12 Dec

Agile in Marketing – Part 2: in action

“So we thought we’d try SCRUM in marketing.The goal was to have a team that collaborated from the planning through to execution, deliver more value more rapidly and to be more responsive to a our changing environment.We still set our overall goals and broad strategies for 6-12 months, and a list of what we want to deliver.

  • We have a “”backlog“” of projects that is constantly re-prioritised, based on what we agree with our “client” (the business). We work in 2 1/2 week cycles (“sprints”) where we deliver either a completed project or a defined phase of a project.
  • We write exactly what we will be delivering on cards, which in turn are stuck on a white board (the scrum board) which is visible to everyone in the team, and everyone in the business.
  • The board is used to track the activity, i.e they are updated every other day (we used to do this daily, but found we didn’t need that frequency), showing the progress made and eventually moving from one side of the board (not started) to the other (completed).
  • Rather than the traditional team meetings, we have regular “stand up” meetings around the board to update each other on three basic questions: what did I do yesterday, what will I be doing today, and do I have any roadblocks in my path that stop me doing my job.
  • There is no moving the end of the sprint date; the deadline is set in stone, but if you see that certain items can’t be delivered, you can negotiate with “the client” (which in our case is essentially the business, represented by an executive)
  • At the end of a “sprint” we get together, and sometimes invite others to show what we have done, in a “”demo””, (ok, I call it “show and tell”..) The purpose is to make the achievements highly visible, and to celebrate the success.

So what have we gained from this?

  • First, we deliver more of the right things. We re-prioritise every couple of weeks, and we deliver specific outcomes at the end of every sprint.
  • Second, we have fewer distractions. Now when someone in the business comes up with the next great idea we should be executing, we put it in the “backlog” for the next sprint, and people understand that.
  • Third, we work far more as an integrated team. Everyone has ownership of the actions on the board, is aware of them right from the planning stages and feels part of the process.

What’s difficult

There are still challenges of course. For example, the planning process every week (which is critical to the delivery) is time consuming, and if you’re not careful, you either spend too much time on it, or not enough (resulting in poorly scoped projects that can’t be delivered in the sprint).We probably also have more dependencies on others for input, review, feedback and sign off than a typical software development project. This often puts our ability to execute the final product within the sprint in jeopardy.

For you?

Well, that depends on whether there is a problem to address. Why change when everything runs like clock work.For those of you who do recognise some of these marketing execution challenges, drop me a line if you want to know more about our experience.

So what’s your experience? Have you tried something similar? Do you have other ideas or questions? Keen to hear from you.
12 Dec

Agile in marketing- is SCRUM a new way for marketing project management?

“90% of our activity is in execution (Even for those that do take strategy seriously). What holds you back more than anything in executing on your plans? My guess is that it probably somewhere between competing priorities and changing priorities.This post is about a different way of managing your marketing projects. First a bit of context: The company I work for Aconex, adopted an “”agile”” software development approach a few years ago, widely used by modern software development companies. I took part in their workshops and realised that the problems software developers face, are not too different from ours.

The traditional approach – The “waterfall” method

A major challenge for software development teams is that there are always far more ideas of what should be developed, than there are people/money to develop.

On top of that, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what the final product should look like. Think about it. You have an idea about what the software should do, but how do you foresee all the great new ideas that come about when you actually start using/playing with the software? It’s as much a creative process as a “”design”” process.In traditional software development methodologies, one or more people write a spec of exactly what they understand their client (the business they work for, or an actual client) wants, (takes a lot of time), hand it over to developers who build the whole thing (takes a lot of time) and then to another team who test it. It’s called a “”waterfall”” method, reflecting the typical GANNT chart of activity. It’s one all marketers are familiar with.

Often, by the time the people who provided the input (client) see the end result, it is not quite what they expected. (We’ve all read the stories of tech projects years in the making failing to deliver little or no value at all.)There are a bunch of reasons for this. A very common one is that people often can’t exactly visualise what they want.Another issue is that the best ideas to solve a problem can come at any time, not necessarily at the beginning of the project, when it is being designed. Finally, the people who write the code often have only a limited idea of what the business problem is that their code solves. In a traditional world, these development projects can take anything from months to years, and only at the very end it is clear that the project is a success or a failure.In comes “”agile”” development.

A “potentially shippable product”

The core concept is that you work closely with the “client”(which could be an actual client or the business itself) to develop “”stories”” that articulate what it is that they want the software to do. (Stay with me, we’ll get to the marketing bit in a minute.)They then work in short cycles, called “sprints” involving all the team participants to deliver a “potentially shippable product”, that the client can evaluate and provide feedback on to determine the appropriateness. The key is that you are “”agile”” in your ability to respond to the needs of your client, or new and better ways to solve a problem. Importantly, it is the whole team who are responsible for the delivery, forcing close cooperation.

The relevance to marketing

I went to the workshops essentially to make sure we understood what the development teams would be doing, but I walked out with the idea that the problems they were trying to solve were very similar to the challenges we face in marketing.Like our development friends, we’re in a business that is continuously changing, like many businesses today. We continue to enter new markets, develop new partnerships, new products. There is always far more that we could be doing than we have time or resources for, so prioritisation is essential. Similar to the development environment, the best ideas to solve a problem don’t always get thought of in the annual planning session. To further complicate that, the marketing tools at our disposal also continue to evolve at a rapid rate.I’ve never worked on a 12 months marketing plan that:

  1. Was executed the way it was planned at the beginning
  2. Met the needs of the (changing) business during that 12 months
  3. Was actually developed by the team that was meant to deliver it

More likely than not, the plan is written at the beginning of the year, agreed, worked on for a few months at best, before the world changes and the plan is forgotten about until next year’s planning.

As always, you’re never alone

When I started looking into this, I realised that quite a few people in marketing have realised the same. Andrew Filev in his Project Management 2.0 blog writes about yahoo, H&M, John Deere using the same with great success.  Another good read is Jim Ewel’s Agilemarketing.net, who’s actually seen a business opportunity in it and provides lots of resourcesNext post: read how we applied it and what we learnt