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Agile in Higher Ed Marketing

The Agile methodology has been around for more than 20 years, spearheaded and most well-known in software development and tech circles.  However, the Agile methodology and various frameworks can be applied to almost any discipline.  At NC State Online, embracing Agile has completely transformed our marketing process and allowed us to take on more projects without impacting the quality of our work. 

Agile is a mindset, a culture, a way of approaching the way we work.  Agile is guided by four values and twelve principles.  Agile values placing emphasis on individuals and interactions, working products, customer collaboration and responding to change.  These guiding values and principles support the way teams work together, how and what they produce.  Agile empowers adaptability and visibility.

The NC State Online marketing team is very small.  Each semester we are called upon to provide support for dozens of online and distance education programs. A few years ago, our team members were working on several projects at one time, trying to give something to each of their internal clients.  This led to very long turnaround times, scope creep, missed deadlines, tension within the team, and frustration from clients.  We decided to try Agile with the goal of deliver our products on-time.

We have experimented with several different agile frameworks including Scrum, Retrospectives, Kanban, 20/20 Prioritization, and more.  We have found two frameworks, Kanban and Retrospectives to be the most effective for our marketing team

Kanban was originally spearheaded by Toyota line workers to signal what tasks needed to be done and when in their manufacturing facilities.  This task management framework helped visualize all of our work across the entire team.  We could immediately see how much work was in progress, the status, bottlenecks and competing priorities.  By visualizing our tasks, we were able to focus on limiting the amount of work in progress and focus on moving tasks through our process at a faster pace.  In addition to improving our speed to delivery, there was another unanticipated benefit for our team.  Team members could now see not only their own work but everyone else’s as well.  This transparency and visibility had a tremendous impact on our team’s morale and willingness to offer help to other team members when it was clear one person had too much on their plate. 

Most of us have probably been part of a retrospective meeting at some point.  Typically, these are held as part of a project wrap-up after everything is completed.  But with Agile, a critical component of the philosophy is feedback and reflection throughout the process.  Retrospectives are used to evaluate project health, make adjustments, and devise next steps.  As an Agile team we want to make adjustments and improve during our project so we hold regularly scheduled retrospectives to discuss feedback, concerns, and celebrate successes with our team, stakeholders and clients.  Retrospectives have also helped our team improve our communication, collaboration and transparency.

Being Agile really helped our team pivot into a fully-remote environment in early 2020.  It has helped us once again as we figure out our new normal with team members working various schedules from various locations.  “Going Agile” has been extremely positive for our team.  If you are interested in hearing more about how our team has implemented the Agile philosophy in higher education, please reach out to me ([email protected]). 


Katie Bean is Director of Marketing at NC State University, Digital Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA). Katie also serves as Vice Chair, Annual Conference and Special Events for UPCEA’s Marketing, Enrollment, and Student Success (MESS) Network.


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