Challenges with applying Scrum in marketing

The first part of this article will sound geeky because it provides an overview of Scrum in software development. In the following section we then discuss Scrum in the context of marketing and the agile marketing case study we present will not be the usual type of sweet story everyone shares, but will focus on the issues marketing teams will encounter in their journey towards marketing agility.

Scrum in software development

What is Scrum? Scrum is the most popular agile framework for complex software development projects. The use of Scrum has been very successful within the IT industry when compared to other project management methodologies, because it has been proven to improve team collaboration, communication and planning in order to successfully deliver value to customers. In the context of software development, a Scrum team will be comprised of a Product owner, a Scrum master and a development team. These scrum teams are guided by values of: courage, focus, commitment, respect and openness, which lay the foundation for the three pillars of Scrum: transparency, inspection and adaptation.

This lightweight methodology is further enacted through the following events: sprints, sprint planning meetings, daily Scrum meetings, sprint review meetings and sprint retrospective meetings. With artifacts such as Product backlog, Sprint backlog. For more information on Scrum in IT/software development, visit http://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html.

Potential issues for Scrum in marketing?

My experiences of Scrum in marketing were mostly within marketing teams in the software industry, in which we cherry picked and adapted parts of the Scrum framework. Although the prescriptive structure of Scrum dictates the specific team roles (as mentioned above), we ignored the temptation of changing individual job titles as recommended by Scrum framework and instead we adapted the role of the CMO to align with the Product owner role and rotated the Scrum master role across the team.

External dependencies

Marketing teams cannot focus on completing tasks within a sprint without incorporating external requests from other departments, which does not align with the commitment to task within the sprint as recommended by Scrum. My marketing team were flexible with accepting extra work within the sprint because we were more interested in completing campaign tasks that had direct impact on increasing company revenue.

Waterfall campaigns

Another reality is that some marketing campaigns are waterfall through and through because everything about these campaigns is predictable. Some B2B events like Oracle Openworld and others have a fixed date and time and the scope, cost and time scaled is rigidly fixed. Planning and execution of these events is always sequential and spans across multiple sprints leading up the date of the event. This does not make the marketing campaigns to promote such events less agile, but it is important to understand and accept that agile marketing is not about “waterfall vs agile”, but about delivering value to the customer irrespective of the framework or process adopted. One key consideration is that the process must provide learning opportunities for the marketing team and a customer feedback loop which will guide campaign planning and execution.

Skills shortage

Scrum teams in software development most often have skilled developers with all the skills requirements needed to complete the task at hand. In our agile marketing team we realised that there were tasks that we were unable to complete within the team due to the lack of skills within the team and we depended on external agencies to complete these tasks on our behalf. This made it very difficult to estimate these tasks, both in terms of time required and in terms of the overall cost. The point I am trying to make here is that marketing teams rely heavily on external agencies to execute campaigns like paid search, analytics and social media marketing. These agencies are not collocated with the rest of the team and sometimes these agencies are based in another country, often within a different time zones, posing additional challenges for planning and communication. Teams that have to rely on external agencies for different aspects of the campaign in most instances do not have the skills required to be completely self-organising in terms of executing end-to-end campaigns.

Estimation can cause stress

While working with an agile marketing team, I realised some of the agile marketing team members didn’t really like the detailed estimation of tasks, because they felt stressed and under pressure to complete the tasks they agreed to at the beginning of the sprint. Although estimating tasks for each campaign is important, we need to make sure this does not increase the stress levels of team members. One of the teachings of the Spotify model is “impact over velocity”, which means we should focus on executing campaign tasks that increase revenue and not the other way round.

Performance appraisals

A few years ago, Jack Welch who was the CEO of General Electric decided to cancel the company’s annual performance reviews after 30 years in a bid to reduce employee stress and improve overall performance. Some managers enjoy it when people constantly praise them for their strong suits and this is ok if the people working for them enjoy constantly doing this. However, working in a range of agile teams, I noticed that intense competition arises within the team when it is made up of individuals who are only interested in their own personal success. If the team’s performance appraisal is based on the performance of individuals and not the team or company as a whole, how will it possible to develop a culture of collaboration and teamwork?

Conclusion

To conclude, agile marketing is similar to the Scrum analogy of a team sport, but the difference is that marketing team’s tasks are structured in response to the customer journey. Therefore, some individuals within the team are responsible for creating awareness and initiating purchase of products and services, after which they pass the baton to the people responsible for engaging existing customers who then pass the baton to the individuals responsible for customer loyalty and experience. It is a team effort that requires a range of skill sets and clear and timely communication between individuals in different stages of the process.

About The Author

Femi Olajiga an Agile Marketing Coach who provides Agile marketing training workshops and coaching that helps CMO’s, Directors and Marketing Teams adopt agile marketing. He is also the author of the book: Lean-Agile Marketing: How to Become Agile and Deliver Marketing Success. Available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. He enables companies to become agile across marketing to drive business growth. For further information, connect or follow me LinkedIn, Twitter or visit my blog CXconversion.com.

If you’d like to learn how to develop an agile mindset or just generally learn more about Agile and Scrum in Non-IT Software teams or about Agile marketing specifically, consider reading the book below — Lean Agile Marketing: How to Become Agile and Deliver Marketing Success.