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April 29, 2020

Responding to Uncertainty with Agility

Andrea Fryrear
Keynote Speaker | Author | Co-founder of AgileSherpas

In the unending stream of articles about how marketers should handle the COVID-19 crisis, one word comes up time and time again: agility. We’re told to be agile in the way we communicate internally and externally, be agile as we adjust our plans to the new normal, be agile as our teams are suddenly distributed. 

But, in the face of such extreme uncertainty, what does agility actually look like? I’ve seen many marketers rely on their agile ways of working to successfully navigate this craziness, and I can tell you what that agility most certainly is NOT:  

  • It’s not a daily pivot irrespective of larger strategy. 
  • It’s not a single-minded focus on reacting to external stimuli. 
  • And it’s definitely not abandoning all our core objectives to chase the latest headlines. 

Real agility is built for times like these. The value of “responding to change over following a plan” is at the heart of a strong agile system, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a plan in place. That delicate balance between planning and responsiveness it’s what’s making some marketing teams nimble and effective, while others slog through molasses as they try to adjust. 

To help you walk that line, I want to offer three things you can do right now to employ real agility in your marketing efforts. 

1. Before You Fix It, Make It Visible
With newly distributed teams, you may be discovering bottlenecks in your system you never knew were there. Or maybe the situation is validating suspicions you had about what wasn’t working in your operations. Either way, you’ve probably got a whole host of issues you want to tackle. 

But before you go playing whack-a-mole with every perceived speed bump in your processes, make sure you’ve got full visibility into the problem. 

A functioning workflow visualization, such as a kanban board, will help you see where bottlenecks really are (they may not be what you think). Allow them to show up, and for the full scope of their impact to be felt, before making changes.

The Theory of Constraints is spot on when it reminds us that optimizing a point in a system that looks like the bottleneck but isn’t can make the whole thing slow down even more. 

2. Don’t Isolate Your Crisis Response Work
The teams I work with who are responding most effectively to the new focus of their marketing efforts are the ones who have merged these response efforts with their existing system, rather than creating an entirely new workflow to manage COVID-19 work. 

For instance, if you’ve got a backlog already up and running, put your emergency communications -- your content strategy adjustment activities, your new social media messaging tactics, whatever you’re doing differently -- in there with your existing work.

Then you can effectively prioritize all that work together. 

This blending of old and new work is the best way to make sure mission critical activities from the pre-coronavirus world don’t fall by the wayside while we’re in reactive mode. Some things still need to happen, and they’re much more likely to get done at the right time if we’ve visualize work from the old and new world in the same place. 

3. Stay Aligned Around Core Objectives
Lastly, make sure you can see how your daily activities align to your big goals. Maybe that’s quarterly OKRs (objectives and key results), or maybe it’s simply a few big targets (increase SQLs). However you measure your medium-term progress, take the time to tag your work based on which goal it rolls up to. 
Our AgileSherpas team, for instance, had four OKRs set for Q1 before the virus hit, and every work item on our Trello board was tagged based on which of those goals it supported. Once things changed, we added a whole bunch of work to our existing backlog as we worked to respond by creating new content for our clients. If the new work was still aligned to an OKR, it got the corresponding tag. If not, it received a new color for COVID-19 response tactics. 

This takes only a moment to do, but it allows you to see which goals are being neglected, and which might still be on track even in the midst of major change. 

Some goals should be set aside for now (our OKR to hire a new coach got postponed), while others aren’t going anywhere and still need attention (we need to book new revenue every quarter, crisis or no crisis). Simple visual cues help make sure we’re allocating time and resources the right way. 

I hope your Agile marketing system is helping you be really agile instead of merely reactive, and that these tips can help it work even harder. If you’d like further advice, I’m You can also find free online training on marketing agility in our virtual school:

Yours in agility, 


Andrea Fryrear

Keynote Speaker | Author | Co-founder of AgileSherpas

Andrea Fryrear is the co-founder of AgileSherpas and a leading authority on agile marketing. She is co-author of the ICAgile Certified Professional in Agile Marketing curriculum, author of two books on marketing agility, and an internationally sought-after speaker and trainer. She holds numerous Agile certifications, including Certified Professional in Agile Coaching (ICP-ACC). When not on a plane or at a keyboard, she can be found in the mountains of her adopted home in Boulder, Colorado.  

AgileSherpas is the premier Agile marketing training, consulting, and coaching organization. We take marketing departments from high stress to high performance by translating successful Agile practices to work inside the marketing profession.

My new book comes out in July -- you can preorder it here

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