How To Adopt Scrum Agile Within Your Marketing Team

On January 1st 2017 I am with Exact for exactly 5 years. During this 5 years we made many transformations with the marketing team growing to what it is today. More than 50 marketing professionals running complex and engaging demand generation campaigns. But still we are learning, each and every day. What started as a Dutch marketing team transformed into a performance driven International marketing team running programs in The Netherlands, Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany, United States, France and Spain. Today’s marketing is strongly driven by data and technology. Only tools will not do the job, it is about a change of behavior, a change of mind, a change of attitude.The essence of marketing never changed. The means and tools we are equipped with today makes it more exciting but also complex. Different countries, different target audiences and persona’s, multiple media channels and a variety of marketing assets. Every variable increases the complexity of our playground exponentially. In order to remain flexible but still work to one common goal adopting new ways of collaborating is key. Only tools will not do the job, it is about a change of behavior, a change of mind, a change of attitude.

Marketing functions

Back at the beginning of 2012 when it all started for me within Exact I started to build the team around the customer buying journey. This model is still what we apply each and every day and is a true blueprint for all that we do. However the number of countries, target audiences, assets, marketing people etc. increased dramatically. The model is still relevant but the way how to optimize, expand and maintain with the marketing team changed every year.

The first major change was making a distinction between the Central and the Field marketing organization. Central building a foundation of demand generation programs which were rolled out and deployed in all countries. Field marketing creating additional programs on top of this foundation to add local relevance where required. Within the Central team different disciplines were required to build our so called marketing Playbooks. For each target audience a blueprint with everything required to run a demand generation program.

In order to deliver a complete Playbook with a demand generation program a variety of marketing disciplines are required. Marketing automation taking care of all data, connectivity and automation of the programs. Content creation developing content for the different personas and different stages of the buying journey. Content in many many formats like ebooks, infographics, videos, animations, white papers, blogs etc. All content and Playbooks are developed in UK-English. Once ready Central Program management takes care of roll-out and deployment within all other countries. Content creation developing content for the different personas and different stages of the buying journey.This is not only about translation but entire deployment of all technologies covering all technologies involved e.g. website CMS, marketing automation tool, databases and CRM. All online marketing we centralized in the Online Demand Generation team. This is such an expertise which needs to be bundled to leverage all knowledge. We just started with the implementation of Google Analytics Premium and our own Google DoubleClick license which shows that this team is becoming a true media agency.

At that time there was no real pain and we felt it was too early to start adopting this new way of work.

Increasing complexity of marketing

With a growing marketing team and our marketing strategy and tactics becoming more advanced every day we experienced that our programs became very complex. Mainly in 2015 we felt the pain of becoming a large marketing team with different disciplines in there. People were not able anymore to relate their daily work to the overall goals we had as a marketing team. Each and every team was working on its own island and during roll out and deployment we encountered more and more faults. The teams were not fully aligned anymore and there was a lack of mutual trust and joined feeling of responsibility.

As a marketing MT we came to realize that we needed to change things mainly in the way the people and teams were collaborating with each other. Already a few years ago we had discussions about scrum agile and how this would apply to our marketing team. At that time there was no real pain and we felt it was too early to start adopting this new way of work. During 2015 we felt pain and thus revisited new ways of collaborating like scrum agile. Within our development department there were colleagues with lots of experience in this area so they were able to explain us the basic principles and the do’s and dont’s. Also made us realize that if we decided to move on with this, this would be a bumpy road.

Scratching the surface

Developing and setting the guidance for 2016 with my marketing MT during November and December 2015 was a tough job. We had to overcome many intense discussions and the team was constantly switching from one side of the room to the other side of the room. A lot of effort and energy I had to put in convincing the team that this was the way how to move forward. I didn’t have to convince people really, it was more about the way how to. How to make our first steps in scrum agile and which guidance to provide the teams to facilitate them and create an inspiring environment. We ended up with making people, not teams, responsible for a specific phase in the customer lifecycle consisting of:

In hindside a way too much model that at the end nobody really understood but it was a first step. We also decided that for each and every project or optimization a multi-disciplinary team was formed.

These teams were end-to-end responsible delivering the optimizations. We selected a lightweight tool called Trello to support this new way of working. Backlog boards were created and new entries were discussed in the marketing MT. Monthly sprints were introduced in order to make sure we didn’t blow up optimizations into large and complex projects. It was about short monthly cycles to keep up the pace. In hindside a way too much model that at the end nobody really understood but it was a first step.We even asked all team members to register their hours so we were able to have better control of the available resources and make well-thought decisions giving certain projects lower or higher priority. At the same time, we realized that registering hours is a kind of the opposite of what you want to achieve with scrum agile. Giving true responsibility to the teams, make sure for them that it is ultimately clear what the value is they are expected to deliver in a continuous improving team velocity.

However, we also believe in doing things, start with the journey and experience ourselves what it is to work in multi-disciplinary teams so everybody feels what that really is about. It has an impact on team members and the leaders themselves who are also expected to manage and facilitate in a different kind of way.

Hot summer of 2016 

During the summer we build quite some experience with working in small teams coming from different disciplines within marketing. People felt that walls between the teams disappeared and the working ethics between all the people in the various teams really got a positive boost. At the same time, the number of small projects exploded and people started to have difficulties to keep overview and control of the things they did. Sometimes things are so big that people don’t notice.Although there was a bigger guidance people didn’t seem to own it, especially the value that was expected to be created. Sometimes things are so big that people don’t notice. I think that this was the case. Furthermore, people felt that registering their hours gave them better insights what they were working on but also the leaders were not really able to work with those insights.

Trying to capture the biggest challenge or shift we wanted to make with the way we practice marketing we also questioned whether all these small teams were contributing to this. Main challenges we have:

Trying to enter the lives of our target audience in an earlier stage of their buying journey allows us to better nurture these contacts into high-quality leads. Research done in the past demonstrated that if we were able to bring our story over a longer period of time telling about our why, how and what this resulted in a better quality of leads. However, it takes some time to nurture contacts and makes the playfield more complex. Trying to enter the lives of our target audience in an earlier stage of their buying journey…In order to play this game right you need to register all touchpoints in a profound way for understanding where people are in their buying journey to determine the next best action. This next best action had impact on which media channel to reach out to such a contact and which content and format to use for that. With the enormous number of different media channels and devices available today a hell of  a job!

We all try to understand the algorithms of Google but at a certain moment in time you just need to accept

Gaining traffic through the organic media channels is the best quality traffic that you can get. This is a longtail game but can have huge impact on the results coming out of it. If people find you organically means by default that the content on that page or the story that you have to offer on that page is of high quality. We all try to understand the algorithms of Google but at a certain moment in time you just need to accept but also believe that their intention is to remain relevant for their users. Therefore they will improve their algorithms only if it contributes to more relevance. Better quality traffic leads to better quality leads and higher sales conversion.

Creating value

With our 6 months of experience scratching the surface we felt that we had to step up embracing scrum agile within the marketing teams. We ran a workshop for the marketing MT for a better understanding of the scrum agile principle. Self-steering multi-disciplinary teams carrying an end-to-end responsibility. Having full clarity of the value they need to deliver as a team. Self-steering multi-disciplinary teams carrying an end-to-end responsibility.A product owner driving the product vision and the sprint goals and the scrum master monitoring the process and roadblocks if there are any. As a marketing MT we had to define very clear expectations of what we expected from the teams in terms of value. In order to make a step-up we took the following actions:

For the scrum teams themselves it had to be very clear what was expected from them and how they were able to measure their results. The fail fast and fail often principle was introduced and the teams were forced to test small improvements focussed on one company and specific target audience. Once a certain optimization was proven together with the DevOps team it was replcated and rolled out to the other countries and target audiences. In the most ideal situation we wanted to have no distinction between the scrum teams and the DevOps team for deployment but todaty we are simply not mature enough to take that step. We further need to share knowledge between people and train them to have true T-shaped profiles in all teams.

Heading for 2017

So in the summer we kicked off our step-up towards further adopting scrum agile within marketing and started to work on it. All team members entered the cadence of daily stand-ups and bi-weekly sprint reviews and this was experienced as a positive thing. Goals were more clear and the fact that data gave the teams insights with regards to their performance of delivering value really helped all individuals feel they were contributing to the overall goals. Now that we are several months further we already see room for improvement so for 2017 we make some further adjustments.

As a marketing MT it is extremely important to monitor the progress of the teams on a weekly basis. Making sure the improvements that they try to proof remain small and stay within the guidelines of the value that they need to deliver. Other working ethics comes into play like the ability to collaborate, communicate, feel responsible and take responsibility. These are the soft factors which are highly important to manage and monitor. We learned that the product visions of the scrum teams can’t be specific enough. Other working ethics comes into play like the ability to collaborate, communicate, feel responsible and take responsibility.For 2017 we will make these even more explicit. In order to have the scrum teams fully responsible not only for optimizations but also roll-out and deployment to other countries and target audiences, we created a skillset map for all teams. All marketing people are now divided over the various scrum teams, there is a clear understanding about the expertises required in order to the job but also a GAP analysis is available. This shows the teams which team members are willing and should be trained in certain areas.

Stakeholders and scrum team members

As of 2017 we also will start to involve colleagues from other non-marketing departments within the scrum teams. Up to now they were involved as stakeholders meaning they were involved, informed but not actively part of the scrum team. Being actively part of the scrum team means having influence on the way how value is being created but also means active engagement in daily standups and sprint reviews. In such a way product marketing, sales, brand communications, other business units and development are being actively engaged.

Looking back it was and is still a bumpy road.

Looking back it was and is still a bumpy road. Although for the atmosphere and working ethics I highly recommend to make these steps, at the other side it is hard hard work for all team members and management. Adopting scrum agile is highly demanding for people for certain skill sets most of us didn’t grow up with. At the end it is a mindset, it is a culture and change of behavior that you try to accomplish in order to further optimize what you have in a more effective way. It even should bring us optimizations and improvements of unexplored new areas that previously we didn’t think of. But we have to and I will continue to drive this change and transformation into the most modern, flexible and impactful marketing team.



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