Does the agile project management approach contain secrets for effectively managing marketing teams and projects?
5 min read
The agile manifesto was born at a ski resort in my home state of Utah in 2001.
Versions of agile and Scrum for software developers are the obvious default methodology. (Good luck finding a dev team still managing waterfall projects.)
In 2007, I was the Director of Marketing for web-based project management company Workfront. That was the year Steve Jobs announced the iPhone, the TGV broke the world record for passenger train speed, and the year our engineering team adopted Scrum.
We went all-in. Scrum and XP From the Trenches became our bible. There were in-depth-trainings, quizzes for employees, and recognition for those quickest to catch the vision. Key employees were sent off to certify as Scrum Masters. And Jeff Sutherland, an original agile manifesto signatory, came and spoke.
It wasn’t just for developers. The whole company was required to have a working knowledge of Scrum.
On the marketing team, I felt like the more tightly we mirrored the culture taking shape in product, the more aligned we would be. So we implemented Scrum for our marketing projects.
Back then Scrum for marketing was unheard of. Now I’ve been running Scrum with my marketing teams for nearly 12 years and it has become vogue as agile marketing or tribal scrum.
What is this Scrum you speak of?
See you in five.
Okay, now that you know what we’re talking about, you probably have some questions. What follows should answer most of them.
First, it’s important to acknowledge that Scrum is not natively designed for the problems encountered by a marketing team. It requires some adaptation.
Scrum in its pure form doesn’t assign stories to individuals during planning. The team picks up velocity and efficiency because developers pick items they want to work on during daily scrums. It’s assumed the team members have roughly equivalent skills
Marketing teams, especially in small companies are often organized in cross-functional cells where team members intentionally possess different skills (design, copywriting, analytics, etc.). This team makeup means there’s not the same egalitarian dynamic for grabbing whatever story is waiting to be worked in the sprint. While it’s possible to have multiple writers or designers, team members have to more or less stick within their swim lane.
Drawing on the different skills of team members means marketing projects usually have dependencies and a critical path; so stories have to be completed in a particular order. Scrum itself doesn’t account for this—but as a Scrum marketing team lead, you will need to.
With a few adaptations to fit marketing teams, the frequency of sprints and the iterative mindset usually win out in terms of output and productivity.
What’s the same?
Many of the key benefits agile offered to software developers also apply to marketing, which is why this is even a thing.
The cardinal virtue of delivering short, functional iterations is perfect for marketing projects.Scrum for marketing: The cardinal agile virtue of delivering short, functional iterations is perfect for marketing projects. Click To Tweet
One of my favorite conventions of Scrum is the writing of stories. Just the name bears the whiff of marketing.
Stories force both developers and marketers to articulate the scope of work in terms of units of business value. “The user will be able to do X” or “Such and such will be live on the website.” This convention makes for discrete deliverables, without ambiguity around what “done” means.
There’s also no hiding behind a smokescreen of domain jargon. By articulating stories in plain language and a business value perspective, cycles are not lost on projects with unknown or questionable value to the company or client.
Marketing teams execute work in “sprints” typically lasting anywhere from one week to one month. Frequency is determined by how often the team gains value from quick adaptation versus the amount of planning required.
Working in sprints means sprint planning meetings—Fibonacci Planning Poker is optional, the keeping of a prioritized backlog, calculating time and estimating work in story points. It means checking in via a daily scrum, a Scrum board or Kanban board (Kanban is a borrowed term from Lean Manufacturing and in its original form is different from a scrum board, but many teams and Scrum software applications call their scrum boards Kanban boards). The board gives you what you need to calculate a burndown chart.
Marketing Scrum teams also benefit from the practice of measuring their velocity, improving their skill at estimating stories, retrospectives, public demos, and lab days between sprints.
Marketing teams adopt the Scrum roles which provide the essential checks and balances. There is a Product Owner who owns the backlog, sometimes called a Marketing Owner or an Agile Owner for clarity if there is already an engineering Product Owner. There is a Scrum Master who keeps the process moving and removes impediments for the team, and then the individual team members.
The checks and balances inherent in each role are essential. For instance, the Product Owner can scope the work, but it’s up to the team members to estimate how long it will take.
Interested? Here are some resources to do it yourself.
Scrum can be done entirely manually, down to post it notes and a physical Scrum board—if you keep a bullet journal, this might be for you. But there are some great software options available. Especially if your team is distributed this can be essential.
Here’s a list of highly rated software solutions. I personally like Pivotal Tracker, Asana, Scrumwise (when you’re just getting started), and Trello has a Scrum addition if you’re already using the web’s favorite checklist tool.
Jira by Atlassian is popular too, especially among developers. Personally, I find their interface so clumsy and user-hostile I don’t recommend it for marketers.
Finally, here’s a good look at how to determine which is right for you.
Additional Reading: Adopting Scrum at Sleeknote, some examples of Adopting Scrum for Marketing from Quora, AgileMarketing.net, and Why We Transformed to an Agile Inbound Marketing Company by Sprout Social.
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@cmo_zen is a blog of micro meditations for marketing managers, designed to help them find clarity and peace in the marketing maelstrom.