Over the past year, our marketing department has slowly adopted some Scrum methodologies. In this blog post, I reflect on the impact of Scrum on the department and provide insight on the challenges/benefits of Scrum in marketing.
Let’s recap, what is Scrum?
According to Kelly Waters, author of All About Agile, “Scrum is a simple and repeatable way of managing work based on the principles and values of the agile manifesto.” It was originally designed for software development work, although it is not specific to software development so it can be used to manage any work. In fact, you are seeing more and more teams outside of development getting inspiration and being influenced by Scrum methodologies. This can often be noticed in IT companies or tech startups, where the development department is the majority of the staff. If the majority of your staff have adopted agile and made it a way of life, then leadership will be aware of its benefits and you’ll see agile principles spreading throughout the organization. Which is exactly what happened to Leaseweb!
Why might a marketing department need Scrum?
The main catalysts that lead to this project being kicked off were needing to create a new culture, process, and team environment. I wouldn’t say this was a Scrum for Crisis situation, but we needed to make a change to how we were working. Marketing teams often have a slightly chaotic way of working, with a lack of continuity and a high number of ad hoc tasks coming from other departments. Urgent but not important tasks often happen outside of standard processes, and they can quietly erode team productivity without anyone noticing.
By defining our own work tasks and adding a process with planning and reflection, we could learn from agile principles and become a more efficient and unified team. That was the aim anyway, but of course, we ran into some challenges…
Some adoption hurdles
1. Learning to say ‘no’
As I mentioned earlier, marketing teams get a lot of ad hoc work. According to Workfront’s State of Marketing report, US Marketing Professionals spend just 36% of the time doing the tasks they were hired to do.
Working out priorities and time management were ongoing issues for our department. We wanted to remain flexible and be able to assist with important ad hoc work to some extent, but also didn’t want to get distracted from our planned tasks which were closer linked to our company marketing goals. Each employee had to get more efficient at working out their priorities and saying ‘no’ to ad hoc requests when they needed to.
2. Point alignment
Another challenge we encountered was concerning point scoring (assigned to units of work) and being aligned throughout the department. This stems from not knowing how much work goes into tasks where you have no previous experience or understanding of the time/effort required. We also had to be coached a few times on the principle of breaking down boulders into rocks and rocks into pebbles. It took us a few card group scoring sessions to get in sync with how different tasks should be pointed and for everyone to fully understand why tasks should be broken down. Once we were better aligned, I think this improved the overall team environment as we had a better understanding of the time/effort required to carry out different tasks and therefore could empathize with other people’s roles a bit better.
3. Scrum Mastering
The Scrum Master has to lead the major sprint actions of the group, such as stand-ups, planning meetings, and managing sprint reviews. For our marketing department, it made sense for each sub-team lead to fulfil the role of the Scrum Master. The team leads were trained on their responsibilities and the tools to use, and then it was left up to the team leads to implement everything.
Problems arose as some Scrum Masters implemented Scrum in their sub-teams more effectively than others – creating different ways of working throughout the department. Also changes in personnel through some more spanners in the works, as new Scrum Masters were appointed who hadn’t learnt the art of Scrummaging yet! This was an important takeaway, as even though self-organizing teams are key principle of agile, it pays to have a good Scrum Master. For marketing teams or agencies that want to implement Scrum more effectively, it could be worth investing in qualified Scrum Masters.
Some Scrum victories
Despite the aforementioned challenges, we’ve seen some improvements to our team since we adopted Scrum.
1. Tackling the bigger issues
Scrum brings the necessary structure to marketing teams and enables them to tackle the bigger issues. According to a Harvard Business study, 95% of a company’s employees are unaware of, or don’t understand their company’s strategy. By adding more strategic meetings, our team was able to define projects that contribute towards the overall goals of the company, and also combat ad hoc tasks. The agile metaphor of breaking down boulders provides a helpful approach for tackling sizable projects which everyone got on board with. One step at a time!
2. Improved communication
Scrum adds planned intervals (also known as stand-ups) for planning and reviewing, allowing for clear and frequent communication. During stand-ups, we often resolved issues by thinking of ways around blockers or giving feedback on how to improve the process.
The project management tools such as JIRA used by Scrum teams are effective in adding more visibility to everyone’s work and therefore removing unnecessary communication. These tools allow you to set realistic expectations on delivery and give status updates – which can then be tracked by all stakeholders. The new framework and tooling also enabled more efficient project management, as they provide more clarity on the roles and responsibilities within a project.
The review process which takes places in stand-up meetings is a great way for Scrum Masters to monitor employee performance and hold them accountable for keeping projects moving. It’s been a useful management tool for team leads in our marketing department as they can provide direct feedback on individual tasks and team projects. You can also monitor team performance through the burndown chart – providing a useful KPI for team productivity.
The main takeaways
Bringing Scrum into marketing takes time, and it’s something that everyone has to embrace. You have to move past the hurdles which come with implementing new ideas, such as resistance from staff and misalignment. One year on, it’s evident that our whole marketing department now appreciates the Scrum framework and the benefits it brings, such as improved communication and productivity gains. A big win was that Scrum brought the necessary structure which was missing from marketing, enabling the team them to tackle more significant projects together.