A few months ago, our marketing department had a problem:
We weren’t working smart email marketing
Sure, we were shipping a TON of valuable content, marketing our product, building white-hat links and more…
…but we weren’t working as efficiently as we wanted to.
So, we changed how we approached our work.
We implemented Agile marketing using Scrum.
In today’s post blog post, I’ll walk you through:
- What Agile marketing is
- Why it matters (hint: it might not be for you)
- How we increased our output by implementing Agile marketing in our marketing department (and how you can, too)
And of course, much more.
Let’s get started.
What is Agile Marketing?
Agile marketing is an iterative, incremental marketing approach inspired by the values and principles of Agile software development.
The goals of Agile marketing, according to Jim Ewel, founder of AgileMarketing.net, are to “improve the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.”
Years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to write a 30-40 page marketing plan outlining your department’s annual goal(s).
Today, it’s a different story.
Traditional marketing techniques are no longer effective. And with greater competition and Google’s ever-changing updates, it’s crucial you adapt to change if you want to get ahead of the curve.
By using Agile methodology, you’ll have the ability to quickly run new marketing experiments, gather real-time feedback on their effectiveness and move closer toward your goal with each iteration.
What is Scrum?
According to Chris Sims, author of Scrum: A Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction, “Scrum is a lightweight framework designed to help small, close-knit teams of people develop complex products.”
While Agile is more of a philosophy, Scrum is the delivery approach, the framework that helps us get the right things done.
Scrum methodology begins with a project backlog, a list of marketing tasks developed by the marketing team to achieve the marketing goals.
During the sprint planning meeting, the team reviews the project backlog and agrees upon the tasks to be accomplished during the current sprint.
The weekly standup is an asynchronous standup meeting where each member of the marketing team answers three questions:
- What did you achieve this week?
- What did you not achieve this week? Why?
- Are there any obstacles impeding your progress? Is so, what are they?
If your goal was to improve your email marketing campaigns or reduce your email unsubscribe rates, and you found yourself drowning in busy work, you can learn from the feedback and incorporate it into your next sprint.
How to Implement Scrum in Marketing
We’ve outlined four critical steps for implementing Scrum in marketing:
- Choose an application
- Plan your sprint
- Add sprints to your chosen application
- Decide on meeting frequency
Let’s discuss each step in detail.
Step 1: Choose an Application
Like any new project management methodology, there are dozens of applications to track your product backlog and progress.
After much deliberation, we chose Favro for several of it’s impressive, but important features:
A crucial part of sprint planning is assigning time estimations to each task.
If you assign one hour a week to, say, editing a team member’s blog post, and you’re consistently spending three hours doing it, either you’re underestimating the scope of the task or you’re encountering a problem that needs addressing (e.g. you haven’t properly onboarded a team member).
With timesheets, you can log how long it takes to perform a task, offering you room for improvement in future sprints. Here’s an example from when I was writing this post:
ii. Product backlogs
Product backlogs are cumulative lists of desired deliverables for the department.
Your list of desired deliverables will vary depending on your department’s objectives.
For content, it might be a blog post, landing page or email workflow. For growth, it might be an outreach campaign or simply an ongoing link building project.
In Scrum, no-one but the product owner is authorized to ask the team to do work or to change the order of backlog items
In other words, if an unexpected task comes up and it’s not in the sprint backlog—you’re not allowed to do it (granted, there are some exceptions, which the Scrum master will decide, but generally it’s a no-go).
With Favro, you can create a product backlog for all tasks and create nested hierarchies around core categories (more on that later).
Below is an example of how we use it for our content editorial calendar:
If anything important but not urgent comes up during a sprint, we can create a card, assign the relevant person and add it to “Next Sprint”.
iii. Kanban boards
If you’re responsible for project management, you’re probably familiar with a Kanban board.
Translated from Japanese (meaning “signpost”), a kanban board is a method of visualizing a flow of work to give participants a view of progress during a sprint.
A simple kanban board will have 3 columns:
In Favro, each task is represented as a card and can be moved depending on where it is in the sprint.
If you’re running sprints from Monday to Friday, you should have as few cards as possible remaining in “To Do” by the end of the week:
Below is a screenshot of our organic growth over the past 12 months (courtesy of SEMRush).
What do you notice?
For example, we have a nine-point checklist for publishing a blog post in WordPress to ensure our post are optimized for on-page SEO:
With Favro, you can create checklists for cards to ensure each checklist item is marked as complete and standards are continually upheld:
One of the benefits of Scrum is greater efficiency. After all, it’s not about getting things done; it’s about getting the right things done and feeling productive rather than busy.
With Favro’s reports feature, you can monitor how productive you are at any given time. From how many hours you’ve worked in your current sprint to how many hours you have remaining, reports will reel you in when you begin to veer off course:
Before planning your sprint in Step 02, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with whichever app you choose.
There’s a ton of helpful features and while you won’t use all of them, the ones you will (like creating reports in Favro) will take time getting used to.
Step 2: Plan Your Sprint
How you approach sprint planning will vary depending on the size of your organization and how many “micro” departments you have within marketing (more on that shortly).
The easiest way to get started is to write down every weekly recurring task for each member of your team with time estimations for completion.
I like to do this in Evernote:
The goal, here, is to be as specific as possible.
It’s easy to mistake “write a blog post” as a task when really it’s a process comprising several smaller tasks such as keyword research, outlining, writing and more.
If you’re systemizing your business, it’s worth breaking processes down into steps and documenting each procedure in detail. Here’s a snapshot of our content creation process from one our SOPs:
Chunking down processes into tasks not only makes it easier to ship deliverables on time; it allows you to track how much progress each team member has made and where they might be encountering obstacles.
You’re bound to miss something at this stage, but don’t worry: it can always be added when adding sprints to your app of choice (Step 03).
Step 3: Add Sprints to Your Chosen Application
Once you’ve defined weekly recurring tasks for each team member, you’re ready to add them to your chosen application.
In this walkthrough, we’ll focus on Favro as it’s the app we like and recommend.
Step i. Create a free account
Go to Favro, enter your email address and click “Sign up for free”:
Step ii. Create a collection
Once you’ve verified your email address and gone through Favro’s onboarding process, click “Collections”…
…then “Create collection”:
Next, name your collection using your company name, change visibility to “Organization”, and invite members of your team:
Finally, click “Create collection”:
Step iii. Create a board
If collections represent organizations, board represent departments.
Depending on the size of your organization, it’s worth having a board for each “micro” departments within marketing. For example, we have two core boards: one for content marketing and one for growth.
To create a board, click the plus symbol next to your collection and select “Create Board”:
Give it an appropriate name:
Step iv. Create an additional list
Favro has two lists by default: Doing and Done.
I recommend adding a “To-Do” to create a Kanban workflow.
To do that, click “Add column” and name it “To-Do”:
Next, move it in front of “Doing” so the lists are ordered: “To Do,” “Doing” and “Done”:
Step v. Create a backlog
To create a backlog, click the plus symbol next to your collection and select “Create Backlog”:
Give your backlog an appropriate name:
Step vi. Create cards
Assign a card to each of the recurring tasks you wrote down in Step 02. To do that, click “Add card”:
Assign a team member, a time estimate, and an appropriate tag that describes the task:
Adding tags helps you see how you plan to spend your time and how you actually spend your time when you review reports:
If a task is time-sensitive or has multiple collaborators, assign a deadline.
Step vii. Group cards by category
When creating cards for each team member’s weekly recurring tasks, it’s likely you’ll have dozens of cards.
To avoid overwhelm, it’s worth grouping cards by category in the product backlog.
In Content, for example, we have several “parent” backlogs including our content editorial calendar, potential blog post topics, tasks we’re waiting on and more:
Having a well-organized backlog ensures each task is present and accounted for.
If, for example, a team member adds a task during the week to “!Next Sprint” and the Scrum Master doesn’t consider it urgent and important enough to include in the next sprint, it can remain in the backlog until it is.
Move any weekly recurring tasks over to “To-Do,” first, followed by week-specific tasks. This will help you stay on target for your allotted hours.
Step viii. Create reports for better management
As mentioned, creating reports detailing where you plan to spend your time and where you actually spend your time helps you measure progress and improve your output with each sprint.
To create a report, click “App Selection > Advanced Search”:
Next, click “Create a new Report” and add relevant criteria:
Not all information will be relevant for each team member. For example, my criteria include our “Content” and “Team” boards. Anything else is irrelevant:
When planning sprints, it’s worth having reports open in a separate tab to check you’re allocating enough hours to each team member.
Step ix. Templatize boards for greater efficiency
Sprint planning can be time-consuming in and of itself. It’s important, then, to plan sprints as efficiently as possible (especially since each sprint planning is, at a minimum, an hour a week of your working time).
One way to do that is templatizing each board you create.
To templatize a board, click “More actions > Options > Save as Template”:
Give it an appropriate name:
Step 4. Decide on Meeting Frequency
The traditional sprint cycle consists of several meetings, often called ceremonies:
- Sprint planning
- Daily Scrum
- Sprint review retrospective
Not all ceremonies are relevant to marketing and how many you choose depends on your organization’s view on meetings.
We recommend the following:
i. Sprint planning
Sprint planning is an opportunity for each manager to collaborate with one another and plan sprints for each member of their team before the Scrum Master approves it.
However, before your inaugural sprint planning ceremony, you will need an introductory meeting to decide how you, as a department, will approach Scrum.
Here are a few important considerations.
a. Working hours
No one works 37.5 hours a week. Our work is a combination of deep and shallow work. And each time we switch from one to the another we lose time.
It’s important then to collectively agree on what a realistic number is to achieve each week. We decided on 30 hours which can be further chunked down into five, 6-hour daily sprints.
b. Definition of done
If a process has multiple collaborators, when is it done? If we return to a content example, when is keyword research done? Is it when it’s completed by the assigned team member? Or, when the manager approves it?
Defining what done looks ensures everyone is in alignment and knows what’s expected of them from others each week.
No amount of planning can account for unforeseen obstacles.
Sometimes, a client will be on the verge of leaving for a competitor and will need to be “talked down.” Other times, Facebook will lock you out of your business page for no reason and you will need to assign time that wasn’t allocated to solve the problem.
Having a buffer will help you track unforeseen tasks that were urgent and important but not part of the original sprint. What constitutes as “urgent and important” will be determined by the Scrum Master.
d. Definition of tasks
If you answer a team member’s question in Slack and it only takes two minutes, do you need to add it to your buffer? After all, it is work, but you didn’t plan for it?
Questions like the above are common, which is why it’s important you have a lower and upper bound time limit for each task.
We decided anything under 15-minutes we wouldn’t track (e.g. replying to blog post comments) and anything over six hours hasn’t been defined well enough.
ii. Weekly Scrum
The weekly Scrum is an opportunity for everyone in the department to discuss what they did and did not achieve in the previous sprint and why, and clarify anything they’re not sure of for the upcoming sprint.
Over time, with practice and proper planning from each member, few questions will arise and everyone will be clear on what’s expected of them for the coming week.
We’ve covered a lot in this post.
But I haven’t even scratched the surface.
Agile marketing is a HUGE subject, so I’ve included a few additional resources below to help you gain a greater understanding of the subject:
- My notes from Scrum: A Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction by Chris Sims
- The 6 Values (and 4 Benefits) of Agile Marketing by Moz
We’ve learned a TON about project management since incorporating agile marketing into our department.
And with all our learnings, there’s one certainty we can all agree on:
We’re not going back.
If you’re on the fence, give Agile marketing a try. I promise you … you won’t be disappointed.
Have you incorporated agile marketing into your department? Leave a comment below.