It’s 2021: Management Buy-In for Agile Transformation Is Still a Challenge


Agile marketing is growing, and more organizations have adopted agile methodologies in the last couple of years. According to the 3rd Annual State of Agile Marketing ReportOpens a new window by Agile Sherpas, 42% of organizations labeled themselves agile in 2020, more than traditional and ad-hoc. Several organizations that are not yet agile, too, plan to start taking this approach. However, one challenge remains — management buy-in.

Agile marketing offers various benefits to organizations. They include releasing marketing work more quickly, changing gears rapidly in response to customer feedback, and maintaining competitive advantage, among others. However, the Agile Sherpas report shows that getting support from management or executives remains one of the top five barriers in adopting an agile approach. There are different reasons for the lack of management buy-in. Here, we address some of the management buy-in challenges in agile marketing and suggest a few possible solutions.

Learn more: Transform Marketing Organizations with an Agile Marketing Approach

1. Inability To Plan Long-Term Budget

One of the primary concerns from executives and management is that an agile approach does not allow them to plan long-term budgets. This concern comes from the fact that many organizations have well-established models to ensure that budget is not allocated on investments that do not yield guaranteed ROI. With an agile approach, this kind of precise planning does not exist. An agile approach focuses on iterative and incremental delivery. Since agile marketing is a new approach, it takes time for newcomers to learn more about strategic and long-term planning.

The advantage of an agile approach is that it allows long-term planning, such as market penetration or the number of accounts to convert. Companies can do detailed requirement planning and draw rough estimates for hours required or the dollars it costs. They can even put deadlines when they want to achieve their goals.

According to Michael K. LevineOpens a new window , author of People Over Process: Leadership for Agility, “You can still get the benefits of agile by revisiting requirements and designs in sprint planning, being test-driven, and working with business partners every day.”

An agile approach also allows backlog grooming meetings, where backlog items and activities are estimated at a high level by the entire team and gross-level estimates are assigned. Once the time required for an iteration is determined, a quarterly forecast is created for the team. During the quarterly forecast meetings, the team takes out the backlog items and places them into iterations that constitute the larger timebox. This is done until all iterations are considered full. Once the team completes the planning, they can determine budgets.

Executives need to understand that organizations can deliver more value to their customers with agile marketing, instead of a feature-rich product that the customer does not care about. And this can create higher customer lifetime value than it would have done by calculating upfront budgets.

2. Resistance To Change

Resistance to change is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to getting management buy-in. According to Agile Sherpas’ Annual State of Agile Marketing ReportOpens a new window , about 43% of respondents still believe that their process works well enough. Many managers and executives believe that their methods are giving the desired results. However, this is far from reality. Several studies show that there is a massive disconnect between what customers expect and what companies deliver. Clearly, what many companies are doing is not working for customers.

There are several reasons why management may feel resistant to change. One reason may be the feeling of loss of control. Traditionally, department managers create goals, metrics, budgets, and reports. They are rewarded at the end of the day based on the department’s performance, however, agile stresses collaboration with other teams and departments. The focus also shifts to self-managed and empowered teams. This may lead to managers trying to redefine their roles.

Another challenge is that some managers are generally resistant to change. They prefer established processes, values, traditions, and predictability, even if they are roadblocks to achieving the desired organizational goals.

One common excuse for resistance is that it goes against organizational culture. Many organizations have a top-down structure that does not allow collaboration with cross-functional teams. Further, there is mistrust or a lack of incentive for a department to collaborate with other departments. Such structure creates operation silos. Whereas the agile approach focuses extensively on cross-functional collaboration.

To make agile marketing work, the C-Suite must take active steps in addressing inter-departmental challenges.

“Agile Marketing will only work if the rest of the organization is aligned with the speed and ability to change, which comes with this working method. If the marketing department is not backed up by C-Suite, the misalignment between departments will slow down the learning process and negatively impact the success of the company and client satisfaction.”

– Alex HollanderOpens a new window , CEO, TribuOpens a new window


Hollander further says, “Create common goals and values and apply cross-department training sessions. Basically, by introducing an agile working method, you will already break the barriers of these silos. Involvement of all stakeholders is the key to success of agile marketing.”

Brian Hogan, president, data and programmatic, Fluent, believes that the C-suite has a critical role in addressing inter-departmental challenges.

“Management needs to lean in and source feedback from individual department heads, calling on them to share their perspectives and advocate for other players that should have a seat at the table. Making agile marketing reality is about identifying the teams within the organization that can help accomplish the goal and the resources needed to do so. It is also about building a roadmap for working cross-functionally to get the job done.”

– Brian HoganOpens a new window , president, data and programmatic, FluentOpens a new window


“In coordinating efforts within a large organization, it can be difficult to bridge knowledge gaps across teams that “speak” different languages and hold different skill sets. To break down these silos, it is important to first create room for dialogue and establish common goals to rally behind as an organization. Opening lines of communication and creating an environment in which people are empowered to thrive not only within their own team, but also when collaborating across functions and departments is key to laying down a solid framework for success. And while supporting teams may be responsible for implementing or integrating new tech, management must ultimately help to evangelize these efforts and drive adoption of new processes across the organization at large,” Hogan says.

Learn more: 5 Challenges You’ll Face When Optimizing Your Martech SaaS Stack 

3. The Challenge of Deciding Technology Integration

According to the 2020 edition of martech landscapeOpens a new window , the number of martech solutions in the last year was 8,000, a growth of 13.6% compared to 2019. This was despite 619 solutions either getting consolidated or going defunct. These solutions include a range of tools and software marketers typically use for video marketing, emails, social media, task management, web analytics, workflow automation, and more.

Marketers spend significant time switching between these tools and tabs to perform their daily tasks and finding the information they need. This leads to inefficient multi-tasking, frustrations, and a slow pace of work. Integrating martech tools and solutions is a massive step towards becoming agile. However, this presents another challenge — should organizations invest in integrating existing tools and technologies or invest in a new solution, given the myriad options available in the market?

According to Hogan, “Confusion around investing in new marketing technology often stems from a lack of understanding around the value it can provide. For example, as an industry we prepare for the deprecation of third-party cookies, first-party data is quickly rising to the top of every marketer’s list of priorities. While management may be able to identify this as a need, it is important that they also clearly communicate the broader business impact of onboarding a CDP or [implementing x technology]. They should also explain why taking the time to build a robust first-party data strategy now will ultimately lead to more precise audience targeting, stronger engagement, and better business outcomes in the long run.”

“The whole idea of agile marketing is that the company can quickly adapt to change and different needs. So first you would need to investigate if the existing martech solution that you are using, is able to adapt according to your needs on the longer run. If not, then investing in new technology that really allows you to be agile, is always the better decision,” says Hollander.

According to Abhishek TalrejaOpens a new window , founder, Prolific Content MarketingOpens a new window , marketers need to be clear about what they want to achieve from their investment in a solution. To keep technology integration the foundation of their stack, they should plan it as part of their core martech strategy.

For example, it is necessary to understand the implications of a new tool acquisition — will the tool impact the processes they need to complete, and will it fit in with the marketing workflow? Further, the integration mechanism works when the marketing department collaborates with other departments, such as sales and IT.

4. Organizational Situations Are ‘Unique’ and Complex To Adapt

Many executives feel that each organization’s situation is too complex or too unique for an agile approach to be accommodated for marketing. This could be a genuine challenge or a mindset barrier that needs to be addressed. In such cases, presenting the management with case studies and adopting a hybrid agile methodology to suit their needs can bring about the desired results.

For example, hybrid agile methodologies like Scrumban combine the best features of different methods. Such an approach aims to select the practices that fit the organization’s context and needs. A hybrid system implements only those practices that provide solutions to process challenges. The great thing about a hybrid approach is that tools and practices from different methodologies can be combined to achieve the best results.

As an example, if the organization does not practice timeboxing from Scrum (also referred to as sprints), it can still host ceremonies originating from Scrum, such as review and planning. This enables the department to focus on the practical side of achieving agility.

Learn more: 4 Agile Marketing Case Studies To Inspire the Smart Marketer in You

Is Management Buy-In a Major Hurdle for Agile Marketing?

While more organizations accept the potential of agile marketing, management buy-in stills remain a challenge in a few of them. This is primarily due to the perception of loss of control, lack of predictability, operational roadblocks. Hence, a better way to sell agile is to listen and address individual concerns through case studies, formal and informal sessions, and external consultations. Additionally, offering an alternative or hybrid solution that brings the best of agile and traditional methodologies is bound to be better accepted among senior management.

Which other management buy-in challenges in agile marketing adoption do you witness? Do share with us on FacebookOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , and LinkedInOpens a new window .