In some companies, the marketing department spends more on IT than the IT department.

When I first saw this shocking statistic I realised it has some real consequences for how marketers structure and run not only their departments, but also their relationships with their agencies.

One impact is that the work itself has changed. Clients used to brief their agency, who would spend a month or three creating a TV commercial. Then we would flight the commercial and hope it brought in some sales. The same goes for print and radio.

The client signed off on the script of the radio or TV commercial, or approved the copy and layout on the print ad, but then it was over to the agency to deliver the completed commercial, or brochure, or flyer or whatever. If the marketing material worked, it worked. If it didn’t, the agency and client would start again.

Everything changed 20 years ago with the first websites. For the first time, clients had a marketing project that was never finished. Of course, lots of websites are basically online brochures, but the most effective websites are constantly changing to meet customer needs, pain points and desired business outcomes.

In fact, in some cases the website has literally become the business.  Most of an online retailer’s business is the website. A lot of what a customer needs from a bank is the website.  Travel agents, agencies, even training providers don’t need offices or shops anymore. A good website will deliver the customers to the business. In many cases, the only interaction the customer has with the business is with the website. Banking is a great example of this. A customer can visit a banking website, open an account, pay bills and transact, and never visit the bank branch.

Websites are constantly being tweaked and improved. They’re always under development. Project managing a modern website has more in common with the world of software than the world of marketing. That’s because software is also something that is never finished. There’s always an update to software. There are always tweaks to the functionality, or the look and feel, or bugs that are being ironed out.

Working on projects that are never finished – such as websites or software – is different from working on projects that have an end goal, like the traditional marketing activities of producing brochures or TV, print and radio commercials.

The traditional project management tools work well for traditional marketing activities. Gantt charts, critical path analyses, resource allocation, time tracking – all those tools work incredibly well for projects with an end state. The Gantt charts look a bit like water flowing over rapids, so they have gained the nickname of the “waterfall.”

For 20 years now, software projects have been using another framework or methodology, called Agile.

Agile software development depends much more on a feedback loop between the end user and the developer. If the development team changes the interface of the app they’re working on, and the customer doesn’t like it, then the dev team needs to incorporate that feedback, and the quicker the better. That’s what the Agile framework allows.

At Accenture we’ve been watching the world of marketing slowly merge with the world of software development, and we’ve had some great successes helping customers adapt their “waterfall” approach to project management to the new (for marketing anyway) approach of using Agile marketing.

It makes marketing teams more responsive when adapting to what works and doesn’t work.

Of course, when the nature of the work changes, there are lots of knock-on effects.

As the project management tools change, so too does the way the work is structured and performed. As the structure of the work changes, the project teams need to change. And as the project teams change, the leadership structure has to change. That has a knock-on effect to the culture, and how to brief agencies, and what to expect from status meetings. The culture of the whole industry is starting to change.

Are you using traditional “waterfall” methods to manage your projects, or are you moving to an Agile methodology? What is driving your decision? What knock-on effects have you noticed?

I’d love to hear from you.

Haydn Townsend

Haydn Townsend

Managing Director – Accenture Interactive, Africa

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