This article recently appeared in the 2022 Holiday Showcase print issue of Association Forum’s FORUM Magazine.
Agile methodologies, born out of software development, create higher quality work with improved team morale, manage expectations from the start, and complete projects faster with better results. In a way, meeting planners are already practicing agile methods even though they might not be aware of it. Agile meeting strategies deliver cost-conscious, iterative frameworks that allow you to think on your feet, adjust in real-time, and put the needs of your members first.
Applying the following ten steps to your virtual and/or in-person event planning is sure to enhance outcomes and bring some order to the chaotic world of disruption and change in association management.
- Set clear business goals that will drive everything else in the plan. These include overall revenue and expense goals, content/programming, sponsorship, exhibits, attendee engagement, attendee satisfaction, hotel pick-up, registration, virtual registration, website, email and social conversion goals for marketing effectiveness, and any education metrics such as CMEs, CEs, etc.
- Clearly outline roles and responsibilities of all staff, vendors, and volunteers involved in the process. As you define the goals or outcomes in the first step, build a matrix of the players that shows who is responsible for what aspect of the event (don’t forget outside partners and vendors). Outline the workflow and approval process, and align all of those to desired outcomes. Make sure to share this matrix to all involved internally and externally.
- Decide on specific metrics that will align with the identified goals and build a data dashboard with assigned areas for team members to provide weekly updates.
- Set up weekly stand-up meetings to review progress, look at the dashboard, discuss challenges, and adjust as needed. You may want to add another stand-up meeting into the mix the closer the event date comes. This can get complicated when there are a lot of players and some reside outside of the association, so this short check-in should be done with project leads who have insight into the entire meeting. They can hold their own stand-ups with their teams. There are some specific rules that apply:
- 15 minutes – no one arrives late
- These are planning meetings, not status meetings
- Team members report on three key things
- What have you done since the last meeting to help the team meet its goal?
- What will you do this week?
- What’s currently hampering your progress?
- Use a standard agile marketing plan structure to build a flexible yet comprehensive communications approach:
- Goals – clearly identified business goals
- Ideation – take a deeper dive into personas, customer journeys, core channel identification and creative brainstorming
- The road map – campaign briefs and channels for each program area that includes a summary, expected results, expected budget and timeline
- Results & reporting – identify the key metrics and reporting tools for ongoing assessment and communication
- Break the event into tasks and prioritize them. Once tasks are chosen, nothing should pull you away from those tasks until they are completed. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, keep focused on the tasks you’ve already prioritized. Once that cycle of tasks is complete and you’re back in planning mode again, assess any new tasks and readjust your priorities as needed.
- Ensure there is a visual for the entire team of the dashboard and project action items with dates either on a large board with post-its or virtually using Trello, monday.com, mural, or other agile project management tool.
- Build in psychological safety to construct an environment of creative thinking and innovation. During any brainstorming process in meeting planning make sure everyone is heard, that there are no bad ideas, and everyone builds on all ideas with the “yes, and…” method. If you try something and it fails, celebrate that fail as a way to grow and learn. If others see that trying something new or out of the box gets rewarded no matter what – more ideas will flow and experimenting will be adapted with enthusiasm.
- Allow for experimentation in the budget process for new things i.e., AdWords campaigns, social boosts, geo-marketing, Account Based Marketing (ABM), partner promotion, etc.
- Respond to change over following a plan. Make sure you are constantly looking at the data to tell you where to go next. Don’t be afraid to try new things and make adjustments along the way to gain better results.
You can use a few or all of these on your next event and see what works well. These agile methods will allow you to create and respond to change to deliver a successful event (virtual, hybrid, or in-person) in uncertain and turbulent times. Something we’ve all had practice with lately!