3 agile marketing tips to stop starting and start finishing

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One of the biggest problems marketers face today is working on too much. I have yet to meet a bored marketer. With the constant pressures from stakeholders changing their minds or asking for more, the result is a lot of starting work but not actually getting much of it finished and delivered to customers. 

It’s easy to get confused with being busy versus delivering customer value. However, it doesn’t matter how busy you are as an individual marketer. If effort take weeks — or even months — to be seen by customers, you might just be churning out a lot of that effort without the feedback and outcomes that marketing needs.

Let’s discuss some ways that you can stop starting and start finishing work.

1. Have trade-off conversations

The easiest way to get control over the continual starting of new work is to have trade-off conversations with your stakeholders, especially ones with multiple marketing requests. Often, we’re used to just saying yes to everything that even your stakeholders don’t realize the impact of their requests. Instead of passively accepting a new request, here’s how to frame the conversation:

“Jen, we saw your request come in today for a new blog post that you’d like done by the end of the week. However, we’re in the middle of working on your request for a paid social media ad. If we stop working on that, we’ll miss the deadline. Which one is your highest priority right now?”

By having trade-off conversations, you force the requester to make tough choices. If you have multiple stakeholders whose requests are trumping the other person’s, you can have a similar conversation.

“Dan, we received your request today for a slide presentation for your upcoming sales meeting. This week we’re committed to other work that was requested earlier. We can either provide you with a template to create your own, or we can begin your project next week. Which do you prefer?”

2. Measure your flow

Besides getting too many requests from stakeholders, your team may be suffering from not finishing because work is getting stuck in your current workflow. Perhaps you’re always waiting for legal sign-off, so you move on to the next project. Once you get the sign-off you need, it’s hard to switch gears and return to what you worked on before. This is a real hindrance to productivity, so getting ahead of it is essential.

You can measure flow by walking through each step your team takes to do a particular task from start to finish. For example, let’s say you find that getting a blog article finished has become really daunting. Everyone involved in the process should get together to discuss each step in the current workflow and map it out like this:

The times shown here are in duration, not actual days or hours needed to complete the task. For instance, it will only take a manager 10-15 minutes to read and approve the article. However, on average, it may sit on someone’s desk for three days.

When everyone can see the workflow laid out like this, it’s time to discuss ways to make it leaner. Perhaps you can set up a new policy that approvals must happen in 24 hours. Maybe right now, you need to go outside of your team to get coding/publishing done, but if you could train someone on your team to take that on, it could reduce the time from five days to one day.

With agile marketing, your goal is to be able to focus your team on fewer initiatives and be able to produce them rapidly. This eye-opening workflow will bring transparency to the situation and allow improvements to take place.

3. Set WIP limits

By setting work-in-progress (WIP) limits, your team can focus on finishing what’s in progress before moving on to new work. This can be done really informally by just training your team to look at what they can finish before they start new work. Personally, I always make a conscious effort to finish something before moving on to the next thing. The fewer dependencies the team has outside the team, the easier it will be. 

There’s also a more formal way, which is one of the six key practices in the Agile Marketing Navigator framework. Using this method, the team will establish its WIP limit. For example, the team may decide they will not allow more than five items in progress on their visual board at any given time. This forces them to finish what’s already started. 

The number really comes from the team understanding its optimal flow, meaning how work can move continuously without stopping or waiting. The team may find that five items in progress are too many, and then they agree to adjust it to four. They experiment with this number until they find the best way to keep work moving at the best possible pace.

With these tips, your team can stop starting and start finishing.

agile marketing workflow

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

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About the author

Stacey Ackerman

Stacey knows what it’s like to be a marketer, after all, she’s one of the few agile coaches and trainers that got her start there. After graduating from journalism school, she worked as a content writer, strategist, director and adjunct marketing professor. She became passionate about agile as a better way to work in 2012 when she experimented with it for an ad agency client. Since then she has been a scrum master, agile coach and has helped with numerous agile transformations with teams across the globe. Stacey speaks at several agile conferences, has more certs to her name than she can remember and loves to practice agile at home with her family. As a lifelong Minnesotan, she recently relocated to North Carolina where she’s busy learning how to cook grits and say “y’all.”