3 Obstacles of Agile Methodology and How to Overcome Them

Over the past couple years, non-tech industries have gradually adopted a project methodology held dear by software developers everywhere: Agile Methodology (click the link for an excellent agile definition, brought to you by the world’s greatest website, Wikipedia). Our own company does agile marketing—specifically Agile Scrum—which we found to be an appropriate move, given that we’re an IT staffing company. According to an article written in Forbes, “as CMOs become more and more responsible for growth, they have an unprecedented need for speed and flexibility. In today’s always-on, always-connected market, those two factors equal a tremendous competitive advantage. With the pace of change in customer needs, the CMOs who figure Agile out first and best will outperform in their markets.”

The challenge: it’s hard to adopt an agile methodology meant for a different industry. Our team recognizes that agile marketing does not look the same as agile software development. The sixth annual Agile survey  put out by CMG Partners  found that 63% of marketing leaders said that agility is a high priority, however a mere 40% rated themselves as being agile.

How could this be? Maybe it’s because these non-tech teams aren’t used to Agile. Maybe it’s because they don’t feel confident in themselves. Maybe it’s because they don’t know how to overcome the challenges of the method.

In an attempt to help teams like us reap the benefits of Agile methodology, here are three obstacles that our team commonly faces, and our suggestions for how to overcome them.

1. Misestimating Time/Scope of tasks

Misestimating the amount of time it will take you to complete your assigned tasks for a sprint cycle can impact the rest of the team in a big way. I personally get in trouble by optimistically overestimating what I can accomplish in one sprint. What I tend to ignore is all the little things that pop up in a week that will inevitably take time away from my bigger projects I had originally planned on working on. Generally, this means I often don’t finish large projects by the time I wanted to.

My solution to the problem: don’t stress about it too much. The whole point of Agile is to be, well, agile. Things come up sometimes, and that’s ok. The best thing to do is to set realistic expectations. A way to better estimate how long a project could take you would be to keep a timesheet of the amount of time you spend on a specific task over the course of a sprint, and then compare that to the actual amount of time/number of days over which it took you to complete the task. Let’s say you have a task that ends up being ten hours of work, and you can complete it over three days. The next time you have a similar project, you’ll have a better idea of what the timeline will be.

(For more tips and causes of poor estimation, check out what this developer has to say)

2. Dealing with remote Team Members

In an article outlining how NPR.org uses Scrum, one writer says, “Much of the success of Scrum comes from greasing the wheels of communication, putting team members close together enough that ‘you can just yell for a piece of gum.’” But what if some of your guys are remote? Moreover, what if remote work is new for your team? Trust me when I say that Agile is 100% possible even remotely. The software industry has been doing it with Agile development for years.

Lot’s of developers even got rich making remote work easier for themselves. If you’re having a hard time communicating with your team, invest in an online project management platform like Basecamp (which is what we use). Not every project management site will work for every team, so do a little research. Here’s a great place to get started.

3. When Agile doesn’t “fit” the type of work you’re doing

If you’ve had a problem fitting your marketing workflow into the Agile methodology framework, that’s probably because Agile wasn’t invented for you. Don’t sweat it–you don’t have the follow the method to a T. But let’s say you’re not project based, but rather have ongoing work with big picture/abstract results. My recommendation is to focus on these two things:

Outcomes over Output: one blogger writes adamantly about focusing on outcomes over output. “How many cases did we close? How many features did we release? How many emails, phone calls, etc. did we make? We think about our work in terms of output because it is easy to measure, but it’s not what really matters.” Focus on what’s coming down the road–the things that will have the biggest impact on your customers’ lives.

Track Metrics: Make sure that while you’re on your journey to your awesome outcomes, you measure how you’re doing. It’s important to track your metrics, and also to make sure you’re attracting quality traffic. One blogger writes, “Poor marketers can shift the focus to metrics that are more attractive, but not necessarily helpful for measuring success. For example, 20,000 views on Reddit doesn’t do you too much good if those who visited the company website were only there for a few seconds and then navigated to another site.”

And here’s my last bit of advice: if you don’t think Agile methodology is working for your team, stick with it for a little while longer. Make some adjustments. Customize. No two teams are exactly the same, so find what works for you. Agile project management is possible!

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