change up and down an organization. To whatever degree appropriate for a given business, it’s a struggle to cascade leadership’s intent through layers of distributed management, geos, and BUs. Shared languages and priorities are hard to find.

Because of the organizational fragmentation, teams are not fully cross-functional. In addition to IT and Marketing, product teams, store reps, and other stakeholders are not engaged. The customer experience is less concerned with the organizational boundaries, and marketing’s role needs to be defined as the glue that connects those who touch customer experience to achieve a higher quality output.

Methodology to achieve alignment and scale with Agile

Methodology to achieve alignment and scale with Agile

How to Achieve Alignment

The complexity of many companies has made it challenging to get a clear and unified vision to which sprints can align. Beyond the individual works teams, clear links to leaderships’ strategy is akin to linking the night’s brightest stars to see an abstract constellation… that hopefully others can also make out. Agile requires us to get through the abstraction to know where we are, or should be, headed.

Alignment (obviously) requires a company’s leadership to provide the means to guide the behavior of their teams. Generically, vision and goals need to be set forth. For Marketing, direction often takes the form of brand definition, customer experience tenants and models, financial budgets and targets, and more. For Agile, we see best success when leadership formally documents a strategy, and sequences periodic/annual planning in a cadence that jives with work efforts, whatever form they take (programs, campaigns, epics, stories, sprints).

From leadership’s vision and goals, Marketing should build its strategic frameworks to further define what the company is setting out to do. Fortunately, Marketing is no stranger to strategic frameworks. Most have calendars, messaging approaches, etc., that guide work teams. However, for most firms, the most impactful frameworks are either overly narrow in scope for a specific unit or team, or they live in the hands of only a few key managers, underestimating the broader team’s capacity to apply them.

For Agile to successfully align the organization, these frameworks (or “Customer Strategy Elements”) are the connective tissues that not only helps to define the sprints initially, but allows for a basis to govern sprint reviews in a world requiring fast feedback.

Your competitive advantage is found in these frameworks, and will be unique to your firm. They require owners who are especially equipped to develop and maintain them. They require owners who are leaders, educators, who can transcend business units and politics and drive strategy.

Challenges to Scalability

Perhaps Agile’s greatest appeal is its organic ability to focus resources where front line teams know where opportunity is. Trick is to set up operations that allow dozens, hundreds or thousands of people across the company and around the world who impact the customer experience to work within a loose context, balancing rules with flexibility.

However, today in most firms, the fragmented and siloed nature of how capabilities are designed and deployed are too narrow and scope. Each unit has its own process, its on vendors, its own systems, its own roadmaps. Many firms have not taken a transformative approach to breaking down the artificial boundaries and build platforms that allow all teams to work in a common context. As a result, the customer experience suffers, technology and teams underperform, and tremendous complexity emerges from redundancy or duplication of effort.

How to Achieve Scalability

Scalability comes when people, process and technology are designed on well-conceived platforms that strike the balance between a common way of working and independence (freedom) for front line sprints. While this can lead to some complexity, sometimes complexity is essential.

Balancing structure with freedom is an exercise in understanding tradeoffs. Through analysis, technology and organizational designers may determine which capabilities should central or decentralized, or some hybrid model. The outputs of these analyses are the platform that guide development.

Platforms may take many shapes, depending on what you are solving for: operating models/blueprints, reference architectures/tech visions, foundation processes and organizational designs all have their place as platforms need to provide whatever degree of structure and context to guide teams as they build capabilities and execute work. For an understanding of how Zee Jay Digital approaches the marketing transformation, see organizational transformation and eBook: Freedom within a Framework: a CMO’s Guide to Transformation.


Example Global Marketing and Hub Footprint Responsibilities

Example global marketing and hub footprint responsibilities, with tradeoffs

Principles for scalability:

  1. If a capability behaves like a shared service, place capability like a shared service. A shared services capability is one that serves more than one internal customer. Marketers, creatives and other roles may be analyzed to determine which capabilities support one or more internal customers. If the capability supports one internal customer, then move capability to that segment unit or geography unit. If the capability supports (should support, or could in the future support) multiple units, then treat as shared service.
  2. Free US and global marketing organizations to respond with individual approaches. US and global units have differing operational priorities, which require different approaches to operations. Generally, centralization is best for speed and scale; and decentralization is best for local relevancy and adaptability. Thoughtful approaches to organizational design can allow you to reconcile apposing priorities.
  3. Place capability where its action is. A knowledge-based organization requires key content creators and managers be pushed to the front lines where unfiltered industry dialogue is occurring. While many audiences and topics span the globe, local nuances and variations are critical each unites goals.
  4. Set the stage for modern in-/out-sourcing. Only after marketing organization is designed to meet the needs of the business, determine which capabilities should in- or out-sourced.
  5. Design for common process, as much as makes sense. In addition to regional variations in business needs, each segment/BU requires unique treatments to maximize the opportunity. Be open minded.
Example of org structure, with these principles applied

Example of platform (org structure), with these principles applied


In conclusion

Agile has proved to meet Marketing where it's at... in a time of rapid change. Those who can harness the upside of Agile's speed and flexibility to further their company's rich strategies and operational resources will be able to get the most value from investments in people and technology, and better compete.

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