Agile Marketing Case Study:
CA Technologies

CA Technologies adoption of Agile Marketing is one of the most documented and cited accounts that there's been to date. Led by their SVP of Product & Solution Marketing, Cameron van Orman, they successfully trialled and embedded Agile ways-of-working into their Marketing team at scale over a two year period. van Orman subsequently documented his and his team's experiences and insights in a series of blog posts, as well as through numerous interviews on the subject since.

The following case study summarises these accounts to consider how they approached using Agile within Marketing, what they learnt, and the business and team impacts that resulted.  

The Situation

Business Background
CA Technologies, formerly known as Computer Associates, is a global enterprise software company whose products and services are used by a majority of the Fortune Global 500 companies, government organisations, educational institutions, and thousands of other companies worldwide. Established in 1976, the company is headquartered in New York and has some 11,300 employees across more than 40 international offices. The marketing team itself was previously operating as a large, heavily siloed, dispersed team working on long-duration campaigns before moving to Agile Marketing. "We had some pretty typical problems in a large enterprise marketing department: too much work, a lot of was hard for us to really see the forest for the tress if you will because of all the incoming inputs we had and requests for work, so what that led to was not necessarily doing the right things." Steve Wolfe, Marketing Director.

Agile Marketing Team Set-Up
CA started adopting Agile Marketing with an initial team of 35 marketers operating as a virtual cross-functional team, i.e. members were still working within their own departments but coming together as an 'Agile Delivery Group' to focus on specific initiatives. Over time this grew to encompass over 100+ people in six Delivery Groups aligned to business units. Approximately 60 of these are practicing Agile everyday as part of the core delivery teams, with the remainder covering leaders, specialists, data scientists and regional marketers who support the core teams when and where needed. The Agile Marketing teams include both on-site co-located members, as well as individuals distributed across other locations.

Experimental Approach
In the first instance, the team tried to apply a rigid 'Scaled Agile Framework' (SAFe) methodology, training team members to become Agile 'experts'. However, through experimenting with different Agile practices they evolved to a more flow-based Scrumban approach to manage work, combining Scrum ceremonies such as Daily Stand-Ups, Demos and Retrospectives, with face-to-face medium range planning sessions (know as 'Big Room Planning'). These experiments tested how Agile Marketing works with a range of variables typically encountered in marketing functions, for example co-located versus distributed teams, the level of team experience, and different degrees of product maturity.

Key Learnings

1. Modify Agile for Marketing
The team at CA eventually concluded that they'd gone too far too fast by trying to implement a 'pure' Agile approach from the software development world. They got caught up in the detail of Agile and missed the over-arching principles. Eventually, they backed off from the purist way of doing Agile and started to customise it for the Marketing context:

  • Terminology - The team found that the language of Agile as used in other fields, i.e. Development, proved to be a major barrier to adoption for marketers. As such, they simply changed the terminology and nomenclature that didn't make sense for Marketing to make it more relevant, acceptable and easier to understand. For instance, instead of talking about "features" they used "initiatives", and "release chain" became "delivery group". These simple amendments went a long way to create buy-in and gain traction.
  • Persistent & Temporary Teams - One of the central tenets of Agile in the Development world is that teams should be persistent to build camaraderie and collective understanding of how each other work so they reduce friction over time. Yet, Marketing departments tend to have a mixture of both persistent demand-generation teams and those built around specific initiatives such as product launches or industry conferences. Agile is just as applicable and still delivers significant benefits to these temporary teams, although it requires a focus on constant communication, retained shared learning, and the necessary technology toolkit. Temporary and persistent Agile Marketing teams maintain the same planning cadences and collaborative practices to support strategic alignment and workflow visibility.
  • Marketing Delivery Timelines - The nature of Marketing work is harder to deliver in two week sprints, with more activities that take up-front planning such as trade shows. That said, Marketing campaigns and activities are becoming more and more 'always-on', and bigger projects can be chunked up to create deliverables that can be reviewed on a more frequent basis.

2. Use Agile Coaches with Experience in Marketing
Following on from the above, using an Agile coach who understood the specific Marketing context was vital to facilitate onboarding of the Agile Marketing processes. Someone who knew what the team did was "super helpful" and allowed the team to adapt and tailor Agile in ways that made much more sense for marketers.

3. Socialise Across the Business
Marketing isn't a classic environment for Agile and therefore needs more vision and context to understand and buy into the relevance  and benefits. Given that it comes from outside, i.e. the world of product development, there's a certain inertia and resistance to change. As CA embarked on their Agile Marketing journey they invested in training the teams on Agile so that they would not only learn the practices involved, but also comprehend the changes to ways-of-working it entails. They initially missed a trick though with the middle layer,  the departmental managers, who had a harder time adjusting to the new approach. Frustrations arose when they weren't adequately briefed as to how it would change the dynamics with their teams, so they lacked understanding and therefore buy-in. Leadership must relinquish control and shift gears from directing to coaching, so it's crucial that all stakeholders are involved in the transition from the outset.

4. Alignment on Shared Goals
van Orman highlights alignment on shared goals as a significant contributing factor behind the success of their Agile Marketing approach. He stresses that too many departments are concerned exclusively with meeting their own goals, to the detriment of the whole: "They end up creating work for each other. A classic example is the marketing team setting out to create a white paper. But what if the other teams don't care? They're not going to use it, they're not going to post it, they're not going to include it in the demand campaign. You checked the box, you did your activity, but it had zero business impact."  

5. Agile Starts With 'Big Room Planning'
They achieved this alignment through 'Big Room Planning'. This is where they get all the constituents in a room together so they can align on Quarterly objectives and initiatives at the outset before building out a backlog of deliverables against each. As they were starting with Agile Marketing they looked at a side-by-side comparison between an Agile team applying 'Big Room Planning' for Q3, and a non-Agile product marketing team going through their standard half-yearly planning session. The Agile Marketing group had 30 participants who were cross-functional including product, field marketing, communications, analytics, web, and digital sales. The non-Agile team on the other-hand had 12 participants representing only one function. They found that the non-Agile team had a hard time being able to commit to business impact, offering instead a bunch of actions to go away and talk to other departments with needs and questions. The Agile team on the other hand were empowered to make decisions, leaving the meeting with a plan that they were all committed to, including how they would sequence the work and what the risks and dependencies were. 'Big Room Planning' is an approach that brings in the Agile values and fits them to scaled teams resulting in greater alignment.

Cameron van Orman CA Technologies

Business Impact

Whilst it's difficult to solely attribute all the benefits to Agile Marketing, CA themselves believe that the transformation was a significant factor that resulted in: 

  • +20% increase in sales pipeline created, with flat marketing spend budgets.
  • Campaign delivery timelines reduced from 1-2 months down to 2 weeks.
  • Win-rate for Marketing-sourced sales opportunities up by 3X.

Team Impact

As significant as the business impact of moving to Agile Marketing, the impact on the team itself in teams of their attitudes and sentiment is just as important. Every year CA conducts an employee opinion survey which the Marketing team used to determine how people felt about the move to Agile Marketing. According to van Orman, it was apparent from observing the team that there had been a positive shift, which was ratified by looking at the empirical data:

  • 'Engagement' for the group went up by 6 points from the year before, and was 6 points above CA overall
  • Feeling 'Value As An Employee' went up by 20 points and was 20 points above CA overall
  • Would 'Recommend CA Technologies as a great place to work' went up by 31 points and was 15 points above CA overall

Agile isn't just a new way of developing software - it's a new mindset, a new culture, and a new way of running a business. CA Technologies have demonstrated how it's applicable to Marketing and can drive both significant business impact AND team engagement and satisfaction.

Cameron van Orman's original series of posts on CA Technologies Agile Marketing journey can be found here:
1. Our journey to Agile Marketing
2. The catalyst for CA’s Agile Marketing transformation
3. Beware of Agile theater
4. The Lord Vader Project: The Agile Force Awakens