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  • Renata Lerch

Agile Marketing from the CMO Perspective

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

This article is a summary of a CMO Club Virtual Roundtable and was published at TheCMOClub

In the recent CMO Club Virtual Roundtable, Agile Marketing, with roundtable leader, Renata Lerch, former VP Global Marketing and Communications at Scrum Alliance and certified agile leader and coach, she discussed the implementation of agile marketing and the CMO’s role in creating a smooth transition.

Though the term began in the software industry, Lerch said, in most industries, agile mostly embodies a mindset with three main areas of focus:

• Deliver value to customers – the primary focus

• Small, self-organizing teams that work in shorter cycles with frequent user feedback,

• And overall a continuing effort to eliminate bureaucracy, operating with interactive and empowered teams,

“The key is to keep them all focused on working together to deliver value to customers,” Lerch said. “Again and again, it’s about delivering value to customers.”

Today’s marketers are overwhelmed by the fast pace and the complexity of change, she said. They’re required to make decisions faster than ever. At the same time, customer tolerance for sameness is shrinking, and customers are evolving at a faster pace than marketers.

“The beauty of agile is that it allows for constant experimentation in customer insights that ultimately result in faster cycles of innovation and great user experience, which are ultimately what we are all looking for,” Lerch said.

How it works

It’s not an easy process for marketing to go from traditional waterfall – command and control – to a more team-based structure, Lerch said.

Using the scrum framework for agile marketing, for example, team members go from being told what to do to being expected to contribute to team discussions. At the same time, the role of the leader shifts to that of bringing every team member up to speed on strategy, and portfolio level direction.

“It definitely requires a change in culture and training,” she said. “People need to feel comfortable having a voice and accepting feedback and insights from teammates.”

In summary, a typical scrum framework within agile marketing would include:

-Identifying a product backlog – Identifying everything that needs to be done for the next few months and what’s needed for a longer-term project.

-Sprint planning – Lerch suggests one-week sprints. However, it should be tailored to the needs of each organization. The scrum master, product owner and team members meet to plan for what will happen in the next week. They then break it down into smaller tasks that are part of a sprint backlog. Each day during that week, team members have short, 10-15 minute meetings, also known as daily stand ups, to get synced on what they’re doing, and to generally touch base.

-Sprint review – When the one-week sprint is complete, the team does a sprint review. They look at the product increment of that particular week, and it becomes an iteration of the overall project. Then, the weekly process starts all over again.

Kanban, or hybrid frameworks like Scrumban – Scrum and Kanban – typically work well for marketing operations.

How to start

Rather than simply expecting people to self-organize, Lerch said they need to be trained and come to truly understand the value. Once they understand, team members will become engaged and develop a sense of ownership, she said.

Expect challenges, however. In the initial phases of an agile marketing transformation, some team members may embrace the change right away, while others do not. Those who do embrace it may blame those who don’t for not being team players, she said. Those who don’t embrace it may blame those that do for being aggressive or putting undue pressure on them.

“People have different personalities and they adapt to change at different paces,” Lerch said. “Once you find that balance with the right combination of team members who understand its value, it becomes a fascinating dynamic.”

Don’t be rigid on adopting any one framework, she said. Start with a small team to test the concept, engage them and then iterate before deploying to other teams. Make sure the marketing team has a clear picture of the strategy and make projects, tasks and priorities very visible, she said.

The Leader’s Role

It will be the role of the leader to develop strategic vision and bring out the best in team members, Lerch said.

Focus on education, strategy direction, removing impediments, and making it a safe place to experiment, make mistakes, and learn. Culturally, it should feel non-hierarchical, she added.

“Team members should feel comfortable and expected to contribute,” she said.

Find the balance between the fun side of agile leadership, and the less fun side – dealing with tough measures and behaviors. Tolerance for failure, for example, also requires some level of intolerance for incompetence, she said. The culture should be one comfortable with collaboration, feedback and individual accountability.

Lerch said leaders can expect agile marketing to be a constant work in progress. By the time you think you’re agile, new things are coming into play, she said.

“It’s not an easy process, but it’s fascinating and actually liberating for a leader because it allows you to focus on the strategy and support your team, mentor people and see them growing,” Lerch said.


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