If you’re familiar with Ascendle, chances are you’re familiar with both Scrum and agile.
The Scrum framework has been adopted by software teams worldwide because of its efficiency and effectiveness in delivering software. Since its inception just over 20 years ago, Scrum has evolved and become applicable for more than just software development.
In fact, the official Scrum guide has been updated and changed to reflect its widespread use in other business functions – including marketing. If you have a team of people and a list of work you need to get done, Scrum is the perfect framework for managing collaboration.
We adopted Scrum here at Ascendle when we first started in 2013. However, it wasn’t until early 2020 that we began using Scrum in our marketing department. I am here to tell you first-hand that it has been a massive success. In this article, I will be outlining how and why it works so well.
Why Scrum Works
Scrum is such an effective collaboration method for marketing because it sets incremental deadlines for teams to complete every two weeks. There’s always work to be done in marketing, whether it be to improve your social media presence, push out advertisements online, create high-quality content, or anything else in between. Much of marketing is highly creative work, and it’s been said that creative work is never done; it’s just due. By working off a two-week cadence, our team consistently finishes new initiatives.
Having two-week deadlines creates a sense of urgency for your team to complete everything you entered in the sprint. At the end of each sprint, we hold a Sprint Review, where all members of our company are invited to attend. In this Scrum ceremony, we share and demonstrate everything that we completed in our previous two-week sprint. This helps motivate our team to always finish what we set out to complete and holds us accountable for the quality of our work.
The kicker with Scrum is that it allows you to be agile, which means you can always adjust what the next most important thing is to complete. This allows the most critical items that generate the most value to be completed before anything else.
We’re an in-house marketing team; therefore, our primary stakeholder is our CEO. If he comes to us and says the highest priority item for us to work on is a case study for a new client, we’ll be able to adjust our backlog to reflect this priority and begin creating the case study in the following sprint to avoid scope creep.
Having the flexibility to work on the stories with the highest priority enables our marketing team to always generate the maximum amount of business value for our organization each sprint.
Discipline is the Key
Scrum works wonders in a variety of ways. One of the best ways to have Scrum work for your marketing team is by having strict discipline. Discipline brings efficiencies, and efficiencies drive value.
By having a disciplined Scrum team, you complete more work more frequently, and the work you complete is prioritized by the amount of business value it produces, meaning that you are consistently making the business better, week after week, sprint after sprint.
Another way Scrum works is that employees are self-directed. While there are roles in a Scrum team, there is no hierarchy. Teams never get assigned stories and tasks to work on; they volunteer for them. By volunteering to complete a story or task, you take responsibility for its completion. Having absolute accountability over a story or task creates eustress amongst team members, allowing them to complete high-quality work as fast as they can.
Today’s marketers (and particularly those on small teams like ours) are often tasked with being multi-taskers, with the ability to understand content marketing, search engine optimization, and pay-per-click advertising. Sprinkle in a little graphic design and you quickly understand that the cross-functional nature of Scrum and marketing easily go hand-in-hand.
Not only do we create quality work quickly, but with two-week sprints, we continuously try to outdo our last. These biweekly iterations help the team drive innovation.
It’s All About Communicating
“Individuals and interactions over process and tools.” This is the first of four pillars that make up the agile manifesto, and arguably the most important one. Communication is key, and it makes all the difference both short-term and long-term.
A downside to a traditional marketing team is a lack of communication. Oftentimes, team members aren’t always on the same page with one another or with their stakeholders.
Poor communication greatly hinders a team’s ability to produce, regardless of which department they’re in. Poor workplace communication leads to poor performance.
Scrum solves this issue by having daily stand-ups. In these meetings, every team member shares what they did since the last stand-up, what they’re going to commit to completing today, and any impediments that are preventing them from completing a story or task.
By doing this, you’re ensuring that your team is constantly on the same page and always striving to complete the next most important thing without overlapping with a coworker.
Another issue with traditional marketing teams is the process of dealing with new hires. Not only does it cost money and take time to onboard new employees, but the time it takes existing employees to train new hires and get them in the swing of things can be very costly to marketing teams.
While this is an inevitable issue with any marketing team, whether they’re using Scrum or not, Scrum is a very disciplined process. Once the new hire understands the processes and how a typical work week looks during a sprint, it’s quite easy for them to quickly become a cross-functional, contributing member of the team.
To make this process even easier, at Ascendle, we document everything. By documenting each and every process we do, it makes it easy for anybody, even if they have no familiarity with marketing, to volunteer for a task without needing another team member to walk them through each step.
Challenges of Scrum for Marketing
While there is a lot of upside to utilizing Scrum in marketing, all that glitters is not gold. A large challenge that marketing teams may face when using Scrum is that there is a steep learning curve.
The proper use of Scrum is dependent on a strict regimen, and not many marketers know how to apply Scrum. Likewise, resources for those looking to extend Scrum into their marketing team are few and far between.
Moreover, corporate culture is famous for expecting marketing departments to react to the newest, shiniest things. However, when using Scrum in marketing, we are seeking agility – that being, the ability to respond to change in demand. Changing for the sake of change is not always an example of measured prioritization. Thus, organizations must realize that just as agile software development shouldn’t be automatically reactive, neither should marketing.
Though software has a reputation for being a swiftly changing industry, one could argue that new marketing platforms emerge at an even faster rate than a new programming language. As such, you may have to plan for more spikes or consider dual-track agile, so your team has the ability to research and stay on top of new trends.
If you haven’t given it a try with your marketing department, our team here at Ascendle cannot recommend Scrum enough. If you’re looking for ways to get your team to embrace Scrum, there are plenty of articles on our website that can help you get started.
If you’re planning to implement Scrum into your team(s), we highly recommend reading, The Epic Guide to Agile, written by Ascendle CEO, Dave Todaro. This is the “bible” of our organization, and we use it as the backbone for our workflow every single day. If you have a disciplined team and you follow this book without cutting corners, we can guarantee success while using Scrum.
So, if you have a marketing team, try shifting towards using Scrum. Don’t limit your use of Scrum to software or marketing teams, either. Companies like Fidelity, GE, and IBM use Scrum throughout their businesses. It’s worked for us, it’s worked for them, and it can work for you, too.