How Our Agency Uses Scrum for Agile Marketing

Today we're going share with you one of the secrets to our clients' and our success: Agile Marketing.

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How Uhuru Uses Scrum for Agile Marketing

Moving twice as fast with more predictable outcomes gives our Agile Marketing Agency—and our clients—a competitive advantage.

Agile Marketing: Rapidly, Frequently, Consistently

The marketing world is consistent in producing bigger, better, and bolder outcomes moments at a time. Strategizing in terms of months, quarters, or even years will ultimately leave you in the dust and questioning where it all went wrong. An environment where revolutions happen in a matter of weeks, days or even hours, has forced the need for a shift in the way we operate and organize.

Before we get into what Agile marketing is, let’s take a look at what it’s not. If this example seems too familiar, don’t get discouraged. The majority of businesses are currently in the same fire-fighting position.

What a Non-Agile Team Looks Like:

These are the defining features of a non-Agile team:

  • Overwhelmed with a large variety of initiatives that pulls their attention into different directions, risking marketing momentum, focus, growth opportunities, engagements and more.
  • Don’t know which of those initiatives are actually working. Not reflecting on successes and failures of those initiatives will reveal the advantages or lack of market comprehension and eventually lead to upselling or failing the client.
  • Way too much of their time is spent “doing” unnecessary tasks. Executing all of the initiatives is important to complete the plan and reach the goal. But misunderstanding the level of priority of the tasks can result in failure both in the marketing of your client as well as the relationship with your team.
  • Waiting for results with little to show for it. The return that should be driving them forward is at a standstill.

What Is Agile Marketing?

To improve your execution of the items above, let’s get into an effective way to structure your team that will refine the way you organize and operate. With any changes made there is always a learning curve, but Agile Scrum will become second nature quicker than you imagine; simply because it…makes…SENSE.

After understanding, or even relating to, what makes a team “non-Agile,” let’s take a look at what Agile is and how it can dramatically enhance your marketing results.

“Agile marketing is an approach in which teams identify and focus their collective efforts on high-value activities and projects, complete those tasks collaboratively, measure their impact, and then continuously and incrementally improve the results over time.”

As the name suggests, Agile gives businesses the ability to think on their feet and make quick changes in the direction in which their marketing is heading.

It evolves continuously rather than being strictly defined by lengthy, time-intensive campaigns.

The philosophy behind Agile is currently being applied to a number of different industries. We help businesses transition to Agile marketing because we’ve experienced such impressive results for Uhuru.

Uhuru is 50-75% faster than we were before Agile and it’s had an incredible improvement for our culture.

We use Agile marketing to increase transparency, efficiency, and adaptability in the following ways:

  • We define our highest value tasks and ensure that they receive the majority share of our focus.
  • We develop a process to handle said tasks and define the parties responsible for their completion.
  • We measure our success in real time, testing and refining our approach to achieve our goals.
  • We learn from our mistakes. Rather than assuming we’ve achieved perfection from the offset, we continually modify and improve to achieve the greatest result.

Agile marketing gives you the ability to scale, adapt, and deliver. Scrum gives you a straightforward framework to realize your Agile marketing potential and is the backbone of our Digital Marketing Programs.

What Is Scrum?

Originally formalized for complex software development projects, Scrum is also a useful methodology for delivering innovative digital marketing strategies. Scrum is a framework that boosts transparency and adaptability. It makes it easier for each member of your team to consistently return high-quality results.

In the real world, Scrum is a collection of tactics that work together to create a focused efficiency for your marketing.

To implement the Scrum framework, a team must include certain events in their work structure. At a minimum, it starts with a Daily Huddle, Sprints, and Sprint Review and Planning.

To help understand these events more clearly, take a look at how we utilize Scrum to streamline our agency.

Our Agency Agile Marketing Implementation with Scrum

Now that you know what Agile marketing and Scrum are, let’s examine how Uhuru puts them to work in the real world.

Work Decomposition

Agile marketing programs typically use a hierarchy of planning mechanisms to decompose work from the visionary and strategic level down to bite-sized, actionable chunks that the team can execute during their Sprints.

In particular, Epics and Stories are the primary units of work that populate the team’s backlog. The only difference between an Epic and a Story is the size of the project, simply, how quickly the team can get the work done.

A Story is a relatively small, independent work item that can be done from start to finish in a relatively short period of time – typically a week or two.

An Epic is a relatively large work item that usually involves several interdependent pieces (stories) and will require more time to finish—typically several weeks to a month.

In Scrum, the length of the Sprint dictates how we define Epics and Stories—if a work item can be done within a single Sprint, it can be represented by a single Story. Otherwise, it’s an Epic.

To keep track of progress against an Epic, we decompose the Epic into smaller slices of work and represent those slices with Stories. Each Story represents a discrete work item that the team can tackle and complete within a single Sprint.

Stories are typically iterative or incremental in nature. The Epic is considered complete when all of its child Stories are complete. For example, painting your house takes a long time and there are interdependent pieces that needs to happen to complete it: (1) get supplies; (2) tape/cover unwanted areas; (3) paint. Depending on the size of the project this can take a few weeks but when it’s broken down to produce outcomes each week, you can ensure the deadline set is met.

Definition of Ready & Done

Scrum applies the concepts Definition of Ready (DOR) and Definition of Done (DOD) to ensure that all team members are aligned with respect to the criteria that determines whether a backlog item is ready to be worked on or can be considered complete.

Uhuru has the DOR and DOD formally specified. This avoids ambiguity and makes it easy for Product Owners to decide which backlog items are truly ready to go into the Sprint to be worked on by the team, and makes it easy for the team to consistently satisfy the expectations of the Product Owner by the end of each Sprint.

Providing the details for each item can seem daunting and at first, it is. But once you have standardized the details, it’s a simple transfer of information because the ground work is done. The team feels confident with these details simply because it has all the information to complete their Story/Epic with confidence and assurance that it will be done right the first time. It also limits the impediments, but should any arise, they are—more often than not—easy to resolve.

BA Points

We introduced BA Points and, like its Agile sister “Story Points,” it’s used as a means of calculating the complexity of marketing tasks. These help our company visualize the contribution of each team member and give a quick overview of our distribution of tasks based on complexity.

Breaking down initiatives into points also allows us to visualize what our team can accomplish for the client at a moment’s notice. It also ensures the capacity of our team is met to enhance the culture of the company and that the outcomes each week are of the highest quality.

We also use BA Points to price and deliver our ongoing digital marketing services. Each task required to execute your digital marketing strategy, like writing a blog post, creating a landing page, or building Facebook Ad campaigns, will be estimated in the form of BA Points.

Rather than pricing our services based on unpredictable billable hours or rigid monthly plans, this model allows us to work side by side with our clients to plan which tasks will be completed each month to achieve the desired goals and outcomes with the benefit of utmost budget certainty.

Sprints

A Sprint is how long our team has to complete their current tasks and projects. Typically these range from 1-2 weeks. Some larger initiatives won’t fit into a single Sprint, so we break those up into bite-sized pieces to tackle and move along Sprint by Sprint.

Daily Team Huddles

Every day our team gets together for a very brief check-in—called a Daily Scrum—with ours ranging from 15-20 minutes at the most.

The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to establish a regular pulse within the Sprint for the team to:

  • Verify that they are on track to meet their commitment.
  • Coordinate any collaboration between multiple team members.
  • Raise and attempt to resolve any impediments (blockers) that might prevent the team from meeting their commitment.

The meeting:

  • Should be strictly time-boxed in order to allow the team to be as productive as possible.
  • Is not intended to be a status update meeting for the benefit of Product Owners or external stakeholders.
  • If the Kanban board is being used effectively, it already conveys the current status of each item in the team’s committed Sprint Backlog. (More specifics about the Kanban Board below)

Addressing impediments immediately requires the team to communicate with each other, remaining transparent in the Sprint and keeping the line of communication and accountability focused.

Agile Marketing and Scrum Implementation with Jira

Our entire team has access to a software platform that allows us to centralize the way we track our Sprint. Jira enhances transparency for the team to make hyper-communication second nature. Keeping conversations, edits, reviews, and feedbacks organized help the team understand, track, and pick-up anywhere in the campaign progress. This level of transparency is advantageous because we are able to pivot at any given moment to best meet the needs of the market to ensure success for our client all in real time.

Agile Marketing and Scrum Implementation with Redbooth

Each client has access to our Marketing Sprint for their company that extends our transparency beyond our team, to the clients under our care. Redbooth ultimately replaces emails to keep ideas, conversations, edits, brainstorming, and progress tracking in one visually pleasing location. There is so much necessary and fun banter that occurs between the team and the client, it’s important to keep it organized and easy to follow so communication is clarified that much more.

Teamwork

While each person “owns” a particular project or task, the success or failure of the Sprint rests on ALL of the team members. Everyone must be willing to collaborate and assist for the Agile framework to be successful.

Sprint Retrospective and Scrum Planning

One of the core benefits of Scrum is that the opportunity for continuous improvement is baked into the framework.

The Sprint Retrospective provides a regular opportunity for the team to identify impediments introduced by their process and take actionable steps toward removing or mitigating the impediments in future Sprints. If the Retrospective is conducted with rigor and the team consistently follows through on these actionable takeaways, significant productivity gains can be achieved.

Tiny improvements each Sprint add up to very large improvements over time.

Each week we review the completed tasks during our weekly Sprint Retrospective. This is where we focus on quality assurance and discuss ways the week could have been improved. As much as we focus on getting the prioritized initiatives completed, we also focus on continuously improving ourselves and our outcomes. Being an Agile company allows us the luxury to keep our focus on our clients while remaining up to speed with the demands of the marketing world. Opportunities to improve are always celebrated so that we can reach and often exceed our own expectations.

During the Retrospective, each person states what was accomplished during the previous Sprint allowing the team to evaluate the need for a pivot or continue on the path to success. This time of reflection is a great motivator as well, the team will each have a set of accomplishments to bring to each Sprint.

The recommended format is:

  1. What went well during this Sprint?
  2. What didn’t go well during this Sprint?
  3. What will we try to do differently next Sprint to make things better?

The most important part is that the team identifies at least one action that could mitigate one of the raised impediments, and commits to taking that action in the following Sprint.

The Scrum Master can use techniques like 5 Whys Analysis to help the team identify the root cause and possible actions in response. These actions are often experiments—the first attempt may not remove the impediment, but the team will learn from it and use that learning to try something else which may be more successful. The Scrum Master should hold the team accountable by revisiting the success or failure of the action items at the next Retrospective—and if the team didn’t complete the action item, it should be carried over into the following Sprint.

Simply because the points are broken down into detail setting the Implementers up to complete their task(s) without fail, the huddles address impediments daily, and Jira tracks the progress throughout the Sprint. The retrospective is vital to our clients and our team. In an ever-evolving marketing world, we have the ability to adapt in an instant; but we have to review where we are and where we are headed to match it up with our goals.

Lastly, we discuss the next Sprint: what will get done, who will complete it, what is urgent, how involved are the clients, are the details required to complete the task listed, and are there any foreseeable impediments. Concluding this meeting will send the team into a full Agile mode of completing each task in their Sprint efficiently and effectively.

The goals of the Sprint Planning meeting are:

  1. For the Product Owner to communicate to the Implementers their priorities for the Sprint.
  2. For the Product Owner and Implementers to discuss each work item under consideration to ensure that everyone fully understands the goals and scope (i.e., Acceptance Criteria) of each item and agrees with the estimated effort (i.e., Story Points)
  3. For the Implementers to give the Product Owner a forecast (also referred to as the team’s commitment) of the specific batch of work items they feel they can realistically complete by the end of the Sprint (i.e. the Sprint Backlog).

Use of Information Radiator

Scrum encourages the use of information radiators to allow team members and external stakeholders to easily determine the team’s priorities and progress.

The two primary information radiators for a typical Scrum team are the Kanban board and burndown charts.

Team-Oriented Kanban Board

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Used properly, a Scrum team’s Kanban board should enable team members and external stakeholders to determine at a glance:

  1. A comprehensive list of the backlog items that the team has committed to complete in the active Sprint (aka the “Sprint Backlog”).
  2. The relative priority of each backlog item according to the Product Owner.
  3. Which team member is currently responsible for each backlog item.
  4. The status of each backlog item in terms of which stage of the team’s workflow it currently resides in.
  5. Which, if any, backlog items are currently facing impediment.

In our experience, a team-centric Kanban board that provides visibility into the entire Sprint workload is massively beneficial in terms of keeping the team aligned and on track to meet Sprint goals.

We suggest configuring the team Kanban board with the following attributes:

  • One column per workflow stage
  • One swim lane per team member
  • All work items from the Sprint Backlog represented on the board
  • Force-ranked order of priority of each work item reflected on the board
  • Visual highlights for work items facing impediments
  • Optionally, work-in-progress limits enforced for columns belonging to workflow stages that tend to accumulate partially finished work items

Team Workflow

For the Kanban board to be maximally effective, the team must have established a workflow that describes the various states that a given work item might be in at a given time.

A basic workflow could be as simple as:

  1. Planning: the backlog item is in the Backlog and more planning is required before the team can start work.
  2. Ready: the backlog item has been planned and it’s ready for the team to pull off the Backlog and start the work.
  3. In Progress: the team has started work on the backlog item.
  4. Done: the team has finished work on the backlog.

Many Scrum teams, like us, have more sophisticated workflows that decompose broad states into more granular states that more accurately describe the progress of each work item.

For example, our Agile marketing agency teams use the following workflow:

  1. Planning: the backlog item is in the Backlog and more planning is required before the team can start work.
  2. Ready: the backlog item has been planned and it’s ready for the team to pull off the Backlog and start the work.
  3. In Progress: a team member has started work on the backlog item.
  4. Internal Review: the first team member is done, and a second team member is conducting a peer review of the completed work.
  5. Acceptance: the team’s Product Owner is validating that the work is complete according to the stated Acceptance Criteria.
  6. Done: the team has finished work on the backlog item.

Burndown Chart

The purpose of the burndown chart is to allow team members and external stakeholders to visually assess the team’s overall progress within a given Sprint (or against a larger milestone).

A proper Sprint burndown chart allows the team to see the actual volume of work remaining plotted against the expected work remaining at any given point in the Sprint.

Obvious deviations in the burndown chart alert the team that they are ahead or behind pace, and as a result, the scope of the Sprint may need to be adjusted.

It’s better to identify these cases early and intentionally adjust the scope to match reality than to find out at the end of the Sprint that committed work items didn’t cross the finish line.

Stakeholders (particularly clients) don’t love surprises and the bad news doesn’t get better with time.

We recommend that your team start each Daily Scrum by (very quickly) reviewing the burndown chart and validating that the team is on track to meet their Sprint goals.

Agile Marketing allows Uhuru to:

  • Respond quickly to changes in the market
  • Rapidly produce and test campaigns, and optimize them over time
  • Experiment in many conditions and repeat successes
  • Use input from other departments and skill sets to enhance marketing efforts
  • Prove choices in campaigns and projects with hard data
  • Have open communication and collaboration with team members to prevent silos or a tunnel-vision approach to marketing

Agile marketing also allows us to boost our content marketing by speeding up the process with which we generate and share high-quality content.

Social media and conversion optimization move forward in a similar manner, allowing us to roll out new campaigns rapidly.

By now, you’re probably imagining the vast array of exceptional improvements you’ll be able to make to your business when you implement Agile marketing. We’ve experienced some serious benefits for our agency and the clients our Agile marketing supports.

Benefits of Agile Marketing and Scrum to Our Agency and Our Clients

There are 5 dramatic benefits:

  1. Visibility and Transparency – The entire company understands what’s going on at any given moment and can easily determine the priorities.
  2. Productivity – The same team will be able to accomplish more in the same timeframe (also known as throughput).
  3. Flexibility – As new information is gathered or new variables come into play, changes can be made immediately, and a simple course correction can keep your marketing on track.
  4. Clarity – Priorities are given the spotlight they deserve, and less important tasks see a decrease in time and attention.
  5. Results – The goal of any and all marketing: the results are improved and the return is increased.

A Bit of Agile Marketing Advice

If you’re ready to institute Agile marketing with your team, I’d like you to consider a few things before you get started.

Several variables affect the outcome of any type of marketing. One of the most important is the team implementing your marketing strategies. Each team member will need to be totally on board for the overhaul this new framework requires. Agile marketing in itself won’t change the way your team behaves or translate to overnight improvement. Rally your team and get them to stand behind the change.

Here are 5 tips to get Agile marketing buy-in:

  1. Tell your team why they should be interested in Agile marketing.
  2. Tell them why they should believe that it could truly improve and empower the team.
  3. Prove that it’s true.
  4. List all the benefits of Agile marketing and Scrum.
  5. Teach your team how to run Scrum.

Agile marketing is an “all for one and one for all” approach. Each member should always be improving the way they work with their team. Your success with Agile depends on the strength of the entire unit.

Furthermore, you’ll depend on a strong team discipline that can take time to cultivate. Give your people the freedom to work in a new way and ensure that the entire team understands and appreciates what each person is contributing. Embrace the successes, and iron out any kinks as they come.

Bonus: Agile Health Check

Are you already implementing Agile marketing and not sure how it compares to industry best practices?

Here’s an Agile and Scrum checklist for you to self-diagnose. This Scrum health check is primarily a qualitative assessment based on your ability to make the observation of your teams operating in their usual environment.

When assessing the health of an Agile team, focus your attention on four key dimensions:

  • Transparency
  • Productivity
  • Efficacy
  • Team Happiness

Questions:

  • Are your teams implementing weekly Sprint Planning?
  • Are your teams implementing weekly Retrospective meetings?
  • Are your teams implementing Daily Scrum (Stand Ups) meetings?
  • Is your sales team using Scrum?
  • Are your customer-facing teams using Scrum?
  • Do your Leadership Teams use Scrum?
  • Does your company have a Scrum “Master Catalog” that breaks down the decomposition of work effort?
  • How often do you update your Scrum process documentation, including SOPs and Master Catalog?
  • Are you tracking the Team Happiness and addressing issues as they occur?
  • Are there daily discussions around improvements and impediments?
  • Do team members have a clear picture of progress during the Sprint?
  • Have you decreased rework?
  • Have you increased work effort velocity?

If you answered no to any of these questions you might be in risk of an Agile marketing implementation failure.

Conclusion

Agile marketing has allowed us to find our highest level of efficiency and adaptability to date. We’ve replicated our success with our clients and can get your marketing team to perform at its maximum.

Here’s to your success!

Originally written by Peter Lang. Updated by Michele Lopez, Uhuru Scrum Master.

One thought on “How Our Agency Uses Scrum for Agile Marketing

  1. One of the most thorough yet accessible presentations I’ve seen of Agile in the marketing real world. Happy to know I can point others to this in the future. Thanks!

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