Maximize Content Efficiency With These 7 Agile Practices

Content marketing teams rarely talk about efficiency.

You frequently discuss quality, conversions, and brand alignment. Your primary concerns center around the awesomeness of what you do and the results of that work. Any talk of systems and processes usually takes a back seat.

However, for more marketing teams, the system conversation is moving into the front seat because a system can direct you to do the right work at the right time with as little waste as possible.

We at AgileSherpas did a 2024 survey (registration required) that found huge growth in understanding the need for marketing process optimization and facilitating business agility in general. Eighty-six percent of marketing organizations say they plan to transition some or all their teams to Agile ways of working this year.

Note: CMI uses Agile (capital A) to describe the process and agile (lowercase a) to describe the general idea of moving quickly and easily.

Interest in Agile marketing is one thing, but a full-scale transformation can overwhelm. To help, consider these most popular Agile practices. You can apply them quickly together or separately and boost your marketing efficiency to maximize its awesomeness.

1. Plan in iterations

The planning process is often far from efficient, especially in larger organizations. Mapping content marketing execution in excruciating detail for the coming year is an old-school and still widely adopted approach. It’s one of the main culprits of inefficiency.

In theory, a year-long plan gives direction to your content marketing strategy, but in practicality, it breaks down under changing circumstances. When unplanned barriers appear, most (if not all) elements of the original plan must be changed to account for the new reality.

Not only does this create chaos and uncertainty within your team, but revising your plan documentation generates administrative overhead. It wastes time that could have been spent on execution.

Innovative marketing leaders experiment with an Agile approach to plan in short-term iterations. They create a shared understanding around the long-term goal while allowing the team to figure out the details along the way. Whereas traditional planning is done annually, rigid, and can become irrelevant, planning in iterations is short term, flexible, and relevant.

Traditional planning is done annually, rigid, and can become irrelevant. Planning in iterations is short term, flexible, and relevant.

How an Agile-based plan works

To illustrate the difference between traditional and iterative approaches, let’s use a typical content marketing plan.

Traditionally, a content marketing plan would document 12 months of content assets to create and deliver, including titles, target keywords, campaigns to support, publishing dates, authors, and as many other details as you could collect.

In Agile planning, you start with the desired results from your content marketing strategy for the year (e.g., generate 2,000 marketing-qualified leads from the blog). Then, you anticipate the effort to achieve those results (e.g., publish three SEO-optimized blog posts per week and actively promote each for three weeks on social media).

In Agile, you don’t waste time detailing the blog posts and their titles, nor do you schedule posting dates on the social media calendar. Instead, after agreeing on the deliverables, you lay out the specifics for the next month’s blog posts and keep your social media calendar flexible. If something happens that makes the planned content irrelevant, you can respond swiftly and act decisively.

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Repeat this process monthly to remain agile and account for changing circumstances.

2. Implement user stories

When embracing flexible planning, you should ensure that the content benefits your target audience and provides real value at the right time. Focus your efforts on creating impact, not just creating as much new content as possible.

Agile content marketers rely on user stories that capture the target audience, what they’re searching for, and what they intend to do with the information.

You can capture the key guidelines for creating impactful content by filling in the blanks in this single sentence:

As a __________, I would like ________ so I can _________.

If you targeted marketers, the user story might read like this:

As a marketer, I would like to read an article about global marketing successes so I can apply them to my own local marketing campaigns.

Applying user stories before working on any piece of content enables you to boost the quality of the work and save time by deprioritizing work that isn’t valuable at all or at that moment.

3. Improve estimation

Humans are terrible at realistically estimating the time and effort to complete a project.

Realistic estimates are foundational to content marketing efficiency and easily overlooked when teams focus on releasing new and more work to keep stakeholders satisfied.

However, consistently biting off more than you can chew leads to roadblocks and burnout that can plummet efficiency in the long term.

To avoid that and facilitate content marketing efficiency, you can follow some fun Agile ways of estimating work. These focus on effort rather than required time, as traditional estimates do.

For example, use T-shirt sizing as an analogy. It will identify a high-level, comparative estimate. Here’s a simple scale to illustrate how this approach can be applied:

  • XS: Write a social media post.
  • S: Prepare a newsletter.
  • M: Create a 500-word landing page.
  • L: Draft 2,000-word blog post.
  • XL: Create a downloadable e-book.

When you size up your work this way, it becomes easier to mind your capacity and be realistic about how much you can tackle within a time frame. It also lets you prioritize work more effectively and boost efficiency in delivering great content marketing.

4. Visualize your work process

Even flawless planning doesn’t guarantee perfect execution by the team to deliver the desired results. Unfortunately, ad-hoc tasks often derail the planned work and require marketers to multitask, increasing the time it takes to finish everything.

By visualizing the process step by step, you shed light on your team’s day-to-day activities and draw attention to undesired scope creep, which usually goes unnoticed or distracts from lower-priority ad hoc tasks.

Workflow visualization is fundamental in Agile methodology because it provides transparency and creates a bridge between your team and other marketing stakeholders.

You can put a Kanban board in an accessible place in your office or set up a digital project board with a tool like Trello. When work-in-progress and backlog assignments are visible to everyone in the company, prioritization becomes easier.

Frequently updating the visualization on your team board also gives an instant progress report. It eliminates the need to schedule unnecessary meetings with stakeholders or prepare long status updates. Also, if an ad-hoc request arrives, you can quickly compare its importance to current assignments and act accordingly to keep your efficiency high.

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Visualizing the workflow also allows everyone to see the big picture, which helps them focus their efforts on where they have the most impact.

5. Limit work in progress

Humans are good at starting new work but not so good at pushing it past the finish line. That’s why marketers often find themselves working on five or more projects simultaneously. Despite everybody working like crazy, little gets done.

To put it simply, the more you try to do at the same time, the longer it all takes. This Kanban board without work-in-progress limits illustrates how projects get stuck in copy and design phases, with few making it to the publish stage and even fewer to the done stage.

Without work-in-progress limits on your Kanban board, the copy and design phases get overcrowded with few in the publish stage and even fewer in the done stage.

To make matters worse, switching from one context to another frequently results in poorer quality work and requires additional time to rework the less-than-desirable deliverables.

To avoid these problems, marketing leaders embracing Agile have found a simple solution: Limit the amount of work in progress at the same time.

This answer might seem counterintuitive because of the cult of multitasking. However, limiting work in progress (WIP) allows individuals to boost productivity significantly by protecting their time. On the team level, it prevents distractions and allows members to quickly finish what was started. It forces the team to work to reduce the waiting time for tasks in the process.

In this Kanban board image, when work-in-progress limits are implemented, eight projects are in the done phase, with only five in the copy phase, three in design, and two in publish.

A Kanban board with work-in-progress limits visualizes the limits for each stage. Copy's max is five. Design's max is three. Publish's max is two.

When you start a task, then put it on hold to work on another assignment, then go to another assignment — and repeat this several times — multiple work items are not progressing. As a result, they end up taking a lot more time to be delivered.

Applying WIP limits allows team members to deliver value more often at a higher quality because they can focus their efforts and avoid switching contexts frequently.

6. Keep your meetings short

Marketing professionals are prone to attend a lot of meetings even when they don’t provide much value. Their role’s importance is equated to the number of calendar invites. It leaves little time to sit down and focus on value-adding work.

In fact, long meetings without a clear agenda are among the biggest time wasters. They easily go off track and produce little to no value for the organization while hindering the efficiency of the team.

Forward-thinking marketing leaders host daily stand-up meetings. Forty-four percent of those surveyed in the 2024 report say they use this Agile practice. These gatherings are short, on point, and on foot … literally.

The stand-up meeting efficiently gathers your team to communicate progress and workflow impediments. As the name suggests, everybody stands, which contributes to the brevity of the conversation.

During the meeting, with the project board in view, everybody answers three questions:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What am I planning to do today?
  • Am I blocked by anything?
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You can use different questions. At AgileSherpas, we focus more on collaboration and team spirit:

  • What’s my priority for the day?
  • Are there challenges that I’m facing and/or need help with?
  • Are there big wins that I want to share with the team?
  • Are there any dependencies that I need to flag?
  • What else does the team need to know?

The goal is to meet for less than 15 minutes. If further discussion is necessary, the affected team members can discuss it after the stand-up meeting. If the concern is a big issue that requires a dedicated meeting, it is scheduled for another time.

7. Do frequent retrospectives

You should dedicate a separate meeting to revisit your team’s work process frequently and identify room for improvement. This meeting is known as retrospective or retro.

The team members discuss only three fundamental topics:

  1. What should you start doing?
  2. What should you stop doing?
  3. What should you keep doing?

Retrospectives are extremely important for continuously improving the performance of your team, sharing new knowledge, and encouraging innovation.

The benefits of retrospectives meetings include continuous improvement of team performance, sharing new knowledge, and encouraging innovation.

You can hold retros in cadences determined by how your team works. For example, if you’re practicing Scrum, the retrospective should happen after each sprint. If you’re working in a continuous delivery workflow, schedule a weekly or biweekly retro. The goal is to frequently how you work and inspire process ownership within your team.

TIP: Stakeholders and company leaders should not be invited to retros. To facilitate the desired spirit of innovation and participation, team members should feel safe to open up about problems they experience and propose creative solutions without worrying about ruffling anyone’s feathers outside the team.

Introduce other business departments to Agile

Marketing is a linchpin function in departments like sales, finance, and human resources. Even if you apply all the Agile practices in this article, you can’t expect efficient collaboration with other teams if they don’t understand how you work.

When marketing follows Agile practices, it can unlock the process for the entire organization. You can introduce other departments when you collaborate on projects. You can share the value you see from implementing practices like workflow visualization, limiting WIP, and others. Then, you will contribute not only to improving marketing efficiency but the efficiency of the whole business.

Putting marketing agility into action

Adopting Agile marketing doesn’t have to be an intimidating process. By planning differently, visualizing your work on a Kanban board, limiting the amount of work in progress, and managing the process with stand-ups and retrospectives, you stand to gain huge process efficiencies.

These straightforward steps can help you join the ranks of Agile marketers who already enjoy efficiency, quality, and business alignment.

Updated from a September 2022 article.

All tools mentioned in this article were suggested by the author. If you’d like to suggest a tool, share the article on social media with a comment.

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Cover by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute