How Marketing and Creative teams are making the switch to Agile.
There is a lot of buzz these days about Marketing and Creative teams moving away from the traditional Waterfall workflow and towards an Agile methodology. Some teams are using Agile exclusively, others are using a mix of both. Neither solution is right or wrong, but they are very different, and the degree to which each is appropriate depends entirely on the situation at hand.
During my research into Agile and Waterfall processes, I’ve discovered that there are many differences in what people think “Agile” and “Waterfall” mean. It’s hard to find any two creative teams that are using either of these methodologies in exactly the same way.
I thought it may be helpful to those of you considering either switching to Agile or adding it to your process mix if I provided a little background and some examples of how the two systems can work both independently and as a combined approach.
The waterfall is a mostly linear process that was developed in the 1970’s for manufacturing and engineering process management. The workflows from one stage to another in a linear process, with one step being completed and approved before the next step begins. It works best in a predictable situation on projects in which the full scope can be decided on up front. A change late in the cycle using a Waterfall approach can be very costly, especially for software development projects.
Agile was developed in 2001 as a method for managing the complex software industry environment. In the Agile environment, work is done for different aspects of the project all at the same time, in iterative steps with daily stand-ups and team reviews. The approach is best suited to projects with a very large scope and/or when lots of change is expected during the project. The Agile methodology is built in anticipation of change and works best when project scopes are hard to predict or frequently changing.
It makes sense that Agile was developed for large-scale software projects where a few different teams may be involved and need to be infrequent, early communication. In a Waterfall process, for example, the design and coding would be completed in separate stages and there is a high possibility that once completed, the two components would not work together. Imagine the issues that could arise if the design for the search page of a website is created and approved in stage one, then in stage 5, the team learns that the design is not possible to implement due to coding issues. You’d have to go back to stage 1 and completely redesign the page, losing time and costing money that was most likely not budgeted. In a Waterfall workflow, the scope of the project is set up front, along with the budget and timeline. Stakeholders do not usually review the project until later stages, which can cause a delay if what they see isn’t what they expected and the project has to go back to an early stage for a redesign.
In the Agile environment, the page design and the coding phase happen at the same time in iterative steps. During the daily stand up meetings, the creative team and the Dev team work together to ensure that the code and the design support each other. Change is not only accepted, it’s expected and planned for.
More recently, as business leaders at software companies have seen the benefits of their product team working in an Agile framework, they’ve started to instruct other departments, including marketing and creative, to become Agile. Some teams have adopted Agile, some are holding out, and many are caught in the middle, unsure where to start or bogged down in the change management of a system that doesn’t always make sense for their team. This begs the question, does Agile really work outside of the dev team?
There are certainly drawbacks to the Agile framework. By embracing change and opening work up to frequent review and revision, timelines can drag. Opening review up to a wider audience can create a “design by committee” situation, and experts can be drowned out in a sea of opinions. In the world of Marketing, there are certain kinds of campaigns that are expensive, like video production or print materials. The early stages of production for these types of assets can certainly be iterative, like brainstorming video ideas, but its ridiculous (and expensive) to keep making copy edits after you send the digital files to the printer. On the other hand, however, sticking with the “mad men” style of creative work where the client sees nothing until the end, is much more costly than taking the time to do a few more rounds of review and revision early in the process.
Clearly, this isn’t a black and white issue. There are many ways to work within both process environments. What seems to be commonplace, due to the confusion between the two processes, is a hybrid framework that is neither purely Waterfall nor Agile, but that incorporates the best of both worlds. In these cases, you’ll find a traditional Waterfall-ish track with individual milestones, each associated with a timeline and assigned to a specific person or team. But rather than waiting to share designs with clients and stakeholders until the end of the cycle, the team holds daily or twice weekly stand-ups to share the work in iterations. Once the work is nearing completion, it goes out for final approvals, legal approvals, and final proofing before the work is released.
In an effort to understand how marketing and creative teams are dealing with the choice between switching to Agile or staying with Waterfall, I am collecting data from Creative Directors and Project Managers across the country to see how in-house teams are using Agile and Waterfall processes to manage their workloads. Be on the lookout for survey findings coming soon!
About the author: Debbie Kennedy is former Head of Advertising Operations with CarMax, and is currently Product Marketing Manager for Capital One, and CEO of Write for You, a Digital Content and Creative Workflow Consulting Firm based in Richmond, Virginia. She’s been a power user and advocate of inMotionNow since 2014.