So we thought we’d try SCRUM in marketing.
The goal was to have a team that collaborated from the planning through to execution, deliverÂ more valueÂ more rapidlyÂ and to beÂ more responsiveÂ to a our changing environment.
We still set our overall goals and broad strategies for 6-12 months, and a list of what we want to deliver.
- We have a “backlog” of projects that is constantly re-prioritised, based on what we agree with our “client” (the business).Â We work in 2 1/2 week cyclesÂ (“sprints”) where we deliver either a completed project or a defined phase of a project.
- We writeÂ exactly what we will be deliveringÂ on cards, which in turn are stuck on a white board (the scrum board) which is visible to everyone in the team, and everyone in the business.
- The board is used to track the activity, i.e they are updated every other day (we used to do this daily, but found we didn’t need that frequency), showing the progress made and eventually moving from one side of the board (not started) to the other (completed).
- Rather than the traditional team meetings, we have regular “stand up” meetings around the board to update each other on three basic questions: what did I doÂ yesterday, what will I be doingÂ today, and do I have anyÂ roadblocksÂ in my path that stop me doing my job.
- There is no moving the end of the sprint date; the deadline is set in stone, but if you see that certain items can’t be delivered, you can negotiate with “the client” (which in our case is essentially the business, represented by an executive)
- At the end of a “sprint” we get together, and sometimes invite others to show what we have done, in a “demo”, (ok, I call it “show and tell”…) The purpose is to make the achievements highly visible, and to celebrate the success.
So what have we gained from this?
- First, we deliver more of the right things. We re-prioritise every couple of weeks, and we deliver specific outcomes at the end of every sprint.
- Second, we have fewer distractions. Now when someone in the business comes up with the next great idea we should be executing, we put it in the “backlog” for the next sprint, and people understand that.
- Third, we work far more as an integrated team. Everyone has ownership of the actions on the board, is aware of them right from the planning stages and feels part of the process.
There are still challenges of course. For example, the planning process every week (which is critical to the delivery) is time consuming, and if you’re not careful, you either spend too much time on it, or not enough (resulting in poorly scoped projects that can’t be delivered in the sprint).
We probably also have more dependencies on others for input, review, feedback and sign off than a typical software development project. This often puts our ability to execute the final product within the sprint in jeopardy.
Well, that depends on whether there is a problem to address. Why change when everything runs like clock work.
For those of you who do recognise some of these marketing execution challenges, drop me a line if you want to know more about our experience.
90% of our activity is in execution (Even for those that do take strategy seriously). What holds you back more than anything in executing on your plans? My guess is that it probably somewhere between competing priorities and changing priorities.
This post is about a Â new Â and different way of managing your marketing projects. First a bit of context: The company I work for Aconex, adopted an “agile” software development approach a few years ago, widely used by tech companies such as Google, etc. I took part in their workshops and realised that the problems software developers face, are not too different from ours.
The traditional approach – “The “waterfall” method
A major challenge for software development teams is that there are always far more ideas of what should be developed, than there are people/money to develop. Â On top of that, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what the final product should look like. Think about it. You have an idea about what the software should do, but how do you foresee all the great new ideas that come about when you actually start using/playing with the software? It’s as much a creative process as a “design” process.
In traditional software development methodologies, one or more people write a spec of exactly what they understand their client (the business they work for, or an actual client) wants, (takes a lot of time), hand it over to developers who build the whole thing (takes a lot of time) and then to another team who test it. It’s called a “waterfall” method, reflecting the typical GANNT chart of activity. It’s one all marketers are familiar with.
Often, by the time the people who provided the input (client) see the end result, it is not quite what they expected. (We’ve all read the stories of tech projects years in the making failing to deliver little or no value at all.)
There are a bunch of reasons for this. A very common one is that people often can’t exactly visualise what they want.
Another issue is that the best ideas to solve a problem can come at any time, not necessarily at the beginning of the project, when it is being designed. Finally, the people who write the code often have only a limited idea of what the business problem is that their code solves. In a traditional world, these development projects can take anything from months to years, and only at the very end it is clear that the project is a success or a failure.
In comes “agile” development.
The core concept is that you work closely with the “client” (which could be an actual client or the business itself) to develop “stories” that articulate what it is that they want the software to do. (Stay with me, we’ll get to the marketing bit in a minute.)
They then work in short cycles, called “sprints” involving all the team participants to deliver a “potentially shippable product”, that the client can evaluate and provide feedback on to determine the appropriateness. The key is that you are “agile” in your ability to respond to the needs of your client, or new and better ways to solve a problem. Importantly, it is the whole team who are responsible for the delivery, forcing close cooperation.
The relevance to marketing
I went to the workshops essentially to make sure we understood what the development teams would be doing, but I walked out with the idea that the problems they were trying to solve were very similar to the challenges we face in marketing.
Like our development friends, we’re in a business that is continuously changing, like many businesses today. We continue to enter new markets, develop new partnerships, new products. There is always far more that we could be doing than we have time or resources for, so prioritisation is essential. Similar to the development environment, the best ideas to solve a problem don’t always get thought of in the annual planning session. To further complicate that, the marketing tools at our disposal also continue to evolve at a rapid rate.
I’ve never worked on a 12 months marketing plan that:
- Was executed the way it was planned at the beginning
- Met the needs of the (changing) business during that 12 months
- Was actually developed by the team that was meant to deliver it
More likely than not, the plan is written at the beginning of the year, agreed, worked on for a few months at best, before the world changes and the plan is forgotten about until next year’s planning.
As always, you’re never alone
When I started looking into this, I realised that quite a few people in marketing have realised the same. Andrew Filev in his Project Management 2.0 blog writes about yahoo, H&M, John Deere using the same with great success. Â Another good read is Jim Ewel’s Agilemarketing.net, who’s actually seen a business opportunity in it and provides lots of resources
Next post: read how we applied it and what we learnt
Change is not always obvious when you’re in the middle of it. Looking back over the past few years, here are a few things that I’ve noticed:
Marketing automation and lead nurturing has replaced old fashioned email marketing
Good news – more relevant, targeted communications. Powerful reporting that let’s you talk numbers with confidence.
Bad news – requires excellence in content creation, which is HARD and TIME CONSUMING. So never mind the technology, it’s still hard work to engage people and keep them engaged.
Social media has gone from “something we should do” to “something we’re doing”
Good news - participation and experimentation are the only way to learn with this, so many brands are actually starting to do something meaningful. See, you never needed the “Social Media Guru”. Just a little courage.
Bad news – It’s the new shiney corporate thing…everything now has to be “social media”. People feel overwhelmed with the volume and frequency of communication. The signal to noise ratio is terrible.
We’ve gone through the GFC, and as always, marketing budgets get slashed first
Good news – even people who used to have big budgets have started to look at more creative ways of marketing. Including social media. See point one.
Bad news – Well, I know I for one would have loved to have had a little more to spend…
Video is emerging as the killer app
Good news: People were never designed to write and read, we were designed to talk, look and listen. Now that anyone can make and publish video at little or no cost, there is a whole new world of opportunity opening up to generate interest, build a brand and convert prospects. And if I was 20, I would go head first into that business.
Bad news: As with everything online, the barrier to entry is low and so is a lot of the quality. This is not an easy game and requires people with skills to write stories, direct and create interesting stuff. No, I don’t subscribe to the idea that all you need is a flip camera…
Have you seen any other trends and changes? What have I missed?
Coming from a country that was wrested from the water (Holland) and always has too much of it, living on the driest continent on earth is still strange in many aspects.
Australia, and Melbourne has had almost nine years of drought, resulting in water restrictions in many parts of the country, (including a prohibition on washing your own car and watering lawns) that have only very recently been lifted. The most important river system on the continent (the Murray-Darling basin) was about to dry up with catastrophic consequences, and it’s only now that the federal government has decided to pull a plan together to avert an environmental and economic disaster.
Water has been front page news here for a number of years, and eventhough the drought has broken, it still is. The desalination plant being built here in Victoria, the above mentioned plan that will cut water allocation to farmers and the direct impact people have felt in their day-to-day life had made it an accute topic of discussion.
But we still have drinking water. Here, we may have some inconveniences, but this is the global picture (s0urce Wikipedia):
- Inadequate access to safe drinking water for about 884 million people
- Inadequate access to water for sanitation and waste disposal for 2.5 billion people
- Groundwater overdrafting (excessive use) leading to diminished agricultural yields
- Overuse and pollution of water resources harming biodiversity
- Regional conflicts over scarce water resources sometimes resulting in warfare
In Australia, many of us have never had to consider living with plentifull supply of clean water, but the past few years have given many a wake up call.Â Hopefully this will translate into action to help the millions of people around the world who don’t have this most basic of human necessities.
Here is one way to do it if you feel inspired.
In 2007, Gavin Heaton and Drew Mclellan kicked off the idea to tap their network of fellow marketers around the world and write a collaborative book on the challenges and opportunities of marketing in a highly connected world. I contributed a chapter to the first two books, and now we’re proud to launch “Age of Conversation 3 – It’s time to get busy!”
Here is a little from the Amazon editor’s review:
Following the success of the first two editions, Age of Conversation 3: It’s Time to Get Busy! again kick-starts the discussion about how the global marketing landscape is changing. With over 170 of the world’s leading marketers, writers, thinkers and creative innovators contributing chapters, this collaborative work investigates the roles that community, conversation, experimentation, engagement, and collaboration play in shaping the 21st century’s economy of ideas.
As with the first and second edition, what makes this book valuable is that you get a great mix of viewpoints from across the globe on set topics. Some of the contributors are already recognised authors, some may well in the future and some are simply smart people. One thing most if not all have in common is that they are all practitioners; people who are doing stuff.
my chapter is called “Influencing people in B2B Marketing”; buy one copy for yourself, and one for a friend. All the money goes to the Make a Wish foundation.
Here is a list of all the contributors. Check out their blogs; you’re certain to find some great ideas and experiences.
I started this blog in 2005, with a pretty clear purpose; share my ideas at no cost to a global audience, profile myself as a marketer and participate in a community that was vibrant, creating fantastic professional connections. Connection based on a shared interest in Marketing. Along the way, I found out where people lived and sometimes we exchanged emails of a more social nature.
We’ve built relationships, and I’ve learned more from you, (complete strangers mostly at the other end of the world) than I could have hoped to have learned in ANY other way.
Now here is the thing that bothers me….I’ve stopped participating the way I used to. I don’t read the blogs I used to read. I don’t really comment on blogs anymore. My attention switched to Twitter and Facebook rather than an RSS reader; after all, everyone in my network would use these places to promote what they had to say anyway. That was the theory.
I think I’m going back to me RSS reader and here is why. Twitter and Facebook have polluted the stream of information I actually value from the people I follow. Most blog posts are on-topic. Mostly, no more than one a day. Most Twitter post are off-topic and posted many times a day…How am I going to keep up? And why do you make it so hard for me to find the stuff I want to read?
Facebook is even more difficult. Perfect for my personal life, but I don’t really want to share my personal life with my blogging friends or work mates. It’s not what binds us. It’s what binds me to my family and personal friends. I don’t really want to read what my colleagues do on their holidays either, or that they rode their bikes this morning… not because I don’t care about them, but because it is not what binds us.
Maybe it is because I don’t get it. Or maybe our fundamental social make up hasn’t changed and we are still made up of different personas; private and public. I’m a father, son and brother. I’m a manager at a company. I’m a participant in a global marketing discussion. I’m (very infrequently) a musician.
But I don’t talk to my mother or music buddies about marketing, because it doesn’t interest them. I don’t talk to my boss about my private life (in any detail) because he’s not interested in the detail and possibly likes to have a little distance. We are selective who we share information with, because (among other things) it makes us more interesting and relevant to the people we share the information with.
Relationships are built on the things we have in common, the things that bind us. I can’t have personal relationships with the everyone I know. There is no time, for one. Of course work friends can become close friends or even family. (and I should know).
The challenge for all of us was (and is) that there is only so much you can read and create and still do your day job. It’s just too much, and I don’t think I’m alone.
Here is a great idea: someone created a site that let’s you search one term and brings up Google and Bing side by side. The moment I saw this I realised why I liked Google so much. First, have a look that this:
The information provided by Google on the term Aconex is a summary of the most relevant pages right on the top. In contrast, Bing gives me a list of seemingly unstructured information.
Add to that the “show options” link right above the result and I can’t for the life of me think what would make me change from google to Bing…
Anyone have other ideas? Am I missing someting?
This product will help you increase your ROI and decrease your TCO = I have no freaking clue what the REAL business benefits of my product are, and I’m too lazy to figure it out. Source: Cranky Product Manager
Trevor Cook is someone I’ve been following for some time, because of his insights in media and PR. He wrote this (altogether good) article. There was just one quote that got me thinking:
The Obama campaign is the current gold standard of this approach – they controlled message but they allowed people a great deal of lattitude in the way they helped promote that message
I’ve read it a few times now, and I’m not sure.
Did the Obama campaign control message? They certainly created it, but did they really “control” it allowing people “lattitude” in the way they helped promote it?
I don’t think so. I think the reason it is the “gold standard” is because they created the kind of messages people wanted to share and promote, and then created highly targeted tools and activities to enable these messages to be spread.
In fact, had they made any attempt to control the message (apart from correcting people when they misrepresented the message), the whole thing would have failed.
What do you think? Did I miss something here?
David Armano tweeted (twitered?)this article…at the very bottom, this pearl of wisdom….
“People were very dependent on email. They overused it,” he says. “Now, people can use the right tool for the right task.”Perhaps. But there’s another way to think about all this. You can argue that because we have more ways to send more messages, we spend more time doing it. That may make us more productive, but it may not. We get lured into wasting time, telling our bosses we are looking into something, instead of just doing it, for example. And we will no doubt waste time communicating stuff that isn’t meaningful, maybe at the expense of more meaningful communication. Such as, say, talking to somebody in person.