Are you tired of feeling rushed and distracted at the office? Are you done with working for an entire day only to realize (again) that you didn’t complete the tasks you had planned to? We were, too.
Here in Commonwealth’s Marketing department, we do amazing work every day. But recently, we realized there may be ways we could produce higher-quality work faster and with less frustration, if only we made the necessary strategic changes. So, several months ago, we embarked on our journey to become Agile—capital A.
As a member of the pilot team tasked with testing out this methodology, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits and challenges that come with not only changing the way you work, but the way you think about doing work, too. With our partners at AgileSherpas guiding us, we’ve made great progress toward embracing a new approach that can lead to greater success—and fewer pain points—for our department.
Below, I’ll share some of what my team has learned from this experience, as well as how you can apply Agile marketing principles and practices to improve the way work gets done at your firm. But first, let’s dive into what it means to be Agile.
Want insights and best practices from industry subject-matter experts delivered right to your inbox? Get your complimentary subscription to Commonwealth Independent Advisor.
The Agile Difference
In traditional, non-Agile environments, most work is done using the waterfall method. It involves a linear process with clearly defined stages of work that are completed sequentially. Although this approach may be an intuitive way to operate, it has a number of limitations that often lead to dissatisfied customers—and frustrated employees. For example, according to Lucidchart, the waterfall method makes it difficult to implement changes, excludes the end client from the development process, and delays testing until the project is completed.
It’s out of the desire to transcend these limitations that Agile was born. Agile methodologies take an iterative approach to work, as you can see in the chart below. They involve regular check-ins and emphasize prioritization and frequent reflection to ensure that everyone is confident in the team’s ongoing plan for success.
Let’s take a quick look at two of the most common Agile methodologies.
Scrum. A team using the Scrum framework plans out the work it aims to complete in a predetermined amount of time called a sprint (often a two-week time frame), and team members measure their progress toward that goal. This framework includes four meetings, referred to as ceremonies, that the team participates in together during each sprint:
- Sprint planning
- Daily stand-up
- Sprint review
It is during these ceremonies that the team has the opportunity to plan, revise, and reflect on the work it’s doing.
Kanban. Kanban is a flow-based framework that’s best for teams with a continuous stream of work coming in. It emphasizes work in progress (WIP) limits, which means team members cannot work on more than a specified number of tasks at any time. Another essential element is the Kanban board, which provides a visual representation of the work the team is doing (see example below). This way, team members can easily see what projects are moving and prioritize new work as it comes in.
Source: Systems Valley
By applying one (or a combination) of these frameworks, teams are empowered to do work in a way that is more manageable and adaptive than the sequential waterfall process and that leads to a higher-quality product for the client.
Agile for Marketing—at Commonwealth and at Your Firm
Although Agile methodologies were created with software developers in mind, they’ve since been adopted by various other groups of working people, including marketing teams. Our Marketing department’s Agile pilot team, for example, includes an editor, a marketing writer, a designer, a marketing owner/project manager, and a digital marketing specialist.
If, however, like many advisor offices, you have limited marketing resources, you can still reap the benefits that adhering to Agile marketing principles—and, most important, maintaining an Agile mind-set—can provide:
Effective prioritization and workload management. In our Agile environment, we ensure that we are working on the right projects by prioritizing them based on the value they provide to our advisors and our business as a whole. This allows us to focus our energy on completing the work that’s most important first, holding off on the lesser-value projects until the higher-priority ones are completed.
Applications for your firm: Imagine you are planning a client event. Taking an Agile approach, you would need to prioritize the tasks that will provide the greatest business value—such as considering what you ultimately want clients to take away from the event and how you’ll execute on that vision—as well as those that are time sensitive and that other elements of the event hinge on—such as choosing the date and venue. Make a list of each task you need to complete and set a deadline for each based on these prioritization criteria. This will help you avoid rushing to figure out last-minute details the week of the event.
Engaged employees. As part of a team tasked with specific objectives, we not only feel more engaged in our work, but also more empowered to determine how work will get done, raise problems, and develop solutions.
Applications for your firm: Continuing with the example of planning a client event, imagine that you’ve been trusted to plan the whole event, make decisions, solve problems, and execute on your vision. You should plan regular check-ins with involved stakeholders and receive approval on big decisions, such as the budget and agenda. But, essentially, you’re in charge. By moving away from a more micromanaged approach and into one where you’re free to make creative and strategic choices, you’ll be more engaged in and accountable for your work, leading to greater success for your firm and a better experience for you and your firm’s clients.
Greater efficiency and quality. We’ve all experienced the challenge of trying to focus on something we’re working on, only to be interrupted by a knock at the office door or the ding of a new email. Our first instinct is to jump away from what we had been doing and address the person, email, or other thing that has taken hold of our attention. But in the process of moving from one incomplete task to the next—known as context switching—we’ve wasted, on average, 23 minutes of productive time. To combat this waste, our team has made a conscious commitment to follow a major tenet of Agile marketing: stop starting and start finishing.
Applications for your firm: By making the conscious choice not to start on a new task before you finish something you’ve already started, you can get both tasks done faster and with greater attention to quality and detail. This is where WIP limits can become a helpful tool to keep you focused and efficient when you have a high volume of tasks to complete.
Visibility. Another way our team has benefited from working in an Agile environment is that there is now greater visibility into the work our team is doing. Our daily stand-up meetings and Kanban board allow us, our managers, and our colleagues in other departments to easily see where a project is in our workflow. If something urgent comes through, or if a project is stuck in a bottleneck, that information becomes highly visible, too.
Applications for your firm: While you may not need a daily stand-up or Kanban board in the formal sense, I would encourage you to take a few minutes each day to review what you accomplished yesterday, what you’ll do today, and any roadblocks you’ve run into that are preventing you from completing a task. This will help you stay on track toward your goals and confront any problems as they arise.
Stepping into an Agile Future
This can all feel a bit daunting, I know. But you don’t need to jump right in with two feet. Even if you start by simply focusing on reducing the effect of context switching on your individual productivity, that’s hours of time you’ll give back to yourself. By finding a way to make Agile work at your firm, you can help create an environment where employees are engaged, work gets done faster, and clients receive higher-quality service. Why not take the first step?
Have you considered implementing Agile marketing principles at your firm? Which benefits would contribute most to your success? Please share your thoughts below!