Is your marketing team playing tunnel ball or rugby? The power of Agile marketing and optimising marketing workflow

Do you remember playing Tunnel Ball?

There are some striking parallels with how large marketing departments tend to operate when organised into functional teams.

Bear with me. ⚠️ Disclaimer – some scenes are exaggerated for emphasis.

Imagine a staff member from each functional area, i.e. PR, Digital, Brand and Creative, Events etc., on one tunnel ball team.  The Marketing Manager from Brand and Creative, at the start of the line, writes the brief and then rolls the ball to the back of the line.

It goes through several legs on the way past. Some team members help push it along. Some watch it nonchalantly. That’s not my ball, so I’ll just stand here. Some team members are distracted, and the ball bounces off their leg and rolls down the slippery grass slope – whoops, the clock ticks as the ball is retrieved.

Suddenly the fielder at the back of the line isn’t ready. Somehow, they’ve already got ten balls they’re trying to handle, so they’ll get to your ball when they can.

See, when you’re organised by function, it can be hard to align priorities and capacity. A priority for the Brand & Creative team may not be a priority for the Digital team. Or the capacity of the Brand & Creative team may not match the demand for their services from the other teams

The other thing I’ve seen happen when teams organise purely by function is that each team tends to optimise for the channel instead of the customer.

So the campaign team optimises for paid traffic to landing pages, while the SEO team optimises for organic traffic to different product pages. Resulting in lost opportunity and a confusing customer journey.

Summed up, it takes a long time to get one piece of work through all teams and over the line. Wait times increase, stakeholders get grumpy, and the team loses match fitness.

This is often not intentional, and there’s no malice intended. It’s just that the team is possibly playing the wrong game, or they haven’t trained together to get their times down.

Contrast this with the same team members organised side by side on a Rugby team. They move in one direction, in one line, together. Passing the ball exactly when their teammate is ready. They each have a different role to play, and they play to their strengths.

In this scenario, the team is more like a cross-functional Agile Marketing team. They create their game plan together, outlining how they will win the game, i.e. what work they will get done to get the ball over the line (Sprint Planning).

At half-time, they have a Stand-up meeting discussing what they’ve done, what they’ll do in the second half, and what’s getting in their way of winning. They then make adjustments.

At the end of the game, they’ll conduct a Sprint Review and Sprint Retro – where they check the score – see if they scored as many points as they’d hoped, and discuss what worked and what didn’t. They then adjust their game plan for the next game.

This team has one backlog, one set of priorities, and no impending capacity constraints. And they play together to win.

Not all teams can go straight from playing Tunnel Ball to Rugby, and some teams may never leap.

But if you’re going to keep playing Tunnel Ball, there are still things you can do to get the ball over the line faster, like getting organised in the right order based on your workflow, practising as a team, and eliminating waste in the system.

I’m talking about Lean Process Redesign – where you visualise, analyse and optimise your key internal marketing processes – so that the ball goes smoothly from player to player without any stray legs getting in the way.

And then, when you’re ready to play Rugby, aka Agile Marketing, you’ll need to reset the mindset and practices of the team. They’ll need to ditch past assumptions and get comfortable being uncomfortable as they increase the transparency, predictability and focus of their efforts. Stretching, warm-ups and cool-downs will be essential.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to organise your marketing team, and there are different strategies you can use to align the team, like OKRs. But they’re topics for another day.

No matter what game you play, please take something from the above to help your team play their best game together.

Straw poll – which game is your marketing team playing? Let me know in the comments.