Agile Marketing Validation Board

“Validated Learning Over Opinions and Conventions” is the first value in the Agile Marketing Manifesto. A couple of weeks ago I was helping form what we call a “Marketing Agile Release Train” – a group of Agile Marketing teams each focused on supporting the business activities of a key product/solution in a large portfolio. The way we do this is typically a combination of some Agile Marketing training followed up by actual high level planning of their first quarter followed by a deep dive into their first iterations/sprints.

One of my personal peeves while teaching Agile Marketing is this whole validation/experimentation/learning thing. In other words the difference between increments and iterations. It’s not iterating if you’re not inspecting and possibly adapting along the way.

Let me emphasize – Just taking a big campaign and breaking it into small tasks and planning two weeks at a time while running demos to show what you’ve accomplished and daily standups to make sure progress is according to plan and solving emerging problems is just a glimpse of what Agile Marketing is really about.

This is why when we got to high level planning I felt something was missing from how the teams were planning. They were working on an MVP BOM – A Minimally Viable Program Bill Of Materials describing the minimum aspects of the campaign/program they were focusing on. It was a good start to focus on smaller more minimal programs/campaigns and working incrementally, but I felt the iterative/learning message was missing from the discussion once we moved from theory to practice.

At that point I recalled the “Lean Startup Validation Board“. I first learned about the Validation Board and practiced using it as a mentor in a “Lean Startup Machine” event back in Tel Aviv. It is a practical hands on planning tool that focuses you on what you don’t know and need to learn.

In the classic Lean Startup context it should help you in your search for a Product Market Fit. You start by identifying your hypothesis around who are your potential customers, what’s the problem you think they have, and what solution might fit their need. You then try to think what are your core assumptions that would need to be true in order for all your hypothesis to be true. You look for the riskiest assumption – the one you feel might be the first one to bring your house of cards down. Then you structure experiments/validated learning around that. If your experiment validates your assumption you move to the next assumption. If it invalidates it you need to pivot to another set of hypothesis’s and start the core assumptions validation process again.

Is this a good fit for an Agile Marketing context? While watching the teams plan their “MVP”s I was trying to think about that. My conclusion is that the core idea is very useful but needs a bit of tweaking.

The “Minimum” tweaking I would do is to change from “Solution Hypothesis” to “Marketing Solution Hypothesis”. When I say Marketing Solution I include things like channel or message. An example of a channel hypothesis might be – “we think that Snapchat can be a useful marketing channel for us”. A messaging hypothesis might be “During a snow storm people would really connect to messages regarding vacations in warm places”. 

Most of the teams we were working with this time around were focused on scaling/growing revenue which means that there’s already a Product Market Fit and they were trying to find new creative ways to leverage that fit by getting to more people in the identified market and optimizing the customer’s journey.

In general I think we need to differentiate between the search for Product Market Fit which is mainly a Product Development activity (which Marketing can be a supporting function in) and the search for the best way to streamline the customer’s journey – which is typically the role of Agile Marketing teams. These two activities might use similar tools and techniques but are quite differently focused. And in both cases there’s the potential for a lot of uncertainty and therefore stating your hypothesis and validating your core assumptions are key.

So if you’re serious about Agile Marketing, don’t just plan tasks. Plan experiments aimed at validating assumptions. Plan to learn. Plan to iterate.




Are we there yet? Assessing Agile Marketing Maturity

This was originally published over at the AgileSparks Blog where my colleagues and I are now blogging pretty frequently. 

In a recent Agile Marketing Meetup in Boston we tried to figure out how mature are the Agile Marketing teams/organizations out there. Last week I helped facilitate a third quarterly Agile planning event (also known as SAFe PI Planning or Big Room Planning) for a group of agile marketers I’ve been working with for the past year. This was a good opportunity to ask this question.

To help facilitate the discussion I created a maturity depth assessment. I took our Lean/Agile Depth Assessment  and adjusted it to the context of Agile Marketing by looking at the Agile Marketing Manifesto. The result is a set of dimensions aligned with the Agile Marketing Manifesto as well as some deeper Lean Thinking aspects that are missing from the manifesto.

What we then did in the quarterly planning meeting was to quickly introduce this concept and then run a quick finger-vote check for each dimension asking the group where they think they were in the journey between “Not/Barely Started” to “Crushing it consistently” (Scale inspired by Mike Burrows’s AgendaShift).

BTW We initially planned to survey the group about each specific question in the survey but we sensed it was a bit too much for a Friday afternoon. Surveying for the dimensions while giving some color to what they mean by reading some of the specific criteria turned out to be a quick and valuable compromise.

After establishing where we thought we were, we asked ourselves which areas do we feel were the biggest gaps for us. This drove a fascinating discussion about how our planning process should look like, how it should balance the long-lead-time needs of marketing organizations with keeping options open and deferring commitment.

Despite the Friday afternoon “death slot” standing between the marketers and their flight homes (or drive up to the mountain to go skiing…) the discussion was lively and heated. Which was a good sign.

PS If you want a copy of the Agile Marketing Depth Assessment send me an email at

This was originally published over at the AgileSparks Blog where my colleagues and I are now blogging pretty frequently.