One of Axonn’s ever-growing challenges has been finding the best way to deliver a cross-functional service for clients. Over the course of the next few months, I’m going to be keeping a ‘warts and all’ diary of our attempts to overcome this challenge by applying agile principles - also known as ‘agile marketing’ - in what could lead to a full structural revolution for our business. Part one focused on whether agile marketing can make your life easier, and in part two, we're looking at preparing to start agile marketing.
How do you know your company is ready to take an agile approach to marketing?
While I’ve been immersing myself in the agile approach and its application to marketing, I’ve been comforted by the fact that we already have practices and setups in place that fit the approach. This makes the process of building a case internally that much easier.
1. Iterative new client implementation process
A client’s first six to eight weeks is defined by a series of touchpoints that help them to understand our service, how we’ll work together, and supply us with the minimum preliminaries we need to start work - their objectives or target audience, for example.
Although originally intended to get client strategies live to schedule, it has the convenient consequence of focusing an entire cross-functional team on a common set of goals, refined through a series of regularly occurring planning and review meetings they all have to attend. In effect, we already have a flexible working structure that can be easily adapted to take an agile approach.
2. Estimating team work, effort and resources
A big part of agile is being able to make realistic estimates about the amount of effort required to complete a deliverable piece of work. There are lots of methods for doing this, such as Planning Poker, which all rely on defining the effort required to complete one task, relative to another, using some kind of easy-to-understand ‘currency’ for the work required. With over 15 years experience producing content for clients, we’ve already got a very effective, flexible unit system that everyone at Axonn uses as a proxy for deciding the effort/cost of doing any work.
3. Encouraging generalising specialists
For all our difficulties, we have a culture of thinking cross-functionally. The fact we have so many skilled people capable of doing different things for our clients is a massive strength, and one that has defined how we have evolved our business. We have created hybrid roles among our production teams and have a history of people performing different roles within the company.
Account managers have become business development executives and data analysts, while writers have transferred to the design team to become content creatives, who bridge the gap between editorial and graphics services. Currently, we’re trialling a hybrid account management role where select members of our production team double as account managers for clients they already work closely with, and are remunerated accordingly. In short, we already recognise our best staff tend to be generalising specialists.
What still needs to be done to make agile marketing work at your agency?
All that said, there’s still lots that we need to overcome as an agency if we’re going to make agile work.
1. Collaborating while working miles apart
Spotify’s success with agile on a global scale is very reassuring. Nevertheless, getting agile teams to work effectively when the members have very limited face-to-face contact is a very real challenge. For example, some of our staff in different offices are in daily contact with each other but have never actually met in person. We really don’t know yet how we’ll get around that, or if there is actually a solution that doesn’t involve a serious look at our regional set-up.
2. Friction is most prevalent in collaborative processes
As I said at the beginning, getting different teams to work collaboratively is one of our biggest challenges. In many respects, it is where we are least effective as a business. As much due to our scale as our team set-up, problems we do encounter tend to take too long to solve.
3. Transitioning mature, inflexible clients
A great deal of our clients will be incredibly resistant to any change in approach to how we manage our service. Maintaining our legacy processes while simultaneously getting used to a new agile structure is a potentially substantial challenge for us to overcome.
How do we start experimenting with agile marketing?
My objective over the coming months is to find opportunities to apply an agile way of working to projects we undertake. This will help us to do two things.
Firstly, we get to see whether we can do agile without detrimenting our service or profitability. In principle, agile should improve both of these things, but until we try it we won’t know.
Secondly, as we get more people involved applying agile to their work, we’ll start the more difficult process of changing people’s mindset and the overall working culture at Axonn, by using an approach that makes collaboration a priority.
This last point will be our greatest gain. Even if agile doesn’t work out for us in the long run, we’ll learn a lot more about what’s required to make cross-functional collaboration work as well as it should.
In the next post, senior travel writer Kristy Moore will explore the challenges remote working poses to an agile approach, and different ways we've tried to overcome them.