Agile digital marketing using Scrum

Is scrum only for software projects?. The answer is ‘No’. Scrum works well with any project where either the requirements are changing or technology is new or both. Here are the lessons learned by a digital marketing team using scrum to accelerate their digital marketing program.

Did I say Digital Marketing Program instead of Digital Marketing Project?. Yes, I did, and that is intentional because most of the digital marketing initiatives meets all the criteria of programs than projects. Programs are a collection of inter-related projects, which when done together gives us more value than doing them one after the other. Majority of the digital marketing initiatives are programs comprising of multiple projects like;

  • Revamping the company web site
  • Creating good content
  • SEO optimization
  • Blogs
  • Case studies
  • Success stories
  • Voice of the customers
  • Training component
  • Webinars
  • Benchmarking
  • Research & Development etc

If these are not synchronized well, the entire initiative can turn out to be transaction oriented than result oriented. The team with which I was working very closely was no different, till we decided to follow a ‘light scrum’ based on the scrum elements like;

  • Weekly sprint planning meetings
  • Weekly reviews and retrospectives
  • Daily reviews
  • Tracking board

One may call it as a tailored version of Scrum. Any way, I call it as ‘Light Scrum’, a kind of loosely implemented most essential aspects of scrum framework envisaged by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland in their Scrum Guide.

Weekly sprint planning meetings

Quick 1 hour planning meetings, conducted immediately after the weekly review and retrospective. It was more of a pending from the previous week and new work. Was created using a tool (Microsoft Teams), so that all the stakeholders (many of them very senior) were aware of what is being planned, and their specific actions towards meeting the weekly sprint goals.

Weekly reviews and retrospectives

Even though the marketing team was working very hard, there was not any specific way to evaluate their progress. With the introduction of the weekly sprints, plan based review and retrospectives became possible. This in turn brought in lot of visibility into the marketing teams functioning to the key stakeholders.

Daily reviews

We never had those typical stand up meetings. We sat down together for 15 minutes every day to see where we are with respect to the weekly plan and for constraint removal.

Tracking board

First we created a dump of all the goals to be achieved and the activities required to achieve those goals. This resembled the classical product backlog. From this we created the weekly sprint backlogs. The weekly sprint backlogs were classified into;

  • To be done
  • Being done
  • Done

Resources were associated with tasks with a mix of volunteering and allocation. Based on the progress made, tasks were moved from “To be done’ to ‘Being done’ and then “done’. Tracking board was shared with all the relevant stakeholders so that everyone could see what was happening in the project at any point in time.

We do not maintain burn down charts to track progress. No task level estimates. There is no actual effort capture. There is no velocity calculations yet. Just by having a product backlog, sprint backlog, sprint planning meeting, sprint reviews and retrospectives the benefits are many.

Key Benefits

  • Change in mindset from transaction orientation to result orientation
  • Higher motivation levels and job satisfaction
  • Better quality and effectiveness of the deliverables
  • Better stakeholder involvement / satisfaction
  • Increase in tangible business benefits from the digital marketing effort

Key benefits of Integrated Agile Project delivery from a 1.6 billion Oil and Gas project

Introduction

Key benefits of Integrated Agile Project delivery from a 1.6 billion Oil and Gas project;

  • Project completion ahead of 36 months schedule
  • 90% on time delivery of deliverables
  • 80% deliverables completed within budget
  • 100% quality assurance across all team’s output
  • 80% reduction in errors and rework

Key enablers

  • Integrated planning
  • Multiple levels of planning
    • Master plan
    • Phase wise plan
    • Look ahead plan
    • Weekly plan
  • Availability of project information on time
    • Exception based management resulting in reduced meetings
  • Collaborative team work supported by collaboration system
    • Weekly corrective / preventive action meetings

Basic Building blocks of Agile  

  • The master plan – The master plan of the project from the start to finish. Very often at the milestone level.  
  • Phase plan – Subset of the master plan which culminates in a major deliverable / deliverable.
  • Make ready plans / Look ahead plans – Subset of the phase plan with six weeks window
  • Formation of self-organizing teams – Teams are selected based on the skills required to deliver the output of the make ready plan. The team decides how they are going to perform the work. They collectively sequence the tasks, identify the constraints and dependencies upfront, eliminate them and sees the work progress together during the daily review meeting, and make the adjustments required to deliver on time.  This results in smoother work flows, motivation and positive peer pressure to deliver.
  • Weekly plan
  • Weekly and monthly reviews  
  • Daily stand up meetings
  • Retrospective meetings
  • Information radiators
  • Constant constraint removal
  • Forecasting (Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Phase, Master plan level)
  • Key metrics

Do you want to know more?

Our agile experts will explain the basic building blocks for improving agility in engineering projects. They will also explain how these basic building blocks work together to improve productivity and predictability of engineering projects with the help case studies.

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The 'Fragile-Agile' List

This is an ever growing list. The sole objective of this list is to challenge the agile champions to create some new mistakes, instead of the known ones in the list, and to help me to add them to this list by sharing them with me 🙂

  1. Absence of well articulated business case for agile transition
  2. Lack of management commitment / understanding
  3. Lack of product owner commitment / understanding
  4. Bad requirements engineering and wrong source
  5. Proxy product owners without any understanding of the ground reality
  6. Bad technical design
  7. Overselling agile
  8. Lack of empiricism
  9. Lack of rigor of corrective / preventive actions
  10. Partial training
  11. Insufficient training 
  12. Lack of awareness of agile principles
  13. Cultural conflicts
  14. Lack of quality of agreements 
  15. Influence of organizational politics 
  16. Just, Certified Agile Masters 
  17. Insecure seniors
  1. Absence of well articulated business case for agile transition – Why are you doing it?. When will you say that it is successful?. By what date?. If we have clarity on these, the probability of success is very high. 
  2. Lack of management commitment / understanding– They think that agility is something money can buy, and unfortunately money alone cannot make it part of your organizational culture. It takes commitment over a longer period of time.
  3. Lack of product owner commitment / understanding – Many product owners lack role clarity. They act as traditional senior project managers and supervises the work of scrum master and the development team, craving for control, every day. Funeral of agile. 
  4. Requirements are scheduled into sprint without validating them – On many occasions, many of the requirements turn out to be irrelevant for the end user, as the source of the requirements are wrong.
  5. Proxy product owners without any understanding of the ground reality (linked to point 4). 
  6. Bad design – Whatever said and done, only a good design can scale, can include last minute changes easily. Many times, agile frameworks are adopted half way, as a quick fix measure to solve the problems of a project resting on bad architecture. That is not going to work, unless and until the code is re-engineered.
  7. Overselling agile – The expectations are not set correctly. Agile is projected as the silver bullet for all problems.
  8. Lack of empiricism – Without empirical data, progress cannot be measured. Improvement cannot be measured.
  9. Lack of rigor of corrective and preventive actions – People are hesitant to get into the real root causes and solve them, instead they are fine with quick fixes.
  10. Partial training – The full team is not trained, they do not have a common understanding of agile. ‘Just do it’ attitude will not work.
  11. Insufficient training – The trainer might not have given proper emphasis on the value system required for agile to be successful, instead, would have focused on the framework. Understanding the agile frameworks is the easiest part, where as how all the parts of the framework work together and create the pull required to achieve improved productivity is the key.
  12. Lack of awareness of the agile principles – The trainer / coach ignoring the agile principles part and focusing too much on the framework. Mastering the framework is much easier than mastering the principles.
  13. Cultural conflicts – Very often it is about ‘self organizing teams’ within a command and control’ corporate culture, that makes it difficult.
  14.  Lack of quality agreements – Majority of the agreements in the meeting rooms are political agreements, which can be interpreted or misinterpreted as emotional intelligence. People do not really agree, when they say ‘I agree’ due to two major reasons; 1) Lack of financial security 2) Lack of expert power. Without having these two secured, one cannot be bold and correct.
  15. Influence of organizational politics –  spilling into the agile way of working. Account manager acting as the ‘product owner’ trying to control things through the ‘proxy product owner’ by passing the ‘scrum master’. This is very dangerous as no one will dare even to accept the existence of this. 
  16. Just, Certified Agile Masters – who forgot about agile, the day got certified at the end of the two day corporate training program, who attended the program because his boss asked him to attend it. 
  17. Insecure seniors – Self organizing teams is the driving force of every agile team. The best part of self organizing teams is the emergence of new comers based on their capabilities. Unfortunately in many organizations, excellence is linked to experience. When the inexperienced start performing, some of the seniors will start seeing them as threats.
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