Using Scrum to Run Marketing


In my previous (and overdue) post, I enumerated the main areas of learning since I joined MobileIron 5 months ago. One of them is the use of Scrum to run marketing. It has been extremely effective so I though I would share what we learned so far on this blog for others to benefit should they choose to do the same.

In this post I will cover why we are doding it and how we instantiated the Scrum process in our working environment. In subsequent posts, I will drill down in each area and provide more details.

Scrum for Marketing???

While most people associate Scrum to software development, Scrum is actually a project management methodology designed to break complex initiatives into manageable chunks, iterate, ship and learn.  In other words, if a very pragmatic way to get things done.

Why Scrum?

I used Scrum to develop software in the past, and I am not just talking about standing up every day to go around the team to share what each of us did. I am talking about a full team transformation with external coaching, executive sponsorship, culture, tools… the whole nine yards. I would argue that when people make this transformation successfully once, they will never go back to waterfall, not for innovative products that by definition face lot’s of unknowns. What I love about it is the sense of team members empowerment, constant communication, pragmatism, energy and a built in urgency of getting things done. Always be shipping!!

The Unknowns of Marketing

At MobileIron we are growing really fast. When I joined the marketing team, the majority of us had been with the company less than 3 months. There were a lot of unknowns about the market, processes (or lack of them), metrics, and each other. Making quarterly plans in such an environment makes no sense. Things change too fast, we learn too many new things all the time. Scrum seemed to me like a great way to force myself to dive into the details, foster constant communication and give us an opportunity to adjust every two weeks and use the learning in the next sprint.

Don’t get me wrong, we still do annual and quarterly goals, but we use scrum to break them down into digestible chunks, ship, learn and adjust.

Applying Scrum to Marketing

Sprint Length

We started with weekly sprints, then quickly moved to a 2 week sprint because the overhead of the sprint review and planning was too big on a 7 day sprint. Two weeks now feel just right, short enough to adjust and and be nimble, but long enough that the process overhead does not get in the way.

Team Roles

Product Owner

I am the product owner and I prioritize the items in the backlog. Everybody can put things in the backlog, but only I set the priority every sprint. I am also a team member and I do commit to get stories and points done in each sprint. 

We have a part time scrum master that also manages our social media program.  She does all the things that you expect a scrum master to do, in summary she manages the lightweight scrum process: the backlog, sprint review and planning meeting agenda, daily meetings, obstacle identification and so on. She also manages our budget which comes handy in many conversations. Initially I gave her a crush course on Scrum, everything else she learned on the job.

Team Members

The rest of the team members are all my direct reports. It is 9 people total. The rest of the team is invited to sprint reviews, but are not part of the sprint planning and daily stand-up meetings

Backlog

The backlog contains a bunch of Epics that describe the big things we need to get done in marketing such as “deploy new web site”, “Organize 2013 Sales Kick Off”, “2013 user conference”, “Lead Flow Optimization” and so on, plus a number of smaller stories that are either leftovers from previous sprints or smaller things we need to do. I take input for the backlog from the xTeam on a weekly basis and other stakeholder like our CEO in my 101 with them. At the end of each sprint, the scrum master polls the team for epic sand stories that should make it into the backlog for the next sprint.

Click here for a post where I cover backlog management in more details.

Sprint Backlog

At the end of each sprint, I get together with the scrum master and prioritize the backlog for the next sprint. I don’t necessarily break down each epic into stories as by  the Scrum book, but we don’t leave the sprint planning until we indeed break everything down to stories that we can get done in 1 or 2 days

We assign a point to each 1/2 working day, so each member of the team has 20 points per sprint. We try to share and work on stories that have relevance to the team or cross functional dependencies. Moreover, each of us reserve some points in our personal backlog to manage daily interruptions and things we need to take care on our own (like a business trip, managing emails etc).

Sprint Reviews and Planning

We stat the sprint with a 90 minutes review of the previous sprint. Stakeholders are all invited (especially one of our main ones who is the head of sales) as well as all members of the marketing team. We start by going through all main marketing metrics (leads, opportunities  etc) and map them against our quarterly goals to see if we are on track, then we share and discuss all main deliverables and achievements from the sprint that just ended.

Then we go in planning mode for 2-3 hours. The scrum master puts up the prioritize backlog. We start from the top and I let team members ask me questions about each element until they are in a position to enter stories in their sprint backlog that are between 1 and 4 points each (1/2 day to two days). We never tackle things that we cannot finish in the sprint.

We have been around 75-80% backlog completion for the 12 sprint we have done so far, which is not bad. We go better over time, which means we are learning what is our velocity, that is our ability to get stuff done in 2 weeks.

We don’t automatically move stories that were not completed into the next sprint. Only if they are still a priority.

After the review is over, I send our the sprint review presentation that includes our marketing dashboard to all stakeholders.

Marketing Bullpen

Daily Standup

I left the daily stand up and Scrum tool topics for last because these are the things Scrum newbies obsessed about the most, and they are NOT that important.

We do the daily standup meeting at noon everyday but the day we plan the sprint. It is quick and painless as it should be. It is about communication and obstacle identification. We don’t rat hole.

Tool

We use Jira as our scrum too. We could probably get away with an excel spreadsheet, but Jira has two very convenient features that make us more productive:

  1. It produces the burn down chart that we prominently display  on a big monitor in the marketing bullpen
  2. It has a very convenient screen that team members use during the sprint to visually see what is in their backlogg for the sprint, what they are working on and what got done already. It helps to visually see where we are and focus on what’s at stack that day.

Is it working?

As far as I am concerned it is working great. We communicate constantly, we have incredible transparency within the team and from outside our team, there is a sense of urgency and accomplishment that is renewed at each sprint, we minimize the time we spend in meetings during the week by maximizing the quality time we spend together during the planning meeting to really understand what we are trying to get done and what are the inter-dependencies.

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions on this topic. In subsequent posts I will drill down in each of the areas of Scrum above and talk about how we do it and the lessons that we are learning in applying the process to marketing.

Ciao

Vittorio

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9 thoughts on “Using Scrum to Run Marketing

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  4. Some good and helpful ideas here – especially as I transition into running the overall release and renewal/retention campaigns for Creative Cloud. Worth investigating if it’s even possible to apply this methodology to a marketing machine as big as we have here.

    • It works well in groups of 7-10 all f2f. If you scale above it, you need to start doing scrum of scrums. At the end of the day, if you have a list of thing sto get done within a team of 5-10 people, scrum is an awesome way to get momentum, communication and overall visibility.

  5. interesting post. something i’m considering for our Marketing department.
    how big was the learning curve for the marketing team regarding scrum and all the processors and values etc?
    also did you have any issues with certain team members not buying into the new approach?

    • The process is easy. The cultural transformation of complete transparency and constant shipping is the hard part. It need commitment from the top. The team members who don’t embrace it get selected out by the team or on their own. They can go hide in another organization 😉

  6. Vittrio,

    Curious how your sales leadership and exec team have reacted. Has it been effective in conveying to them that marketing is “moving”? Also, how often do you get comments on the burn down chart from those not in marketing?

    • they love it because they get complete transparency, plus we are kinda forced to ship something every two weeks. THey don’t comment on the burn down per-se. They comment on the outcome. Scrum has proven to be a great way to say no without causing much drama. We say “No, this is now a priority this sprint, can you wait until next sprint?” the answer is typically yes and they are fine, as long as you get 80% of what you committed done each sprint

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