Marketing processes act like your car’s engine. If you neglect them long enough, they sputter and eventually stop running.

You don’t think about how you work as long as marketing efforts progress. Unspoken rules and unwritten assumptions govern how things are done.

Sometimes, the proverbial check-engine light comes on. You stop for a minute, make a quick fix, and get on your way. But mostly, you race from one campaign to the next without thinking about what’s happening under the hood.

Do you stop and investigate when the check-engine light comes on in your #marketing operations, asks @AndreaFryrear via @CMIContent. #Agile Click To Tweet

That operational neglect can get expensive. As budgets tighten and uncertainty looms, marketers can’t afford to lose money by working the wrong way. Process improvement may not be the shiniest item on your to-do list, but it could save so much that you don’t even notice the impact of a budget cut.

Common dysfunctions in marketing ops

In the 2023 State of Agile Marketing Report (gated), the most popular priorities for marketers this year include:

  • Producing higher quality content (40%)
  • Prioritizing the most important work (40%)
  • Better aligning with organizational goals and objectives (39%)
  • Improving the customer experience (38%)
  • Increasing the productivity of our marketing departments (36%)

Also making the list: increasing employee satisfaction and morale (35%), releasing marketing work more quickly (32%), and changing direction in response to feedback (18%).

40% of marketers surveyed say producing higher quality work and prioritizing the most important work are on their to-do list this year, according to @AgileSherpas #marketing report via @AndreaFryrear @CMIContent. #Agile Click To Tweet

Getting in the way of those priorities are some common dysfunctional scenarios. Which sounds familiar to you?

  1. Everybody is busy, but nothing gets done. Anyone inside or outside of a team can recognize this problem. Emails go out at midnight; nobody ever really goes on vacation; weekends are a time to catch up, etc. But despite that frantic effort, all the work just drags.
  2. Priorities aren’t clear (or change all the time). The work starts and stops a lot. Something critical on Monday falls out of favor by Friday. The marketing plan created at the start of the year gets ignored after February.
  3. Work lacks visibility. Even if priorities are clear, the operations can undercut the work if it isn’t visualized. Since no one can see what everybody else is working on, two people replicate the task or spend weeks creating collateral for the same purpose.
  4. Speed and quality don’t get along. You’re always up against deadlines, so you eliminate review rounds or hit publish the minute content is ready. You think you have to choose between speed and agility or quality and excellence.
  5. Lots of activity occurs, but nobody knows the purpose. Your company thinks the graphics team exists to create pretty emails, or the videographers are too into TikTok. When you can’t tie the content’s purpose to the business goals, you risk losing budget and being excluded from strategic conversations.

Too few marketers see these check-engine lights as an opportunity to improve their processes. Yet, that’s the answer.

Improve critical operations

You may have tried to solve those operational challenges by buying a new tool, having more meetings, having fewer meetings, etc. But nothing stuck. It’s like when a gas tank is empty, and you add oil. Doing something is not the same as doing the right thing.

Buying a new tool or having another meeting to fix your operational challenges is like adding oil when your car’s gas tank is empty, says @AndreaFryrear via @CMIContent. #Agile Click To Tweet

Fortunately, nearly a decade of Agile marketing learning can point you toward the most important and impactful operational improvements. The State of Agile Marketing report identifies the three most common techniques used by marketing departments – daily standup (42%), digital Kanban board (36%), and sprint/iteration planning (35%).

Daily standup

The 15-minute strategy session keeps everybody on the same page for 24 hours. Ideally, you hold them every day and discuss only three things:

  1. What have you worked on in the past 24 hours that contributed to the team’s success?
  2. What will you work on in the next 24 hours that will contribute to the team’s success?
  3. What’s getting in your way?

It sounds simple, but it takes a lot of discipline to hold these conversations to those three topics and stick to the 15-minute time.

If you get it right, standups keep work visible, help team members sidestep last-minute requests that derail mission-critical work, and point to places where team members can help each other to get work over the finish line.

A daily standup meeting lasts no more than 15 minutes and addresses only three questions, says @AndreaFryrear via @CMIContent. #Agile Click To Tweet

Digital Kanban board

At their simplest, Kanban boards encompass four columns – to do, doing, review, and done – with white space below them to add items.

Kanban boards can get more complicated and customized, but a simple one is usually your best bet to get started. By visualizing the goals, the board allows the team to get what’s in their heads and inboxes to a place where everyone can see it.

Good leaders don’t use these boards to micromanage their team’s work but to help team members say “no” to work that doesn’t add value to the business or customers.

As a marketer, you likely work with a lot of internal stakeholders who all think their work is the most important thing you could do. Visualized boards help you navigate these competing priorities and assist leaders in recognizing how many things your team juggles.

Only when you have all of your tasks in view can you say yes to great, mission-critical work and not right now to everything else.

Sprint or iteration planning

Sprints are short work cycles, usually two or three weeks, that allow teams to plan, execute, and deliver small chunks of important work. It helps the team avoid missing deadlines or sacrificing quality just to get something out the door.

Also known as iterations, sprints work well to allow clear moments about when to pivot based on incoming data or shifting priorities. You aren’t locked into a giant plan for the next 12 months. Sprints let you adjust what you’re working on closer to real-time.

Don’t let operations deride marketing success

Operations don’t get their fair share of attention, but they are the engine of your marketing machine.

Take the time to diagnose your malfunctions and put in place some Agile-inspired practices, and you’ll keep the marketing vehicle humming along and delivering results that your executives will appreciate.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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