Last week I attended a two-day Scrum product owner certification course. Not only is Scrum a strange word to say (scum meets scrape?), but it’s a challenging concept to translate into what I do, which is marketing.


Our marketing team, being super agile.

We’ve written about agile software development and Scrum before, but let me tell you about it again before I explain how Scrum works for marketing, too.

Originally, a group of software developers created Scrum to more realistically manage projects. Traditional “waterfall” project management was based on the premise that you can accurately predict what an end product (i.e. software) will look like, how long it will take to build, and how much it will cost, before you actually build it.

This is never the case.

Software development can be unpredictable! WHAT?!

During the course of building software, many unknowns become apparent. Some of the features that the stakeholders believe are pertinent in the beginning reveal themselves to be irrelevant. Likewise, there will be new features that emerge that are crucial elements to making the software function to meet the users’ needs.

Scrum takes all of this into consideration, and the goal is to create a high-quality “shippable product” as quickly as possible, but this means that stakeholders must reconsider what is essential and what is superfluous. Apparently only 36% of software features are actually used. This means that the organizations and people who manage software projects are wasting about 64% of their developers’ time and their clients’ money.

Good Scrum project management ranks software features according to significance. If there’s enough money for every tiny feature, then great. But a good Scrum team will only build the best software, and that doesn’t equate to the software with the most features (sometimes simplicity is better).

Dilbert Scrum Cartoon

So how can I use scrum for marketing? I’ve been asking myself this question for the past few months, and during the training last week I was mentally translating everything our instructor said about Scrum into marketing terms.

First of all, marketing doesn’t really have a product comparable to software. We focus on goals (increased conversions, brand visibility and recognition) and we use a variety of means to get there. Sure, we’ll design an infographic and distribute it, and in some ways this counts as a shippable product, but it doesn’t have quite the same purpose as software.

Also, our work is never done. We can’t just execute a marketing campaign and call it good. We have to continually create new campaigns and measure their success.

But wait! The more I think about the more I realize I just need to change the word “shippable product” into “implementation” and voila. It kind of works.

Hear me out.

Sometimes we get requests for very specific marketing tasks that may or may not actually work toward a business’ goal of getting more conversions.

marketing-cartoonFor example, some people come to us with a really, really bad website. Either they had it built too cheaply, it’s way out of date, or it wasn’t designed with actual user experience in mind. We know that no matter how hard we work to move it up in the rankings, how great their AdWords ad content is, or how much money they pump into Pinterest, people are not going to trust them, and they will lose a significant chunk of business based on their crappy website.

Scrum project management would consider their marketing goals, analyze their user base, and make recommendations and changes accordingly. For a client with a bad website, the first step would be to recommend a rebuild, not to raise the daily AdWords budget.

We look at what has the potential to be effective and, budget allowing, we prioritize those “features.” The top priority would be to build a new marketing website that considers everyone’s goals (users, stakeholders, client). The next priority would be to set up appropriate tracking of these goals in Analytics, analyze what channels have converted best in the past, consider what channels may convert better now, and begin implementing a marketing plan accordingly.

But you know what? What works today may not work tomorrow. That’s just marketing. Websites become obsolete in three years or less. A new social network releases an amazingly effective advertising package. Suddenly nobody cares about cat memes (unlikely, I know).

Kanban board: scrum for marketing

Selfie with our kanban board.

Agile project management is really the only way to manage ongoing marketing projects. Good marketing is inherently agile, constantly adapting and responding to change, and making the most out of situations we can’t always anticipate.

While I can’t directly plop the technicalities of Scrum for software development onto Scrum for marketing, I do see how the premise applies equally, if not more so, to marketing.

Plus, we’re kind of in love with our kanban board.

About New Why

Web development, online advertising, and social media management for nonprofits and companies who want to make the world a better place.


New Why

Denver, CO

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