Agile digital marketing
As a marketer, you may not have much knowledge of agile project management techniques or experience using them. This article introduces you to some of the techniques used by software project teams and explains how they can be used to manage digital marketing.
Digital marketing teams have a major battle to win – to create engaging, effective content with ever tighter schedules and reduced budgets.
It’s the same battle software developers have faced for years. In the software industry, several agile methods and techniques have been developed to help teams better work together to deliver software which meets customers’ needs.
Both software and digital marketing projects share many similar characteristics and there’s also a lot of similarity amongst the more mundane non-project activities e.g. fixing software bugs is analogous to modifying some web page copy based upon the results of A-B testing.
This article will explore the key agile techniques used by software teams to better organise their work. It will explain how digital marketing practitioners can use them effectively, either on projects or as part of their routine marketing efforts. The article will be useful for both marketing teams and individuals.
What are known as agile techniques have become extremely common in the software industry over the last 10 years. Agile techniques and methods are based upon the Agile Manifesto , which says teams must value:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
- Working software over comprehensive documentation;
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation;
- Responding to change over following a plan.
Essentially what the agile manifesto focuses on is:
- Face to face communication amongst the team, often using very visual tools such as post-it notes, whiteboards and flipcharts;
- Delivering outputs as quickly as possible;
- Working with the customer – often daily – to better understand what needs to be delivered;
- Being flexible based upon the changing needs of the customer.
As a marketer, you should learn to become agile too. Your competitors aren’t standing still, so it’s better that you step up and learn modern, effective techniques to deliver better digital marketing outcomes.
To get you started on your agile journey, here are 8 simple techniques to start using now:
A backlog contains a list of requirements which need to be done either as part of a project, or as part of your regular ongoing digital marketing. These requirements might be things such as writing the copy for an article, developing an infographic, publishing an ebook, or any other digital marketing output.
You can create a backlog using some very simple tools. A shared spreadsheet on a cloud file-sharing service is usually fine. You might also decide to keep it extra simple and visual by creating a backlog on a whiteboard in your office.
Each item in the backlog needs to be prioritised (see later) and can be described by using a user story.
User stories should be written by the customer in the form: As a …., I want to be able to ….., so that I can …..
They must be written in a way that makes it easy for the person doing the task to understand what they need to do.
For example, let’s say your company offers lots of types of widgets – both old and new. Maybe some of your audience collect old widgets and you want to write an article which explains the best web sites to find secondhand widgets.
You could write your user story like this:
This very simple story tells the author who the audience of the article is, and how their needs will be fulfilled.
User stories should specify what will make it ‘done’. For example, it might be considered done when the article contains 1,000+ words, has links to 10 different secondhand widget web sites, has been proof-read and spell-checked and has been published on the company’s blog. ‘Doneness’ indicates when the output created from the user story can be considered finished.
You can write user stories on post-it notes and stick them on your whiteboard backlog or use a free tool to share amongst your team.
Sprints are very common in the Scrum method. A sprint is a fixed time period in which work is completed. It might be two weeks, a month or any other amount of time.
The key thing about sprints is that they should be of equal length and at the end of the sprint there must be some finished outputs which can then be used by the team – e.g. the widget collector’s article has been published and is attracting engagement from users.
Before planning each sprint, the team reviews the last sprint before deciding what to work on in the coming sprint. Sprint planning works best when used alongside a Kanban board, so everyone can visualise which tasks were completed last sprint and then choose the tasks to work on next sprint.
Kanban is a visual work management system using cards to represent each task. If you’re using user stories to capture your company’s requirements the Kanban tasks are your user stories.
A typical Kanban board consists of three columns: to-do, in progress and complete. If you’re using a whiteboard for your backlog, you can draw these columns on the whiteboard after your backlog.
Tasks are moved from the backlog into the to-do column on the Kanban board. This happens when planning the sprint. Each task is assigned to someone on the team.
Each task starts off in the to-do column and ends up in the complete column.
Individuals should not multi-task, as this causes blockages to the flow of work and is less productive. When used correctly, Kanban minimises wasted effort and keeps the team focused and organised.
You can use an online Kanban board instead of a physical board in the office. Check out Trello or KanbanFlow if you want to use an online board.
The MoSCoW technique helps teams prioritise requirements and tasks on the Kanban board. It stands for:
- Must: these requirements are critical for the current sprint/project to be a success.
- Should: these requirements are important but not necessary for delivery in the current sprint/project.
- Could: these requirements are desirable but not necessary in the current sprint/project and could improve user experience or customer satisfaction for little development cost.
- Won’t: these are the least-critical, lowest-payback items, or not appropriate at the time.
During sprint planning, the team can use MoSCoW to prioritise each task. The priority can then be assigned to each task on the Kanban board.
Another way to use MoSCoW is with your stakeholders in a brainstorming session. After agreeing a list of requirements with them, you can get them to decide the priority of each using MoSCoW. This helps clarify what are the most and least important requirements.
Estimating how long a task will take is notoriously difficult. It helps though if you’ve done similar tasks before. The difficulty comes when it’s a task which is new to you or the team.
One method is to estimate the effort relative to other tasks using a Fibonacci sequence (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89 etc). This sequence is built by adding the 2 previous numbers in the sequence.
Then think about the simplest of tasks for each of your team members. This task will require 1 unit of work. Perhaps the simplest task requiring 1 unit of work is to create a weekly Google Analytics report for the performance of your web site.
Maybe a more time-consuming task would be to add a new medium-complexity article to your CMS and ensure the links and the styling are correct. Perhaps this takes 5 times as much effort as the reporting task. Therefore, this could be assigned as 5 units using the sequence.
As tasks get completed, it is important to keep track of how many units of work are completed by each team member during a sprint. This is known as their velocity.
Team members work at different speeds, but it’s important to understand the velocity of each person. This is because when you are planning the next sprint, you don’t want to allocate more units of work to someone than their current velocity.
The estimated units of work for a task should be added to its card on the Kanban board.
These are daily meetings for teams to discuss what they worked on yesterday and what they’ll work on today. Everyone must stand during the meeting, as the discomfort of standing keeps the meeting brief.
The team should also feel free to share problems, suggest improvements and ask questions. A daily stand up should last no more than 15 minutes.
We hope you’ve now got a better understanding of how the agile techniques which emerged from the software industry can also be applied in the digital marketing industry. Like all the best things in life, these techniques are simple to learn and help create a more collaborative, productive and enjoyable working environment.
 Agile Manifesto. (2001). Available at: https://agilemanifesto.org/. Last accessed 05 Dec 2018.
Simon Buehring is the Founder and Managing Director of Knowledge Train.