“Agility” is a word you’re probably hearing a lot these days – but what the heck does it actually mean?
Sure, the business world is always looking for ways to be faster and more productive, but that’s not exactly breaking news. And yet, business agility is on everyone’s lips.
So, where’s all this talk about being agile coming from?
In the most basic sense, “agile” means “nimble,” but you knew that.
(But agile business practices aren’t a matter of being light on your tippy-toes.)
Business agility is an approach inspired by software developers that’s increasingly applied to lots of other business functions, like marketing.
So, what’s it mean to be agile in business, and to apply those principles to your day-to-day?
Let’s take a look!
What is business agility?
In an agile business, teams focus their collaborative efforts on the projects they identify as the highest priorities. They break big ideas into bite-sized tasks, measure the impact, and improve as they go.
Sounds legit, right? Let’s give it a whirl!
Here’s how you can lay the groundwork with your team:
- Brainstorm with the team to determine a list of marketing priorities. (Don’t worry – our lists start out huge, too.)
- Prioritize your “master list” based on the items that will bring the most value to your customer.
- Etch out the most important tasks associated with your number one priority.
- Set up a “sprint,” or a set period (usually one week to one month long) where you focus on completing specified tasks, reserving any overflow for the “backlog” of tasks saved for the next sprint.
- Work through sprint after sprint, learning, adjusting, and reassessing priorities as you go.
If this type of workflow is new to you, it might take some getting used to, but you’ll get better and better as time goes on.
Applying agile business planning methodology to your work is as much a practice as it is a mindset. You’ll need to adjust the way you think and prioritize things in your mind, and more than anything, you’ll need to start DOING!
As you explore the art of agile marketing, keep these core principles of agile methodology in mind:
- Make your customers happy.
- Plan, but plan loosely.
- Collaboration is key.
- Improve, improve, improve!
- Keep it simple.
- Take small bites.
You can use these points as a sort of agile mind cheat sheet you can refer back to when you need it. Let’s take those one by one, starting with the peeps that matter most: your customers.
Make your customers happy
Balance the need for speed with your target audience’s expectations for quality and a frictionless experience.
Your customers are your greatest advocates. Take care of them, and they’ll be quick to spread the word about your superior awesomeness.
Whether it’s listening to their feedback, engaging with them on social media, or asking for feedback, figure out what they want, need, and expect.
Then, put their best interests front and center in your mind. Take what you learn along the way and actually apply it!
Whether lining up priorities for an upcoming sprint, creating fresh content, or hashing out a marketing strategy, consider these questions:
- What does your target audience need?
- What has the market told you?
- How can you incorporate feedback into your marketing efforts?
- How can you drive customer satisfaction at every single touchpoint, be it over the interwebs, in-person, on instant chat, social media, or other?
Plan, but plan loosely
They say that when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade.
If we’re being honest, making lemonade is actually kind of tricky, but the point is that you have to be ready at any time to use the unexpected to your advantage.
The reality is, no matter how much planning you do when it comes to building out your strategy, anything can happen!
Whether it’s responding to breaking industry news, social trends, market feedback, or the latest social video products, account for unpredictability.
A contingency plan helps, but at the end of the day, the most important thing to plan for is where you need to get – your end goal. The details around how you actually get there should be adaptable.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say you make foam clown noses (trust us, it’s a very high-demand niche).
You build a big ol’ marketing plan. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are part of your marketing mix. Your audience personas are hashed out, and you’re ready to churn out the content your audience wants, needs, and demands!
Great! You get to work producing 200 different pieces of content about how clowns can get the most out of their red foam noses.
Turns out, your clown audience doesn’t care about red foam noses anymore. As of yesterday, purple foam noses are where it’s at.
Wouldn’t it have been better to test the waters, and gauge audience response with maybe a few pieces of content, instead of 200?
But all clowning around aside (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves), this is why an agile business model is such a hot topic for marketers.
You need a clear strategy, vision, and mission, but you also need a plan with a little wiggle room to test ideas, adjust, apply findings, and improve your end results.
If you’re thinking too far ahead or putting all your eggs in one basket, the slightest change in circumstances could make all your plans come crashing down – so think a little smaller, and focus more on the immediate future!
Collaboration is key
Tweaking how you manage a team isn’t always easy.
It involves fundamentally changing the way an organization, team, and individuals – including you – have to think!
So maybe you already have a super-duper collaborative team. Go you! You’re well on your way then.
The key to being a successful agile business owner is to create a collaborative environment conducive to interaction, free thought, creativity, and experimentation.
You need to work together as a team and adopt a customer-centric collaborative approach, rather than solely working in independent silos to meet the needs of your particular department.
Consider a few of these agile collaboration strategies:
- Encourage individuals to volunteer for projects, rather than assigning tasks from the top down.
- Set up a system rooted in transparency, so everyone’s in the loop on project status, progress, and next steps.
- Keep your meetings quick, focused, and efficient – discuss what you did yesterday, what you’re doing today, and any obstacles.
- Set up an immediate feedback loop, so people aren’t held up.
Now, this collaborative style is not to be confused with micro-management.
(Nobody likes that.)
Instead, the idea is to level the playing field. There are decision-makers, but everyone comes together to work quickly and efficiently, with minimal obstacles, toward the same goal.
This is when the collaboration magic happens!
Improve, improve, improve
Whatever you’re working on, make it a point to learn something from it.
At the end of a project, or sprint, compare expectations to actual results. Discuss obstacles and wins. Take what you learn and apply your newfound knowledge to the next sprint. This is all part of the agile business process.
For example, every time we complete a project, we create a full retro document that sums up what we did and what the results were. That way, we can more easily pinpoint the things that did and didn’t work the way we’d hoped, and make improvements next time.
And remember, the savviest marketers celebrate the successes, but they also celebrate the losses, as these are sometimes the greatest learning opportunities.
Keep it simple
Keepin’ it simple. Sounds…well, simple, right?
Easier said than done.
Just like in cross-stitch and Olympic-level ice dancing, marketing tasks that seem simple have a way of getting complicated.
Here are a few tips to keep that simplicity-meter in check:
- Don’t make busywork. Ask yourself if a task is really needed to reach your end goal, or if it’s one of those it would be nice sorts of things.
- Make the process as straightforward as possible. Break things down into small micro-projects (we’ll hit on this next!) with clear action items and next steps.
- Be clear, transparent, and open. Before launching headfirst into a sprint, make sure all collaborators are 100 per cent aligned, so people aren’t wasting time exploring unnecessary paths.
Speaking of keeping things simple…
Take small bites
Instead of always placing the “big bet” with overgrown, expensive marketing executions, take it step by step.
Agree on the goal you want to achieve, then etch out the most viable paths of least resistance. Being agile for business is all about focusing your efforts further by breaking those paths down to smaller, more digestible pieces that you can test out.
Breaking your marketing projects, plans, and executions into smaller, more manageable pieces has endless (and satisfying!) benefits:
- Easier to digest: If you can break a project down to manageable tasks, you’ll be less overwhelmed, more productive, and more successful in reaching your goals.
- Fast, not chaotic: Move like a cheetah – fast and with purpose. By focusing your efforts, you’ll move much more swiftly and methodically through your sprint.
- Informed: As you work through your backlog of projects, you’ll learn what works and doesn’t work, so that you can improve and refine your execution each and every time.
Tread carefully when sprinting
This agile for business processes stuff is all fine and dandy, but when you’re movin’ fast, it’s easy to lose sight of thoughtfulness at the expense of testing concepts and getting stuff done.
We’ve seen this a gazillion billion times on social media.
A misinterpreted joke, a tone-deaf response, or an off-brand experiment can erase all that positive brand sentiment you’ve been collecting over the years.
So, just be mindful. Be quick, yet thoughtful in your actions.
Because after all, what good is agility if it isn’t getting you where you need to go?
How have YOU embraced agility in your business?
Got a tried-and-true trick for focusing on the right things?
Curious, but haven’t taken the plunge just yet?
Or does this all sound like just another strategic fad?
Tell us what you think in the comments below!