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Agile Marketing: Week Zero

Agile MarketingIn Agile, sprint zero is how a team prepares for their first sprint. This includes setting up the organization, logistics, equipment and environment that your team needs to be successful.

For our team, this was years in the making. As the nation’s largest Agile software development trainer, we were already keenly aware of the principles and benefits of Agile. So much so that we actually had adopted a lot of Agile practices from the software development world long before the term “agile marketing” was coined in 2012.

We already keep a running backlog of projects. We use one week plans to collectively tackle a set number of tasks and projects based on business priorities in order to adjust to changing needs and requirements. We maintain a flat, self-organized team structure that encourages collaboration and transparency. Team members sit together in a large, open environment to help breed conversations and collective brainstorming to tackle problems and projects as they arise.

It has worked well for us. We are highly productive and effective for a team our size.

But we still face challenges. Our team functions as an internal agency and manages all marketing, design and development for 6 brands. That is a huge amount of work for a team of 10 people. It also means we have 40-plus internal stakeholders who all believe their needs are the most important, so prioritization for us can be a challenge as these folks rarely compromise with each other before coming to us.

Basically, life is chaotic in marketing at ASPE. We would not survive if not for our processes and flexibility, but we could be even better by becoming even more Agile than we already are.

For us, going forward the goals for our continued transition to Agile Marketing are to:

  • Increase productivity
  • Further improve our prioritization of an ever growing and evolving backlog of projects
  • Increase our quality by controlling disruptions
  • Better handle changing requirements
  • Improve our transparency (within the group and with our stakeholders)
  • Improve stakeholder satisfaction

For us, this meant our first step, our sprint zero, needed to be training. We had done a lot on our own, but with training resources readily available to us, it was time to formalize our Agile practices. So, the first week of December 2014 we took the ASPE-ROI Agile Marketing Boot with Chris Barron. Our entire team participated: marketing specialists, marketing managers, VP, even the interns.

We learned a ton and it confirmed for us that our group faced many of the same challenges as traditional Agile teams. It was clear that adopting more Agile practices could help us overcome them:

  • Retrospectives are conducted after each Agile sprint and allow the team to vocalize lessons learned and obstacles that arose. It helps communicate challenges faced, solutions implemented and keeps you from repeating them over and over. Traditionally, people spend tons of time planning, but rarely take any time to review how things went. This was a simple practice we knew we could implement and get value out of.
  • Estimating work in Agile is done as a group instead of the traditional way where a manager or team lead dictates to the team what will be done. For our team, our managers were often scheduling more work than could realistically be done, which caused projects to fall behind and resulted in us setting poor expectations with stakeholders. By moving to relative estimating in Agile through a process called Planning Poker, we should get better insight into how complicated or time-intensive tasks are allowing us to better plan how much work can actually be done in a sprint, known in Agile as a team’s velocity. Additionally, this group estimating technique helps identify who on a team may be able to knock something out quickly and where cross-training may be needed.
  • Task boarding in Agile is the use of a large, public whiteboard to communicate what the team is tackling with their current sprint. It makes it possible for anyone and everyone to see the tasks being worked on, their status and who is working on them. An added bonus to task boarding is that it also makes the team publicly accountable for their completion. My hope is this will help us with transparency and stakeholder satisfaction.
  • Daily Stand-Up meetings are a Scrum practice where team members communicate three things:
    1. What did you complete yesterday?
    2. What are you working on today?
    3. Are there any obstacles in your way?

The meeting should take no more than 30 minutes as a whole and members should remain standing for the meeting, hence the name stand-up, which helps ensure brevity. These daily stand-ups help team members have insight into what each other are working on, how it may impact them and collectively discuss how to overcome obstacles than any one member may face. While we were culturally setup to encourage this behavior, this practice should further engrain it.

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