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Accelerating Marketing Success Through Testing

Marketing Testing

How Natwest Employed Test and Learn to Improve Some Marketing Returns up to 240 percent!

A guest post by Danielle Roper of the Agile Business Consortium

Are you achieving your New Year’s Resolutions? Breaking them? But isn’t the word resolution,  a firm decision to do or not to do something, a bit anti-agile anyway?

That’s not a cop-out by the way. The new year is a great time to decide to better ourselves! But we must also remember that nothing is set in stone, either in business or in life, so how can marketers raise their game in a realistic, sustainable way that is truly agile?

Let’s take a look at how one of the winning organizations at the 2023 Agile Business Awards transformed the way its marketing team works by testing and learning.


In her Agile Business Awards talk, Diane Bell, Planning and Performance Lead in Marketing at NatWest Group, describes how a test-and-learn mentality became key to their new way of working:

She reflects: “We had a really difficult and siloed planning process that just took far too long!

“We started to look at the Agile Marketing Manifesto, and we knew what we wanted to achieve from Agile. We wanted to be customer-centric; we needed to increase the speed-to-market and really minimize the number of handoffs we had in the process.

“We really wanted to accelerate the delivery of all the strategic priorities and to focus on the customer and the business outcomes we wanted but we were too caught-up in waiting for perfection! We never tested and learned. We were just caught in the churn of Business As Usual (BAU) activity.”

So how did they change what they were doing?

For Diane, it was all about mindset.

She explains: “We had to learn and upskill together. We had to see agile as a mindset and not as an admin task.”

She adds: “There was also a big belief that Agile meant no planning but in reality we know it means much more planning!

“We wanted to base what we did on data and evidence, not just on gut feeling. We wanted to remove all the silos we had.”

In the spirit of trial and error, Diane’s team first changed the way they assessed their capacity – moving from hours to using Fibonacci estimation — a basis for the relative estimating of work using the Planning Poker technique.

She adds: “This became known as ‘the dogs’ because we used a dog breed size exercise to bring it to life.”

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

Fibonacci was a success for the team but some other methods that were introduced required more getting used to – adopting OKRs for instance.

Diane continues: “The thing that nobody tells you about OKRs is that they’re easy in principle but can be quite hard in reality. It took us quite a while to get to the right level. Sometimes, we had too many, sometimes too few. In one cycle, we had 15 key results; in the next, we had 85!

“But as we continued to work through what an OKR meant and understood what the benefits of them were, we were able to use them as a true North Star and they are now becoming the true foundations of what we need for our planning!”

PI Planning

The team also began using PI (Program Increment) Planning   —  sessions that take place every 8 to 12 weeks, where agile teams, project owners, and other stakeholders come together to strategically plan the upcoming Program Increment according to the organization’s mission and vision. These sessions were another big learning curve, as Diane remembers: “We did our first PI planning event on Zoom and had no clue what we were doing! But each session, we learned and developed. Then, finally, when we did our first face-to-face PI event, suddenly, the power of PI really began to drop!”

The way in which the teams documented the PI events however took some refining

Diane explains: “We started using Mural and discovered that it didn’t really work for us – it was a bit too fiddly with the number of features we had. Our Scrum teams needed something that was easy to process and that involved minimum handoffs, so we developed a way of doing PI planning using screens and laptops instead of post-it notes and strings.

“We bring in a lot of fun and a lot of interactivity to our PI events. We decided to do this because we wanted to show people it’s not just about updating your sprint plans; it’s about much more than that. So at our PI events, we have music, prizes, and themes.”

The teams also tried to prioritize work based on the prioritization model ‘Weighted, Shortest Job First’ (WSJF), but the model just wasn’t viable for them.

“It didn’t work at all”, Diane freely admits. “But we learned a huge amount from it! The important thing is, we tested it to see if it would work. It didn’t give us the outcome we wanted but the learnings we got were immeasurable!”

She maintains that PI Planning has been ‘absolutely transformational’ for NatWest Group, saying: “It’s probably our biggest success. For the first time, we have real, crystal clear guidance on the outcomes we’re aiming for.

“We get a huge amount of collaboration across multiple parties and we now have the autonomy to push back to the business on the stuff we simply just shouldn’t be doing. To get all of our marketing managers, our agencies, and stakeholders together every 90 days to work out what we can and should be delivering is huge!”

She adds: “We are not the purest Agile but what we’re developing is much more exciting! We’re creating our own way of Agile, based on the principles but on our own terms, and what we’re seeing is great results! Our test-and-learn activity is really driving massive improvements. In one campaign, we saw an increase of 51 percent in applications based on test and learn activity. In another, we saw improvements in our podcast listening target of over 240 percent!”

Another key for NatWest Group marketers has been about being transparent.

Diane concludes: “We are now much more open and share things — not just things that went really well but that maybe didn’t work.

“We’re going to continue to focus on mindset over process and continue to pivot and move where we need to.

“With the OKRS we finally understand it’s not about the amount we can fit into the capacity, it’s about the quality of the stuff we want to do. Our cross-functional scrums are helping us to minimize our handoffs and get things out quicker too.

The test-and-learn mentality, trying things differently, is so important – we know now that it’s okay to fail!”

Experimenting as a route to learning is critical to agility. By being responsive and changing what we do to meet new challenges, we can accelerate success – in marketing and across the organization, driving positive change and building business agility.