Agile Implementation for Marketing Team: How We Do It
Agile Development
Agile Implementation for Marketing Team: How We Do It
Agile Implementation for Marketing Team: How We Do It
Agile Development

Agile Implementation for Marketing Team: How We Do It

Agile ways of working are quickly becoming a trend and making rounds across companies, having now seeped into departments and industry sectors that aren’t even directly related to software development. Have you been asking yourself, can Agile be used for non-software projects? Definitely, yes. In fact, it proves to be equally beneficial for non-IT teams, since Agile principles and processes can be just as efficiently applied to marketing, finance, legal, and a variety of other teams and departments within a company. Teams that act in support and are often viewed as supplementary to product development teams within an organization, can greatly benefit from adopting the same principles in work management as their more techy counterparts.

Manifest Agile Marketing

The perks of adopting Agile as your workplace philosophy is in its flexibility and versatile assortment of ideas and concepts. It always comes back to making the most of your time and efforts in order to work as a team and push for the result. Marketers saw these benefits as desirable and so in 2012, an event took place that has since been known as Sprint Zero, where marketers came together to align their vision of Agile in the context of marketing. They have come up with values and principles that were put together in the Agile Marketing Manifesto. Agile ways of working pull you out of a tangent, help you keep the focus on the goal, and know where you are standing in your progress at any given moment. What’s more, it connects the dots between all the diverse parts of a team and makes you operate as a single mechanism, where one gear connects to the other and everything moves in unison.

Marketing teams are now so comfortable with Agile that, according to the 4th Annual State of Agile Marketing Report published by AgileSherpas, in 2021 as many as 51% of marketers were using Agile in their daily work, and out of those over one-half were using a hybrid Agile framework rather than strictly sticking to just one, Scrum or Kanban. This indicates that Agile has already ‘entered the building’ and non-IT teams don’t hesitate to take it as it is and adjust Agile basics to the specifics of their line of work.

Symphony Solutions Does Agile: Our Story

Agile Marketing Genesis: Zero to Hero

Agile is typically used within software development teams as a way to streamline their processes and aim for continuous delivery of updates and new features. That’s what it was initially designed for, so using it as a way of managing non-IT teams requires a creative approach. Having said that, it definitely comes with its benefits and is worth giving a try. The Agile approach can introduce a more efficient and transparent way of working, boost teamwork, and help the team keep their eyes on the goal. Approaching a non-technical team with the intention of introducing Agile, you may expect to run into issues that will be specific to the team, its composition and the practices they have settled in due to the nature of their work and interactions within the team or other departments. In fact, one may come to a curious realization, as was the case with Symphony Solutions Digital Marketing team when they decided to take the leap and go Agile:

“It was chaos, constant firefighting, idle time, no transparency, and the team stakeholders were not happy with the state of things and established processes, or more like lack thereof,”

Andriy Romanukha, Expert Agilist and Agile Coach at Symphony Solutions.

Setting Up the Experiment: Initial Steps. Essential Changes

Case in point, we found ourselves with a Digital Marketing cross-functional team that possessed all the skillsets required to deliver the final result, Scrum framework.

  • One-week sprints. These are the standard practice in Agile, so it was the expected way to go. What was important though, introducing sprints helped manage the initial existing chaos that was coming from the lack of strictly set expectations and a limit on just how many “fires” exactly a team can deal with realistically. Introducing sprints as a limited chunk of time where the team was expected to deliver tangible results helped tone down the constant sense of urgency and reset with a focus on a realistic goal.
  • JIRA Scrum board and backlog can greatly contribute to improving the workflows and setting goals for the sprints. Defining the scope of work for the upcoming sprints and allocating some time for preparations allowed the team to have a wide backlog of tasks ready for pick-up in case any current tasks are blocked or extra capacity opens up at any point during the sprint.
  • All ceremonies except refinement were introduced in the team. Agile ceremonies are necessary for the team to be able to follow the principles of this way of working, so the team started right off with daily stand-up meetings, sprint demo, and planning.
  • No estimation in the beginning. A good idea is to let the team get familiar with their capabilities, and get a sense of their own capacity for the sprint. Eventually, the team will understand what they can accomplish within the sprint realistically and layer it with the concept of task estimation in Agile.
  • Full-time Scrum Master took on the role of helping the team get on with the new practices, and follow the Agile ceremonies.

Early Wins and A-ha Moments

As the Marketing team settled into the new way of working, it soon became evident what works, and what else needs to be introduced or changed. These are some of the observations and conclusions that helped them navigate the changes successfully:

  • Stable delivery, even when PO was absent, was a strong argument for the benefits of the ongoing Agile transformation. It became evident that Agile can and does work for non-IT teams and greatly improves their efficiency and output.
  • Visibility and constant delivery for all stakeholders is the first and foremost benefit that comes with introducing Agile within a team, be it tech or non-tech.
  • Estimation in story points was added as the team eased into its newly established Agile practices.
  • Data-driven planning proved to be efficient in setting better estimates and planning the scope of work.
  • Monday-Friday work span is hard and can result in work over the weekend.
  • Quarterly PI Plannings have been introduced as per the SAFe framework including System Demo and Inspect&Adapt sessions.
  • Team growth and other departments were involved in PI plannings, such as Design, Recruitment, People Partners, Sales, and SDO. Coming from the nature of marketing work, it was necessary to establish a strong collaborative workflow with other departments, and show how marketing efforts have a positive impact across the company.

Agile Marketing Level-Up: Do It Harder, Make It Better

After the initial introduction of the Agile way of working and once the team got comfortable with it, it soon became apparent that Agile can and should be adjusted to meet the immediate needs of the team. Setting out on an Agile transformation journey, it was important to understand what it can potentially bring ‘to the table’ of a non-technical team, and that not all ‘gifts’ will be as readily accepted by the team and the established workflow. So, as the marketing team got more comfortable with the Scrum processes and ceremonies, they started introducing little changes to make it more efficient and responsive to the team’s requirements or grievances.

Adjusted Sprint Length: Improved Task Completion Rate

A sprint typically lasts for one to four weeks which is the optimal time sufficient for the team to complete and deliver a part of a bigger project. Depending on the line of work and overall workload, team size and composition, and other factors, it may be beneficial to decide on the length of the sprint, longer or shorter, that allows the team to have deliverables ready by the end of the allocated time period, without being caught off guard with a big chunk of an incomplete task at the end of the sprint.

What we did: Two-week sprints

Agile project management for marketing shows proven efficiency as it gives the team a lot of much-needed flexibility in its work. In this case, Symphony Solutions marketing team started out working in one-week sprints but as the team was growing and expanding its scope of work with new projects and milestones, it soon became noticeable that short sprints with the ever-growing workload lead to a disbalance. It was proving to be increasingly difficult to try and keep up with Agile ceremonies and actually get all the work done with so much time going to meetings and sync-ups. So, the team decided to shift to two-week iterations which allowed for better managing of the workload and dependencies, both inside the team and with other departments, thus allowing to properly focus on priority tasks and improving the overall task completion rate.

Agile Meetings for the Win

The Agile way of working comes with its set of procedures and ceremonies that help the teams power through the backlog of tasks, be on top of their work, and know the status of the tasks at any given time.

What we did: Introducing shorter but more focused meetings

The marketing team decided on making retrospective meetings shorter but focusing on at least one enhancement for the next sprint and their workflow. Sprint retrospectives are conducted every so often, but properly implemented they foster the team to ‘snap back’ to the initial goals and objectives set for the team. The team analyzes the way they work and understand why they were running into the same issues throughout the sprint. Having the layout for the processes and seeing where the team is falling short helps brainstorm new ways to address the team’s shortcomings. Formulating SMART retrospective enhancements is crucial for showcasing the value of this meeting both to the Scrum Team and stakeholders.

Other improvements were deciding to keep stand-ups short and to the point, discuss all dependencies and set goals for the day, so that the team members can continue discussing tasks in detail as the day goes on and work towards accomplishing common goals.

Trust the Experts: Getting an Agile Expert on Board

Agile introduces various frameworks to work with, each having its peculiar characteristics. If Kanban can be pretty straightforward with minimal requirements for adhering to ceremonies or strict role establishment, Scrum is way more structured and depends on efficient planning for each iteration. One works great for mature teams, the other can be taught to teams of any composition and relation to the IT sector. Whatever way you choose to pursue, it’s a good idea to invite an Agile expert to help you get on board with the new way of working.

What we did: Scrum activities Power-up

At some point along the way, the marketing team invited an expert Agile Coach to work alongside the team Scrum Master and join us for standups, sprint demo and planning meetings. The ‘grey cardinal’ observed the team from the inside and helped us coordinate and further improve our Agile processes. Under his guidance, a retrospective meeting was conducted where the team agreed on further steps to take in improving the way they work. This experience helped bring more order into the already established processes, make the meetings more efficient, better understand each one’s capacity when committing to tasks, and align the work in a way to stop starting and instead focus on finishing tasks.

When the World Goes Remote: Adjust and Evolve

The two years spent in Covid-19 lockdown weren’t easy on anyone, and it was definitely the case for collocated Agile teams who, until recently, heavily relied on touch-base and in-person collaboration. As the world embraced remote work and fully shifted to WFH, Symphony Solutions followed suit and with some experience behind our belts nonetheless. Even before the pandemic caught the world in its grip, we had successful experience conducting an online PI planning for distributed teams. Taking that experience and translating it to the realities of the world in lockdown was just a matter of time.

What we did: Remote PI planning

The marketing team has been working with Scrum for quite some time and had established processes with regular PI plannings. However, with the onset of the global health crisis, it was no longer a feasible option. Remote PI planning has been prepared and held instead. The team connected to an online event and used online tools as an equivalent to a physical board typically used. The experience was deemed an overall success and the new practices have been carried on to all the consecutive planning events and meetings. It has been a fairly easy transition for the team since they were already used to working with many of the tools. The change was in making it consistent and a set practice.

In Conclusion

Symphony Solutions has been successfully applying Agile for non-software teams ever since it first initiated its own Agile transformation a few years back. Over the years, it has proven to be a driver for results and a way for different departments (e.g., marketing and design, marketing and recruitment, etc.) to collaborate and manage dependencies more efficiently.

What could be better proof than the testimonials of our Digital Marketing team specialists and their reflections on working with Agile in mind and at heart? For as long as you set your mind to it and commit to change, a job done in Agile is a job well done.

“The Agile mindset is a daily practice that lays out the foundation for all processes and tasks that the entire marketing team adheres to. Well-thought-through and continuous planning of the work ahead allows the luxury to get rid of unnecessary meetings and overbearing tasks that get stuck in the making until they are made redundant. Although the workload is never ending, a wise application of Agile principles and working within the Scrum framework creates a stress-free environment for the team with a mutual feeling of support and comradery. It’s a “one for all” mindset that promotes problem-solving instead of scapegoating.”

Dana Kushpler, Outreach Specialist at Symphony Solutions.

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