How to REALLY Add Learning to your Agile Marketing Flow

Adding Learning/Feedback to the Value Stream — A core aspect of Agile “Inspect and Adapt” — Especially on Agile Marketing teams.

Whenever I work with a team, program, value stream, or whatever group of people that are trying to establish a leaner/more agile way of working that inspects and adapts along the way I mention the fact that feedback/learning should be part of their flow (Eric Ries has a good story about it in the Lean Startup btw).

I’m working more and more with “Agile Marketing” teams and organizations where this is even more of an emphasis than usual.

Learning on the Agile Marketing Team

Take this Product Marketing Team I started to work with. We figured out what’s bothering them in their current way of working, analyzed their work and the demands from them, created a value stream and a Kanban Board, and they started to use it. (See Kanban Kickstart Field Guide for a great though in-depth description of how to do this)

Part of the discussion was around the fact that there’s a lot of uncertainty in Marketing around “is this going to have the impact/outcome we expect?” (see this Agile Marketing Manifesto for some insights about this)

We agreed it makes sense to pay much more attention to feedback/learning.

We therefore included a “Learn” lane before “Done!” on the Kanban board/Value Stream.

We then met a week or so later to see how they’re doing.

After The First Week Of Agile Marketing — Work is flowing better

Agile Marketing Team - Week 1

One of the marketers on the team said — “We already see the results. Things are actually getting done since we’re so focused.” and indeed there were already some items in the Done lane.

I acknowledged this positive progress. And then naively asked them how did the “Learning” go for these tasks. (Fully knowing I’m asking a nasty question… You gotta allow a coach his fun moments…).

Marketing Kanban Learning Empty1

Turns out they didn’t really do the learning. That’s actually very natural. Acknowledging there’s uncertainty and we need to inspect and adapt is one thing. Agreeing to add a “Learn” or “Feedback” step to the flow is another. Agreeing on what that means explicitly is yet another step forward. But actually doing the learning as part of your cycle — now that’s the hardest step.

Is there a learning opportunity here? (Exercise For Agile Marketing Teams)

Learning Categorization

We then ran an exercise to make this “learning” concept more concrete for them and grow their “learning/feedback” muscle.
We took all the “done” cards aside. We created on their whiteboard two areas. One for “Need to Learn” and another for “Learning Not Applicable”. They then took turns pulling cards from the “Done” pile to either of these areas. This was a great opportunity to discuss what it really means to learn from activities like publishing a blog post, adding an email to a nurture campaign, publishing an internal release notes or guidance article, preparing for a product launch.

I thought it was a fascinating exercise and I’m going to repeat it with teams and programs whether they are a Marketing or Product Development value stream. Now you know how to use it as well.

Making learning part of the agile marketing flow

Now, Ideally, the way this works is as part of scoping the work you decide whether there’s a learning opportunity in this specific deliverable you’re about to start. (One option is to categorize it according to uncertainty level… is there an hypothesis there…)

Marketing Kanban Ready to Learn

Then when the deliverable is approaching “Done” (in this case after “Enabling” the deliverable meaning we point to it on all the relevant channels so people can see it during their journey) we look at whether this is a learning opportunity deliverable or not. (Based on the initial tagging/classification as well as what we learned along the way…).

When “Learning Not Applicable” we can just pull the deliverable to done. When “Need to Learn” it can stay in “Enable — Done” until we are able to learn.

In many cases learning will require time to collect data. (e.g. what’s the open rate on this email campaign. What’s the CTR. What’s the conversion. What’s the bounce rate). Setting a “due date” for when it makes sense to review/learn would help you manage these ongoing experiments that require reviewing at some point.

Agile Marketing Learning/Feedback Review Meetings

Then, what I would recommend to most teams is to have a cadence of “Learning/Feedback Review Meetings” where they look at experiments and review the learning. Both finished experiments as well as ongoing experiments to see if the experiment is proceeding and makes sense so far and whether it needs to be adjusted.

Try This On Your Agile Marketing Team

So — are you calling yourself an agile team? An Agile Marketing team? If so, are you learning as part of the value stream? I suggest you try this exercise in your next retrospective, review, as a short question in your daily standup or just as a separate discussion. See if you’re learning enough and grow your learning/feedback muscle. Create a list of “hints” that a deliverable is a learning opportunity.

If you’d like me to write more about Agile Marketing and/or provide a list of these “hints” or “examples” for learning opportunities in a marketing environment, drop me a line here.

PS I’m writing this article for the Agile Marketer persona. But it applies for other contexts as well obviously. Ranging from Personal Kanban thru Enterprise Software to Agile Sales to Agile Kids. Apply your own language and context and see how this works.

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