Marketing departments are often chaotic places where keeping organized, communicating clearly, and hitting deadlines sometimes feel like pipe dreams. Last-minute projects derail priorities, meetings that should have been emails (or even just a Slack message) take you off task, and late nights at the office are all part and parcel with the job.
It all adds up to project delays and wasted money for often substandard work. Those three things together do not add up to a productive workplace or a satisfying career, either.
Marketers aren’t the first folks on the planet to face these issues though. Nor were they the first to devise a better way of managing projects and shipping work on time. In fact, one of the best solutions to these problems (and more) has its roots in software development (and before that, auto manufacturing).
It’s called scrum, and this chapter is all about how it works.
In this Excel template will help you implement scrum with your marketing team by planning projects in advance. Each field has a clear explanation of what goes where (plus more detail will be provided later in this guide). Download your copy below:
If you’re unfamiliar with the context, then hearing the word “scrum” might make you think of something like this:
The kind of scrum this guide is talking about though looks more like this:
The less athletic of those amongst us can breathe a sigh of relief.
Getting down to business, Scrum is an agile framework for managing projects from start to finish. It’s based around the values of self-organizing teams iterating rapidly on collaborative plans. In short, it’s intended to remove as much waste and red tape from workflows as possible, so everyone’s effort can be focused on doing the most important task at each step of a process.
This video from the Scrum Company explains how it works (for all different applications):
Here is a visual breakdown of how scrum works as well:
There’s a little bit of debate around who exactly devised the scrum framework and who coined the term “scrum” itself.
However, it’s commonly accepted that it first appeared in the Harvard Business Review in a 1986 article titled “The New New Product Development Game” by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi. It was later documented in deeper detail by Jeff McKenna, Jeff Sutherland, and John Scumniotales.
Others suggest Mike Beedle and Ken Schwaber should be credited as its inventors, though according to Techwell, “Jeff Sutherland invented scrum and later introduced it to Ken Schwaber.”
What matters most is that several smart people devised and refined the framework to develop a better way of getting products built and shipped. For marketers, rather than thinking about products or software, we instead focus on projects and campaigns.
Scrum doesn’t necessarily need to be executed just one way, either. In fact, there are several different variations out there, and it’s adaptable to the needs of the organization putting it into place.
One such variation is called scrumban, which is a combination of scrum and kanban. It brings together the structural elements of scrum with the visual components of kanban.
In this process, scrum is combined with a kanban board that helps teams to visualize project progress:
The process described in this guide is closer to scrumban than a pure scrum framework. This is not to suggest that one approach is better than another, but it is one that can work well for marketing teams.
In addition, CoSchedule supports kanban-based workflows with Kanban Project Dashboard. This makes it easy for teams to manage projects and visualize workflows from start to finish:
For a more in-depth exploration of scrum and its application, it’s worth downloading the official guide.
You can read the entire thing online or download a PDF (in over 30 languages, no less). There may be more information there than you need to get started with your marketing team, but it remains worthwhile reading.
This guide has already thrown a few terms around that you might not have known before. So, before moving much deeper into the world of agile, it’d be helpful to explain some basic terminology and methodologies you’ll be likely to encounter. It can seem complicated at first, but the general concepts behind it are simple enough to easily understand the basics.
Here are some basic definitions (worded to make the most sense in a marketing context):
Scrum is all about getting teams to work well together to get projects done efficiently and on time. In order to achieve this goal, they need to be structured in a way that facilitates proper implementation.
So, how should they be organized and optimized to work at their best? They should start by including three different roles:
Now that you understand the general philosophy behind scrum and the verbiage involved, it’s time to take a look at how it functions in the real world.
This section will walk through the entire process on a hypothetical marketing project from start to finish. Note that this may not be the exact process every agile marketing team, but this example is based on the actual steps used by the CoSchedule marketing team.
Creative marketing departments are often full of ideas. Tons of ideas. More ideas than you know what to do with.
For marketers at CoSchedule, quarterly project planning begins with a brainstorming meeting (note: this process works with any type of marketing team or projects).
At a high level, this entails talking through ideas (many of which have probably been discussed before in some form, because the team is constantly throwing out ideas) and prioritizing which ones are the most likely to deliver the desired results.
These ideas are stored in a campaign ideas spreadsheet. Traditionally in scrum, this would be called a “product backlog.” For marketing purposes, however, it may make more sense to call it a “project backlog.”
It looks something like this (and you can find a copy of this template in the downloadable ZIP folder included in this chapter):
Here’s what’s included in this document:
Later, when a project has actually been shipped, the following can be completed:
Once again, it’s okay if this doesn’t all quite make sense yet. During the initial planning phases, the details for several different ideas will be documented in this spreadsheet. Think of this like a rough scratchpad for outlining the “why” behind the “what” for everything the team will execute.
Once projects have been identified, prioritized, and selected, it’s time to plan them out into sprints.
The nuts and bolts of sprint planning will be explained in a later chapter, but at a high level, it entails determining all the tasks that each team member will be responsible for on each project. It also charts out when each step will be due.
A sprint backlog can be planned out in a number of different ways, including using physical Post-It notes on a wall or whiteboard. They can also be planned out in a spreadsheet or using a project management tool (CoSchedule incorporates the features necessary to do this work).
All a successful sprint backlog needs are the following items:
The nuts and bolts of sprint planning and execution will be covered in a later chapter. For now, this is enough to give you a theoretical idea of how they work.
A standup is a daily morning meeting where the team meets to discuss project progress. Each team member shares the following information:
These meetings should take 15 minutes or less. By setting time aside to sync on work, teams can ensure a consistent flow of information so no one says, “Oh, I didn’t know that was happening,” or “Sorry, I didn’t know I was supposed to have this done yet.”
You may have one broadly-focused standup in the morning to discuss all your work, separate standups for each project, or a combination of the two approaches.
CoSchedule helps support teams manage standups with its Team Management Dashboard. It clearly shows all the projects and tasks each member of a marketing team is working on day-to-day, providing total transparency and clarity on who is doing what.
It displays days and tasks in horizontal view:
And in a vertical alignment too. It’s highly customizable as well so teams can adjust the way it works to their own needs:
The Marketing Calendar in CoSchedule offers yet another way to visualize upcoming work. All views can be filtered to include only the team members and work that individual teams may care about most:
If a team member has a blocker, it’s important to remove that obstacle as quickly as possible. This will help keep the team moving along and prevent the project from going over deadline due to an unforeseen hurdle.
Here are some common blockers you might encounter:
Ultimately, a blocker can be anything that’s preventing the team member from making progress.
Once the sprint is complete and the project has been shipped, it’s time to look back on how the project performed, and identify lessons learned and areas for improvement.
Like with daily standups, you may choose to run a retrospective for all work at the end of the week, and project-specific retros for each project you execute. This approach ensures you’re evaluating each project and campaign, as well as evaluating how things are going with your team as a whole.
It’s best to gather the entire team into a room for this meeting. One team member should pull up a document on a computer (ideally on a television or sharing their screen so everyone can see) and note the following:
That summarizes the bulk of how scrum can be applied to a marketing context.
Hopefully, this chapter has provided you with a useful understanding of the agile framework. Plus, you’ve gotten a quick look at how CoSchedule can help support scrum with marketing teams.