Breaking big marketing projects into lots of little marketing projects is a fundamental tenet of agile marketing, but it’s often easier said than done. For example, try putting on a world-class trade show incrementally. Some marketing projects are inherently ‘big bang’ and the smart agile marketing manager honors their inherent nature without losing the core benefits of agile marketing. Aside from its common-sense appeal, incremental execution derives from some very basic ideas about work. This post on agile marketing project management digs beneath the surface to develop a deeper understanding of this core agile marketing concept, so we know when and where we can bend our marketing projects to its will without breaking them.
When deciding how to break a big marketing project up into smaller chunks, there is only one question to ask: If I stop right here, did I create something of value for a customer? If the answer is yes, then you have a good chunk, and maybe you can break it into even smaller ones. If the answer is no, then start over. When breaking up work, we gain a fair amount of leeway from how we define the ‘customer.’ For example, the end customer of an email campaign is the prospect that gets your message. However, there is a chain of customers leading up to the end customer where we can clearly define valuable work products at each hand-off along the way. The copywriter needs messaging from the product marketer, the designer needs final copy from the the copywriter and the online campaign manager needs finished email templates from the designer. Half-done messages, half-done copy and half-done designs have little value, whereas finished ones facilitate clean hand-offs and increase marketing productivity. The magical of incremental work comes from the first half of our original question. Once you can confidently say, ‘I have created something of value for a customer,’ then you can STOP RIGHT THERE. The simple ability to stop what you are doing without sacrificing value leads to far-reaching benefits.
If you can stop one thing, then you can start something else. If you can’t stop, you’re stuck. Or, you stop without creating any value and you’ve wasted a lot of time. Increased flexibility is your primary defense against uncertainty. When the CEO suddenly wants a new tag line. When the A / B test comes out C. When the product launch stalls. What do you do about it? And, how quickly can you do it. If you are stuck trying to finish a big marketing project, the answer is probably nothing.
There is a simple mathematical relationship between the size of your marketing projects and the amount of time it will take you to shift gears. If your average marketing project takes a month, then your response time is about a month. The smaller your marketing projects, the quicker you can respond to change without sacrificing productivity. Because remember, you can STOP right here and still have created something of value. Depending on your industry and your particular role in the marketing department, your environment will impose a natural level of uncertainty and change over your work. It could be as long as a fashion season or as short as the space between tweets. In any case, you will have little say in the matter. You must simply adapt. By structuring your average marketing project to require less time than the natural heartbeat of change, you position yourself for success through adaptation.
Most marketing projects require the contribution of multiple marketers. Something as simple as a landing page might require a project manager, a product marketer, a copywriter, a translator, a graphic designer, and a Web developer. Conversely, most marketing managers juggle many marketing projects at once. When marketing projects come in large, mismatched chunks, work gets stalled with everyone waiting on everyone else. Smaller chunks facilitate an even marketing project flow while increasing flexibility to switch to something else while you wait.
When marketing projects are big black holes of work-in-process, the risk of unknown problems and unpredictable outcomes increases. Measuring the quantity or the quality of work is difficult and spurious when it is only partially done. Is it half done? One quarter done? Is it good? Is it bad? When will it be done? Who knows?!! Producing manageable, valuable chunks of work along the way provides transparency into the work and allows you to detect potential problems earlier. It is much easier to do a copy rewrite immediately after the copy is done than it is to do it once the ad is fully laid out. Or, partially laid out with partial copy.
Perhaps the most important benefit of incremental work, yet the most easily overlooked, is the increased ability to manage expectations. Most of the folks outside the marketing department don’t know and don’t care about the quantity or complexity of the work that goes on within. They just see and care about the final results. So, give them results! The average Sales VP who wants to see an upgrade to your website will be far happier seeing it improved week after week, than being told it will take two months. Or was that four? Increased flexibility and responsiveness empower your marketing department not only to meet expectations, but to set them. Your answer can always be yes, as long as you define what yes means.