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Agile Marketing – It’s not the technology, stupid

Every day my LinkedIn feed is full of advice on how to implement a new CMS for more agile marketing outcomes. It’s as if marketing automation is the holy grail that’s going to deliver transformation and spare us the challenges of disruption.

If only.

Truth is, while we have moved on from the circa 2000 fear of being dotcommed to the new threat of being Ubered, a new CMS, no matter how clever, isn’t going to be the saviour.

 The real job of transformation is unchartered territory for almost all businesses.   The Internet arrived and promised so much, not the least of which was massive cost savings. But then along came mobile and we have gotten no closer to finding a roadmap. And that’s because there is none.

 Disruption guru Clayton Christensen identified the issue a while ago – incumbents tend to stick to the old ways of doing things, while the new players build new products and services that disrupt markets. Think Amazon, Uber, AirBnB . . .

 For the most part the issues presented by digital change are new. Even well managed companies such as Microsoft, have struggled to make the required changes quickly enough.

 So where do you start with this work? Who should you trust? And is there a guide book?

 The most important thing to acknowledge is that software is a tool. These days it’s almost all good, it’s almost all generic and it does nothing without human intervention.

 And that is the crux of the problem. The real issues of digital transformation are about the people first. Only then is it about the technology.

 The challenge of this brave new world is how do you organise for this change and how do you manage your business. It’s easy to identify ways not to manage it.

 In 1944 the CIA wrote a manual on how to sabotage productivity. Ironically, the behaviour they prescribe is commonplace today.   Want to stop any project? Simply point out the risk and until that’s addressed nothing else will happen.

 Fortunately there is a model, if not a roadmap. The model goes back to Henry Ford’s days, and was improved 40 years ago by the Toyota founders. Fast forward to 2001 when the Agile process arrived as a different way to manage IT projects. Like Henry Ford’s production lines and Toyota’s JIT processes, Agile is a methodology. And if you adopt at least some of it, you have the tools to build your own roadmap..

 So how do you start – well McKinsey calls this an adhocracy. Perfect for a environment of maximum uncertainty.

 Step 1: Organise around a problem:

 These days all problems are complex. The easy ones were solved a long time ago. This means pulling together a cross-functional team and empowering them to make decisions. Make sure that active engagement with the customers is a key part of the way these people work. Fix the timeline but accept the requirements are going to change.   

Step 2: Make decisions by trial and error

 Rather than spend long periods of time creating plans, SOW and the other artefacts of risk mitigation – do this work at a high level, make it lightweight and iterate and improve as you go. Rather than try to do everything, focus on small incremental changes and iterate.   Get things done before moving on. Test early and often.

Step 3: Motivate with stretch goals and recognition.

 Teams are capable of remarkable things when they are all pointed in the same direction with a common sense of purpose and a feeling of ownership.  Reward this behaviour rather than the behaviour that drives the rest of the organisation.   The measure of success should be the solution to the problem.

 Step 4: Ensure collaboration and transparency

 Get the secret agendas out of the way with transparency and collaboration. In fact build a culture around team collaboration and reward team behaviour.   Make sure the team understand the rest of the roles on the team.  

 This all looks reasonably simple but it’s really difficult. Simple things can conspire to make this transformational work impossible.

The governance frameworks of the past were all about “what if something goes wrong”. Now, the biggest risk is not getting started in the first place.

When you do get it all right remarkable things are possible.

 What’s more, the people on the project will love the work because they’re empowered to make a difference and we all want to feel we’re doing that.

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