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Leading Agile Marketing Teams

by: Anthony Coppedge

Published on
Sunday, August 13, 2017

Leading Agile Marketing Teams

Marketing leaders and teams already neck deep in the transition to Agile Marketing often find themselves struggling to overcome the Business-As-Usual (BAU) mindset of the rest of the organization and stumbling to deal with the interrupt-driven nature of digital marketing. Well-intentioned but wayward Agile Marketing teams often fall back away from the tenets of Agile and adopt a hybrid approach to deal with the day-to-day realities of both dealing with change and acquiescing to the urgency of unplanned work during a workweek or Sprint.

You can't build an adaptable organization without adaptable people; and individuals change only when they have to, or when they want to. --Gary Hamel

Agile is a belief far more than it is a methodology. To be agile, by definition, means you possess the ability to both think and act quickly. As humans, we act a certain way because we believe something about why we do it. Therefore, Agile Marketing is a set of beliefs that inform our ‘why’ and lead us towards a path of continuous improvement. Leading Agile Marketing teams, then, is the focus of today’s digital native leaders to believe and behave with agility.

More than speculative philosophy, Agile Marketing provides a framework of beliefs articulated in a living manifesto (see agilemarketingmanifesto.com) that enumerates what we have come to (and continue to) value as marketers. To lead an Agile Marketing team is to fully embrace the belief in the values and framework of agility, but the recent adoption of this way of thinking has left more than a few marketing leaders with precious few examples of effective leadership over Agile Marketing teams.

Belief Before Method

Those new to Agile Marketing have no shortage of articles, podcasts, and conference sessions to inform their viewpoint. But for those already down the path of Agile Marketing, the gap between execution and leadership may have actually widened since this new framework was adopted.

As a leader, the focus on the belief in Agile is more about leading the team members to see what should be instead of what merely could be. The Agile Marketing leader has to lead out of a belief that agility and the principles and tenets of this way of working are less difficult than the pain of staying the same.

Chances are that your team members agree that Business As Usual (BAU) is painful and reactive. Agile Marketing, if nothing else, forces the conversation nearly daily about confronting the status quo. This happens in the scoping of projects, the writing of User Stories, the meetings with stakeholders, daily Stand-ups with team members, the Retrospectives after Sprints and in the metrics of velocity and Story completions. Hardly a day can go by without the opportunity to question any part of the process of crafting deliverables due to the belief that to be effective, iterative testing and creation (along with clear communication) are quite simply non-negotiable.

Rethinking Teamwork

Many marketing departments had teams in place well before Agile Marketing hit the scene. The difference is that with Agile, the very idea of teams is abstracted from roles and instead organized into skills and capacity. This is most evident in three areas:

  • Generalists and Specialists – Agile Marketing takes into account the need for specialization to properly align work with the skills required to move an Epic (project) across the finish line.
  • Staff and Contractors –  Agile Marketing sees no difference between Staff and Contractors, as they are organized into teams instead of individual contributors. Perhaps the only distinction is the level of capacity between the two based on available hours.
  • Co-located or distributed – Agile Marketing organizes teams into groups that can aggregate skills and capacity to complete User Stories. Time and distance are still very real, but the Agile Marketing framework allows for an organized, flexible, and highly accountable group of people to get prioritized work done more efficiently.

Leading by Blocking

An axiom for good management is that effective managers block distractions and get crap out of the way for teams. This applies directly to Agile Marketing leadership and, in particular, to the role of ScrumMaster for those teams using the practices of Scrum. Beyond management, though, Agile Marketing demands leadership which both inspires experimentation and encourages risk. Agile Marketing leaders place a protective boundary around Agile Marketing teams with a relational perimeter that encompasses healthy work limits and a ‘the-buck-stops-here’ line of demarcation. These leaders take the hits so their teams don’t have to.

To lead an Agile Marketing team is to shift away from the hierarchical structure to a relational leader who simultaneously serves and protects the marketing team. Unlike other management practices in which the management position receives its authority from its "rank", in Agile Marketing the management position influences through the team's belief in the authority of the position. As an Agile Marketing leader, do you know what you believe about agility for teamwork and delivery? Your belief and your willingness to influence your team to believe in themselves and Agile are prerequisites to fully embracing Agile Marketing and leading through change.

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