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Agile PR: planning lessons from software teams

What PR teams can learn from software teams that do more work in less time with flexible planning techniques

You’ve spent weeks (and a hefty budget) laying the foundation. Every option’s been explored, every potential eventuality analyzed. So why, halfway into the project, do you find yourself behind schedule, under-performing, and over-budget?

The problem is that planning is a guessing game. And the bigger your plan, the less accurate your guesses are likely to be.




Communications trailblazers are increasingly turning to agile PR planning methods. They experiment with iterative and incremental processes rather than taking traditional front-loaded project management approaches. The result? Valuable work delivered quicker.

Agile teams stick rigidly to deadlines but plan flexibly. They implement small changes at a time, check that each iteration is on track, and correct course if necessary. It’s known as the build, measure, learn loop.

This concept has been fundamental to software development for years. But it’s applicable to the communication sector, too. Here are some cornerstones for this way of working.

Early and continual delivery of value

Teams focus on customer needs and deliver solutions in bursts called sprints. Sprints typically last one or two weeks before teams test solutions. They demo results to stakeholders and change direction, if necessary.

Self-organized team working

Agile PR team members have complementary skills. Team members can include people from sales, product, marketing, design, or PR. Usually, the team sits together for the entirety of the project. They are self-organized and empowered to make their own decisions within a sprint. This lets them solve problems in record speed. According to research by Jeff Sutherland of, agile teams can do twice the work in half the time.

Regular team introspection and learning

Success is measured in how much teams improve collaboration and optimize their speed.

Agile teams understand how they work. Each sprint is followed by a retrospective, with team members fine tuning their behavior and actions. Teams better estimate what work they’ll achieve in a sprint, leading to more effective results.


Agile teams don’t need managing. They create mutual understanding and motivation. One way of doing this is to meet briefly each day (the daily scrum or stand-up).

Daily meetings make it easy to track progress, remove impediments, and keep everyone focused. Furthermore, individuals can’t hide but must demonstrate their value to the project.

Agile PR working in action

Suppose you have been tasked with creating an e-book to market a company. Traditionally, this involves a long briefing meeting, at the end of which the favorite idea of the highest paid person in the room (the HIPPO) is chosen.

Then a strategist creates a communication plan, and an account manager and project manager  estimate a budget. This needs client sign-off. Time passes.

Days or weeks later, a writer, editor, graphic designer, and desktop publisher are commissioned. After several weeks of writing, design, and revisions, an e-book is published. A few weeks later still, the client receives prettified Google Analytics statistics and finally sees the result of all this work.

Agile PR methods would be very different.

The process kicks off with the same briefing, at which all ideas are noted.

In week 1, a multidisciplinary team creates and publishes social media updates based on these initial ideas. The team measures which ideas resonate with the target audience and present the results to the client. This data informs decisions for week 2.

In week 2, the team writes blog posts about the content of the most popular updates. The team reaches out to bloggers for input and to pitch the story. Blogs are published and promoted, their popularity tracked, and the results shared.

If there’s little interest at this point, the team returns to the drawing board and tests new ideas. But if the blogs are successful, in week 3, the team uses them as the basis for an e-book. This is quickly published and boosted by more blogger outreach and sponsored social updates. Success can be quickly tracked.

The team still has week 4 to amplify success. Additions of an infographic and Slideshare presentation guide even more people towards the e-book.

See the difference? The agile PR team creates value quicker and learns faster. On top of that, it’s more fun and energizing to work in an agile team.

Go agile

Trying agile PR is simple. Start small. Learn what works and adjust what you do as necessary.

If you are curious about where to start, check out the Agile Marketing Manifesto. My recently published guide on PR team workflow improvement will also help you better understand your workflow and set you up for continuous improvement.

This post originally appeared on the Spin Sucks blog.