Does Scrum really work in marketing?

I’ve had a lot of marketers ask me, “Does Scrum really work in marketing?” Yes, it absolutely does! There are many myths of what Scrum is and isn’t, and I want to dispel some of those myths today and share with you some of the success stories I’ve seen using Scrum in the marketing world.

There’s nothing techie about Scrum

While Scrum was created by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, two software developers, the framework came from a need to better collaborate and work with their business partners.

While many marketers think Scrum only works in software development, the Scrum framework itself has absolutely nothing to do with technology whatsoever. In fact it’s much more comparable to a project management process, but with a lot more flexibility than how marketers have traditionally managed projects.

In fact, Scrum was created long before The Agile Manifesto, which was created by a group of software developers and much of its language is related to the problems software developers were experiencing in the 1990s.

Because most agile coaches and trainers have hands-on experience applying Scrum in software development, many common practices are taught and applied that aren’t actually part of the Scrum framework itself, but are useful in that context.

In marketing, if we strip out a lot of the ‘extras’ that have been added and just stick to the framework itself, it makes a lot of sense. Most marketers hear a lot of techie terms like, “test automation” and “tech debt” and it scares them away. These things are not actually Scrum.

The reason I really like Scrum in marketing is that it's applicable for many different kinds of marketing work. To sum up what Scrum is, it’s a framework for applying agile marketing that has three roles, four meetings and five values.

Scrum is a lightweight project management framework

There’s a misnomer out there that Scrum is a really big process with a lot of rules. Some organizations have tried to make it that way, but Scrum on its own has very few rules. In fact, it’s intentionally called a ‘framework’ so that companies can layer in their own practices.

If you’ve ever been trained in traditional marketing project management, you may look at Scrum and say, “Is that all there is to it?” Scrum is really easy to master, but the implementation can be difficult in organizations that are traditionally managed because Scrum is all about self-organizing teams and getting rid of command and control behavior.

Marketers can adapt Scrum to work for them

Someone recently asked me, “Can marketers really do Scrum by the book?” and yes, they can with perhaps a few small tweaks.

Since marketers aren’t actually developing products, many have changed the word ‘product backlog’ to ‘marketing backlog’. We’ve also seen a lot of companies combining the role of Scrum Master and Product Owner into one called Marketing Owner.

While combining the roles may work for your marketing team, I believe this is happening mainly because marketing organizations don’t really understand what a Scrum Master does all day and therefore don’t want to fund the role.

If you’re working at a large company with a lot of organizational change needed to embrace agile marketing, a Scrum Master is a key role in ensuring a successful transformation.

Scrum uses the idea of product increments, believing that every sprint (a time boxed period of one-to-four weeks) the team delivers value and potentially shippable work. When the work gets released can happen at any time and is unrelated to the sprint itself.

In agile marketing, we have to do a bit of translation here. Instead of product increments, we’re often talking about marketing campaign elements. Marketers break down work into micro-campaigns, striving to reduce time in research and planning and instead get campaign pieces out in the wild sooner.

Who’s using Scrum in marketing?

Agile marketing with Scrum is happening at a lot of large companies, especially ones where software development teams have already been using Scrum for a while. The industries I’m seeing this applied most often are very traditional ones such as banking, healthcare and retail. Companies like Target, American Express, Fidelity Investments and more have embraced Scrum in marketing.

A medical technology company I recently worked with knew about Scrum from their software teams and found they could apply it to marketing. Their work is very data and research driven and they found Scrum helped them focus on delivering real value faster rather than spending too much upfront time in a research phase.

A healthcare company that I worked with onsite was just getting started with agile marketing and after learning about the various frameworks decided that Scrum fit best with their culture and way of working.

I also worked with a large bank that was going through a lot of turmoil and needed a way to deliver faster. It had previously taken more than a dozen sign-offs to get any content out the door. Scrum provided them with a way to build better trust with leaders and empowered the team to own more of the work.

Is Scrum right for our team?

Living up to the agile values and principles and striving for culture change should be first and foremost on everyone’s minds above a framework. However, you can’t know which framework, if any, are right for your company without a deep understanding of them.

If you’re an ad agency, a very small company or if you work as a provider to multiple clients, Scrum may not be your best bet. However, if you’re a larger company that needs to create a sense of urgency, clarity on priorities and improve collaboration and teamwork, Scrum is a wonderful, well-proven framework for doing just those things.

Ready to learn more about Scrum in Marketing? Don’t miss the first ever Certified Scrum Master class that is taught with Marketers in mind. Join us online June 24-25, 2020.

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