5 Goals of Kanban for Agile Marketing

5 Goals of Kanban for Agile Marketing

5 Goals of Kanban for Agile Marketing
5 Goals of Kanban for Agile Marketing

Pop quiz: when I say “Agile marketing,” what’s the first thing you think of? There’s no right or wrong answer, but chances are yours included some reference to Scrum or Sprints.  While it’s true that Scrum is the most widely adopted Agile methodology around, it’s by no means the only way to practice Agility on your marketing team. Check out these 2016 results from Wrike’s State of Agile Marketing survey:
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Clearly Agile marketing does not equal Scrum. To help separate the principles and values of Agile marketing from the practices of Scrum, I want to explore the reasons that alternative methodologies came along in the first place.  This article’s focus will be Kanban, an Agile methodology that was solidified by David Anderson around 2002 and has rapidly grown in popularity and adoption. Kanban has eight main goals, and we’re going to dive into each of them here.  If many of these goals align with the reason you’re embracing Agile marketing, you should give Kanban a try.
8 Goals of Kanban for Agile Marketing
#1: Optimize Existing Processes
This is one of my favorite things about Kanban, but also one of its limitations for teams that are hesitant about going Agile.  When you first start, you don’t have to change anything.  Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada.  You visualize your workflow as it currently exists and then try to improve it from there. No need to change roles or impose a new schedule on the team, just map how work moves through your team and then start identifying ways to make it better.  It’s likely that your first Kanban board will look something like this, with a whole lot of work concentrated on the left, which is where work lives when it’s not finished:
Don’t stress too much if this happens to you.  You can start imposing WIP (Work in Progress) limits on each of your columns to identify bottlenecks and improve your flow.  Because your current roles, responsibilities, processes don’t change, resistance from the marketing team should be minimal. They get to shape how Kanban works, which can be empowering or terrifying, depending on your team’s psychology.
#2: Deliver with High Quality
Any Agile transformation will produce better outcome from a marketing team simply by reducing the amount of work they take on at once. Scrum forces the team to choose a limited amount of work to take into a Sprint; Kanban places limits on how many items can be in any given state.  In both cases, the Agile marketers’ focus narrows, eliminating task switching and increasing the quality of what they deliver. Consider how much mental energy we expend when working on multiple things at once:
In Kanban, there are three tools we use to deliver higher quality marketing campaigns:      Reducing WIP: Less work in progress = higher quality work. It’s really that simple.     
  • Creating explicit policies: Kanban requires us to write out what it means for a task to be considered Done, as well as how different work types will be treated in the workflow. Adding quality standards to these policies bakes quality assurance into the marketing process.     
  • Stopping the line: If a worker in a Toyota car plant found a defect in the car they were assembling, they could pull a cord and stop the assembly line until the problem was fixed. Agile marketers should have this same power; we should be able to halt production until we can release defect-free campaign.
Using all of these tools in concert gets more marketing out the door while simultaneously increasing its quality.
#3: Improve Lead Time Predictability
Scrum teams use Sprint cycles to know when they’ll release work, but Kanban doesn’t come with standard timeboxes. Lead time fulfills the need for predictability with Agile marketing teams who use Kanban.  We want to know that when a new piece of content enters our workflow it will be ready to release in 16 working days. Or that a new email campaign typically goes out 8 days after we start work.  This is crucial for teams who need to plan marketing releases to align with external events like a new product or an in-person event. And, as with most things in Kanban, controlling our WIP limits is the key.  There’s a clearly documented linear relationship between the amount of work we have in progress and lead time. The less work in progress, the less time it takes us to get it done: 
(image source: Image source: http://continuousmile.com/littles-law-continuous-improvement/)  You’re probably starting to see a pattern here. Lower WIP limits are key to high-performing Kanban marketing teams.

#4: Improve Employee Satisfaction
Scrum is all about the team, and high functioning teams do tend to have happier team members. But Agile marketing teams have specialized roles.  Individuals need to be motivated to perform at high levels for long periods, sometimes without any direct collaboration with the team. One of Kanban’s explicit goals is to make this possible.  When employees are happy, their output is better, they stick around longer, and the company gets a reputation for being a great place to work. Hiring gets easier, teams stay together longer and work together more efficiently.  Basically, employee happiness is the cornerstone of effective Agile marketing and prosperous organizations.

#5: Provide Slack to Enable Improvement
Slack in a Kanban marketing system is nothing more than downtime for employees outside of the bottleneck.  No matter how good your workflow is, there will always be at least one bottleneck in it, and that’s okay. It’s actually great.  Only the people in the bottleneck are constantly working; everyone else will have some idle time while they wait for work to flow into or out of the bottleneck state.  Slack is a Kanban goal because it actually improves the team’s performance.  
When marketers are idle they can respond instantly to an emergency or urgent request without derailing work in progress.  When marketers are idle they can devote part of their workday to continuing education efforts that will make them better at their job.  When marketers are idle they can spend time thinking about their Agile process and how to make it better.  Slack isn’t permission for slacking off; it’s the opportunity to get out of fire drill mode and start taking charge of your professional life.

For 3 advanced bonus goals, check out the complete article at TheAgileMarketer.net. 

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                                            Andrea Fryrear
Years ago I was leading content marketing for a SaaS company, and my team was drowning. We couldn't keep up with the agile software development team, and I was tired of running from fire to fire. I convinced my boss to let me transform our marketing team into a proper agile marketing team, and I've been hooked ever since.   
After I wrote and spoke about that first transformation, I quickly began fielding requests from my fellow marketers to help them do the same. Eventually I left brand-side employment to co-found AgileSherpas and work full-time to transform the way marketers everywhere get work done.   
Since AgileSherpas was founded in 2017 we've helped over 2,500 marketers at dozens of organizations to move from high stress to high performance. We offer certifications in Agile Marketing Fundamentals (ICP-MKG) and Agile Marketing Leadership (ICP-LEA), as well as organizational design consulting for marketing leaders who want to recreate their teams from the ground up. 
Our experienced coaches guide new agile marketing teams throuh the early days of their journey and train internal agile leaders to help the changes stick. More details on how we work with marketing organizations is available here: https://www.agilesherpas.com/training-services/  Most recently I've published my second book, Mastering Marketing Agility (masteringmarketingagility.com), which distills the learnings from 5 years of working with agile marketing teams into an entirely new framework called Rimarketing. 
The book shows you exactly how we implement this system with the teams we work with at AgileSherpas, offering a detailed roadmap for marketers looking for a better way to get things done.   At this point I'm pretty much a professional agile marketing nerd, so if you're looking for someone to talk about marketing agility in any capacity, please don't hesitate to reach out. I'm an international keynote speaker and frequent webinar and podcast guest.

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