Traditional Marketing Management is On the Verge of Extinction

Our marketing scrum board in action

Our marketing scrum board in action 

I knew of scrum, but never considered it for marketing. But here I am with my new boss for our first meeting to get organized and talk about process and we’re already talking about a departure from typical marketing management. With 15 years in enterprise marketing and my new, three-person team on the hook for some big goals, we needed an innovative way to make everyone more nimble, accountable and execution-oriented.

Then the moment of (potentially irrational) inspiration hit. “Months? We’ll be scrum masters in just a few weeks.”

Probably a Little Too Ambitious

For any marketer bringing a SaaS product to market (a lot of us), working closely with product management (many of us), or trying to prove marketing’s value to an organization (all of us), just managing a team is not enough.

The worlds of marketing, sales, development and operations are all bleeding together. There are tons of interdependencies among these groups as well as a common desire to drive customer value and make data-driven decisions.

Plus, as a marketer, it’s not good enough anymore to plan for months, drop a campaign, and then hope for the best. To bring value, you need to hypothesize, test and execute a lot faster and more frequently.

By going down this road, I came to one unexpected realization: the management ways marketers have become accustomed to don’t make sense anymore.

Starting Scrum for Marketing: What We Were Working With

In a nutshell, we’re one of those startups bringing a SaaS product to market. We have a new brand, zero awareness in this new market and brand-new systems—all things that challenge the way we have to think about strategy and our daily work. We also work closely with engineering and development and saw a clear benefit to adopting the way they work—after all, we depend on them to deliver what we market.

We also have aggressive goals with a heavy dependence on marketing to drive not only leads, but leads with a very specific technology fit that our beta would support.

Ultimately, there was so much we could do but not enough resources and hours in the day to get it done. We had to rethink how we operate and what marketing is capable of. Here’s how we got it it (mostly) done:

Challenge: Accepted

With only a few weeks to take a small team of marketers, change their mindset, implement scrum and start delivering work, I dove right in.

Step 1: Understanding the fundamentals

I had to get our inbound marketing expert, marketing automation specialist and designer aligned and executing towards our goals at a high performance level as quickly as possible. After all, our metrics dashboard wasn’t going to sit idle while we got it together.

So I took some shortcuts. I picked the brains of my new manager and our director of sales, who both come from a software engineering background. They gave me the lowdown on process, sprints and terminology. I also learned what’s less important to focus on and little hacks to implement scrum even faster.

Then, I hit the books for practical advice on rethinking how we work. I read The Phoenix Project and The Lean Startup, which served as great how-to guides. The Phoenix Project details how development and IT thinks and stresses the importance of embracing process. It helped us figure out how to make the most of creative resources, web development resources and third-party systems. Seeing how these teams work gave me inspiration for structuring our marketing approach. The Lean Startup illustrates the importance of setting metrics, testing constantly and failing fast. Reading it gave me the methodology to move beyond vanity metrics.

Step 2: Tracking it

Now that I had the scrum fundamentals down pat, the next step was figuring out the best way to track our progress. I wanted an easily accessible way to truly adopt the scrum principles of flexibility, teamwork and close collaboration—even with team members distributed across two continents. Whatever approach we chose needed the lowest potential for project delays.

Sometimes simple is the best option. We started with Google Docs and then moved onto trello to keep tracking and communication flowing. It has everything we need for real-time collaboration and straightforward updating. We set up tracking for five steps of our marketing scrum:

  1. Backlog
  2. Push List
  3. In Progress
  4. In Review
  5. Done

Step 3: Putting it into practice

Finally, it was time to pitch scrum to my team. Selling them on the benefits was the easy part, but it took some practice for everyone to pick it up.

Here’s the breakdown of our new process, all using our scrum board as the focal point:

  • A Monday-morning huddle to cover the week’s big projects
  • A Friday playback to review the week’s deliverables
  • Daily stand-up meetings from Tuesday to Thursday where everyone debriefs on progress and roadblocks
  • Weekly sprints to break down longer-term strategies into smaller projects.

Three months in, we’re making progress and working out the hiccups with reviewing, story planning and other processes. But some benefits are immediately clear: better visibility, more focus, improved collaboration and faster test and executions cycles.

I’m not sure how we would have managed at the pace we’re running using traditional marketing management processes and techniques. We’re faster, more responsive and feeling pretty good about hitting our goals and driving value.

Eating crow from my boss was the only downside.

What’s your experience in using scrum outside of development and engineering teams? How did it go and what did you learn along the way?

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