A successful Agile marketing team has two parts: the people on the team, and the formal ways the interact with each other. In other words, Agile marketing roles and ceremonies.
Team structure and meetings are often overlooked during process optimization, but fine-tuning them both (and making sure they work well together) can be the key to creating a high performing team.
There can be no optimization without understanding, so here we’re going to dive into three things:
- Who is on an Agile marketing team.
- How they contribute to the team’s success.
- The various meetings that help them do it.
Agile Marketing Roles
There are three kinds of roles on an Agile marketing team that we need to cover.
First, and most importantly, we need to understand the Agile marketing roles. Who are the actual members of the team, what are their responsibilities, and how do we set both individuals and the team up for success?
The second component of an Agile team is its leadership, which doesn’t work like traditional leadership AT ALL.
Agile leadership emphasizes a servant mindset, guiding rather than commanding, and tapping into the team’s abilities to find solutions.
Finally, we have Agile coaches. These are certainly unique to Agile teams; they’re a little analogous to traditional marketing consultants, but the expectations for their relationship with the team are quite different.
Flat Teams & Cross-Functionality
A commonly held ideal in Agile software development is that teams should be totally flat and completely cross-functional. This means all team members sit at the same place in the org chart and they all have the necessary skills to help with any project the team might be working on.
The former is often feasible, while the latter is pretty close to impossible.
In fact, Agile thought leaders like Mike Cohn have begun to strenuously argue against the idea of pure cross functionality.
He asserts that:
“specialists can exist on high-performing agile teams. But, it is the multi-skilled team members who allow that to be possible…These individuals can smooth out the workload when a team needs to do more or less of a particular type of work in an iteration.”
Agile marketing teams can strive for this kind of diversity on their teams, allowing specialists to shine while relying on multi-skilled team members to keep things flowing. (Learn more about the various stages of cross-functionality here.)
When it comes to creating flat teams, it’s usually a matter of changing titles rather than trying to change skill sets. This may be easier, or it may be exponentially more difficult depending on what your current org chart looks like.
You can see that there’s really only one leader, whose role we’ll go into more in the next section.
This structure can work well in smaller departments, but once you get past 10 or 12 team members you will need some secondary layer of leadership.
Here each Squad has a leader who makes sure they’re doing the right work at the right time, but there are also Chapter leads. Chapters are groups of people doing the same kind of work, e.g. content marketing or demand generation.
A Chapter lead conducts the reviews for all the Chapter members and helps them continue to advance their skills; these leads act much more like a traditional manager, except they don’t tell their reports what to do from day to day.
There’s no single solution that delivers flat cross functionality in every Agile marketing team. Be prepared to iterate and adjust until you find the right configuration for you.
Agile Marketing Leadership
The team, while central to all sorts of agility, isn’t the only success factor.
I’ve coached teams that were swimming against the current of culture on their own, unsupported by leadership. The difference between those teams and the ones who enjoy unwavering commitment from their leaders is staggering.
Leaders can make or break an Agile marketing team.
Like cross functionality, Agile leadership comes in many flavors. Some of the most common are:
- Agile Team Lead (ATL): This term originated with Gil Broza, who gives the role a single purpose: to help the team meet its objectives. This includes helping them get stuff done as well as supporting the squishy, uncertain, human side of Agile.
- Marketing Owner: Analogous to the Product Owner role from Scrum, this type of leader acts as the liaison between the marketing team and stakeholders outside the team. They talk with sales, executives, product development, etc. to make sure marketing is doing the right work at the right time, but they also protect the team from unnecessary interruptions.
- Agile Marketing Director/Manager/VP: In the Agile version of these roles the leaders maintain their traditional strategic position, but they take on more stewardship of the team. They become a facilitator and coach, not a task master. They share responsibility for the team’s success or failure rather than just evaluating the team’s performance.
Any and all of these leadership positions can be difficult for marketers to adopt. Some people will take to them easily, while others will struggle for months.
Explicitly changing titles, such as going from Marketing Director to Agile Marketing Director or Marketing Owner, can help create a clear point of departure from the old ways of leading.
Owning the Agile Marketing Process
There’s one other kind of leadership that’s unique to Agile marketing teams, and that’s the process owner. You’re probably most familiar with the Scrum version, known as the Scrum Master.
Kanban has a similar role sometimes called the Flow Master, and you could even have an Agile Team Leader (ATL) who’s only responsible for the team’s process.
Giving someone a neutral title like ATL can help free them and the team from feeling bound to a particular methodology, so if you don’t have someone shepherding the process now, you might consider going this route.
Do You Need an Agile Coach?
Many marketers are unfamiliar with the Agile coach role, so I wanted to take a quick moment to introduce it.
Coaches can be internal, meaning they’re an employee on the company’s payroll, or external, meaning they come from outside the organization. Both can be immensely helpful to an Agile team, particularly during challenging stages of their evolution.
Agile coaches are trained in facilitation, process optimization, team dynamics, the Agile mindset, and more. They bring an objective perspective to the team and can be integral in unblocking the team and helping them move towards high performance.
Some things an Agile coach can help with:
- Facilitating a retrospective meeting to uncover hidden causes of dysfunction.
- Reviewing workflow visualizations and providing recommendations for improvement.
- Onboarding new team members into the Agile process.
- Negotiating working agreements with non-Agile departments.
- Transitioning leaders from traditional to Agile ways of working.
- Answering questions and supporting the team during its transitions.
- Attending daily standup meetings to ensure they’re meeting the team’s needs.
We offer coaching here at AgileSherpas that’s customized for marketing teams, so feel free to get in touch if you want to learn more about how a coach might be able to help you.
Agile Marketing Meetings
Now that we’ve covered who’s on the Agile marketing team, let’s talk about how those people work together.
Agile meetings, also sometimes referred to as ceremonies, should always keep the team moving forward. If you find yourself leaving meetings feeling confused, undirected, or frustrated, they’re probably not doing their job.
Daily Standup (also known as Daily Scrum) should happen every day and last only 15 minutes.
The most common misstep here is to decrease its frequency, meaning you meet only a few times per week instead of every day.
This almost inevitably increases the length of the meeting because you have more to talk about, and it can also slow down your process. Instead of a maximum of 24 hours between team communication, you now have 48 or even 72 hours going by.
Opportunities to help blocked teammates are lost, solutions that could help everyone stay hidden, and the team is less connected to one another.
If you’re getting bored with Standup and finding it less than useful, consider changing up the format. We explored a couple different options in this article.
Agile Marketing Planning
Yes, Agile marketing teams plan. We don’t just get up every morning and chase after the latest shiny object that catches our fancy.
In fact, since we release and iterate often, we need to plan more than most teams.
Scrum teams conduct a planning session at the start of every Sprint, and Kanban teams will be planning as needed (usually on a 2-3 week cycle).
The product of any successful planning meeting should be a backlog of sufficient detail for the team to work on it with continuously and with confidence until the next planning meeting takes place.
You’ll be most likely to get that outcome if you have the right decision makers in the room.
Postponing planning until you get sign off from executives or stakeholders is hugely wasteful, and will result in delays and rework that severely limit the team’s agility.
Finally, if you have more than one team inside your Agile marketing department, you’ll need to regularly get everyone (yes, everyone) in a room together to talk about how everyone’s plans intersect.
What are the dependencies between teams? Are there shared resources that need to be allocated? Any big projects coming up that might impact people’s availability? All this and more should come out in these larger planning meetings.
A quarterly schedule for these Agile planning sessions tends to work well, but you could do them monthly if your plans change frequently.
While the final outcome of a good planning session is an appropriately detailed backlog, you may need to have a separate meeting when you review the backlog from a different perspective.
If you find some backlog items hanging out for months without being worked on, or if your backlog just keeps getting bigger, a dedicated backlog refinement meeting is in order.
This ceremony doesn’t involve exploration of projects or prioritization. It’s simply a stay or go vote for each item in the backlog.
As with planning, make sure you have the right stakeholders in the room so you aren’t forced to delay decision making. Be ruthless and make sure your backlog reflects only high value work that’s important to the team’s objectives.
Just like every kind of team needs to plan, any and all Agile teams need to regularly inspect and adapt their Agile process. This moment is known as the Retrospective Meeting, and it should never, ever be skipped.
Typical discussion formats include:
- Stop/Start/Continue: What should we as a team stop doing, start doing, and continue doing?
- Liked/Lacked/Learned/Longed For: Four categories for people to sort their feedback on the most recent round of work.
Those are just to get you started though. There are dozens of different ways to structure a Retro, so don’t get stuck in a rut and stop improving your process.
Learn more about this amazing meeting and how to get the most out of it in this article.
Helping Agile Roles and Meetings Work in Harmony
Just like you keep optimizing your board or adjusting your team’s workspace, make the roles and meetings on your Agile marketing team part of its continuous improvement efforts.
Don’t succumb to the status quo in either case; help each role and every meeting matter, and your team will reward you with ever greater performance.