Agile and Scrum are ways to manage projects with more of an iterative philosophy rather than linear. We first started seeing this type of project management when IT departments were moving to client/server software environments, where “release” methodologies made more sense, rather than moving through the linear process from analysis to coding, to testing and implementation. Marketing has encountered its own similar transformation. Traditional marketing campaigns where one starts with planning the objectives, moves through strategy and finally gets to implementation months later are too slow for today’s media environment. Using Scrum for marketing is an excellent way to manage integrated marketing projects in particular. Integrated marketing is a much more iterative process, requiring ongoing testing, fast response to engagement and unplanned messages and management of multiple channels.

Agile is more of a concept than a process; an idea that first surfaced in 2001 with the publication of the Agile Manifesto. This manifesto was created by a group of software developers looking to create an “alternative to documentation driven, heavyweight software development processes.” In essence, this mission statement focuses on individuals and their interaction, collaborating with customers, and responding to change in order to rapidly deliver working software. Using Scrum for marketing makes sense based on today’s media world.

Smart entrepreneurs like Matt Blumberg started applying Agile principles to their efforts and using Scrum for marketing more than ten years ago. It’s no surprise that a software company would apply the Agile Development platform to their marketing. Here’s what Matt had to say about how they did it:

We now plan marketing in six-week “releases,” each of which has 1-2 core themes and a planning session up front with our head of sales and business GMs. Each release has two, three-week “iterations” where we do mid-course corrections and track our marketing team members’ utilization on projects very deliberately in Rally. Stakeholders can always go into Rally at any time and enter a “feature request” for a new marketing project, which we will schedule in at the next iteration. The marketing team has a daily stand-up to review progress and identify roadblocks. And we still have enough slack in the system that we can handle a couple of last-minute opportunistic items (love those French Fries) which invariably come up.

So far, so good. Our marketing team has a much more solid plan of attack for its work, and we have been able to regain control of our marketing agenda, getting input and feedback from stakeholders to help shape it along the way. Cross-group communication and transparency are way up, productivity is up, noise and friction are down.

Marketing and software development have a great deal in common. Both operate in an environment of constant change, driven by the market, technology, customers and consumers. Agile and integrated marketing also share communal ground in that both are customer-centered principles. The motivating benefit of employing agile scrum in marketing is the ability to quickly respond to change. Technology is the main driver of this change, rapidly creating and dissolving consumer touchpoints; think Snapchat and mySpace. Marketers have no choice but to respond with equal swiftness.

Agile Marketing Examples

An example of the need for instantaneous response to change is the Oreo tweet during a power outage at a Super Bowl in 2013. Their “Power Out? No problem.” tweet scored nearly 7,000 likes and over 15,000 retweets.

Nokia did even better when they hijacked the #Apple hashtag. When Apple announced the availability of colored iPhones, Nokia, who had offered something similar for a while, simultaneously issued their “Imitation is the best form of flattery” tweet. Nokia stole the show earning nearly 37,000 retweets and over 10,000 “likes.”

When Richard Neil’s witty post on Bodyform’s Facebook page generated over 80,000 “likes” and 3,500 comments, the company responded directly with a humorous video that has received nearly 6 million views to date. A little background is in order. Mr. Neil originally wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about how men had been lied to regarding women’s menstruation. The company quickly created a spoof Youtube Video explaining ‘the truth’ about periods to Mr. Neil, which they also posted to their Facebook page.

Using Scrum for Marketing

Scrum is “an agile framework for completing complex projects.” It takes the position that the problem cannot be fully understood and instead focuses on responding to the changing environment to provide quick delivery, based on an evidence-based empirical approach. Using Scrum for marketing seems like a fairly easy way to manage projects with high engagement and those that require rapid response or experience high rates of change.

Highly defined plans have less value than processes that respond quickly to change. Huge large-term campaigns are eschewed in favor of smaller operations that undergo rapid iterations. Suddenly, making a few huge bets seems less attractive than conducting numerous small experiments. In this environment, opinions and conventions don’t hold water against rigorous testing and the resulting data. Here, silos and hierarchy give way to collaboration.

Here’s how Scrum works at a high level, using terminology embodied in this methodology.

  • In Scrum, the person known as the product owner creates a prioritized wish list known as the product backlog. The key here for marketers is that there is a list of stuff that needs to get done according to priority.
  • The team conducts a planning session, called sprint planning, where they grab a small part from the top of that list and figure out how to implement those pieces. This small part is now called the sprint backlog.
  • The team has a finite amount of time in which to complete its work. Known as a sprint, the time allocated is typically between two to four weeks. A sprint needs to be long enough to allow for meaningful accomplishment, yet short enough to generate a quick response.
  • Each day the team gathers for a short meeting of 15 minutes to assess its progress. One designated person, called the ScrumMaster keeps the team focused on its goal during these meetings, known as the daily Scrum.
  • All work should be completed by the time a sprint is finished. Whatever doesn’t get completed is returned to the big list known as the product backlog. At this point, a review, known as a sprint review, is conducted in which the team reviews what they achieved during the sprint and its impact on the backlog.
  • Finally, the team conducts a sprint retrospective, which is nothing more than a self-analysis where everyone looks for ways to improve their process.
  • Once complete, it’s time for the next sprint planning session.

Scrum and Integrated Marketing

Agile marketing teams can use the Scrum framework with few adjustments. However, it’s important to be mindful of Scrum’s roots in software engineering. Not everything will be a perfect fit for the marketing environment. Take what works and be mindful of your team’s unique personality. Better yet, recruit someone from the IT department to work with your team on the first few projects. That will also help with all that silo-busting we talk about.