Agile project management may once have been the exclusive domain of technical teams, but not any more. As the role of marketing expands to encompass an ever-wider range of functions and responsibilities, more of these non-technical teams are adapting the Agile methodology for their own use. To get the inside scoop on how one tech startup’s marketing team made this work, I sat down with Kyle Lacy, VP of Marketing for Lessonly and certified SCRUM master.
The Airtight Case for Implementing Agile: Do More with Less
The Lessonly marketing group is made up of ten professionals across three teams – demand gen, brand and product marketing – and is responsible for everything from content and event strategy to direct mail and customer marketing. They cover the entire customer journey, from the top of the funnel to supporting customer expansion opportunities.
Like most startups, the team just didn’t have the resources they needed to get everything done. Enter Agile Marketing. Adopting this methodology would not only build alignment within the team, it would increase productivity! In addition, the old system didn’t include a mechanism to keep the team moving forward within a certain production time frame.
The Agile “sprint” – a development iteration that is restricted to a specific duration – was one of the most appealing aspects of Agile. “I love the sprint,” Kyle says. “Agile encompasses much more than the sprint, but the sprint is where we’ve honed our skills as a marketing team. It’s how we manage production; keep things moving; and deliver continuous, rapid improvement.”
In short, Kyle’s objective with Agile was to always be rapidly, continuously improving and to get twice the work done in half the time.
The Agile Approach – Elements of a Winning Process
While the most common duration of an Agile sprint is two weeks, Kyle’s team launched their process with a one-week sprint because that was better suited to the nature of the constantly changing marketing priorities and fluctuating workload.
Within the one-week sprint, Kyle and his team implemented three changes to their project management routine:
- Weekly 60-minute planning meeting every Friday—used to conduct a retrospective of the prior week, review goals, and plan the next sprint
- Daily 15-minute stand-ups—used to review tasks for each individual team member and raise any impediments or blockers
- Trello for project and process management—used in combination with Google apps to manage the more minute details and launch plans
The Lessonly team committed to using Trello on a daily basis across the entire team. (If you’re unfamiliar with Trello, check out this 5-minute demo video). After some experimenting, Kyle’s team developed a project management approach that uses three types of Trello boards:
- Project board—built at the beginning of each quarter to provide a central location for all major projects
- Personal boards—where individual team members manage their daily tasks
- An editorial calendar board—which is used both to schedule and review content on a weekly basis
You can see some screenshots of Lessonly’s Trello boards in Kyle’s LinkedIn article, How to Build and Agile Marketing Team Using Trello and One-week Sprints.
Biggest Challenge: Accurate Capacity Assessment
One of the biggest challenges the team encountered was learning to estimate and manage team capacity. Not knowing whether the team had bandwidth to handle what was already on their plates or had room to take on more made it very difficult to achieve the higher level of efficiency that Kyle was after.
To help bring clarity to these crucial questions, the team used a Trello power-up (basically, a third-party app integration) to help each team member estimate their available time each week.
“The power-up allows you to put a number into each Trello card,” Kyle explains. “This then enabled team members to allocate time to each task and meeting on their personal boards and come to the Friday planning meeting with a clearly defined and more accurate estimate of the time they actually have available.”
In addition to taking this granular approach to resource management, each marketing team member also maintains a weekly buffer of five to ten hours so they can accommodate any emergencies or other unforeseen requests that come up. Project managers also acknowledge that available time varies by functional role. A designer, for instance, might have an average of thirty hours available each week while a Director of Marketing with six direct reports (and a ton of meetings) might only have an average of ten hours available each week.
“These practices have made us more productive because they help ensure that we know our actual capacity. That’s probably been the biggest change in how we plan sprints and assign project tasks. It’s almost like assigning points to each task – .25 of an hour to 1.5 hours or more – and it makes it much easier to see exactly how much each person has on their plate.”
Four Lessons Learned in the Trenches
For other marketing teams thinking about implementing Agile, Kyle offers four specific pieces of advice:
1. Be vigilant about the 15-minute stand-up meeting.
“It’s imperative that you do your 15-minute stand-up every morning and not push them off,” Kyle emphasizes. “We had a two-week span during which we got kind of iffy on the stand-ups. We only did two each week, and it completely derailed a lot of what we were doing.”
2. Develop a marketing request form.
According to Kyle, the introduction of a marketing request form changed the team’s entire process. Built on Typeform and connected to Trello, the form sends requests into the Trello inbox from members outside of the marketing team, allowing the team to quickly and easily create a new card that goes onto the backlog list. From there, they can easily review and prioritize requests depending on capacity.
“The marketing request form gives your team the lever to redirect on-the-fly requests into a queue instead of having to react in the moment,” Kyle says. “It also helps us to vet requests and manage our time more productively.”
3. Make good use of Trello and Trello extensions.
The Lessonly marketing team has made Trello an integral part of their Agile process because it’s flexible, scalable, and offers a wide array of power-ups to expand functionality and connect Trello to other tools. In addition to the time estimation power-up, Kyle’s team also uses Trello’s Chrome extension to facilitate the marketing request form process noted above and manage to-do lists.
4. Share what you’re doing with the rest of your organization.
As the marketing team of a company that provides online training software, Kyle’s team shared their use of Agile and Trello with their colleagues via a Lessonly lesson. Soon after, other groups within Lessonly started joining and using Trello and adapting the marketing team’s process for their own projects.
“Sharing how we’ve been using these tools and methods for continuous rapid improvement in marketing inspired our peers in other departments, and also helped us get better because we got new ideas from some of the other teams,” Kyle says.
Team Buy In – Not Optional!
No project management process will work well without buy in from the whole team. It’s critical to make sure everyone is on the same page and aligned in their intentions. On the day-to-day side of things, the Lessonly marketing team depends on project managers to create that alignment and get everybody working on the right timeline across departments. Sometimes, however, even the best laid plans can go astray.
“When a project manager fails to get everyone aligned, they become a blocker. We discuss such issues in the Friday planning meeting, and – if the block happens multiple times – it becomes my responsibility to unblock it. And sometimes I’m the blocker. Actually, most of the time, I’m the blocker.”
On the big picture side of things, Kyle recommends proactively getting your team involved in planning and process development. He recently learned just how important this is after the dismal failure of an attempt to move from one-week to two-week sprints. “It was horrid,” he recalls. “It was my idea, I didn’t involve the entire team in the planning of it, and it failed. It might still have failed, but if I had involved the entire team in brainstorming before implementing the change, the attempt certainly would have gone more smoothly. And, even if it eventually failed, at least the team would have been bought in and working together.”
Agile for Marketing: Smoother Workflow, Greater Alignment, Improved Productivity
While, in the spirit of SCRUM and sprints, the Lessonly marketing team continues to iterate on their Agile process, they are all in agreement that the approach is working on many levels. From improved capacity management to more consistent on-time delivery, the methodology is delivering on its promises. If you’re intrigued, but need a little more inspiration, learn more in our post, Scrum One, Scrum All: Why Agile Isn’t Just for Technical Teams. Happy sprinting!