Effective planning is essential in agile marketing

Agile teams need to figure out how your team can stay focused and uninterrupted, as this section from "MarTech's agile marketing for teams" e-book shows.

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The following is a selection from the e-book “MarTech’s agile marketing for teams.” Please click the button below to download the full e-book.

A big challenge that agile marketers face is trying to balance being agile with planned work. You need to figure out how your team can stay focused and uninterrupted, while still allowing for important changes to happen. A lot of this depends on the nature of your work, but there are definitely some good practices to be learned.

First, let’s examine the ultra-rigid agile marketing team. They plan their work in two-week sprints and absolutely nothing can interrupt them. When a stakeholder has an urgent request, it may take months to get it through the queue and it really annoys the team. On the plus side, the team may be very high-performing because they’re able to focus on their work without any interruptions.

More commonly, however, I see what I call “chaos agile” practices happening. The team will say things like, “We don’t need to plan, we’re agile.” Or the organization thinks agile marketing means they can switch gears faster than Beyoncé changes outfits during a performance.

Your team needs to find the middle ground.

Sprint Planning for success

The first step to finding that middle ground is the practice of Sprint Planning. I suggest planning for one week if it’s challenging for your team to stick to a plan, and planning for two weeks if you tend to work on larger projects or campaigns.

The goal of Sprint Planning is to have the team look at the items in the prioritized backlog and decide which ones they can commit to completing in the given sprint time box of one or two weeks. The idea is to move away from the team starting a bunch of work and doing it independently, to focusing on delivery of value to the customer by the end of the sprint.

A good practice is to begin with stating the goal of the sprint. This should come from the marketing owner (or a similar role). It’s not a list of every item expected, but rather what success would look like for the team at the end of the week or two.

It may be something like, “Our goal in this sprint is to launch a micro-campaign to reach prospective buyers in the Seattle area for our new cold brew coffee flavor of the month. We’ll be focusing this week on social media outreach.”

When the team can be united on what success looks like, it keeps them focused and everyone works better together to accomplish a common goal.

Next, take a look at the team’s capacity. You don’t need to account for every minute of people’s time, but the team should communicate if anyone is taking vacation time or has other work outside of the team that would impact their commitment to the sprint goal.

The team will then look at the prioritized backlog and pull in items they believe they can accomplish. No one should be influencing the team here or telling them they can do more. Your team is accountable for delivery and needs to feel in control of what it can accomplish.

Once the team has selected the backlog items they feel they can get done, it’s a good practice to do a confidence vote. A technique called Fist of Five helps your team decide if everyone is in agreement about how much work was selected. A five means they strongly agree, whereas a one indicates strong disagreement, with the middle numbers being a range.

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Fist of Five

For most teams, I’d plan for what you think is 80 percent full, still allowing some room for people to be out of the office unexpectedly and work taking longer than the team expected (because let’s face it, that always happens).

If your team is newer to agile and still works in a highly disruptive environment, I’d lower the planned work commitment to something like 50%, with the idea that you’d like to get to 80% planned in the future. In this case, it’s a good idea to create a ticket called “Unplanned Work” and track how much time is happening in this category.

Handling sprint interruptions

Once the team commits to the work in the sprint, the intent is that any interruptions to the sprint need to be discussed by the team, as it impacts the work they’ve committed to already.

The requests need to be brought to the attention of the marketing owner role and presented to the team. In most cases, the work should not be added to the sprint, but traded out for something else that wasn’t started.

The product owner may come to the team and say, “Jim from Sales said that they just signed up to attend a tradeshow next week and they need a product sheet to pass out. Can we get that done this sprint?”

As a team, you’ll want to make sure you have enough understanding of the new work to be able to get it done right now. If there are still unanswered questions, it will take longer. Then the team’s default answer should be, “If we take on the product sheet work, we won’t be able to work on the webinar this week.”

By handling sprint interruptions this way, we’re not jeopardizing the team’s commitment, yet remaining somewhat flexible if something comes up that is truly more urgent.

If your team plans for the unplanned, you can reserve a certain amount of the team’s time for ad hoc requests, but it can’t be unlimited. Let’s say your team saves eight hours for ad hoc requests, but 20 hours worth of them are happening. The marketing owner needs to prioritize which ones need to happen this sprint, and which can come in subsequent sprints.

With most teams, work requests seem to be never-ending and there’s no limit to what the team is asked to do. By setting some boundaries, yet remaining flexible, you’ll be able to strike that right balance between accomplishing work and meeting stakeholders’ urgent needs.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Stacey Ackerman
Stacey knows what it’s like to be a marketer, after all, she’s one of the few agile coaches and trainers that got her start there. After graduating from journalism school, she worked as a content writer, strategist, director and adjunct marketing professor. She became passionate about agile as a better way to work in 2012 when she experimented with it for an ad agency client. Since then she has been a scrum master, agile coach and has helped with numerous agile transformations with teams across the globe. Stacey speaks at several agile conferences, has more certs to her name than she can remember and loves to practice agile at home with her family. As a lifelong Minnesotan, she recently relocated to North Carolina where she’s busy learning how to cook grits and say “y’all."

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