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Structuring Marketing Teams: Using an Agile Approach to Survive in Ever- Changing Market Conditions

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Written by: Sue Murray – Celerity & Bruce Swann – Adobe


Company business meeting

Introduction

More than ever, Marketing Teams are being challenged by continuous surges of disruption at an ever-increasing speed of change. Traditional marketing channels such as mass media have been pushed to the side, advertising models have become less and less able to capture customer attention, and social media has become one of the most powerful influences on customer behaviors.


Meanwhile, marketing technologies and other operational systems within organizations provide an overwhelming amount of data from social and other digital channels, forcing marketers to try and develop ways to access, analyze, and use it to engage customers in real time. Simultaneously, the customer is demanding a cross-channel experience that is personalized and as unique as possible to their specific needs. They seek authentic and genuine interactions with brands that matter to them. Add in the fact that there are employee shortages and difficulty retaining staff due to the pandemic, and it’s a complex scenario to resolve.


This means that the traditional marketing team organizational structures, centered around a hierarchical, waterfall manner to delegate, design, and complete marketing projects may not work as well in this new environment. Instead, marketing executives are modifying their team’s structure, so they can be more efficient, flexible, and nimble in response to changing customer and employee behaviors.


Agile Marketing Team Structures

The concept of “Agile Marketing Teams” can be a way to help address the changes marketing teams are currently facing. It introduces an iterative approach to marketing strategy planning and execution. It embodies and focuses on important qualities such as experimentation, teamwork, transparency, open communication, and collaboration. Restructuring your marketing group around an Agile Marketing Team approach can enable your marketers to work in shorter cycles to complete highly defined projects and measure impacts, with the aim of continuously improving results over time. Agile, once primarily in the domain of product development teams, is now being adopted to organize your digital marketing teams who understand that speed, precision, and clarity are critical to survival. McKinsey states Agile techniques can typically increase team productivity by upwards of 25% over more traditional waterfall-type approaches.


In organizations that fully commit to an Agile Marketing approach, it is not just the structure of marketing that changes. What’s being reported is that the entire pace of a company’s marketing activity may be shortened from quarterly, to monthly, to bi-weekly with ‘sprints’ of work being done in 2-week increments.


When marketing teams break their marketing projects into smaller, more adaptable segments of Agile work, they enhance teamwork and collaboration with high transparency as to what needs to be done and in what order. As a result, they achieve a level of synergy through mini teams consisting of marketing resources with specialized skills that complement one another and bring out the best in each other. It’s also less about relying on opinions or conventions on what’s worked in the past and more about seeing results easily. Furthermore, the ability to visualize the work to be done reduces ambiguity in the tasks at hand (e.g., using Kanban boards to give team members a sense of the work involved and the expected completion dates).


Advantages of Agile Marketing Teams

As marketing teams across different industry verticals modify their team structures away from a more traditional team structure towards an Agile process, their goal is to:

  • React quicker to snags or red flags that can arise on an executed marketing event with long lag times before it’s too late

  • Remove barriers to accessing data that may be siloed and ‘owned’ by another colleague or department

  • Access campaign results of complex communications that may have previously spanned many months/channels and operated on a ‘set it and forget it’ timeframe

  • Simplify management of initiatives by dealing with smaller, more discrete marketing objectives and goals

  • Make critical course corrections & reallocate resources without major disruptions to traditional longer-term projects

  • Improve accountability using daily or routine check-in meetings to identify and communicate obstacles, share work info & evaluate results

  • Allow marketing project owners to filter incoming requests, reduce developmental backlogs and prioritize responsibilities more easily

Key Mechanics of an Agile Approach

Setting up your marketing team’s organizational structure in an Agile framework can be a reasonable option as you move into 2023, but what’s really involved in doing so?

One of the primary decisions is to first decide on which Agile approach makes sense for your type of organization, team size, and channel(s) utilized. The four most common approaches are:

  1. Scrum

  2. Lean

  3. Kanban

  4. Hybrid approach of Scrumban

The Hybrid Scrumban approach is the method most used by marketing groups as it uses parts of Scrum & Kanban but melds them into something that works for deadline-focused and creative, yet data-driven marketers.


Implementation of a Project Management tool such as Jira, Arsana, or something like Trello to support the shift is also recommended. These automated types of tools help everyone see the project steps/dates and how they are broken into smaller tasks with owners & stakeholders. Additionally, it enables you to organize check-ins, collate feedback, distribute assets, and keep communications flowing smoothly.


It will also be important to identify a resource on your team that is an Agile proponent and can help steer the team through the principles of Agile while being flexible to the unique demands of marketers. Determination of team meeting timings and participants (e.g., daily stand-ups, bi-weekly sprints) will need to be agreed upon, and a strong leader appointed to manage the shift so it doesn’t lose steam or fall back into old patterns. The use of retrospectives, which are meetings that take place after an initiative is completed and before the next sprint begins is also a great best practice to adopt. These types of reviews look at the results of the marketing event, along with what worked effectively, who was involved, and how well the objectives were met.


A Smooth Transition to Agile

Once you have made the decision to shift to an Agile Marketing Team Structure, picked one of the 4 approaches you want to use and you have decided on the supporting software tool you’ll put in place, what’s next? Are there other best practices to ensure your success? We’ve compiled a list of things that others who have gone through this same exercise credit as helping to smooth the transition to an Agile framework for their marketing groups:

  • Marketing Executives or Leaders to help verbally promote a new era of teamwork, collaboration & trust rather than siloed work and secrecy

  • Leaders who also model open-mindedness and flexibility at all levels as changing gears quickly is a cornerstone of agile processes

  • Inclusion of key stakeholders on the marketing team to embrace it (it can’t be just one person excited about the concept!)

  • Team members who understand agile concepts & can adjust to this approach. A key introductory and training document on Agile is the Agile Marketing Manifesto. It provides foundational instruction to orient marketing team members to ‘Agile’ and bring marketing team members up-to-speed

  • Agile team meetings are held as sacred & important get-togethers

  • Having an Agile Marketing Specialist on the team to facilitate the agile marketing process, maintain the supporting tool (e.g., Jira), incorporate ongoing performance improvements, and help define user stories in support of marketing projects

Final Thoughts

There is a tendency to think that Agile Marketing Teams are just the most recent ‘fad’. However, Agile techniques and methods have a rich history and have been successfully used by Product Development and IT teams for over 40 years. In fact, the principles of Agile were first put in place in the 1980s for Product Marketing but then quickly adopted by IT teams. Now, it is swinging back to support Marketing goals due to its overall philosophy of iteration, testing, acceleration, and deconstruction of work elements into manageable portions. Agile’s ability to support open communications, frequent feedback, and visual work management, which works so well for IT, fits the marketing function like a glove. Most importantly, the Agile approach can work whether your marketing team is responsible for a single marketing function (e.g., content, design, email execution) or for cross-functional teams that combine several different types of marketing activities and skill sets.

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