A few months ago, our marketing department had a problem:

We weren’t working smart.

Sure, we were shipping a TON of valuable content, marketing our product, building white-hat links and more…

…but we weren’t working as efficiently as we wanted to.

So, we changed how we approached our work.

How?

We implemented Agile marketing using Scrum.

In today’s post blog post, I’ll walk you through:

  • What Agile marketing is
  • Why it matters (hint: it might not be for you)
  • How we increased our output by implementing Agile marketing in our marketing department (and how you can, too)

And of course, much more.

Let’s get started.

Want a peek inside how we run our marketing department?

I’ve recorded an explainer video showing you how we track our weekly sprints. It won’t be up for long, so request access before Emil tells me off for sharing it!

Free Downloadable Bonus
Get access to a free over-the-shoulder tutorial of Favro and learn how to implement Scrum in your marketing department today.

What is agile marketing?

Agile marketing is an iterative, incremental marketing approach inspired by the values and principles of Agile software development.

The goals of Agile marketing, according to Jim Ewel, founder of AgileMarketing.net, are to “improve the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.”

Dilbert Agile Marketing

(Source: Dilbert)

Years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to write a 30-40 page marketing plan outlining your department’s annual goal(s).

Today, it’s a different story.

Traditional marketing techniques are no longer effective. And with greater competition and Google’s ever-changing updates, it’s crucial you adapt to change if you want to get ahead of the curve.

By using Agile methodology, you’ll have the ability to quickly run new marketing experiments, gather real-time feedback on their effectiveness and move closer toward your goal with each iteration.

What is Scrum?

According to Chris Sims, author of Scrum: A Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction, “Scrum is a lightweight framework designed to help small, close-knit teams of people develop complex products.”

While Agile is more of a philosophy, Scrum is the delivery approach, the framework that helps us get the right things done.  

Scrum methodology begins with a project backlog, a list of marketing tasks developed by the marketing team to achieve the marketing goals.

During the sprint planning meeting, the team reviews the project backlog and agrees upon the tasks to be accomplished during the current sprint.

Completion of these tasks is tracked by the Scrum master, mainly through an online application (see: Favro), a weekly Scrum meeting and, if you’re using Slack, a weekly standup using Geekbot.

Geekbot

(Source: BetaList)

The weekly standup is an asynchronous standup meeting where each member of the marketing team answers three questions:

  • What did you achieve this week?
  • What did you not achieve this week? Why?
  • Are there any obstacles impeding your progress? Is so, what are they?

If your goal was to improve your email marketing campaigns or reduce your email unsubscribe rates, and you found yourself drowning in busy work, you can learn from the feedback and incorporate it into your next sprint.

How to implement Scrum in marketing

We’ve outlined four critical steps for implementing Scrum in marketing:

  1. Choose an application
  2. Plan your sprint
  3. Add sprints to your chosen application
  4. Decide on meeting frequency

Let’s discuss each step in detail.

Step 01: Choose an application

Like any new project management methodology, there are dozens of applications to track your product backlog and progress.

We needed an all-in-one, collaborative app that had the simplicity of Trello and the power of LeanKit.

After much deliberation, we chose Favro for several of it’s impressive, but important features:

i. Timesheets

A crucial part of sprint planning is assigning time estimations to each task.

If you assign one hour a week to, say, editing a team member’s blog post, and you’re consistently spending three hours doing it, either you’re underestimating the scope of the task or you’re encountering a problem that needs addressing (e.g. you haven’t properly onboarded a team member).

With timesheets, you can log how long it takes to perform a task, offering you room for improvement in future sprints. Here’s an example from when I was writing this post:

Timesheet in Favro

ii. Product backlogs

Product backlogs are cumulative lists of desired deliverables for the department.

Your list of desired deliverables will vary depending on your department’s objectives.

For content, it might be a blog post, landing page or email workflow. For growth, it might be an outreach campaign or simply an ongoing link building project.

In Scrum, no-one but the product owner is authorized to ask the team to do work or to change the order of backlog items

In other words, if an unexpected task comes up and it’s not in the sprint backlog—you’re not allowed to do it (granted, there are some exceptions, which the Scrum master will decide, but generally it’s a no-go).

With Favro, you can create a product backlog for all tasks and create nested hierarchies around core categories (more on that later).

Below is an example of how we use it for our content editorial calendar:

Editorial Calendar in Favro

If anything important but not urgent comes up during a sprint, we can create a card, assign the relevant person and add it to “Next Sprint”.

iii. Kanban boards

If you’re responsible for project management, you’re probably familiar with a Kanban board.

Translated from Japanese (meaning “signpost”), a kanban board is a method of visualizing a flow of work to give participants a view of progress during a sprint.

A simple kanban board will have 3 columns:

  1. To-Do
  2. Doing
  3. Done

In Favro, each task is represented as a card and can be moved depending on where it is in the sprint.

If you’re running sprints from Monday to Friday, you should have as few cards as possible remaining in “To Do” by the end of the week:

Overview of Boards in Favro

iv. Checklists

Below is a screenshot of our organic growth over the past 12 months (courtesy of SEMRush).

What do you notice?

Sleeknote Organic Growth

If you’ve read our content relaunch post, you’ll know part of our recent increase in organic traffic has come from implementing systems and checklists in our department.  

For example, we have a nine-point checklist for publishing a blog post in WordPress to ensure our post are optimized for on-page SEO:

Sleeknote SOP for How to Format a Blog Post in WordPress

With Favro, you can create checklists for cards to ensure each checklist item is marked as complete and standards are continually upheld:

Card Overview in Favrov. Reports

One of the benefits of Scrum is greater efficiency. After all, it’s not about getting things done; it’s about getting the right things done and feeling productive rather than busy.

With Favro’s reports feature, you can monitor how productive you are at any given time. From how many hours you’ve worked in your current sprint to how many hours you have remaining, reports will reel you in when you begin to veer off course:

Reports in Favro

Before planning your sprint in Step 02, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with whichever app you choose.

There’s a ton of helpful features and while you won’t use all of them, the ones you will (like creating reports in Favro) will take time getting used to.

Step 02: Plan your sprint

How you approach sprint planning will vary depending on the size of your organization and how many “micro” departments you have within marketing (more on that shortly).

The easiest way to get started is to write down every weekly recurring task for each member of your team with time estimations for completion.

I like to do this in Evernote:

Weekly Recurring Tasks in Evernote

The goal, here, is to be as specific as possible.

It’s easy to mistake “write a blog post” as a task when really it’s a process comprising several smaller tasks such as keyword research, outlining, writing and more.

If you’re systemizing your business, it’s worth breaking processes down into steps and documenting each procedure in detail. Here’s a snapshot of our content creation process from one our SOPs:

Sleeknote Content Creation SOP

Chunking down processes into tasks not only makes it easier to ship deliverables on time; it allows you to track how much progress each team member has made and where they might be encountering obstacles.

You’re bound to miss something at this stage, but don’t worry: it can always be added when adding sprints to your app of choice (Step 03).

Step 03: Add sprints to your chosen application

Once you’ve defined weekly recurring tasks for each team member, you’re ready to add them to your chosen application.

In this walkthrough, we’ll focus on Favro as it’s the app we like and recommend.

Step i. Create a free account

Go to Favro, enter your email address and click “Sign up for free”:

Favro Homepage

Step ii. Create a collection

Once you’ve verified your email address and gone through Favro’s onboarding process, click “Collections”…

Collections in Favro

…then “Create collection”:

Create Collection in Favro

Next, name your collection using your company name, change visibility to “Organization”, and invite members of your team:

Create a Collection in Favro

Finally, click “Create collection”:

Create Collection in Favro 2

Step iii. Create a board

If collections represent organizations, board represent departments.

Depending on the size of your organization, it’s worth having a board for each “micro” departments within marketing. For example, we have two core boards: one for content marketing and one for growth.

To create a board, click the plus symbol next to your collection and select “Create Board”:

Create Board in Favro

Give it an appropriate name:

Rename Board in Favro

Step iv. Create an additional list

Favro has two lists by default: Doing and Done.

I recommend adding a “To-Do” to create a Kanban workflow.

To do that, click “Add column” and name it “To-Do”:

Kanban Board in Favro 2

Next, move it in front of “Doing” so the lists are ordered: “To Do,” “Doing” and “Done”:

Kanban Board in Favro

Step v. Create a backlog

To create a backlog, click the plus symbol next to your collection and select “Create Backlog”:

Create Product Backlog in Favro

Give your backlog an appropriate name:

Product Backlog Example in Favro

Step vi. Create cards

Assign a card to each of the recurring tasks you wrote down in Step 02. To do that, click “Add card”:

Example of Product Backlog in Favro

Assign a team member, a time estimate, and an appropriate tag that describes the task:

Tagging in Favro

Adding tags helps you see how you plan to spend your time and how you actually spend your time when you review reports:

Donut Chart in Favro

If a task is time-sensitive or has multiple collaborators, assign a deadline.

Step vii. Group cards by category

When creating cards for each team member’s weekly recurring tasks, it’s likely you’ll have dozens of cards.

To avoid overwhelm, it’s worth grouping cards by category in the product backlog.

In Content, for example, we have several “parent” backlogs including our content editorial calendar, potential blog post topics, tasks we’re waiting on and more:

Product Backlog in Favro

Having a well-organized backlog ensures each task is present and accounted for.

If, for example, a team member adds a task during the week to “!Next Sprint” and the Scrum Master doesn’t consider it urgent and important enough to include in the next sprint, it can remain in the backlog until it is.

Move any weekly recurring tasks over to “To-Do,” first, followed by week-specific tasks. This will help you stay on target for your allotted hours.

Step viii. Create reports for better management

As mentioned, creating reports detailing where you plan to spend your time and where you actually spend your time helps you measure progress and improve your output with each sprint.

To create a report, click “App Selection > Advanced Search”:

Advanced Search in Favro

Next, click “Create a new Report” and add relevant criteria:

Add Criteria o Report in Favro

Not all information will be relevant for each team member. For example, my criteria include our “Content” and “Team” boards. Anything else is irrelevant:

Reports in Favro 2

When planning sprints, it’s worth having reports open in a separate tab to check you’re allocating enough hours to each team member.

Step ix. Templatize boards for greater efficiency

Sprint planning can be time-consuming in and of itself. It’s important, then, to plan sprints as efficiently as possible (especially since each sprint planning is, at a minimum, an hour a week of your working time).

One way to do that is templatizing each board you create.

To templatize a board, click “More actions > Options > Save as Template”:

Save as Template in Favro

Give it an appropriate name:

Template Name in Favro

Step 04. Decide on meeting frequency

The traditional sprint cycle consists of several meetings, often called ceremonies:

  1. Sprint planning
  2. Daily Scrum
  3. Storytime
  4. Sprint review retrospective

Not all ceremonies are relevant to marketing and how many you choose depends on your organization’s view on meetings.

We recommend the following:

i. Sprint planning

Sprint planning is an opportunity for each manager to collaborate with one another and plan sprints for each member of their team before the Scrum Master approves it.  

However, before your inaugural sprint planning ceremony, you will need an introductory meeting to decide how you, as a department, will approach Scrum.

Here are a few important considerations.

a. Working hours

No one works 37.5 hours a week. Our work is a combination of deep and shallow work. And each time we switch from one to the another we lose time.

It’s important then to collectively agree on what a realistic number is to achieve each week. We decided on 30 hours which can be further chunked down into five, 6-hour daily sprints.

b. Definition of done

If a process has multiple collaborators, when is it done? If we return to a content example, when is keyword research done? Is it when it’s completed by the assigned team member? Or, when the manager approves it?

Defining what done looks ensures everyone is in alignment and knows what’s expected of them from others each week.  

c. Buffers

No amount of planning can account for unforeseen obstacles.

Sometimes, a client will be on the verge of leaving for a competitor and will need to be “talked down.” Other times, Facebook will lock you out of your business page for no reason and you will need to assign time that wasn’t allocated to solve the problem.

Having a buffer will help you track unforeseen tasks that were urgent and important but not part of the original sprint. What constitutes as “urgent and important” will be determined by the Scrum Master.

d. Definition of tasks

If you answer a team member’s question in Slack and it only takes two minutes, do you need to add it to your buffer? After all, it is work, but you didn’t plan for it?

Questions like the above are common, which is why it’s important you have a lower and upper bound time limit for each task.

We decided anything under 15-minutes we wouldn’t track (e.g. replying to blog post comments) and anything over six hours hasn’t been defined well enough.

ii. Weekly Scrum

The weekly Scrum is an opportunity for everyone in the department to discuss what they did and did not achieve in the previous sprint and why, and clarify anything they’re not sure of for the upcoming sprint.

Over time, with practice and proper planning from each member, few questions will arise and everyone will be clear on what’s expected of them for the coming week.

Want a peek inside how we run our marketing department?

I’ve recorded an explainer video showing you how we track our weekly sprints. It won’t be up for long, so request access before Emil tells me off for sharing it!

Free Downloadable Bonus
Get access to a free over-the-shoulder tutorial of Favro and learn how to implement Scrum in your marketing department today.

This is just the beginning

We’ve covered a lot in this post.

But I haven’t even scratched the surface.

Agile marketing is a HUGE subject, so I’ve included a few additional resources below to help you gain a greater understanding of the subject:

We’ve learned a TON about project management since incorporating agile marketing into our department.

And with all our learnings, there’s one certainty we can all agree on:

We’re not going back.

If you’re on the fence, give Agile marketing a try. I promise you … you won’t be disappointed.

Have you incorporated agile marketing into your department? Leave a comment below.

Sam Thomas Davies
Sam is the content marketing manager at Sleeknote. His specialties include copywriting, content marketing and SEO. When he’s not helping ecommerce business owners turn visitors into subscribers, he can be found practicing guitar, reading, and playing hide and seek with his wife.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this piece! It’s so great to get specific insight into how teams are applying Agile to marketing.

    I hope you all are doing regular retrospectives though. I didn’t see it on your list of recommended ceremonies, and it’s one of the most important meetings an Agile team can have, whether they’re using Scrum, Kanban, or a hybrid approach.

    Agile on,
    Andrea

    Reply
  2. Rikke Thomsen

    Hi Andrea.

    Thanks for chiming in. You have a great point! Of course you need to do regular retrospectives, otherwise, you’ll never know what works and what doesn’t. Our retrospectives are included in our weekly scrum meetings, which we forgot to mention in the post. This is an opportunity for everyone to reflect on their way of working and what can be done to improve further.

    Reply

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