How Agile And Lean Can Transform Marketing


The role of marketing is to connect an organization with the market in a way that benefits both customer and company. In simple terms, marketing is accountable for ensuring there is a discernable need in the market, which the company can address in a unique, differentiated and profitable way. To achieve this, marketing must bridge the roles of both the voice of the customer as well as company spokesperson.

However, the voice of the customer is now the overriding influence in how brands are defined. Brands are no longer based on the brand promise created by the organization – instead, it is the actions and experiences delivered to the customer. Brand reputation wins over brand promise every time.

In this age of customer obsession and corporate transparency, to deliver the best possible customer experience, brands must wrestle and overcome some key challenges:

  • Rapidly changing markets and customer needs
  • Media saturation and customer communication bombardment
  • Significant fall in customer attention span
  • More ways than ever to engage with the customer

In response to these challenges, marketing teams must become more flexible to changing marketing conditions, better optimize the resources they have available, ensure creativity and diversity of ideas. All this, while continually adapting and testing new techniques to achieve customer breakthrough.

This represents a significant change in the way that marketing teams currently operate. Historically marketing investments are baked into detailed plans that are often out of date before there is even a chance to begin. This marketing planning approach creates a high level of latency that in return, results in the introduction of new processes and procedures to manage and implement the required changes. This amplifies the inherent latency, establishes more complexity and thereby further hinders marketing teams from adapting, testing, creating and innovating to their full potential.

In addition, distance makes these changes harder. Most marketing teams are not co-located a single office. In many cases, marketing team members are located in different offices, countries and time zones with many companies also adopting remote and flexible working. This compounds the challenge of enabling agility and fluidity while maintaining direction, priorities, cohesion, consistency and knowledge flow.

Marketing this way is just not working. We have to find new ways to unlock the potential and talent of our marketing teams , wherever they are located, and to enable them to prosper. So how should marketing respond?

Are there other industry innovations and techniques that can transform marketing back to being a high-performance team? Two well-known methodologies have transformed other industries – could they do the same for the marketing function? They are:

  • Agile methodology
  • Lean manufacturing

So What Is Agile Methodology?

Agile methodology has been adopted by software developers and is an alternative to traditional project management. It helps teams respond to unpredictability and changing, or unknown market needs through incremental, iterative work cadences, known as sprints. It provides an alternative approach to sequential development, traditional waterfall thinking, and long-term planning. Agile teams are also generally highly distributed so they have insights on how best to overcome the lack of proximity of team members.

How Does This Compare To Lean Manufacturing?

The core idea of lean manufacturing is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources. It is a customer-centric methodology used to continuously improve any process through the elimination of waste in everything you do, based on the ideas of “Continuous Incremental Improvement” and “Respect for People.”

My premise is that by adopting the best of Agile and Lean methodologies, a marketing function can be transformed. So which adopted principles can work for marketing?

Agile Methodology

Agile methodology is based on an Agile Manifesto that contains 12 key fundamental principles focusing on an “inspect-and-adapt” approach to all activities. When taken as a collective group these can be consolidated into five principles that are directly applicable to a marketing team:

  1. Responding to change over following a plan
  2. Customer collaboration over internal views
  3. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  4. Real-time pivot over extended deliberation
  5. Team perspective over individual viewpoints

Translating these principles into key behaviors that resonate with how a high-performance marketing team should operate, we have the following:

A1.  Adapt For The Moment
Plans should only be implemented for the right reasons, and that is to deliver a desired outcome. Plans should not be seen as a tick box, an activity that needs to be undertaken just because it was planned. Any activity should be under constant review to ensure it provides the best way to deliver the desired result.

A2.  Seek Real Customer Validation
Develop use cases that can be shared with customers for validation. Run tests or create demonstrations that will bring the customer experience to life and enable real customer feedback. Don’t rely on hypothetical answers to survey questions or academic research, but rather focus on capturing actual behaviors instead. Actions speak a lot louder than words!

A3.  Self-Organize
The vast majority of the Intellectual Property (IP) of a company is held within the talent of the organization. It is imperative that this talent is unlocked so it can contribute where it can deliver the most value.

A4.  Remove Impediments
Time, or lack of time, is one of the greatest obstacles that teams face in acting and creating value. Lack of availability, latency of responses, and poor time keeping for meetings saps the energy of teams and leads to team underperformance. Teams need to become more dynamic and use technologies that promote spontaneous meetings, synchronous communication, and team connectivity.

A5.  As ONE Team
Ultimately it all comes down to creating an environment where success is seen through the eyes of the team rather than the individual. It requires a working environment and culture where self-organizing, networked teams can evolve and develop without hindrance. Where a community can work seamlessly together without the potential source of conflict that gets created with overt rules, processes, authority and power imbalance. It is where team success takes precedence and where recognition is given to teams rather than to specific individuals.

Lean Manufacturing

In the book Lean Thinking (1996) by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, they distilled the lean philosophy into the following five key principles:

  • Specify the value desired by the customer
  • Identify the value stream for each product providing that value and challenge all of the wasted steps currently necessary to provide it
  • Make the product flow continuously through the remaining value-added steps
  • Introduce pull between all steps where continuous flow is possible
  • Manage toward perfection so that the number of steps and the amount of time and information needed to serve the customer continually falls

Translating these principles into key behaviors that resonate with a high-performance marketing team, we have the following:

L1.  Connect Core Purpose To Customer Value
Everything the team does must be seen as being of value to the customer as defined by your core purpose. By value, we mean it needs to have influenced or changed an existing position and made that customer’s life better. Capture that change from prior state to future state in a measurable way, in order to validate what value can be delivered. If you cannot validate it, then don’t do it.

L2.  Focus On The Desired Outcome
Adopt a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) approach where the team looks at the entire process to ensure that the role and impact of each step in that process is fully understood and aligned. There is no point in doing four things well if one thing doesn’t work and breaks the chain. What this means is that you shouldn’t use a proxy, as defined by Seth Godin, as a means of evaluating success. Success of the team can only be measured by the final outcome, not on how well each activity was delivered. A great example of where this should apply is the customer lifecycle where marketing, sales, and support all need to take collective responsibility for establishing customer advocates.

L3.  Devolve From Command And Control
Authority for decision-making needs to be devolved to those team members that have the best understanding of the task at hand. By empowering the team members at the front-line and by giving them ownership for both the problem and the solution, you will be able to create a more dynamic, passionate and energetic team. This will not only speed up the process, but it will also unlock new innovative and creative ideas that can further improve the final outcome.

L4.  Promote Knowledge Flow
Information needs to be set free. It is imperative that every team member has access to relevant information when they need it. It is also important that any latency in regard to information flow is reduced, so everyone has the same real-time information at the same moment. This knowledge flow will help identify dependencies as well as ensure that transitions from one team member to another are seamless and cohesive. Knowledge must be seen as a collective team asset not as individual information.

L5.  Strive For Simplicity
It is not about what you need to put in to achieve a goal, but it is what you are able to leave out and still achieve the same result. It is important to recognize that a decision to leave something out is just as important as a decision to include something. Always strive for simplicity and ensure what you do will always exceed the expectation of the customer.

In summary, by combing both “agile and lean principles”, marketing teams of the future will be characterized by:

  • L1: In one direction; as they know, understand and support the core purpose of the organization, its key priorities, and goals.
  • A1: Adapted for the moment; by doing what is right based on the available information at that precise moment, rather than some historical plan.
  • L2: Focusing on the desired outcome; to ensure that everything you do comes together to create real discernable value for the customer.
  • A2: Validated by the customer; as defined by the customer through real-life behavior and response rather than by some internal perspective or assumption.
  • A3: With the right resources; by enabling teams to assemble the right people to contribute the required insights, innovation and creativity to deliver the most efficient and effective solution.
  • L3: To make the best decisions; by ensuring that the collective views of all team members are considered and incorporated to achieve one voice for the benefit of both the customer and the company.
  • L4: With the best insights; where those decisions are made with the best information available and where every team member can make a considered judgment, based on a consistent team understanding.
  • A4: Without impediments; by bringing everyone together in real-time, without delay, and by avoiding the latency of delayed communication tools to ensure the quickest decision-making and execution possible.
  • L5: In a simplified way; by taking out anything that complicates the relationship to ensure that what is delivered can be the best it can be.
  • A5: As one team; to create a result where the successful outcome is based on overall team effort and collective wisdom rather than individual performance.

By following this combination of agile and lean principles, marketing teams will work better together, irrespective of where individual members are located. It will be transformational and will ensure that the right people, do the right work, in the right moment.

[ Editors Note: Head to our resources section for more specific team tactics from David, that you can use to implement agile and lean principles to create a High-Performance Marketing Team. ]