Interrupt-Driven Agile Marketing

For those already on the journey of Agile Marketing,  we’ve all likely seen our original dream of uninterrupted Sprint bliss evaporate in the face of the blistering pragmatism of content marketing.

Our software development compatriots using Agile have the distinct advantage of controlled software releases, each of which is blessed with the advantages of Agile iteration.

The marketer’s reality, on the other hand, is that change is constant.

Our very best plans will undergo some order of change, no matter how good we become at estimating our work. Although painful, this realization can help us realize that we must apply more than Sutherland’s Scrum Laws to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in our digital publishing cadence.

My marketing friends skeptical of the Agile approach used by my team (and many others) try to assure me that their trusty editorial calendars are all they need to manage their content marketing publishing.

I submit that today’s content marketers can live by the Editorial Calendar; we simply can’t die by it.

The Changing Face of Agile Marketing

The rate of change in marketing has increased, which has brought about more frequent and dynamic changes to our work. Plan as we might (and should), there’s simply no avoiding the paradigm shift that is today’s digital marketplace.

While the editorial calendar is a necessary starting place to prioritize and align work against due dates, it cannot effectively manage how the work changes and what gets done, delayed, deferred or deleted.

There’s more to Agile Marketing than applying a repurposed version of the Agile Manifesto.

The adaptation and flexibility required by today’s effective marketer is the key to long-term marketing success.

This realization, however, only strengthens the case for Agile Marketing. When marketers are not limited by a plan, but are instead freed by the very nature of Agile thinking, the opportunity to scale the effectiveness of a team’s deliverables comes into stark contrast against the old way of shifting work and the punishing long hours of overtime.

Dealing With the Reality of Unplanned Marketing Work

To do this, it becomes critical to track unplanned work (I call them ‘spikes’ with my team), and to weigh the interrupting work against the same rubric as planned work: Due Date, Value, WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First).

The daily stand-up, a 15-minute meeting during which team members detail what they did yesterday, what they plan to do today, and any blocks holding them back, highlights these spikes.  It also introduces team-based reprioritization against the new deliverables and removes blockers from getting prioritized work completed.

Burn-up and burn-down charts are at the heart of agile metrics, but they are only as meaningful to marketers as the understanding and measurement of interrupt-driven work as both a comparative metric against planned work and as a unique metric in and of itself when evaluating estimation accuracy.

sample burndown chart

burndown chart realistic

Charts via agilenutshell.com.

Agile Principles For Addressing Interruptions

For those applying Scrum principles, the idyllic world of software development shows that planning all work reveals a team’s estimation progress.

In the marketer’s world, only a portion of our work can truly be planned out each Sprint, as the real-time changes (‘spikes’) in marketing channels – social media, PPC, unscheduled news/events – will force the most principled Scrum teams to re-prioritize (at best) and deviate (more often) from the Sprint plan.

The marketer using Kanban has the potentially easier task of pulling groomed work as needed, but the same spikes will inevitably require new Story creation within a Sprint, too.

Since you can’t avoid unplanned work as a content marketer, use it and analyze how your team works by measuring the following:

  • Planned Work
  • Completed Planned Work
  • Unplanned Work (spikes – these must be completed or they shouldn’t have been spikes to begin with)
  • Total Completed Work (planned + spikes)

Data-Driven Approach to Tracking Unplanned Work

Finally, measure the Delta between what was originally planned for completion in the Sprint and how spikes affected that completion rate (without adding more hours to team members).

My team has chosen to use Scrumban, which is to say that we use the ceremonies of Scrum, but only plan out items that are Due within the Sprint according to the Editorial Calendar.

We then leave the rest of the Sprint open to pull pre-groomed Stories from On Deck (prior to Ready, but after Backlog) as we have time. Spikes, therefore, are simply added up to the point that we can still get Due items completed without compromise.

Change is always bad in the short term; it’s less painful when you can apply Agile thinking to iterate your work instead of pulling all-nighters.

A healthy team respects boundaries, and interrupt-driven Agile Marketing simply adds a framework to ensure we have healthy ways to objectively say ‘yes’, ‘not yet’, or ‘no’ to work.


Anthony is the Senior Marketing Manager for the Americas at IntelliMagic, Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @anthonycoppedge.

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