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.




Develop on Cadence – Deliver on Demand – The Agile Marketing Version

Recently I participated in a steering discussion for one of the large-scale agile marketing implementations I’m consulting. We’re using a marketing variant of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) there – including planning and executing on a quarterly cadence using Program Increments (PIs).

A key struggle that surfaced was: “Planning the quarter just a week or two before it starts is way too late for us since we have so many long-lead-time activities that support us – things like media buys & field event logistics. Can we plan the quarter earlier in the quarter? Should we consider planning the quarter a quarter in advance? “

My take on this is that when we plan the Program Increment we plan whatever work we need to do in that time period. Some of that work will be delivered throughout the quarter & some would be delivered in the next quarter or even later (e.g. when working on the huge annual customer event). The key question to ask is from a Cost of Delay perspective when will we reach the last reponsible moment to start developing the campaign/program and if that moment is in the upcoming quarter it needs to be considered as part of the planning.

Another way to look at some of these activities is as Enablers (Another SAFe concept) – we do them now to enable us to deliver later. At each point in time some of our capacity would be dedicated to the “Runway” which is work that enables later delivery. (This is called Architectural Runway in canonical SAFe but that name is not very appropriate to the Marketing world I guess…).

NOTE – If we find too much of our capacity is dedicated to “Runway” activities it is an indication that our time to market is probably quite long since most deliveries require multiple quarters to mature. We should look at the main reasons we need to use the “Runway” and start to think about ways to minimize the lead time/overheads associated with them.

An example – Purchasing Media for the whole year due to “Economies of Scale”. Does that mean we need to plan media usage for all campaigns almost a year in advance? Or is there an effective way to purchase the media and figure out the most effective use once we actually start to plan out the details for each campaign/activity throughout the year?

This is just one example of the “Lost In Translation” effect when applying Agile in Marketing. What I find helps is remembering the principles/models (That’s part of my role here – making sure people understand lean/agile deeper – beyond the superficial Scrum Master/Sprint/Agile Team level).

Any thoughts?