Implementing Agile Marketing – Part 1

Our team at SmartBear produces lots of content, webinars, emails, trade shows, product launches, and sales training sessions each month.  Since the company has four product areas, our team supports what are essentially four different sales and product organizations.  Getting all the work done, on time, in the most efficient way possible was becoming a problem as we ramped up our marketing cadence.  To solve this problem, we implemented a modified Agile Marketing strategy similar to the Agile Development process used by software development organizations.

I won’t explain Agile process here since others have done a good job of explaining – a simple search and you will gets lots of reading on the topic.  What I do want to talk about is how we got to Agile, how we implemented it, and the results we are seeing.

Prior to implementing Agile, our marketing calendar was the main instrument for coordinating the various work that needed to occur each week. Our calendar is different than a traditional calendar in that we used an Excel table with the rows being the various marketing events/tasks, and the columns were weeks. Rows might contain items such as blog postings for each market, events for each market, analyst interactions for each market.  By using this table format, the calendar showed me not necessarily what was happening, but what was not happening.   It was pretty easy to see, for example, if the row for “Analyst Inquiries for Dev Market” was blank and quickly probe the product marketing team as to why it was blank.

In addition, by using this table system, if there was a product launch scheduled for a new version of SmartBear Alert Site, I could see the launch listed in the product launch row, then I could skip down the sheet to see what was scheduled for customer communication, email marketing, changes to PPC.  By doing this I could check that the rest of the team was coordinated and supporting this launch or other campaign.

While this Excel calendaring system worked initially, the problem with this system was that as we scaled, we had no concept of work capacity.  We could schedule all kinds of deliverables, but had no idea if we had capacity to get the work done.  In addition, while the calendar showed our steady state operations, we were constantly working on improvements to our operations.  How did we incorporate this into the calendar session?  Some of these projects were very complex with many steps and moving parts.  For example, data collection and analysis projects tended to involve development, marketing and the product teams. Managing these projects tended to generate either project management spreadsheets or require use of project management software.  Neither of these solutions were suitable and useful enough for the entire team to use for coordinating our marketing activity.

Our system was breaking down with no idea of capabilities, no single way to organize or to easily coordinate getting work done.  With a low volume operation, we could have made it work. But with four business units, a lean staff, and the requirements for high volume operations, we needed to do something else.

Agile seemed like a great way to get everyone on the same page.  By organizing our work into short sprints, and assigning work to people in these sprints, there seemed to be a logical approach to accomplish work while measuring capacity. To get our Agile project going, we selected Jira since this application was already in use by our engineering team for their Agile Development work.  What became obvious once we started using Jira, was that we would need to modify Agile to make it work for us, but of course modifying Agile is a part of implementing Agile.

In the next posting, we will talk through our modifications to Agile.

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