Marketers are constantly seeking ways to be faster and more nimble, especially as social media, content, and digital marketing technology have changed the way they’ve traditionally gone to market. The days of executing static campaigns planned months in advance are gone.

In today’s world of constant customer feedback, marketers must be able to adjust their plans based on what’s trending in digital and social media. And with that, they need a better way to manage their marketing projects. That is why many are looking at agile marketing and frameworks, such as scrum and kanban, to help.

Delivering experimental campaigns, getting feedback, iterating, and then building on the winning concept is the reality for today’s marketer.

Agile methodologies are more commonly seen in software development, which has been transitioning from waterfall (big-bang launches) to agile (small, incremental releases) over the last decade. Software has seen first-hand the benefits of learning from customers quickly, rather than hoping their big launch is a hit.

Agile project management helps teams increase productivity, transparency and output, without which these factors would be nearly impossible to track. But can the same agile methodologies used to deliver products really help marketers in delivering campaigns? We think the answer is yes.

First, what are agile methodologies?

Agile is an iterative approach to managing projects that focuses on continuous releases and incorporating customer feedback with every iteration. Stemming from Toyota’s lean manufacturing concept of the 1940s, agile methodologies were adopted to reduce waste and increase transparency across teams while quickly addressing the ever-changing needs of customers.

Traditional agile can be categorized into two leading schools of thought, or frameworks, called scrum and kanban. In the case of scrum, projects are managed through fixed-length iterations of work, called sprints. While scrum is focused on fixed-length iterations, kanban is focused on continuous releases. When a project or task (also known as a story) in kanban is complete, it’s launched and the team moves on to the next story.

Scrum for agile marketing

The basic framework for managing projects with scrum includes sprint planning, daily scrum (also called stand ups), sprint reviews, and sprint retrospectives. Its primary focus is getting things done in a fixed-length of time, which can vary from team to team. Many marketers are stating that one-week sprints are ideal, when in software, two weeks seems to be the standard.

Sprint planning: A team planning meeting to decide on the work to be completed in the coming sprint, (a fixed-length of time, often 1-2 weeks). The work chosen is based on what can be accomplished in that timeframe. The team pulls from a larger to-do list, otherwise known as a backlog, and takes the next priority items from the backlog to work on in the next sprint.
Daily scrum
or stand up:
A 15-minute mini-meeting in which the team discusses sprint progress and any roadblocks.
Sprint reviews or demos: A team meeting in which members share what they completed or delivered at the end of the sprint. This helps increase transparency across teams.
Sprint retrospectives: A ceremony (could be a meeting or a report) where team members identify what worked and what didn’t in the sprint, in addition to reflecting on how close their estimate of what could get done was to reality.

Agile marketers using scrum see it fitting well with content or production-style marketing, where a project is finite, the requirements are simple to define, and it can be shipped at the end of the sprint. It’s important to note, however, that in scrum for marketing, you might deliver a portion of a campaign, like the design for a webpage, at the end of the sprint rather than the entire campaign all at once.

Early adopter, Mark Gopez, former head of marketing for Gliffy, used scrum management practices for his team. Their stories, or projects, range from landing page experiments, website content changes, email drip campaigns, and even hiring. For example in a landing page experiment, Mark’s sprint planning meetings identify the webpage requirements, the creative and design resources needed, the task driver, and the hypothesis (what they think this landing page will accomplish based on some trend they’re seeing).

During the sprint, Mark’s team has a daily standup which is a 15-minute mini-meeting focused on what’s been done, what needs to be done, and who needs to talk with whom. If there’s an issue or blocker, this is the time to surface it. At the end of the sprint, the team demos what was accomplished to all teams, including their software teams, keeping everyone in the know about what is being done. They finish off with a sprint retrospective, which helps the team continually improve their process and the projects they delivered.

Below is an example of the agile workflow Gliffy uses for their marketing projects. One story may be tested and deployed in a single sprint and then passed to the implementation team for the deployment phase in the next sprint.

agile marketing team workflow

With this process, the Gliffy marketing team has not only reduced the number of hours spent in meetings, but also removed bottlenecks, helping them stay focused on delivering. Mark sees scrum as having helped his team increase visibility into its projects and correctly set expectations for project management:

Scrum allows my team to communicate effectively across departments and upwards (for management). Communication from marketing typically lacks transparency – no one knows what marketing is doing or what to look for from marketing. With scrum, visibility into our sprint(s) and when to expect completion of these stories/tasks is available for anyone to see. Setting expectations is crucial for individual, departmental, and company success – scrum has allowed us predict and measure things that historically are difficult to measure.

Many are turning to project management technology to help support their agile marketing processes. For example, Jira boards are a great way for agile marketing teams to visualize the work they have planned for their sprints. Below is an example Jira board used by Jeff Julian, author of the book, Agile Marketing, Building Endurance for your Content Marketing Efforts. Everyone on the team can see the progress and tasks for each team member during the sprint.

Scrum broad for agile marketing

Jira tasks can also help teams define stories/projects. Jeff recommends using agile marketing for managing content. He uses Jira tasks to map stories/projects to personas, to ensure that things like the emotion you are trying to invoke for the persona, call to action, and time estimates are accounted for during sprint planning.

User story for agile marketing

Kanban for agile marketing

In the case of kanban for marketing, there are also four main project management components:

List of tasks
(or stories):
Stories are marketing tasks that contain objectives, goals, personas, etc. that provide some value to the customer.
Columns or lanes: Kanban boards are tools to help people visualize their work. Lanes and columns are used on a kanban board to segment tasks from different workstreams, users, projects, etc. They can be labeled by the status of the task, for example, where one column could be called “To Do” and all stories that are ready to be worked on would sit under that column.
Work in Progress (WIP) limits: A rule to limit the amount of work to be done based on the teams capacity. Say for example your team of two cannot have more than five stories in the “In Progress” column at one time, that would be your WIP limit. This in one of the major differences between scrum, where teams fit tasks to the sprint/timeframe, kanban fits them to the teams capacity.
Continuous releases: Releases are the delivery of tasks. The team works on the amount of stories that adhere to the agreed upon WIP limit until those stories get to done, then they immediately move to the next.

While scrum seems to be the most popular option for agile marketing teams today, kanban can be a more accessible way to introduce agile marketing into your existing processes. Remember, scrum runs on a fixed-length of time where your team is required to deliver something. Often, teams need multiple sprints to complete an entire project. In kanban for marketing, there are no sprints, allowing marketers to release projects as soon as they are completed.

This method might be a better choice for some marketing teams, especially design and UX, where timeboxing their work might be impossible. For instance, our product marketing team at Atlassian uses boards for kanban. Instead of having a backlog of all the tasks that are not being worked on (like in scrum), we see everything that needs to be done and where it stands in the workflow.

Kanban board for agile marketing

My team throws in weekly stand ups for good measure, though this is not a founding management principle of traditional kanban. In kanban for marketing, unlike scrum, there are no defined roles. Teams are built around the tasks or projects, with the project driver is accountable for putting the right people together to get to done.

Agile for All

Mark Gopez touts that just six months into running scrum with his marketing team, they increased the number of stories they completed by 300%. Additionally, it brought the product and marketing teams closer together as they are able to share the same methods, sprint schedules, tools and a common project management language among them. Zac Prospersi, a SaaS Dev Manager at Gliffy said that sharing agile practices made for the best relationship with marketing that he’s ever had.

A productivity increase of 300%? You had me at #agilemarketing

Marketers are actively seeking new project management techniques to keep up with their high-paced demand, while still preserving the creative process. Whether your team is thinking about trying agile marketing in order to better communicate with your development teams, or to simply produce more, faster, there is still a lot to be learned for applying agile principles to marketing projects. But the only way to know if agile marketing works for your team is to try it out, which would be very agile of you.


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