February 28, 2006
As I wrote about last week, Return Path has been using the Agile Development methodology and Rally Software as our product development framework for about a year now. It’s worked so well for us, that the concepts, and even the tools, have started to spread virally to other parts of our business.
About two months ago, I took over our marketing department as interim CMO. Our marketing efforts have become increasingly complex in the last year or so as we’ve grown and added multiple new product lines, and as a result, the demands on our relatively small department were becoming unmanageable. As I wrote about a couple years ago, Marketing is like French Fries — you can always consume just a little bit more of it — and we were really feeling the strain on our marketing team.
As I thought about the challenges that faced our marketing efforts, they reminded me a lot of the challenges that faced our product development efforts before we implemented Agile/Rally for those teams. Multiple external and internal stakeholders with competing priorities. Poor communication. Needing to be nimble and agile in a process that has some inherent long lead-time items.
So we tried an experiment — we tried implementing Agile Marketing. We have learned a lot in the past couple of months and have adapted the processes a little bit to the needs of marketing, but our marketing planning, execution, and feedback cycles now look an awful lot like our engineering ones. After one week struggling with an Excel spreadsheet, macros, and conditional formatting, we even decided to try using Rally to run our process, even though some if its terms and functionality are really designed for software development.
We now plan marketing in six-week “releases,” each of which has 1-2 core themes and a planning session up front with our head of sales and business GMs. Each release has two, three-week “iterations” where we do mid-course corrections and track our marketing team members’ utilization on projects very deliberately in Rally. Stakeholders can always go into Rally at any time and enter a “feature request” for a new marketing project, which we will schedule in at the next iteration. The marketing team has a daily stand-up to review progress and identify roadblocks. And we still have enough slack in the system that we can handle a couple of last-minute opportunistic items (love those French Fries) which invariably come up.
So far, so good. Our marketing team has a much more solid plan of attack for its work, and we have been able to regain control of our marketing agenda, getting input and feedback from stakeholders to help shape it along the way. Cross-group communication and transparency are way up, productivity is up, noise and friction are down.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty good system, and we’ll continue to refine it along the way. But it’s catching on…last time I checked, a third group at Return Path was about to dive in and try it as well — Agile Sales Operations and Business Analytics, here we come!