How to Plan an Effective Marketing Sprint

by | Mar 9, 2020

Housekeeping note: At One Foot Over, we typically use Scrum and Kanban-style approaches. For this blog, we’re going to focus on a Scrum methodology. We also use Hive as our project management system and it works really well for agile teams. Other options like Jira and Trello can work just as well, but at the end of the day, the tool is just there to keep you organized.

You have a backlog of projects and tasks that need to be tackled. You have dozens of requests from internal stakeholders you need to get to. You have content that needs to be produced to educate your current and potential clients about your services.

You also have a finite amount of time and team resources to get these things done.

Now what?

OK, those are rhetorical questions because let’s face it, we’re all in the same boat, but there is a solution. Agile Marketing.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written or heard me speak, you’ve no doubt heard me talk about agile marketing. Just in case you haven’t, check out my recent blog to learn what it is and why you should be doing it.

But let’s fast forward to after you’ve decided to adopt an agile approach to your marketing and get into planning your first marketing sprint. Before we start, it’s important to understand what a sprint is and what it is not.

What is a sprint?

A sprint is a time-boxed period where a marketing team will complete a series of tasks they agreed they could complete in this time frame.

The length of your sprints will depend on what works best for your marketing team, but the average duration is around two weeks.

During my time running agile marketing teams at a SaaS company and One Foot Over, we experimented with the length of our sprints and determined:

  • One week was too short to get anything substantial done
  • A month felt like we weren’t being agile
  • Three weeks was just odd for us

Both teams are just like Goldilocks and the three bears when it comes to two-week sprints—they are just right.

A sprint is not an excuse to try and limit the amount of work you can do or put off things that are a priority due to time restrictions. We’ll talk about prioritization in a bit, but it is the core of sprint planning.

Your first marketing sprint

Your first sprint will start with a sprint planning meeting. This is the time where you and your team will determine what work you will pull into your sprint. Because the process will be unfamiliar at first, give yourself plenty of time for this first meeting.

Prior to the sprint planning, your marketing leader, whether its a CMO, VP, Director or whatever your company calls it, should have prioritized your backlog. Your backlog is a list of projects, tasks, and ideas that your team is responsible for completing. These should be prioritized in order of most importance, by business value or time-based deadline.

There are a lot of job titles and roles specific to the scrum methodology but we won’t worry about those in this post. At the end of the day, titles don’t matter, but accountability does.

Discuss the prioritized items

Now that you know what’s most important, start talking about what needs to happen to satisfy the requirements of the project or task. For example, if the project is to create a welcome email for signups on your website, you might break it down like:

  • Research great welcome email examples
  • Write copy
  • Design email
  • Implement in our email service tool
  • Setup automation workflow to send an email when someone has signed up
  • Publish email in production

Depending on what works for your team, you may want to break the tasks down even more granularly. If you want to conduct A/B testing on your welcome email, you might create two tasks each for copy and design, but this is up to you. There’s no right or wrong way to task your projects. Experiment with different levels of granularity and decide what works best for your team.

Continue doing this with the items in your backlog until you have more than you know you can humanly accomplish in a single sprint.

Sizing your work

The next step is to assign a size to each of your backlog items. This is to help you learn over time how much work your team can accomplish in any given sprint.

Sizing is completely subjective and no two teams do it the exact same way. My personal preference is using a numerical value because it allows you to measure your performance over time using charts and graphs. Some of the other approaches I have seen are:

Shirt Sizes

XS
S
M
L
XL

Dog Breeds

Chihuahua
Schnauzer
Poodle
Golden Retriever
Mastiff

Again, there’s not one “right” way to do it, but my preference is to size the entire project after discussing the individual tasks rather than sizing each specific task. Granted, when you first start, sizing each specific task may be helpful in determining the project size.

If you decide to go with a numeric approach, there are card decks available online for your team to use for sizing. These are usually called Scrum Poker or Agile Sizing Cards.

When you first start sizing, you’ll find that your team will be all over the place when they’re scoring an activity. I might score something 3 points and another team member could score the same task 13 points. When this happens, you need to discuss why you each feel this way and work to agree on a score you can both live with. This often happens because a designer might score a copywriting task much lower than a copywriter would because they don’t understand the amount of work that goes into creating copy and vice versa. We can also talk about empathy in another post 🙂

While sizing is subjective, over time your team improves that process and gets more in sync with one another. You’ll find that voting starts to become more consistent overall.

Let’s look at how the welcome email might shake out in a real-world scenario.

  • Research great welcome email examples – 2 pts.
  • Write copy – 5 pts.
  • Design email – 7 pts.
  • Implement in our email service tool – 4 pts.
  • Set up an automation workflow to send an email when someone has signed up – 2 pts.
  • Publish email in production – 1 pt.

Welcome Email – 21 pts.

Continue doing this to the items on your backlog until you have more work than you can accomplish in a given sprint. You’ll always want to have additional activities sized-up and ready to pull into the current sprint in case you were able to get more done than you originally imagined.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Some of our projects are too big to be accomplished in one sprint,” and that is perfectly fine. When prioritizing and sizing, you’ll need to determine when the final product needs to be finished and break the project down into sizable chunks that can fit into a sprint. For example, if you need to launch a content offer campaign, you may only be able to get the case study written in the current sprint and then pull the landing page and campaign promotion into the following sprint.

Committing to the work

Once your projects and tasks are sized, it’s time to start pulling in work. As a team, you need to decide what you’re able to commit to for your sprint.

Before you start pulling work in, you need to discuss what else is happening during the duration of your sprint. Is anyone on PTO? Are there holidays? Is there a company-wide meeting that’s going to keep you from working for a full day? All of these things affect how much work you can commit to so it’s important to discuss them upfront.

Once that’s out of the way, start from the top of your backlog and work your way down until you feel like you’ve committed to as much as you can accomplish.

Voila, you have a sprint to start.

Staying on track

Planning an effective sprint is only one of the first steps on your agile marketing journey. It’s important to know that it will be bumpy in the beginning and you will hit some roadblocks and make some mistakes. It may even feel like you’re getting less work done than before moving to an agile methodology. While that may be true in the beginning, it will quickly change.

Your team will become more focused, faster, and better at delivering quality. Your stakeholders will have more transparency into what’s actually happening and you’ll be able to show improved ROI for marketing activities.

There’s a lot more to unpack when it comes to agile marketing, but if you’re ready to start on this journey, we’re ready to help you get there. We have been practicing and implementing this for years, and we can help you do it, too.

A little about the author...

Stephen Brent May

Stephen is a lover of all things marketing – especially marketing technology and agile implementation for marketing teams. He regularly speaks on these topics and every presentation includes one slide featuring Beyoncé. He doesn't listen to podcasts.