I’m the leader of a high-performing marketing team, so the value of continuous improvement, a customer-centered view, and flexible planning makes Agile a no brainer.
The problem is, my marketing team works at an agency. We’re in the business of client service.
That means we’re conscious not of both our own marketing organization and customer journey, as well as our customers’ customers and their marketing needs.
Needless to say, translating of “out-of-the-box” Agile methods to an agency setting can be complicated.
But now, after three years of progress in our social media agency, we’ve learned some hard lessons. I think I can finally help answer the question “Where do you start deploying Agile marketing in an agency setting?”
Rolling out Agile in an Agency Setting
First, let’s talk process, specifically workflow and client integration. It’s important to handle your internal rollout to your team as a separate process from introducing Agile practices to your clients, so I’m going to break this up into two parts.
Internal Agile Rollout
For us, this worked best when done gradually in conjunction with wider adoption after education and practice.
Emphasize the benefits of Agile marketing for your team members, which are huge:
- Personal/Professional development: Agile values testing, measurement, and learning. As a member of a cross-disciplinary team, you’re going to add value to the team with work outside of your core skills. “Pairing” to cross-train on essential tasks is regular practice. You’ll also become really familiar with the process of reflecting on what you’re learning in your marketing efforts, and articulating this back to stakeholders.
- Respect and control of your bandwidth: Agile values continuous delivery and flexible, short-term planning; the only way to accomplish this is to have a clear understanding of what the team can truly get done. Every member of the team has agency over what gets planned, and input into how long that will take. This is in direct contrast to the common practice of estimates and overpromises provided by an account manager, business development representative, or sales lead.)
- Be and feel more productive: Often with long-term marketing engagements, your work never feels complete. You are chasing growth but the goalposts keep moving and scope keeps expanding. Sprints are an opportunity to have a clear checkpoint to stop, reflect, celebrate, and adjust on a regular basis.
- Relevance: Let’s face it, learning Agile matters in modern marketing, and putting it into practice gives you an advantage over peers who haven’t yet learned how to operate this way.
At Sculpt, we began with daily standups, and then started conducting retrospectives. As more team members bought into the idea we started a three-person Agile committee that would invest in deeper learning, resource gathering, and champion the rollout.
Our committee prepared and presented a presentation outlining the benefits, roles, vision of the organization, and a phased timeline for adoption. After a discussion, we did a “fist of fives” to make sure the group was on board with moving forward. Getting this kind of organization-wide buy-in is key to long term success!
Here’s an example of a graphic we used to illustrate what the “ideal state” would look like:
External Agile Rollout
Again, we took a gradual approach. I recommend starting with one project or client and then expanding out once you have confidence in your process.
Here are some of our most important lessons in this process:
- Invest in education: Prepare resources (videos, posts, guides, etc.) to have handy when clients ask hard questions. I know some companies offer clients a free training program to get up to speed. Here’s one by Crema talking through their take on Agile project management.
- Test with one client or project first: Throughout the process, take careful notes on your Retrospectives and learn from what works. Diligently apply your lessons to each successive client rollout.
- Set expectations clearly: Devote time during onboarding to familiarize your client with what’s required of them. While clients expect results and don’t always care about the nuts and bolts, they may find working with an Agile company to be a unique experience. Communication, meeting, and reporting rhythms could be different than what they know.
I really like what SPROUT Content does to set expectations in their working agreements with clients.
The gradual approach is important, too. We kept Agile as internal initiative without client involvement for a year before bringing them into the loop with our sprints and sprint planning.
Structuring Your Marketing Agency For Agility
Every company uses their own flavor of Agile, but there are some common themes that most agencies share.
Ian Lurie’s advice on the need for dedicated client teams strikes a chord. Agile teams are often cross-disciplinary, customer-facing, and capable of shipping work as a unit. This can be a deviation for agencies used to exclusively relying on Account Managers for communication and creative departments for delivery.
Still, plenty of agencies organize teams by discipline or function and send work through each department. In that case, a Project Manager, Agile Coach, or Scrum Master may have a more active role.
Other important shoes to fill (roles, not necessarily titles):
- Scrum Master: Someone tasked with facilitating Agile ceremonies (meetings), keeping people accountable, and blocking /tackling admin or operational tasks to keep progress on track.
- Delivery Team: Anyone involved in the production of work.
- Product Owner: Someone tasked with prioritizing work and setting the vision/goals for each sprint. This might be a client/team/department lead.
Engagement and Pricing Model
Given the emphasis on continuous improvement and delivery, some agile marketing agencies price their engagements in sprints and points. The sprints contain a certain number of deliverables, tasks, features, points, or, more traditionally, hours.
Points are not a perfect translation to hours, which is important, but they’re usually close. They’re meant to be an estimation of the value and time involved per task, factoring in unknowns and risks.
Tools and Technology
There are some threads that have covered this on Quora, and you can find other resources across the web. We use Airtable to manage our point allocations per client and team, Trello because of its Kanban feel and flexibility, Slack for project team communication during sprints, and a host of physical artifacts.
The themes across all of these tools are transparency, tracking, and communication. Choose the Agile stack that works for you, and commit to improving it continuously.
Attributes of an Agile Marketing Agency
In my opinion, what sets an Agile agency apart is a culture of accountability, experimentation & learning.
- Accountability: When all of the work is transparent for clients and coworkers to see, individual and team accountability becomes the key to success. Also structures may be flatter, or feel flatter, so team members are empowered to make decisions and make progress without obstacles.
- Experimentation: Agile requires you to test different approaches and ideas to get the best outcome. Once you’ve embraced this principle in your work, it becomes natural to think of everything through that lens. Organizational and operational changes don’t need to be difficult, they just need to be tested.
- Learning: With testing comes learning. When you spend a healthy percentage of your time in demos/reviews/retrospectives, you tend to get comfortable with critical evaluation, and generate more insight.
Agile Marketing Agencies Abound
There are so many more amazing lessons from agencies that have mastered this, like the incredible folks at Geonetric (Healthcare) and Optimal, though most of what I’ve seen is from project-based development and design shops.
While I’ve simplified it somewhat here, my hope is this peek inside our process inspires you to apply Agile principles in a marketing agency setting.
About the Author:
Josh Krakauer is the CEO of Sculpt, a social media marketing agency that helps brands build community, drive conversions and tell powerful stories. At Sculpt, Josh champions an ever-evolving, agile-driven culture people grow to love, and love to grow.
This article was adapted from an answer on Quora.