Agile inspires a new client solution at Signal Theory
Amanda Hembree with people from a John Deere training session standing in front of a wall of post-it notes – all smiling and looking at the camera


Headshot of Amanda Hembree

Amanda Hembree | V.P., Organizational Design

Amanda Hembree asks a lot of questions. As Signal Theory’s vice president of organizational design, it’s her job to coach teams to achieve great results for their clients while incorporating transparency, clear communication and efficiency. She challenges teams to think critically about their work and the way they execute it with insightful questions like:

  • What is the outcome for customers? What pains or gains will this give them? 
  • How can we best map out the work to visualize roadblocks and maximize flow?
  • What have we learned from previous marketing efforts, and how can we apply them to future projects?
  • What is the smallest idea we could try to see how it resonates with our audience?

Hembree is using an approach called Agile, a project management method that emphasizes collaboration and iteration. Agile is grounded in values and principles that involve continuous testing and responsiveness to change. It has long been used by software developers, but its adoption among other industries, including marketing, is growing.

A 2022 survey conducted by Adobe, IBM and AgileSherpas found 48% of marketing departments planned to implement Agile marketing within six months, with another 43% indicating they would do so within a year. 

Hembree, who trained with AgileSherpas and became a certified Agile instructor through ICAgile in 2021,  says Signal Theory is uniquely positioned to help clients adopt an Agile mindset to improve their marketing and internal processes.

Illustration showing how transformation can feel like going in circles while making progress is what's actually happening

One of the images used to explain how transformation feels.

“Because we work so closely together, we often know some of the internal challenges our clients face in terms of workflow and communication,” she says. “Signal Theory has the knowledge and expertise to help them find both marketing and operational solutions while bringing a common language to their work.”

Swarupa Bakre, customer connections outcomes manager for John Deere, says the existing relationship is just one reason her team chose Hembree and Signal Theory to guide its adoption of Agile.

“We already had a trusted relationship with Signal Theory, and they had a sound understanding of our business,” says Bakre. “In addition, knowing Signal Theory had gone through the same transformation to Agile marketing made it even more attractive, as we knew we would learn from the team’s personal experience.”

“We have to think about the ‘why’ behind everything we’re doing.”

Agile Marketing Through the Lens of Behavioral Science

As an Agile coach equipped with the lessons of leading accounts for nearly two decades, Hembree helps organizations create value for clients by improving communication and accountability among their teams. Signal Theory’s behavioral science lens plays a starring role.

“We have to think about the ‘why’ behind everything we’re doing,” says Hembree. “Understanding the outcome and identifying what everyone needs or doesn’t need to be successful from the outset helps us be efficient with our time, energy and messaging.”

Hembree points to the behavioral science concept of information overload as a key driver of efficiency.

“Our brains can only hold so much information, and when we receive too much, we have a harder time making decisions,” she says.

For example, Hembree says something as simple as asking team members what information they need to start a project can reduce the amount of time spent gathering and processing the information.

“We all can get wrapped up in the execution of a campaign, forgetting to pause and truly understand what everyone needs to do their work,” says Hembree. “Through the Agile process, we introduce a new mindset where we encourage everyone to think about the desired outcome before they start working on the solution. The result is better collaboration, better prioritization and more intentional work for our customers.”

Implementing Agile

Adoption of Agile begins with a series of training sessions in which Hembree helps groups understand the Agile mindset and develop a common language. From there, she develops an individualized road map for success to guide implementation. That could include weekly meetings to foster a culture of continuous improvement, facilitation of tough conversations, workflow assessment, change management and project management software selection. 

“Amanda partnered with our marketing leadership team to design a transformation road map. She then developed training material customized to our content and needs, and trained our 60-plus-person team,” says Bakre. “She was a helpful coach in addressing the challenges the John Deere Customer Connections team was facing and tackling them using Agile principles and tools.”

Selfie image of Amanda Hembree with John Deere employees at a training session in front of a wall of post-it notes

The Journey to an Agile Mindset

Hembree’s interest in Agile started in 2018 when Signal Theory’s leadership team recognized a shift in how brands work with agencies and decided to change its processes to meet the industry’s changing needs. 

“We wanted to make systemic improvements to how we provide solutions to our clients,” says John January, co-CEO of Signal Theory. “We worked with a consultant to determine the best approach for us, and we knew Amanda’s understanding of our clients and how we work would benefit in leading our transformation.”

At the time, Hembree says, Signal Theory worked on an agency-of-record model that treated all projects the same. “But we noticed companies were starting to seek out agency help for specific areas of expertise,” she said. “That meant changing our workflow so we could respond to our clients’ needs more quickly.”

Signal Theory started Agile training and piloting in 2019 and implemented it in 2020 – just before the pandemic hit.

“I do think the shift to an Agile mindset set us up for success during COVID-19,” she says. “We were able to be collaborative in a way we hadn’t been in the virtual space before we all went home, and our training prepared us to adapt even our new processes, like team stand-up meetings, to the entirely work-from-home environment.”

That adaptation continues to serve Signal Theory in a hybrid environment, where almost every team meeting includes a combination of employees from offices in Kansas City, Wichita or elsewhere.

“An agile mindset benefits the hybrid work environment by encouraging collaboration regardless of the location, ” says Hembree. “Agile thinking helps us make sure when we can’t be together as a team, everyone is prepared as though we are. By planning a location-agnostic experience in advance, we achieve our desired outcome: collaborative, connected and creative teams.”

Implementation of Agile also led the agency to adopt new project management tools to build alignment, improve transparency and enhance quality interactions across teams. Hembree went on to train Signal Theory’s project managers and select leaders, who are now certified in Agile Marketing Foundations, an accreditation through  ICAgilel ICP-MKG. The experience has allowed them to adopt a hybrid of Scrum and Kanban frameworks, and build and share their expertise in the use of platforms like ClickUp. 

Senior Project Manager Catie Drummond went on to earn her ClickUp Expert certificate and share her own insights during the 2023 ClickUp LevelUp conference

“I like to first remind myself that I need to understand how being human impacts our productivity,” Drummond wrote in a recent LinkedIn article sharing her recommendations to maximize productivity. “From a project management perspective, we need to remember how people make decisions that impact how they see organization and productivity.”

“We are able to be more proactive than we’ve ever been.”

Guiding Clients to Success

Hembree says the teams she has coached have come away with greater confidence, more transparency and stronger collaboration and prioritization. But they’ve also found a new layer of intentionality. 

“Before Agile, these teams would have finished a project, acknowledged it could have gone better and moved on without taking the time to learn from it,” she explains. “Now they’re pausing to consider how the project could have been better as well as identify the steps needed to make the necessary improvements.”

Hembree says the result is a culture shift that puts teams who adopt Agile in a cycle of continuous improvement. Through constant assessment, every project becomes an opportunity to incorporate learnings and adapt to an ever-changing marketing environment.

Bakre says in just three months, she is seeing big changes for her team at John Deere.

“We have more people raising their hands who want to get their work reflected in a Kanban board,” she says. “They are wanting to be part of meetings to help plan the work in advance; we are able to be more proactive than we’ve ever been.”

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