PayLease Finds a Game Changer in Agile

agile marketing, progress board, standup

A progress board is the centerpiece of the PayLease marketing team’s weekly standup meetings.

Marketing team uses techniques adapted from software industry to turn on a dime

It’s a classic story facing a marketing department. A competitor gets bought, word hits the wire the next day, and the sales team is clamoring for collateral to explain the acquisition to customers. How long would it take your own marketing organization to respond?

PayLease, a leading payments provider for the property management industry, armed its sales team with the necessary collateral that same morning. And it was able to do so because the marketing department has adopted Agile, a methodology that rose out of the software development industry. Agile is designed to help a team respond quickly to change.

Agile is all about delivering business value,” said Kristin Runyan, senior vice president of operations at PayLease. An Agile expert and the author of two books on the subject, she will join other speakers at a panel discussion on Agile Marketing presented by San Diego AMA on Aug. 9.

Since introducing Agile to her 24-person team a year ago, Runyan has witnessed the positive results that come from enhanced communication, transparency, collaboration and prioritization. “It’s been a game changer for PayLease,” she said.

From Silos to Collaboration

One of the principal reasons the team adopted Agile was to enhance teamwork.

PayLease is a growing organization, and it’s growing very fast, Runyan said. One side effect of  growth is that team members can lose touch with one another.

“Creative teams are traditionally siloed,” Runyan said, explaining that web developers, copywriters, social media folks and graphic artists traditionally work on projects separately and don’t have a window into each other’s world.

To encourage transparency and collaboration, she created a huge progress board on the wall with sticky notes that show tasks or projects assigned to each team member and where they are in the process. Tasks fall under four columns:

  • Backlog: Tasks that haven’t been initiated
  • Progress: Tasks in progress
  • Blocked:  Tasks where progress is impeded
  • Done: Completed tasks

As a key element of the Agile approach, the task or progress board offers transparency and awareness for the entire marketing team as well as for other employees.

The progress board also creates a forum for much better conversations.

For example, Runyan told the story of one team member who had trouble saying no to requests. This was particularly difficult when an executive would approach with an idea and wanted the team member to drop everything. Sound familiar?

“In marketing, there are so many new ideas, and you don’t want to shut down the idea flow,” Runyan said. The progress board, however, gives the team a mechanism to have much more effective conversations about priorities.

In the conversation with the executive, the team member pointed to the progress board to show him her list of tasks and asked how his idea might fit in the list of priorities. It was soon clear to the executive that his idea wasn’t a top priority and he withdrew his request.

At the weekly standup meeting, another feature of Agile, the team goes through the progress board together. “It allows the team to see what everyone is working on and realize how it will impact their workload and how they can potentially help each other out,” therefore enhancing collaboration and teamwork, she said.

It reveals where progress is slow or stopped, too.

“If a sticky note is still in the progress column, people will notice,” she said. It also makes it impossible to hide. “If you’re blocked by a team member, you have to say that. It brings transparency without judgment. It’s transparent so we can help each other.”

Better Conversations with Sales

One of the first principles of Agile is satisfying the customer through early and continuous delivery. At PayLease, sales is the marketing team’s biggest customer, and that means helping it close sales.

The day the news hit about a competitor being bought, Runyan and her team looked at the progress board and assessed who could be pulled away from other projects to put together a sales document that morning.

“You have to arm the sales people in real time,” she said. By reprioritizing and responding to change on a dime, her team could focus on what mattered most in the moment and provide the highest value.

Another example she gave pertained to a text email campaign. “It’s marketing’s inclination to have a marketing campaign with really pretty graphics,” she said. But since her team is metric driven, it looked at the stats, which showed higher open rates leading to more sales.

“That was another area where we had to pivot,” Runyan said. “As marketing people, we would have looked at this text email and said, ‘It’s boring.’” But true to the Agile principles of customer focus and simple often being better, the team realized its priority was to listen to the customer and go with the most effective marketing, not the prettiest.

Tips for Introducing Agile at Your Organization

Unlike in software development, where engineers embrace Agile comprehensively, marketing departments can roll it out gradually. Runyan suggests trying the following:

  • Start with a progress board. This is a great way to build transparency. However, if your department isn’t ready to make that step, individual team members can have personal progress boards for everyone to observe. That way, if someone comes in with a request, you can easily show them what top three tasks you’re working, and it will be clear how that new request falls into the list of priorities – or not.
  • Establish weekly standup meetings. If you successfully use a progress board, that often leads to a weekly standup meeting. This is where team members share their progress on projects, identify which tasks are blocked, and figure out how to help each other complete tasks.
  • Communicate face-to-face. This is another Agile principle, because it is the most efficient and effective way of communicating with another person. “Don’t pick up the phone or send an email,” Runyan said. “Get over there and talk to someone.” Just doing something that small can build a positive case for Agile.

There is a flipside to Agile, however, and that is not every team member will be a fan. “We’ve lost some people,” Runyan said. “People couldn’t handle the transparency, so they tend to opt out. They decide, ‘I don’t want this.'”

The upside is job satisfaction. Runyan attributes this to two things: Human beings prefer to be on a team, and they have a sense of accomplishment.

“You understand where you fit in the ecosystem. It forces you to prioritize,” she said. “Transparency shows you where your work fits, and how important it is, and you rise to the next level.”

Want to hear Kristin discuss Agile Marketing strategies and technologies in a panel with other area experts? Attend San Diego AMA’s upcoming panel discussion, Closing the Loop with Agile Marketing, Tuesday, Aug. 9, at UCSD Extension in University City. Register today!

About Bonnie

Bonnie is a professional copywriter at Hear Ye! Writing, specializing in case studies, white papers, articles, blogging, web content and ghostwriting. When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking around San Diego, reading about the Founding Fathers, or planning her next trip in the camper with her husband.