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Scrum for Marketing

July 23, 2019

"Scrum for Marketing"Scrum was developed out of necessity. Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber needed a better way to develop software and built Scrum out of three very simple ideas. Empirical process, self-organized teams, and continuous improvement. Those three ideas defined the framework that over the last 20+ years has been used by thousands of teams to solve complex problems.

Scrum’s roots are in software, but it is being used in many more domains ranging from developing cars, pharmaceutical drugs, even running the police force. Scrum is an approach that helps teams and teams of teams to form around solving complex problems. It encourages a focus on learning via done work and continually allows the team to plan via transparency.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that marketing has taken the ideas of Scrum and started using them to better approach their work. I am not a marketing expert, but over the last few months, I have learned how marketing and Scrum seem to be a perfect fit. I wanted to share my learning journey as we launch, with Avanade and SiriusDecisions, a podcast series that describes our thoughts on how Scrum and marketing fit together. David Carmichael from Avanade also talks more about the podcast and the reasoning behind it here.  


The many benefits of using Scrum for marketing

About a year ago I sat down with David Carmichael, who leads Global Solutions and Industry Marketing at Avanade, to talk about how they were using Scrum. David described how he was introduced to Scrum when he was asked to better market Avanade’s use of Scrum. When David learned about Scrum it made such sense to him that he decided to use Scrum in marketing. To paraphrase David, the results have been fantastic not only in delivering more “stuff” to market faster, but also improving the morale of the team and getting better alignment to the customer. Hearing him describe the initial experiences highlighted some key benefits of using Scrum for marketing:


  • Different priorities are dealt with in a clear and concise way. Marketing suffers from priority overload with every part of the organization wanting attention and effort. Strategic plans often get added to as sales teams or product management discover immediate opportunities, which were not known at planning. By having a Product Backlog that clearly shows the priority, it allows marketing to have better discussions with stakeholders. There is never enough time or money, but making sure that everyone understands that their ask is not alone and that decisions have to be made ensures that there are fewer surprises.
  • Regular reviews bring stakeholders together. Marketing is often accused of being a black hole in which requests go in and then they deliver stuff that does not work for the local field, product teams or communications groups. Sprints provide a regular opportunity for stakeholders to review what teams are doing and provide feedback. They also allow changes in local conditions to be quickly delivered to marketing to ensure that work is not wasted.
  • The Product Owner makes decisions even if there are many different “important” stakeholders. Marketing has many customers and that can mean work is slowed down to gain input, review, and signoff. By empowering one person to drive the priority of the work and be accountable for the value delivered, Scrum reduces the overhead of multiple customers. Input is still given throughout the process and the Sprint Review provides a regular mechanism for review and feedback, but time is not wasted waiting for input from stakeholders. Decisions are made, even if they are wrong!
  • Improved marketing analytics changes the way planning happens. Traditionally, marketing delivered programs to market and then slowly captured the results of those programs through closed sales or customer surveys. Today marketing has more modern tools to provide better insight into customer use of the materials. By having a regular Sprint cycle and encouraging feedback that leads to changes in planned work, Scrum provides a way to take that data and use it. Also, by surfacing some of this data at the Sprint Review, stakeholders who would never read the emails or reports get more visibility, which then, in turn, helps with their feedback.


Dealing with pressures from every side

The conversation with David led me to discussions with Simon Jones from SiriusDecisions. SiriusDecisions, now part of Forrester Research, is an analyst firm that specializes in marketing and strategy. Simon described a landscape with an increased need for agility as marketing departments deal with pressures from every side. He described:

  • Shorter timescales demanded by organizations. We live in the age of rapidly changing information cycles. The news is perhaps the best example with stories coming out and being forgotten in a blink of an eye. Marketing communications also has been affected by the changes in how people consume information. These changes have not gone unnoticed by organizations, which in turn has put more pressure on marketing to deliver faster and more frequently.
  • More potential knowledge about the customer. Along with changing information cycles comes the improvements in the amount of information we can capture about the customer or the customer value stream. Of course, the high-profile information acquisition by companies like Facebook and the increased European legislation (such as the General Data Protection Regulation) has put a spotlight on how this works, but the reality continues to be that we have more ways to learn about our customer. But that information is only valuable if it is acted on. This means a fundamental change in the way in which marketing plans work, or even describes that work. More frequent data means more frequent decision-making and thus changes to plans and work products.
  • Focused, more frequent customer deliverables. The increased amount of data, in turn, leads to more focused customer deliverables, which in turn leads to more data. To keep any handle on the work requires increased transparency as the work becomes more and more complex with fewer knowns and more unknowns. Complex project plans are replaced with simple backlogs and planning is broken down to “just in time” or “just before we do it.”
  • More skills required to deliver value. The promise of technology coupled with the increased specialism of the profession has led to the need to involve more skills in delivering marketing value. For example, you need an SEO expert, a data scientist, a copy editor, a messaging expert and a graphic designer just to create a Google ad. This means that everyone is dependent on everyone else, which has led to project management gridlock and chaos.
  • And everyone “knows” marketing because of the internet. Just like everyone now is a mobile app expert or can provide advice on how to use the power of Google Ads, the mysticism of “mad men” has been replaced with a false sense of science provided by social media. Everyone thinks they know the right Google Ads or Facebook placement. Everyone wants to hire an SEO expert or data scientist. This has led to many of the traditional, still important aspects of marketing being ignored or time spent on them questioned.


Using Scrum to address complexity

Marketing, like so much knowledge work, is suffering from complexity; complexity because of the customer, stakeholders, improved data and the increased rhythm of the market. Scrum is great at dealing with complexity. As we spent more time looking at marketing, I uncovered a few other members of our community working in this space.

Professional Scrum Trainer, Yuval Yuret has been working with many marketing teams, helping them to use a combination of Scrum and Kanban to effectively manage complexity. His blogs describe the way in which marketing maps to the agile manifesto.

Professional Scrum Trainer, Dave Dame described the journey that he was part of at Scotia Bank. He explained how Scrum provided a better connection with the customer and drove clear progress towards shared goals.

If you are interested in this topic, we started a new LinkedIn Group. Please join the discussion. The first episode of the Scrum for Marketing podcast is available here.

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