Does the Waterfall/Agile Hybrid Model Work for Marketing Teams?

Illustration of agile fish swimming down a waterfall to represent hybrid

*shoutout to Christopher Berry and Morgan Folsom, who helped me put my distracted thoughts in place.

If you have regular touchpoints with your coworkers from the marketing team, you probably already know they are in a constant organizational struggle for finding the right fit. Like, yeah…

Photo of a scared-looking cat in a box

In an article I wrote for the Atlassian Community, I mentioned how hard it is to find the right toolkit for your marketing team. Here, I am looking at another perspective: how hard it may be to find the correct methodology.

If your entire company is counting on agile and Scrum to fully function, your marketing team is somehow obliged to try to adopt it one way or another. But marketing is not an exact science, you know. Frequently, I’m unable to estimate my content-producing productivity in story points or leave that important social post for the next week because of my indestructible sprint’s integrity. 

What is the hybrid model, and could it be suitable for marketing?

Here is the place where Christopher and Morgan enter the conversation. When I accidentally became part of their team, they were quietly working on a white paper focused on agile, waterfall, and hybrid approaches to work.

I have never seen anyone willingly putting so much effort into untangling the thick knots of project management methodologies.

Teodora: But… why?

Christopher: Well, people are struggling, and we wanted to find why. Also, don’t you find the philosophical differences between agile, waterfall, and hybrid fascinating?

Teodora: Fascinating may be a bit strong, although I’m certainly intrigued.

Christopher and Morgan helped me understand in more detail what I was already trying to adopt: the hybrid way of running a marketing project.

Traditionally, marketing teams always preferred a waterfall-like structure for their initiatives. But it feels a little lonely when all the other teams are running on two-week sprints, sharing their progress and success, while we were moving blocks through our timeless, endless board.

However, the hybrid model wasn’t quite what I thought it was. I figured it was just this nice, healthy, happy mix of waterfall and agile. We do the bits of waterfall we like, the bits of agile we like, and end up with a perfect blend. Indeed, Christopher and Morgan’s white paper is called The Perfect Blend.

Christopher: Actually, it should’ve been called The Perfect Blend?

Teodora: That’s what I said.

Christopher: No, The Perfect Blend? With a question mark. Our designer dropped the question mark when she put it together, probably thinking it wasn’t important. I now wish I’d asked her to put it back in.

Teodora: Why?

Christopher: Because the question mark is the point. Can there be a perfect blend of waterfall and agile? It depends what you mean by “blend”. If you mean one team trying to do waterfall and agile together, then no, you can’t. Because waterfall and agile are polar opposites.

And thus came my discovery that a successful hybrid model is where you have different teams doing agile and waterfall, or you have, for example, waterfall at the enterprise level and agile for individual teams.

OR where hybrid is viewed simply as a transitional phase between waterfall and full agile.

My imaginings about hybrid fell squarely into this last type. I saw the marketing team adopting a kind of ‘soft Scrum’, leaving out the bits that don’t really gel. But, Christopher and Morgan pointed out, Scrum is quite a rigid methodology and as soon as you cherry-pick bits of it, you kinda lose the benefits of all of it.

My marketing team have now instituted a Scrum board using Jira Software and we’ve done exactly that: cherry-picked bits we like. Which is fine for now, because our hybrid approach is that we’re a marketing team in transition, introducing agile in a gradual way, which is exactly what Jira’s so great for. Being in a transitional phase means that we ought to make the leap to ‘hard Scrum’ eventually, or it might mean that we discover an alternative way of working along the way.

So, going back to the question of whether the hybrid model works for a marketing team, well, it’s working at the moment. My team have already fed back that they feel more organized having a Scrum board in Jira, and our first sprint has gone well. And Jira’s core functionality of epics, tasks, and boards is more than sufficient for our purposes. No need for Trello or Asana anymore. We’ve also connected Jira to our already-well-used Confluence instance so that we have a better and more transparent overview of all our work.

But, as a marketing team we’re right at the beginning of our Jira journey, so ask me again in a year, and I’ll tell you where we’ve ended up.

Meantime, if you want to dig deep into Christopher and Morgan’s thoughts on agile, waterfall, and hybrid approaches to work in Jira, take a closer look at The Perfect Blend? (making sure to imagine the missing question mark) and enjoy it with a cup of coffee.

PS: Christopher launched his second sci-fi novel when he was writing this. I have no clue how his brain works in such tremendously different directions, but I’ll be happy to see an X-Ray.

Teodora Vasileva is a Confluence junkie, using it to manage both work and life. She loves hiking in the mountains of Bulgaria and dreams of waking up and finding a Welsh Corgi puppy on her bed seeking cuddles. She tumbled into software and the Atlassian ecosystem after getting recruited by Botron, an Atlassian Marketplace Vendor, eventually becoming a one-woman army for all of Botron’s marketing, events, and partnerships.