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In this episode of In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris review the basics of agile marketing:

  • What agile marketing is
  • Where agile marketing came from
  • What practices are easiest to adopt for marketers
    • Sprint planning
    • Scrums
    • Kanban boards
    • Standups
  • What marketers should know about agile marketing

Listen in and use these ideas to improve your own marketing!

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn
In this episode of in your insights, we are talking about agile, agile development, agile marketing, agile business and what you can be doing to be more agile. Now, Katie, I’m a developer, and I’m not a very good one. In fact, I’m probably the worst developer I that I know, which is somewhat concerning for you as CEO, because that terrific one, but it does I do fall in the category of good enough for now, that said, we’ve done some reorganization recently of just things around my own workflow to help, you know, make things happen faster, get stuff, get more stuff done, and things. What are some other things that we should be looking at or thinking about for the purposes of taking the best practices from development, and moving them to other disciplines like management and marketing?

Katie Robbert
Well, if we want to take a step back for a second, I just want to sort of do a high level overview of the Agile methodology. So there’s a lot of misconceptions and misunderstanding about what agile actually is. Agile is not a con bond board, that is a part of the workflow that goes into agile. Agile is not sprint planning. Sprint Planning is something that goes into agile, both things alone are agile methodologies. But agile as an agile is an umbrella term. And there’s different pieces that go into it. And so, you know, come on board, a con bond board is it’s also called swim lanes, something that you might be familiar with could be like a Trello. board. Trello is a piece of software where you can create cards and the swim lanes are essentially, you know, things that are on your backlog or things that are in progress or things that you’re currently working on, or things you’re blocked by or things are completed. And so there’s a few different ways that you can do this. So a lot of people will use the software such as Trello, in order to put some information about a specific task, and put it in a different lane. And then as the task progress is on, you move it from lane to lane, so it moves from backlog, to in progress to completed. You can also we used to do this with our old team. And we would do it with sticky notes. And so everybody had a different color, sticky note. And it was a very analog way of doing it. But it accomplish the task of seeing who’s working on what is any one given task getting stuck in a specific lane, like if the task is too big, then it’s going to be stuck in the in progress for too long. So we need to break it down smaller into smaller milestones, well, how is

Christopher Penn
this different than just my to do list?

Katie Robbert
You know, honestly, it’s really not. And so it’s a matter of how you’re organizing your to do list. So if your to do list is one big list of things that are categorized into this is the backlog are prioritized is probably a better way to say it. Things that are nice to have things that are urgent to be done right now, things that I’m waiting on the client to give me more information and then moving out the things that you’ve completed. So they’re not clogging up the backlog, it’s no different. It’s just a matter of what you have available as resources to do this type of organization of the tasks.

Christopher Penn
Gotcha. What’s a sprint of events, something that you do to run very fast.

Katie Robbert
A sprint in Agile methodology is typically a two week time frame, where you’re accomplishing a tangible output at the end. And so there’s a few different things that go into it. So you have the sprint, which is the two weeks typically, they can be three weeks and could be four weeks. But once it gets to be too long, then it’s not really a sprint anymore. Because you can’t really track quick, agile prog progress anymore. The sprint planning is the meeting ahead, which shouldn’t take too long, because you’re really only waiting for two weeks worth of work. So you have your sprint planning meeting where you decide at the end of two weeks. This is the tangible output that we are going to have to show our stakeholders, our clients, whoever it is, it’s not meant to finish the product in completion. But it’s meant to make progress. And so part of the sprint planning process is to take your final output and break it down into smaller chunks or milestones, so that you can fit them into those two weeks. Then when you’re doing the sprint planning process, you have a certain number of hours within those two weeks that you can work within. And so this is where you can really figure out okay, are these tasks broken down small enough so that we can have a tangible output at the end of two weeks? Or are they still too big and ambiguous and not very well defined? And so this is actually something Chris, that you and I recently did with our client workload was we started to break down the client tasks into smaller chunks to figure out, how do we balance and how can we sort of reorganize so that we know we’re making progress on every single project with some sort of a tangible output, it’s not just Well, I hit a button over here, and it’s doing something and I don’t remember what’s coming next. And now I feel like in five weeks behind, but you know, and so it’s a way to stay organized. And so then within the sprint itself, every morning, you meet as a team to have your Scrum. So the scrum is barred from rugby, where everybody gets together, also called a stand up meeting, literally, because everybody is supposed to stand up, it’s supposed to be 10 minutes or less, nobody gets comfortable. And everyone who’s working on the project goes through, here’s what I did yesterday. So you can mark it in your sprint and see the progress. Here’s what I’m doing today, make sure it aligns with what you’ve planned. And here’s what I’m blocked on. Now the things that you’re blocked on, that goes to the Scrum Master, the person who’s basically running the meeting, and that person collects all that information, and then follows up after the meeting offline to help unblock those things, so they can keep moving forward.

Christopher Penn
Gotcha. So this sounds like a lot, particularly for a a marketing team, especially if you have marketers who are not developmental oriented in the sense of running and building code and stuff like that. If you have a standard marketing team, how do you intelligently port this stuff to something like you know, an email newsletter or a podcast or any of the the normal tasks that marketers have, which are not really dev oriented?

Katie Robbert
You know, so that’s a really interesting question that we get asked a lot, because it’s not a one to one translation, everything that I just described, I used to manage a 20 person development team. So that worked really well for keeping that group of individuals from does to dB a to QA, etc, all really well organized. But when you’re talking about a marketing team, it doesn’t all apply. And so this is where people pulling out some of the methodologies piece by piece will be a little bit more effective. So not everything is going to translate. One of the things that you can easily adopt for a marketing team that will cost you no money in software, no x resources is that morning stand up. And so the stand up, as mentioned should be 10 minutes or less. You can do it electronically. We use slack for hours, actually. And we just we literally have a channel called daily stand up. And so everybody puts in, here’s my to do list for today. And then it off, it opens the door to have discussions about Okay, well, what about this thing from yesterday? Did that get done? Do you need help? Are you overwhelmed? Are you blocked by anything? And so it’s just a really good way to check in with people every single day to make sure that they’re doing okay, and that their workload is pretty well balanced.

Christopher Penn
Gotcha. What else are we bringing into marketing particularly? Oh, and folks talk about actually, when we we look at the where we see marketing breaking down, we look at things like you know, someone’s analytics is so broken, that there’s no there’s no usable data? How does something like these, these different agile processes help prevent or mitigate or repair situations like that?

Katie Robbert
I think it starts at the task level. So you mentioned email marketing, well, that’s a pretty big bucket of things. And a marketer saying, Okay, I’m responsible for email marketing now can get pretty overwhelmed. And so that’s where breaking down into smaller milestones for each task. So you know, it’s literally creating a list. Step one, you know, figure out what the goal is step to write some email copy Step three, find the list of people that I’m sending this email to, you know, and so you break it down to those smaller tasks. And then those tasks can go into your swim lanes, your con bond board, however you it can be on a sheet of paper, it can be sticky notes, it can be electronic software, but it sort of helps you visually see sort of, Okay, here’s the things I have to do today, here are the things I need more information on, here’s where I’m blocked, or someone else is going to take these pieces. And it just helps you sort of figure out piece by piece how this project is going to get done.

Christopher Penn
How do you reconcile or how do you I guess, how do you help people manage those processes? Is there a different way of handling something it from an agile perspective than from, you know, a non agile perspective, I’ll give an example for this podcast, once you record this podcast, which is arguably the hardest part because you have to figure out what you’re going to talk about talk about audio recording. At that point, there’s a, at least in our company, I know there’s a total lack of visibility of what happens after the recording ends until magically on Wednesday morning, it appears. And so for you as a project manager, other than knowing that it’s going to take about this amount of time, there’s no transparency into the process. Is that something that concerns you? Is this something that should concern a project manager if they don’t have visibility into the process?

Katie Robbert
Absolutely. And so what you would want in that instance, when you’re doing your business and technical requirements is some semblance of a standard operating procedure. So step one, again, sort of breaking it down to those tasks, you have to know what you’re managing in order to manage it. Even if you don’t fully understand it, you just need to at least know the steps that go into it. So step one, pick a topic step to record the podcast. Step three, render the audio. Well, but what I would ask of you is to put together a high level process with some time blocks, so you know, editing and rendering the audio 30 minutes, creating the blog post around it. 30 minutes, publishing live 10 minutes, so that that way, at least I have some reference point of checkpoints to say on Wednesday morning, when we go live with our podcast. Okay, Chris, I know that there are about 70 minutes worth of tasks, anything you need, what are you blocked on? And so that way, as the project manager, I at least know what’s supposed to happen, even if I don’t know, the details as to what goes into each thing.

Christopher Penn
Gotcha. When you talk to folks, particularly when you’re talking about process, automation of process optimization, one of the great fears that a lot of folks have, particularly in larger companies is that if the entire process is easily known and documented, then there’s no need for me to have a job because any literally anybody could do it, how do you reconcile that and help someone like that say, okay, with these agile processes with this particular type of management, you’re not putting yourself out of a job if you document what you do.

Katie Robbert
So I think there’s two different conversations there. One is the person who’s doing the job that’s being automated, and one is the person who’s managing the job that’s being automated. So the person who’s doing the job, the value that they bring to the table is that institutional knowledge of how the job is supposed to be done, even if it is repetitive. And so in the instance, where the goal changes, or someone wants a different output, they would then be the go to person to help create the updated process, the new process to help program the machine to do the thing in a different way with a different result. And so, that job, it looks a little bit different. But it’s still a valuable position, because you still need someone to program the machine. And then you need the person to manage the process. You know, here’s what supposed to go into it. Here’s what’s supposed to happen, almost like a quality control person have. I know, at the end of this process, here’s what I am supposed to get. Am I getting this thing or not?

Christopher Penn
As a manager does the do the components of Agile we’ve discussed help you better evaluate employees to figure out like, yeah, this is who to keep this as who who gets voted off the island?

Katie Robbert
In some ways it does. Because agile is actually a very, I know that we’ve sort of gone into a lot of discussion about what it is, but it’s a very simple methodology at its core. And it helps bring forward some of that transparency of what are you doing every day? Are you making progress on the thing, because let’s say you have an email campaign to launch. And let’s say that I give you three weeks to do it. Well, if for two weeks, I’m in the dark about what it is that you’re doing. And there’s no, like there’s no paper trail or tasks getting checked off. And I have no idea if you were actually waiting until the last day of the third week to launch this thing, and you gotta rush through it. Or if you’re actually making progress, getting questions answered, gathering more information. And so in some ways, this like the daily stand up the swim lanes helps the person managing the process of managing the person. See, okay, this person is always get stuck at the same point on these projects. This is where they need professional development, or they always wait till the last minute to do this thing. Nothing ever gets done the right way. And they’re not really proactively trying to get other things off their plate, but yet, they’re saying they’re always so overwhelmed and busy. So it does really give a managers more of that transparency into what’s happening with any individual employee. Gotcha.

Christopher Penn
Because Yeah, the last time that I went through and documented, for example, how we send out the weekly trusted insights newsletter, it’s close to a 40 step process, which is probably something that I need to more clearly write down at some point. When you think about optimizing a process, when you look at something like that, whether it’s agile or traditional waterfall stuff, where do you look for improvements for it so that you can say, yes, this will deliver doing things this way to deliver higher ROI.

Katie Robbert
I don’t know that I go into any situation like that, like knowing the place where it’s going to be optimized. So for me, I sort of need to see what happens start to finish. Maybe you’re taking too long to put your business requirements together, maybe you’re trying to answer questions that you don’t need to answer, and spending more time gathering information that actually isn’t going to affect the output. Maybe the output is more elaborate than the business requirements dictated. It really depends. But it’s something that you’re absolutely right, the whole process should be evaluated. So you can start to determine, okay, what do you keep and what can go and this is a great time for you to take a look at some of your own data to say, this is what people are using, look at your Google Analytics, look at your email open rates, if you’re evaluating your newsletter process, Chris, as you mentioned, it’s a 40 step process.

Christopher Penn
Well, are there places in the newsletter that people aren’t even actually paying attention to? Are there sections that are obsolete or their sections that are more popular? So that’s where I would probably start is with the what is the data telling me that we should be doing? And then you start to evaluate each piece of the process? How easy is it to port something like agile methodology to different well documented processes, I’m thinking like, for example, if you look at the data science lifecycle, business requirements, analytic approach, data collection, data analysis, exploratory data analysis, Data Prep, model, selection, model, evaluation, deployment and tuning, that’s sort of the, you know, a very long, large thing. But in many ways, at least from my experience, that process in machine learning is very much like software development. The only thing that’s missing is there’s no human writing the code when you do the model development. But other than that, it’s it looks like software development. So for anyone who’s interested in analytics and data science, machine learning, is that something that you can can you move from agile development to agile machine learning? Is there such a thing?

Katie Robbert
I honestly don’t know if there’s such a thing as agile machine learning, I would assume that there is a but yes, you can. So what you described with that, with that data science lifecycle is very waterfall. And for those who don’t know, waterfall is a very traditional project management process that if you look at it looks like a step set of stairs, or going down a waterfall. And the reason it’s called that is, you have to finish one section before you can move on to the next. So for example, you have to have your requirements completely defined. Before we can move on to development, development has to be start started and completed in like as one complete project before we can move on to QA and so on so forth. Whereas with agile, the thing I like about it is you break it down into these smaller chunks, and you’re constantly iterating. And you start to see progress a little bit faster. So I would imagine, in what you’re describing, Chris, with machine learning is you can do that same thing. So you start at the top with your business requirements. And that’s the opportunity to break it down into smaller pieces. And that way you can have concurrently multiple data sets, data models, outputs, running

Christopher Penn
every couple of weeks, so that you’re not trying to build one massive thing that’s going to take a year, how vulnerable is agile to people taking shortcuts or cutting corners on things that they shouldn’t be? Because that’s one of my greatest concerns as a machine learning practitioner is watching marketers blow right past like data requirements or business requirements just go out and do let’s let’s do the thing. Let’s get it you know, you listen to exactly say, Oh, we just we just want you know, we just want this right now. Well,

Katie Robbert
it’s 1,000% vulnerable, it’s, it doesn’t matter if it’s an analog process, a software different process, a machine learning term process, that problem doesn’t go away. And that’s where Scrum masters and project managers come in, you need that person to hold the line and say this is process, and not just sort of like, as I’m going to beat you over the head. This is the process. But really to explain and communicate. This is why we need this process. These are the risks involved. If we don’t do it this way, these are the shortcuts that we can safely take because we’ve done our risk evaluation. So you need that person who’s sort of leading the troops leading the charge.

Christopher Penn
That sounds like a very expensive person.

Katie Robbert
Very tired person.

Christopher Penn
Alright, so to wrap up, we can use agile methodologies, either in pieces or in whole to apply to different disciplines from marketing to machine learning to data science to but it requires someone who actually knows what they’re doing to coordinate it you just as as you need individual excellent players in the orchestra, you also need a conductor who has some idea of what the music is supposed to sound like. Any anything we didn’t cover.

Unknown Speaker
Um, yes, but

Unknown Speaker
um,

Katie Robbert
but we can certainly follow up with anyone who have more questions about how to introduce agile methodology, what’s the best place to start for my particular team, it’s not going to look the same for everybody. But if you are looking to start somewhere, I would say start with a daily stand up. That’s probably the easiest, most low cost, you know, low effort way to start to introduce some of these methodologies into your team, regardless of what it is your team does.

Christopher Penn
All right, and as always, you have questions follow up, just simply pop on over to trust insights calm and while you’re there. Please subscribe to our newsletter at our YouTube channel and we will be in talking to you soon. Take care


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