Three pitfalls to avoid when setting up agile marketing teams

Simply allowing teams to work remotely doesn't make them agile, says Peter Gough, managing partner & founder, ORM.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the biggest tests of companies’ agility – the ability to adapt rapidly to new circumstances, respond to emerging opportunities, and avoid new threats.

Businesses that were perhaps a little too comfortable in their niches are waking up to the reality that no industry is ever immune to sweeping, unforeseen disruptions. Consequently, many businesses are revising their focus on agility, but some fall victim to needless mistakes in the process.

Allowing teams to work remotely doesn’t make them agile, and neither does adapting your business to meet the immediate needs of the COVID era. Becoming agile calls for a complete business transformation that follows a “test, fail, learn, repeat” methodology” embraced by all employees. This article highlights the most common pitfalls businesses need to look out for as they embark on their agility journey.

Neglecting a customer-centric mindset

Because the journey to agility is an internal process, it’s easy to become preoccupied with making improvements for improvement’s sake. Ultimately, businesses are there to serve their customers, and this relationship should guide any changes. A Deloitte report asserts that customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than competitors. Similarly, Dimension Data reveals that 81% of organisations use their customer experience (CX) as a competitive differentiator.

In their quest for agility, too many businesses get tripped up by haphazardly improving their internal capabilities, such as reorganising their teams around channel or capability only. This may seem like a smart way to operate, but it’s not customer-centric since customers traverse numerous channels along their journey.

The preferred option would be to create multidisciplinary teams working in a matrix-oriented model instead of siloed functions. This will equip the business to respond to varying customer needs quickly, and it will allow data to flow freely through the organisation. To operate efficiently, agile businesses need regular tweaking, so use 360 feedback and regular reviews to make sure the structure matches prevailing conditions.

Take UK integrated energy company EDF Energy for example, which assigned a fully committed team of six to develop an online product to reduce complaints related to smart meters. The team engaged directly with customers for real-time feedback and testing to create iterative prototypes. Within six weeks, the team was ready to pilot the finished product, a feat they would not have achieved without engaging the customer every step of the way.

Fearing failure 

Hesitation is the enemy of agility. While becoming agile is a daunting process, an agile mindset requires being experimental, innovative, and learning by doing. Therefore, some ideas may fail. Indeed, out of every ten ideas for a new product or service, only one or two might make the cut. Adopting an agile mindset requires moving on from failures and not viewing them as unnecessary waste. After all, every failed prototype signifies learning and money saved.

Major UK bank NatWest established six agile teams comprising 10 members each to develop digital solutions for national youth charity Prince’s Trust. The 60 participants collaborated swiftly to “hack” two challenges and produce prototypes. Using set criteria to identify the most viable solutions, a panel of judges eventually selected only two out of 10 solutions. However, the teams appreciated that the process – which took a mere six hours – wasn’t a wasted exercise but rather the best way forward.

Traditional, failure-averse businesses might find this hard to swallow, but failure is an integral part of such an experimental process. The reality is that it’s how modern businesses operate, as evidenced by FAANG corporations that boast higher share value than conventional businesses.

However, even though investing in agility requires firm commitment, it doesn’t mean every experiment has to involve placing all your bets at once. Multiple small efforts can often be worth more, and they offer an excellent opportunity to resolve difficulties with the methodology or test new internal processes.

Using the wrong tools 

Businesses are often reluctant to invest in new tools, especially in a pandemic when budgets are even tighter. However, persisting with old tools and systems after a “transformation process” isn’t transformation – it’s merely reorganisation. The full range of benefits an agile business has to offer can only be accessed by adopting the right tools and technology, as they enable swift communication, data processing and implementation.

The first businesses to adapt during the pandemic were those with a cloud-native infrastructure that allowed them to work remotely and scale to meet demand. These are ones to emulate since they’ve illustrated the advantages of modern technology.

Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and Jira have become indispensable for many, and agile businesses should apply similar digital migrations to other processes. This will differ from company to company, but fortunately it’s a cinch to find the right SaaS solution.

Be prepared for the unexpected

Becoming agile is a unique and exciting opportunity, but it won’t come without its challenges. Businesses should continue by mapping out their transformation, setting internal expectations, and keeping clients informed of the change. Addressed correctly, the obstacles will eventually diminish, and success will come in abundance.

  • ORM is a digital strategy and transformation agency headquartered in London, UK, with offices in Wrocław and New Jersey.

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