Managing Agility: Resolving The Tension Between Marketing And Technology

Traditional V-shaped software development still dominates many corporate-development efforts, but agile development is making inroads. Agile development can bring faster results with better quality. However, agile development can exacerbate the existing friction between technical and marketing teams—and the impact of this tension on the customer experience could be severe.

Agile development can exacerbate the existing friction between technical and marketing teams—and the impact of this tension on the customer experience could be severe.

Marketing and technical functions have traditionally been at odds with each other. Marketing—much more so than functions like finance or operations—is tied more closely to customer-facing applications that are manifestations of the brand. The tension arises when marketing asks for bells and whistles that add development time without creating much product value—when technology wants to manage fixed resources to produce the best product within those parameters.

This tension can be exacerbated in an Agile environment. Particularly in a fixed-cost project that aims to release an MVP(minimally viable product), insistence from marketing on feature development (often a long tail) could compromise delivery timelines and increase development costs.

As brand and customer experience rely on the interaction between marketing and technical teams, this is an area that calls for more collaboration. To this end, Agile development projects must be aggressively managed.

5 steps for achieving marketing and technology equilibrium

  1. Agree on a baseline. That means agreeing on a definition of MVP—a product that might be slightly imperfect but still gets the job done, rather than wasting valuable time adding a single feature. Closely related is agreeing on a timeline of deliverables with a clear deadline for launch.
  2. Manage the baseline. Seek a common alignment, with daily calls between teams, to proactively prioritize and catalog requirements. Help the marketing team understand tech challenges: A new feature, for example, with somewhat limited business value, might have strong impact on tech budgets and timelines. Perhaps the one or two extra weeks of development could be better served working on other features.
  3. Reshape the profile of the team. The biggest difference in Agile development is cutting out the middle man—marketing talks directly to the tech team. This human interaction is potentially more efficient than adhering to preset and precise specifications that restrict flexibility. But, you need people who understand both technology requirements and marketing needs, and who can explain the tradeoffs. This requires a tech rep who understands the business requirements and can challenge them, and a marketing rep who understands budgets and timelines. To make this work in practice, you also need a project owner who can explain (and manage) the trade-offs.
  4. Reshape the commercial contract. To allow flexibility in development efforts, restructure the commercial arrangement away from fixed costs to a time-and-material (T&M) model. When switching to T&M, the project owner has greater flexibility to decide what the technical team should focus on.
  5. Educate to cascade Agile through all functions in the organization. The implications of Agile extend beyond tech and marketing to other parts of the organization—especially procurement. Often the cost of procurement can push managers to source offshore, which can lead to time delays.

Toward self-sustaining agility

Agility needs to be managed, and that requires a different set of management skills. It’s not enough for one function to adhere to Agile principles—ideally all functions, at minimum those that interact most closely, as technology and marketing do, need to be get on the same page. This requires a) education and b) constant oversight and negotiation until the principles become second nature. Daily interaction will emphasize the importance of sticking to MVP and timelines. The constant insistence will create a self-sustaining Agile development environment.