How You Can Use Agile Marketing Techniques to Build a marketing team that delivers results.
Why Agile Marketing?
Agile Marketing applies a set of methods and practices that emerged from the software development world to marketing. It promotes adaptive planning, early delivery, continuous improvement, and encourages a rapid, flexible response to change.
In an era of lean resources, hyper-competition and an ever-accelerating business pace, marketing teams need to be more flexible and responsive than ever before. Agile Marketing promotes collaboration between self-organising, cross-functional teams – social media and email marketing teams; digital and traditional marketing teams; even, marketing and sales teams.
A survey of small and medium-sized businesses that adopted agile practices found that the benefits of agile included:
- a more flexible approach to business;
- improved responsiveness through improved workflow;
- improved communications and team cohesion;
- improved efficiency in general;
- better customer service and satisfaction;
- improved times to market;
- better product testing.
What is Scrum?
Most Agile Marketers follow a process called Scrum. While Agile is more of a philosophy, Scrum is a part of the overall delivery approach. It is designed to increase alignment with the goals of the organisation and the sales staff to improve communication, both within and outside the marketing team, and to increase the speed and responsiveness of marketing.
Mostly, it offers a useful structure that allows teams to reflect on and improve delivery and it emphasises decision making from real-world results made more accessible by today’s data-driven marketing environment.
As a marketer, you should have a clear vision of how your marketing initiatives will support the business. Your marketing strategy should reflect this in a set of well-defined SMART goals, likely measured quarterly and tightly aligned with the business goals.
Let’s say your company is pursuing an aggressive growth path in the coming year, and one of the business goals is to increase turnover by 50%. You know this means increasing lead generation and improving your lead conversion ratio, so your first quarter goal may look something like this:
"To hit a lead conversion ratio of 5% by the end of the first quarter of 2018."
To achieve your goal, you’ve planned some new initiatives: a targeted LinkedIn campaign to generate new leads, changes to the marketing automation process to improve lead conversion ratios and a new video series for product demonstrations.
How do you test your ideas and effectively adjust your strategy to reach your goals?
By breaking your campaigns and marketing initiatives into smaller, more manageable packets of work, by prioritizing those tasks and working through them in specific timeframe, with a specific goal. Scrum helps marketers by offering a framework for this process.
A process that gives marketers the ability to quickly evaluate the effectiveness of their outputs, measuring their success based on real-time data, which can be evaluated and used to support decision-making.
How Scrum Works
As marketers we love telling stories, and stories lie at the heart of Scrum; self-contained pieces of work that form the building blocks of a Sprint.
Stories are requirements expressed in a few short sentences; ideally using non-technical language, like this:
"As a salesperson, I want a short product demonstration video that I can send to a prospective customer so that I can improve my lead conversion ratio."
Stories help marketing teams break campaigns into small chunks of work that can be time-bound and delivered in a short period of time; a period of time referred to as a Sprint, typically lasting between one week and four weeks. A Sprint is like a container for a set of stories and activities that the team will work on during that period of time.
Sprints run consecutively, each geared toward achieving a specific goal– Sprint goal. Sprints and the stories they contain are represented on physical or electronic board, a Scrum board, which is used to help team members and stakeholders visualize progress and quickly identify any blockers. The board also contains the Sprint Backlog, a list of all the stories the team still needs to work on in future Sprints.
The Scrum board promotes visual management, making it easier for communicative, energetic marketers to organize work and get stuff done.
In the software world, the Product Owner manages the Backlog – the stories that have been created in consultation with the project stakeholders. In the marketing world, things aren’t much different; the account owner will likely take responsibility for organizing the marketing Backlog, prioritizing the stories that need to be worked on during each consecutive Sprint. These are usually based on customer requirements, meaning the goals in your marketing strategy.
During a Sprint planning session, the account owner works with the marketing team to select stories that will be worked on during the upcoming Sprint. The team then estimates how much effort each story requires against how much capacity team members have in that Sprint. The stories selected are moved On Deck, becoming the workload for that Sprint. As individuals start working on a story, they move the story into the Doing column, then into Quality Assurance for customer approval and, finally, to the Done column when they are complete.
This is probably a good point to discuss the ‘definition of done’. It’s important to clearly define what constitutes “done” when referring to your Sprint goal - Is it a complete first draft of an eBook? Is it once the eBook has been through copywriting? Or, is it actually ‘done’ when the eBook is live on a landing page? There may be a story for each of these preliminary steps. A story for content creation, one for design, one for landing page creation, one for marketing automation, and one for distribution – each story with an owner, all supporting the overall goal for the Sprint.
The ability to accurately estimate how much work can be done in a Sprint is a skill that develops over time. Teams use Story points to help estimate the amount of work each story requires and how long it will take to complete. These points reflect the complexity of every marketing task and provide an estimate of the effort involved.
Estimations are typically time or effort-based. Either way, it is important to understand the capabilities of the team.
To stay on track, the team holds daily stand-ups, short 15 min meetings that allow each member to go through their tasks by answering 3 questions:
- What did I do yesterday?
- What will I do today?
- Are there any obstacles that stand in my way? / Do I need help with anything?
Even if you are dialling into a stand-up from a remote location, make sure that you do stand-up. The idea of a stand-up is to keep the meeting short and effective.
The Key Roles
Now that you have an idea how Scrum works, let’s examine some of the key roles on the team.
The Scrum Master
The role of the Scrum Master is to bring consistency to the team; keeping them working within the framework. The Scrum Master also interfaces with account owners, designers, content creators and data scientists to ensure the Sprint stays on track and that the team isn’t facing any blockers. Essentially, clearing the tracks for the team, and making sure they have everything they need to get the job done.
The Scrum Master monitors all major Sprint actions - manages Sprint Reviews, planning meetings, stand-ups, and the overall facilitation of the Scrum process.
The Product Owner
For development teams, the Product Owner is in charge of the Product Backlog. Making sure that the Backlog is properly controlled, that the team understands what it contains and that the stories chosen from the list are properly prioritized. Nobody can change the Product Backlog except the Product Owner.
In the marketing context, the Product Owner is usually the Account Manager, but the rigidity of the Product Owner’s control over the Backlog often relaxes for marketers. As a general rule, there are a lot more kinds of things that belong in a marketing Backlog, and multiple people may need direct input into its construction.
The Product Owner should be a person with vision, authority, and availability. The Product Owner is responsible for continuously communicating the vision and priorities to the development team.
The Planning Process
During the Sprint planning meeting, the Account Manager will review the project Backlog with the team, selecting stories by priority to work on during that Sprint.
We’ve found that 2-week Sprints work best for us; one-week Sprints are too short, with too much time spent on planning, while a 4-week Sprint feels a too long.
At the end of each Sprint, teams conduct a Sprint Review, an opportunity for team members to present their progress to stakeholders for review and assess the impact of the work performed. The Sprint Retrospective focuses on how things went during the Sprint, as opposed to the Sprint Review meeting, where you analyze what was accomplished during the Sprint. During this retrospective, each participant answers two questions:
- What went well during the Sprint?
- What could have been improved during the Sprint?
Making The Transition To Scrum
The transition to Scrum can be chaotic and confusing for everyone. A good coach will guide teams through the process of adopting Scrum ensuring minimal disruption.
Coaching is a great solution in training team members to develop their entrepreneurial spirit in order to practice self-awareness and responsibility. The more they know themselves and their capabilities, the better they will plan and execute their assignments, accelerating progress.
For first-timer ‘Product Owners’ and Scrum Masters, a coach can also share their experience working with Agile teams. These practical insights gained over years will save months of trial and error and ensure a smoother, more efficient transition to Agile Marketing. You can learn how to create strategic goals and translate them into tactical behaviour that team members can assume as their own.
For an established marketing team, the shift to this data-driven approach is not without challenges. One of the most important ones to address is a clear understanding of why it’s worth doing it and how it works, down to the most basic mechanisms.
The scene has already been set by inbound marketing practices that have enabled marketing teams to automate many processes, collect actionable data and monitor their performance. They have also been prepared by the fast changes happening in almost all industries around us, that prompted clients’ need for fast responses.
Plan a transition period that addresses the many ways in which this organizational shift will transform the way you do marketing. Ask, answer and demonstrate how it will function and try to find your own rhythm. You’ll have to learn how to fit your usual marketing calendar, bound by start-end times and contractual commitments, to 2-weeks Sprint cycles.
Managing a Scrum Marketing Team
The marketing team does the actual work of delivering the stories in each Sprint. The team is a cross-functional group of talented people, including: content strategists, graphic designers, social media strategists, content writers, analytics experts etc. who, among them, have all the necessary skills to deliver each increment of the marketing strategy.
The Product Owner prioritizes a list (stories) of what needs to be done. The marketing team members then estimate how much they can do in one Sprint and self-organize to get the work done, deciding among themselves who does what to produce the new marketing strategy increment.
Some things to watch out for
- The biggest challenge teams have is usually to do with shifting their marketing calendar into 2-week Sprint cycles. The transition can be difficult initially, as your milestones may be connected to contractual commitments and campaign start and end dates, rather than Sprints.
Consistency is key to success; if you don’t have a Scrum Master, make sure somebody is responsible for keeping Sprints structured and consistent.
Look after your Backlog and make sure you groom it properly, prioritizing stories that are critical to attaining your goals, and removing stories that are no longer valid.
Make sure you run planning session and retrospectives; these are critical to improving the team.
Backlog: A Backlog is a list of the outstanding user stories, bugs and features for a product (Product Backlog) or Sprint (Sprint Backlog).
Daily Scrum: daily time-boxed event of 15 minutes, or less, for the Development Team to re-plan the next day of development work during a Sprint. Updates are reflected in the Sprint Backlog.
Scrum Board: a physical board to visualize information for and by the Scrum Team, often used to manage Sprint Backlog. Scrum boards are an optional implementation within Scrum to make information visible.
Story: A story or user story is a software system requirement that is expressed in a few short sentences, ideally using non-technical language.
Story Point: A story point is an estimate of the relative complexity of a story.
Scrum Team: a self-organizing team consisting of a Product Owner, Development Team and Scrum Master.
Self-organization: the management principle that teams autonomously organize their work. Self-organization happens within boundaries and against given goals. Teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team.
Sprint: time-boxed event of 30 days, or less, that serves as a container for the other Scrum events and activities. Sprints are done consecutively, without intermediate gaps.
Sprint Backlog: an overview of the development work to realize a Sprint’s goal, typically a forecast of functionality and the work needed to deliver that functionality. Managed by the Development Team.
Sprint Planning: time-boxed event of 1 day, or less, to start a Sprint. It serves for the Scrum Team to inspect the work from the Product Backlog that’s most valuable to be done next and design that work into Sprint Backlog.
Sprint Retrospective: time-boxed event of 3 hours, or less, to end a Sprint. It serves for the Scrum Team to inspect the past Sprint and plan for improvements to be enacted during the next Sprint.
Sprint Review : An opportunity for the Scrum Team and the stakeholders to review the outputs resulting from the Sprint, assess the impact of the work performed on overall progress and update the Product Backlog in order to maximize the value of the next period.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the thought of adopting Scrum — start small. Think about repeatable processes in your company or agency, such as: blogging, creating eBooks, landing pages, drip campaigns, where you can gradually introduce Scrum.
For instance, the next time you decide to work on a piece of content, use sticky notes for getting information out of your head and the heads of your colleagues.
Make sure that you have buy-in from the folks at the top. You’re going to be changing the way the marketing team works and this has an impact on other parts of the business, particularly the Sales team.
Consistency is key to success, for this reason, a Scrum Manager or Coach will ensure the Scrum framework is followed, that team members are properly coached, and that self-organization doesn’t mean “go and do whatever you want to do.”
If you’re looking for more resources to help you get started, subscribe to Emerge Insights, for regular Agile Marketing tips, or drop me a message to learn more about workshops and coaching sessions.
Thanks for reading!
- Being Agile in Business: Discover faster, smarter, leaner ways to work by Belinda Waldock