June 23, 2014

I’ve only been a marketer for just over a year, and I have been using Agile practices from day 1 – “this shouldn’t be revolutionary,” I thought. “This should be the norm!”

I recently saw Ashley Friedlein (eConsultancy CEO) speak at the Adobe Summit this year, and subsequently read his article on Agile Marketing. Valtech have been using the tools for decades, maybe I was lucky to inherit that learning.

The Agile Marketing Manifesto

  1. Validated learning over opinions and conventions.
  2. Customer focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy.
  3. Adaptive and iterative campaigns over Big-Bang campaigns.
  4. The process of customer discovery over static prediction.
  5. Flexible vs. rigid planning.
  6. Responding to change over following a plan.
  7. Many small experiments over a few large bets.

We are not a giant business, and as a result there is only one of me, so, staying on top of what I am doing and managing my stakeholders has been more of a challenge that I had anticipated. I’ve had to learn to “manage up,” that is, ensure people who have high expectations of me are reassured that while I might take a bit longer to get the hang of something, I only need to be told once. Both Kanban and Stand-ups have played a vital role in making sure that I effectively manage the more senior SHs, so here are my two cents.


Kanban literally translates in Japanese to ‘Billboard’ and, like so many Japanese words that’s essentially all it is. It allows you to represent, visually, your To-do’s and both your In Progress and Done tasks. There are iterations of the board that combine Stakeholder Acceptance and Blocked sections too.

So, the pros

You can show people how awesome you are! Complete transparency is often key. Nobody likes a liar. Are you a liar? Thought not. Showing people where your bottlenecks are allows them to help, and forces those who, like me, often refuse to admit that they are beaten to do so.

You can track large campaigns by breaking them down into smaller, manageable chunks. It forces you to prioritise these chunks which is great, but we’re not very good at that, are we? Remember GCSE bitesize from the BBC? This is like that, but you’re getting paid to manage your days effectively, so it means more.

You can point to a task and say “Oi – MD, I’ve been chasing this for the last three weeks, help me out here before you start asking me why something isn’t done.” If your board is somewhere obvious that people see on a regular basis, there should be no excuses for anyone else to forget what they said they would do for you. You can hold them accountable. People love being made to feel accountable (this might not be true…).

Oh, the cons

You could reveal that you’re terrible at your job. The danger with transparency is that it will let people see your weaknesses. You know what my weakness is? Remembering to update my physical Kanban board. Oh the irony. I do it online religiously, but the physical one that reminds colleagues what they need to do for me? Yeah, I’m behind by a couple of weeks on that now.

Large campaigns might have a lot of tasks to do. You can turn this in to a positive by saying you need more time, and the visual nature of the board allows people to empathise with you (sometimes). The Kanban is a combination of communication tool and to do list, but if it gets a bit full it can seem intimidating. Try delegating, after all you’re the only one that does any work around here anyway, aren’t you?

It’s no substitute for actually communicating with the people you need stuff from. If you haven’t spoken to your MD in two days and you need something from him/her pronto, it’s going to be no use asking on Monday and not chasing up until the next Monday. You’re all about communication though, you’re in marketing – this should be a doddle!

Stand ups

When you get to work at 9:15 in the morning (because, you know, the bus was delayed again) do you go through what have to do for the day and what you achieved yesterday? If you do, well done smartypants, have a gold star. If you don’t, you should definitely consider it. Part of a bigger team? You should all do it together. Taking stock is no bad thing and it encourages the openness and transparency I mentioned earlier.

There’s no such thing as positive micro-management IMO, but there are always times in your career when you need a bit of steering.

What this used to do for me was to find my feet. There’s no such thing as positive micro-management IMO, but there are always times in your career when you need a bit of steering. These standups were an ideal way of getting day-to day feedback on things I was working on without weekly reports being the only time you get contact with your stakeholders.

So, the pros

You can ask for help without feeling embarrassed! Guess what – your boss doesn’t expect you to revolutionise your department overnight, and they know better than anyone that there are things that will get in your way. If he/she is not saying “what can I help with” then they are probably pretty new to the managing game themselves – this means you guys get to learn together, isn’t that fun! :-/

You identify regular blockers, and can formulate plans to remove them in the future. Chances are there are bottlenecks. If, in combination with the Kanban board, you notice that certain processes are getting in the way of getting the job done on even a daily basis, work out how to change that.

Oh, the cons

Don’t become reliant on them. Some mornings, your boss is going to say “Sorry Barry, I’ve got a pitch to prepare, can’t do the standup today.” Buckle up, you’re going to have to go it alone. Do the standup by yourself, or use it as practice for managing your problems yourself.

Don’t lose sight of longer term goals. If you focus on the tasks at hand, brilliant, but the key to success with both of these practises is to constantly reevaluate the benefit of the those tasks you are managing. Not only this, but what the wider campaign will bring to the table. Don’t be afraid to re-asses their return, it might be that they simply aren’t worth your time. Do not be scared to say this.

Having said all that, Valtech has a much wider philosophy of what Agile Marketing means – and this goes way further than daily stand-ups and Kanban boards. We utilise our approach to Agile Marketing to help well-known brands to drive down the cost of marketing, whilst increasing effectiveness. 

Whether you respect the buzz or not, these methods of task management are really useful and have transformed the way my marketing team works. For more information please feel free to send me a tweet @justjackstevens or leave a comment below!