We launched agile marketing at Deloitte – here's what we learned

No wonder agile marketing has grabbed the attention of marketing leaders. In a world of always-on content and almost instantaneous feedback, it can seem like the Holy Grail. Get content to market faster? Check. Optimize campaigns based on real-time feedback? Check. Harness the power of collaboration to make better decisions? Check.

But does agile marketing work for every organization? Will it work for yours? The level of collaboration, speed, and flexibility it requires can seem intimidating. The language and “rules” are daunting.

Like many marketing leaders, I was intrigued by its promise but skeptical about whether it would work at Deloitte. Since the only way to find out for sure was to test it, I teamed with my colleagues in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s marketing practice, led by Christine Cutten and Alan Schulman, to launch two pilots.

Based on those initial efforts, the answer is a resounding yes, agile marketing can work at Deloitte. In fact, I believe that almost any organization can make agile work. The key is to make it your own. Follow the principles of agile marketing — those are critical — but adapt your approach to fit your unique situation. In other words, be agile about agile.

Here’s how we made it our own at Deloitte:

We broke down walls — literally and figuratively

Marketers — and software developers before them — often take as a given that agile teams have to be co-located, usually sequestered in a war room. But the majority of Deloitte’s US marketing team works virtually. If agile was going to work for us, we had to make it work virtually. And to the surprise of many (including me), it did. Instead of holding daily half-hour morning status checks, or scrums, in person, teams met via Skype. Instead of using a white board on the wall to track progress, we used the agile feature in Workfront, our marketing resource management system.

Without the right tools and an existing culture of virtual collaboration, “virtual agile” might not have succeeded. But with them, the agile model was even more powerful for us. Marketers in one time zone signing off for the day could hand off tasks to others with hours to go, adding time and speed to the project. And virtual communications drove even more flexibility and collaboration by encouraging real-time connections instead of waiting for the next meeting to share ideas.

We stepped on each other’s toes

Three years ago Deloitte embarked on a journey to transform our marketing organization, completely reinventing our structure, processes, technology, and talent models. The transformation has been a big success, but our focus on building specialized skills unintentionally put a damper on collaboration. People felt like they had to stay in their own lanes, limiting the kind of outside-in perspectives that turn good ideas into great ones.

The agile pilots completely eliminated the idea of staying in your lane. While team members came to the project with a specific area of expertise, everyone owned the final deliverables. Everyone was accountable for the project’s success. So, everyone had a say in everything. Creatives gave advice on email strategy. Marketers weighed in on design decisions. The entire team debated the best approach to handling an unexpected PR opportunity.

The free exchange of ideas had an immediate, measurable impact on results. It made the team so much greater than the sum of its parts. The email idea our creative director had? It more than doubled the number of leads from the campaign. The social team’s real-time advice on a PR opportunity prevented a move that would have cannibalized our social strategy. Energized by their experiences on the pilots, our agile teams are bringing that same agile spirit to other projects. They’re helping to reignite the affinity for collaboration across marketing.

We elevated the concept of teams

In a firm like Deloitte, groups outside marketing, such as business stakeholders, legal, and risk, play an important role in campaigns. We knew going into the pilots that their willingness to work with us in an agile way would make or break a project. They had to become part of the agile team, which in many cases meant they had to change the way they worked with marketing. Agile projects require faster turnaround times and more flexibility, discipline, and iteration than those groups were used to. Was our extended team up to the challenge?

They were. They understood that agile isn’t just about getting campaigns in market faster, it’s about elevating results. And they recognized that those results were well worth the additional flexibility required from them. They were willing to team with us in new and different ways, collaborating with us in real time.

Being in sync as a team meant we could make decisions in the moment, eliminating “down time” and saving us from expending energy on ideas that were headed in the wrong direction. Instead of insisting on a big bang campaign launch, they embraced the concept of a minimum viable product. Instead of holding us to specific metrics, they let us test and learn so we could deliver better results over time. The pilots highlighted the interdependencies between marketing and other parts of the business. They helped us to define a new road map for working together that will help increase marketing’s value to the organization.

What’s next?

Our experiment with agile was a success on many levels. We not only showed that it can work for us, we also discovered how truly versatile and flexible the methodology can be. We proved that agile marketing has a demonstrable impact on business results and on culture. The pilots created a sense of excitement around agile and, not surprisingly, more demand to use agile methodologies on more campaigns. Our next challenge is to find out how fast, and how broad, an organization can scale agile.

Kim McNeil-Downs is Leader, Green Dot Agency, Marketing and Communications, at Deloitte

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