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How Marketers Can Use Lean and Agile Principles

Hal Conick

​Lean and agile principles, popular for decades in manufacturing, are now becoming popular in marketing. How can marketers use these principles to their advantage?​​

When Ellie Mirman led a marketing team at HubSpot, she’d watch in awe as the company’s engineering team worked on new projects in short-but-methodical bursts. The team would use these monthlong bursts, called sprints, to create and test potentially valuable projects. At the end of each sprint, the team examined what was successful and what wasn’t—if something was successful, it was adopted; if it wasn’t, it was ditched. “We were working really close with them,” says Mirman, who served as HubSpot’s director of marketing for the inbound funnel. “It rubbed off on us, and we decided to give it a shot.”

Each month, Mirman’s team focused on a new sprint—the most important projects were tested first—and eschewed other new ideas until future months. After many sprints, Mirman had a better view of which marketing projects were wasteful, which were worthwhile and which needed changes. “Let’s look at this month: What worked, what didn’t and what can we cut?” Mirman says she’d ask her team after each sprint. Like the engineering team, Mirman’s team adopted the programs that worked and ditched those that didn’t. 

Sprints are a common tool in agile and lean processes, two complementary practices popular for decades in manufacturing. Now, these processes are becoming popular across marketing departments: AgileSherpas’ State of Agile Marketing 2018 reports that 77% of marketing departments using agile practices adopted them in the past five years. Additionally, 44% of agile marketers say that they use a hybrid methodology, such as the lean-agile combination that Mirman implemented at HubSpot. (She’s now CMO of Crayon.co​, a market and competitive intelligence company, and continues to integrate lean-agile processes into marketing practice.) 

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Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at hconick@ama.org or on Twitter at @HalConick.