Success Metrics for Lean and Agile Marketers

Success Metrics for Lean and Agile Marketers

April 10, 2017
5 min read

What is it that makes a marketing team truly Agile? When do you know you’ve succeeded? What is the definition of a successful Agile transformation?

Before we can answer these questions, let’s quickly touch upon what being an agile team actually means. Simply having morning stand-up meetings won’t make you a Scrum Master, and getting a visual Kanban board doesn’t necessarily mean you are applying Kanban principles.

There is much more to true Agility than just a name and mainstream daily routines like Stand Up meetings.

Every team that calls itself Agile needs to go deeper than the surface practices and employ the core principles of Lean and Agile. Without them, any success measurements are meaningless.

Use this short checklist to see if you fit the minimum requirements of an Agile marketing team.

Quick check:

  • Is your work documented? A Kanban board is one of the great ways to do that. Don’t let work items exist only in the watercooler talk or get lost in the pile of emails. The health of your workflow can’t be evaluated if your work is not tracked.
  • Do you have WIP limits? You need to have explicit WIP limits that force you to concentrate on value-generating work. Not just that, but you need to adhere to the limits too.
  • Did you say no to multitasking? Multitasking is the opposite of productivity and has no place in a lean team. The cost of context switching will offset all of the benefits from the previous point. Singletasking should be a logical result of using WIP limits.

These three points are quite simple, but without them, none of the measures of success in a Lean or Agile environment would be possible.

The Metrics of Success for Lean and Agile Marketers

1. Cycle Time

The cycle time (CT) of a task is all the time between the moment the work on the task began and the moment it was marked as done. This metric reflects a customer-centered view on the time you take to deliver results.

Most of the time, your clients simply want to know when the project will be done. The exact breakdown of that time into individual stages and work organization is not something they care about as long as you keep your delivery date promises.

Looking at the cycle time for the same type of tasks gives you an idea of how quickly your team deals with that kind of task.

The rule of thumb is that cycle time for each task falls as soon as WIP limits are in use.

The cycle time of tasks on Agile teams tends to be dramatically lower than the time it took to accomplish the same kind of tasks before the team started its Agile transformation.

As the team perfects its processes, the average age of its tasks keep decreasing. Average CT might fluctuate slightly, as a number of internal and external factors influence every team, but any prolonged growth of the average CT should be a reason for concern and further investigation.

A serious increase of cycle time across your workflow could signify the emergence of a new bottleneck or a number of internal issues.

2. Efficiency

The efficiency of your workflow is defined by the ratio between the time your tasks spend waiting in queues and the time they are being actively worked on.

If a task has been waiting or queuing for 60% of its cycle time, the efficiency of its execution is 40%. The higher the ratio between waiting and actively working times, the lower your efficiency score.

Increased efficiency might be the single most important metric for measuring success of a Lean team.

In truly efficient processes, tasks don’t line up in queues waiting to be processed. They spend as little time as possible in any kind of waiting. A high-efficiency workflow saves you time and funds, optimizes how the team’s efforts are spent and even boosts team motivation.

Looking at the average efficiency value of a specific type of task will give you process efficiency, while taking the average for all tasks would reveal the team’s general efficiency score.

Lean is a synonym for efficient.

If your team strives for Agility, it will be alleviating bottlenecks as quickly as it can, taking all the necessary measures to let the work items flow smoothly with minimal interruptions.

3. Throughput

It’s important that you don’t confuse throughput with efficiency.

Throughput reflects the number of tasks that get completed within a fixed amount of time, while efficiency is all about the deconstruction of the cycle time into value-generating activity and waste.

When the cycle time drops and the efficiency of your tasks goes up, it is inevitable that throughput gets a serious boost too.

Agile marketers need to keep in mind the benefits and the dangers of using throughput as one of the key metrics, however.

By no means should you concentrate on just throughput – not all tasks require the same amount of work and resources, even when tasks are of the same type.

However, looking at the tasks that were broken down into work items of comparable size makes throughput a good measure of team productivity.

Any sudden spikes and drops that are not caused by changes in the team or the nature of work are also a big signal about workflow issues. In its turn, a stable throughput, under the same conditions, would be a sign of a steady workflow.

The Visible Results of Lean Marketing Success

What does all of this mean for your team in simple terms?

Successful Lean marketing transformation bears very visible fruits. Using these metrics should make it easy for you to reflect them in numbers.

Going Lean brings a number of positive effects that let you know your marketing transformation went well:

  • You need less time to deliver the same work item: Be it articles, ad campaigns, or any other task, the items you are usually working on now take less time to complete. The reduction in time is the result of successful WIP limit implementation (thus reducing the cycle time of each task) and increased efficiency of the process.
  • You produce more work with no sacrifice to quality: With no changes to the nature of work or compromise on the quality of deliverables, your team now has a higher work capacity. Efficient use of both the time and input resources means greater productivity of your value production chain.
  • You finish all of the work that got started: Ideas, tasks, and projects don’t get lost, forgotten or left behind. All of the work you commit turns into value for both your clients and your company. Work on any task begins only after the perceived value of the task is proven to be worth the expenses needed to produce it. All of your tasks either directly contribute towards achieving your goals and delivering value or support the tasks that do.

Success of the Lean Transformation is All About Commitment

Coming back to where we started from, going Lean has less to do with adopting just one or two of the trendy practices and more to do with deeper commitment to certain values and ways of work. The success and significance of the results of your efforts completely depend on how serious you are about your commitments.

Both Agile and Lean marketing encourage a strong focus on value and a customer-centric approach, working on one task at a time and stopping yourself from taking on too much work with WIP limits puts concentrated effort on each task, enabling you to do more with less.

Measuring the success of any initiative is always a very tricky venture. But combining a digital Kanban board with Lean and Agile methodologies takes away the heaviness of the operational part of things, letting you concentrate on the marketing work itself.

Commit. Measure. Improve.

It’s time to go Lean!

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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