Demystifying Agile Communications: Terminology and Definitions

In the first part of our three-article series on Agile Communications, we discussed the deep benefits that nonprofits can expect to see from utilizing this framework. There are many reasons to adopt this methodology that will boost the productivity of your teams, aid organizational transparency overall and allow you to become more adaptable to change in general.

As if this isn’t enough, using Agile has been shown to improve communication throughout the organization. These valuable benefits help for-profits and nonprofits throughout the world leverage their resources to realize big gains that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Agile Communications does require some additional upfront work, and can have a learning curve for your teams. This project management framework allows for and supports the continual changes that are the norm in today’s fast-paced world of communications and marketing. There is an explosion of touchpoints and channels where your organization can connect with your audience, but this proliferation of options can cause your focus to shift. It’s no longer enough to provide communication through one medium — instead, foundations and nonprofits must deliver audience-targeted content across a bevy of different devices and channels. The shift from a linear and well-defined, long-term process to a fast-moving iterative communications strategy can feel a bit uncomfortable at first. Hang in there, though, as the laser-focused ideas and execution will be worth the upfront work. Let’s dig into the terminology and definitions that will help you begin relating to the Agile Communications structure and making it your own.

Do — Learn — Iterate (Rinse, and Repeat)

Agile Communications breaks down long communications cycles into smaller, more measurable events that can then be iterated and improved. Software developers created the Agile framework more than 20 years ago, but all types of organizations are now utilizing this framework to allow them to fail fast and ultimately improve. The three basic tenets of Agile are:

  • Do
  • Learn
  • Iterate

The framework itself is relatively simple, requiring that teams break larger projects (called Epics) into smaller, bite-sized pieces (called Sprints) that can be accomplished in weeks instead of months or even years. These incremental improvements provide teams with true momentum toward their goals. Sprint teams meet on a near-daily basis to focus on outputs; learning from the outputs and then adapting their learnings to the next phase. This closes the iterative cycle and allows teams to constantly reinvent and re-prioritize based on the next-best action that will bring the highest benefit to the organization. At MagnifyGood, we have found that by adapting the Agile foundation, we are able to become more flexible and proactive with communications strategies.

Agile Definitions

There are eight key steps in the Agile Communications process, starting with Empathy Research and ending with Iterations. Just as it sounds, you’re starting with your audience needs in mind first. This could be anything from how often specific audience segments need to receive information at different stages of their journey to how to begin onboarding new supporters.

Step 1: Empathy Research

You always begin with the end in sight, and by in-depth conversations with key stakeholders. Empathy Research allows your team time to discover emotional insights that will help connect your current and prospective community members. How do they define their shared worldview? Pull together interested parties and conduct an input session to learn their needs and priorities. Capture this detailed information for use throughout the Agile Communications process.

Step 2: Storylines

Now that you have a general understanding of user needs, it’s important to detail any dilemmas of your current or prospective community members. Take the time to really dig into their user stories and see what type of content or stories create an emotional connection. In this context, the term “user” refers to anyone who is interacting with your messaging — either on social media, on the web, in person or via other advertising.

Step 3: Prototype Testing

Your storylines are a great first step, but now you have you test-drive your theories of what will appeal to various audience segments. Conduct detailed conversations and analysis as you test the various approaches you created in Steps 1 and 2. Rank the various stories based on whether or not they engage your audience and encourage them to move in the direction that you require — such as providing donations or taking action in other ways.

Step 4: Personas

Understanding your target audience is one of the most important steps in Agile Communications. These highly detailed descriptions of various individuals allow you insight into the emotions that are driving their giving decisions. Part of this process includes determining and capturing opportunities for connection by persona. For example: a younger donor may be more interested in connecting on social media. However, the persona of an older individual may show that they like social media for quick snacks of information, but would prefer to receive a hard-copy of any detailed data that you want them to peruse.

Step 5: Connection Journey

Each step you take builds on the connection that you create between your organization and your personas. Look at how community members work together currently, and define strategies that will help address needs at each stage of their journey. Determine how you can help guide the conversation as their connection leader.

Step 6: User Stories

Telling stories is ultimately how you will drive engagement, and this step of the Agile Communications process offers space to determine how each connection point will happen both inside and outside of the current user community. How will shared experiences drive connections and bring in new community members?

Step 7: Sprint

Whew! You made it through all the difficult planning stages and it’s finally time for action! Even though the above 6 steps can seem a bit overwhelming the first time, you’ll soon be mapping connections like a pro. Sprints are when the heavy activity of actually building the marketing projects rests. You’ll create Sprint finish lines to mark when you’ve completed mini-initiatives, and Sprint Reviews to map any opportunities for improvement in the future. Anything left unfinished at the end of the Sprint is added to a Communications Backlog — or list of items that may be worked into future Sprints.

Step 8: Iterations

Once your Review, also known as a Retrospective, is complete you’re ready to convene the team and determine how you can iterate the processes and communication plans that you created. Your team collaboratively determines any modifications that are necessary, you review the Communications Backlog and prioritize as needed — and start the Sprint Planning process all over again. Your Communications Backlog could be anything that was left over from the Sprint that couldn’t be completed, and could also include new items that were identified and prioritized to be important over the term of the Sprint.

Don’t let yourself or your team become overwhelmed looking at the wealth of information required to work through an Agile Communications strategy. After the first few Sprints, you’ll find that you’re an old pro and spouting Agile terminology like a champ. When co-workers and significant others begin giving you odd looks as you’re discussing Sprints and Retrospectives — you’re probably doing something right. Learn more about Agile Communications and how you can apply this framework to current and future communication projects by connecting with us. We can help you find the best strategy for the unique needs of your foundation or nonprofit.