From The Shop Floor: Can Scrum Really Work For Marketers?

Digital Transformation / March 2016

Charlie Lycett-Smith

Charlie Lycett-Smith

With more than 14 years experience as a project manager and operations director, Charlie keeps us all on the straight and narrow. She used to be a session vocalist too. So when she shouts at us it sounds lovely.

SOME CONTEXT

Marketing is broken – in fact, agencies are a little bit broken too.

Clients don’t know which agency to speak to anymore. At the same time that 1 in 5 consumers in the UK have installed ad blockers, half of us are watching catch-up TV and skipping the commercials.

Where, when and how your customer engages with you has already changed and is going to continue to change. Marketing needs to be able to adapt and adjust to the times; being good at one thing is no good any more.

We are designing a capability that has change as its core principle – always in beta and constantly being improved upon.

INDUSTRY SPEAK WARNING

Before you go any further I’d like to pre-warn you that I’m about to get a bit PM’y  – please take the opportunity to leave now if you’re not into that kind of thing. For all the people after my own heart – the lovers of process and order – read on!

Following on from my last article around Agile (in particular, Scrum) being too rigid for the likes of us marketers, I wanted to update you with some real-life accounts of how we are borrowing some Scrum principles very successfully within our dedicated client teams.

We’re currently testing whether the use of Scrums and simple Kanban style swimming lanes improves the communication and collaboration between our teams, and ultimately the timeliness and quality of our outputs.

It’s also worth mentioning that for the purposes of this article I am addressing ongoing business as usual activity only as we treat projects slightly differently – and that’s for another time.

CONSTANTS

For these trials we have a set number of constants, which all of our teams adhere to:

1. Use of Trello

We have found that the likes of Basecamp and traditional studio management software like Resource Guru aren’t quite right for managing day-to-day activities for our clients, regardless of what type of account it is. The reason being that one is more of a communications portal and the other a glorified calendar. Both have their place within the agency, but we were missing that extra element – the one that would enable us to effectively manage day-to-day iteration and change.

Therefore we are moving all task management for these clients to Trello, where we follow a set structure of Kanban style boards where we address:

  1. Everything that needs to be done
  2. What was done yesterday
  3. What needs to be done today
  4. What blockers we are facing

2. Multiple work streams under one client

We can have many work streams going on, for any one client at any one time, made up of both ongoing work and one-off projects.

So we’ve decided to create Trello boards that reflect those work streams.  We think this is a great, client-centric way of doing things and allows us to report back to stakeholders in a structure that’s familiar to them and that answers their questions quickly and effectively. For example; one of our clients has the following boards live at the moment:

  • SEO BAU
  • Social BAU
  • March Campaign
  • April campaign
  • Strategy & Planning

3. Backlog

All work streams have a backlog.  This is where all our planning and strategy work gets distilled into the actionable tasks that will actually get the job done.

Our Account and Project Managers, Strategists and Planners work with their teams to ensure the backlog captures everything – giving us a great view of what is ahead of us and invaluable transparency on where we might encounter bottlenecks. Trello’s filtering is great for this.

4. Fully integrated teams

Not all accounts are the same, but by-and-large our clients work with us across the marketing mix.

The real benefit of applying some of Scrum’s principles is that it encourages, some would say, forces, communication and collaboration between team members. So a prerequisite for our team is that we have experts from all areas represented.

5. Instant messaging groups

We have to be realistic. Our team are frequently out of the office and not available at the same time every day. Also, waiting until the next meeting of minds is sometimes not quick enough – immediate answers are often sought by the team so as not to delay progress.

So rather than resort to endless email threads or individual conversations where the whole team is left in the dark, we look to an extension of the Scrum in the form of instant messaging groups. For this we currently use Skype and we use it to remove blockers, quickly. Instant gratification is the name of the game.

We do however set rules around usage of instant messaging; it’s not the place for endless debate or detailed planning.

WHAT WE’RE DOING

TRIAL 1

For 2 clients we are subscribing to the standard daily Scrum scenario. However, the difference between what we do and what a software development house might do is pretty big.

Due to the speed at which we work and the frequency of change we have to accommodate, we cannot and do not “time box” work into set, lengthy sprints. Instead we commit to daily cycles of work that every team member confirms they can deliver.

With cycles being this short, we are never more than 24 hours away from putting the handbrake on a particular activity and changing tack completely.

Short bursts of work make it much easier for teams to prioritise what’s next. A lot can change in a day, but because our teams communicate so effectively it’s not just the Account Manager that has that knowledge – everyone has it, which means teams can help prioritise together, avoiding the need for an Account Management dictatorship (which no-one wants – not even the Account Manager!)

TRIAL 2

For another client we only Scrum twice a week.  We want to see how our process works with fewer face-to-face meetings and more online comms and collaboration.

Instead of the daily marketing cycles in trial 1, the week is broken into 2 cycles, splitting it in half.  The team then prioritise and commit to what they know they can deliver in the next upcoming cycle.

The team working with this client base their reporting and stakeholder engagement around this weekly,  2 cycle framework and it works well because this way of working has been agreed with our client during onboarding.  So everyone is happy.

We have also found that reaction to change is still managed quickly, even with Scrums only happening twice a week. The team behaviour that the agile approach tends to nurture means that personal autonomy and initiative to solving problems become second nature, so we rarely get to the next Scrum with big issues still hanging over us.

LEARNINGS SO FAR

This way of working empowers our methodology

We embrace change and ensure we take a test-and-learn approach to everything we do. We’re finding that Scrum principles give us an excellent framework within which we can manage the day-to-day realities of practising what we preach.

Encourages autonomy

We know that tools and processes will only work if the behaviour of your people supports them. Scrum places the onus on the team when it comes to defining and executing work. And in turn we are finding that this has increased autonomy within individuals. The desire to problem solve and be successful as a team is so much more important when you meet and make promises to each other every day.

No more falling off the radar

The existence of a backlog when it comes to ongoing marketing activity is proving a very welcome addition. The small “I must do that” tasks that often are very important when keeping things moving can sometimes get lost in the ether. It’s so easy to drop those points into the backlog, safe in the knowledge that that task will be looked at and prioritised.

People are broadening their skills

A really great side-effect of regular team Scrums is that people are learning from each other. One of the Meccas for Scrum (especially in an agency environment) is for people to expand their skill sets to other areas of the business and actually be able to undertake tasks that previously they would not have been able to. We’re creating a team of all-rounders!

Lessons learnt isn’t a big event

Instead of the meeting that no-one ever has time for, every Scrum provides the opportunity for lessons to be learnt on a smaller, more digestible scale. And we aren’t just talking about learning from our marketing tactics and outputs, but also about how we are running our teams, how we communicate with each other and, most importantly, how we can do it better next time – something that’s much easier to remember when you have a team that speak to each other frequently.

Much improved transparency

The ability to see what’s going to be done today, what is blocking progress and what is upcoming seems so simple. But having the conviction to stand by those 3 types of task and not overly complicate things is so helpful to so many people – clients, internal stakeholders and team members alike.

WHAT’S NEXT

As well as trying to iron out the inevitable little problems that come with trialling new processes, we will be making some subtle changes to what we have running to see if we can further improve.

I’ll be looking at:

  • Alternative instant messaging tools with the ability to create tasks from discussion
  • Velocity and burndown for marketing activity – how can we utilise estimates and job points to better understand what’s left to deliver on a work stream
  • The equivalent of the sprint planning process for marketing BAU

Tune in for an update soon!

Latest news