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Enterprise Agile Planning, Project Portfolio Management

Agile Marketing Teams: Is Kanban a Keeper When Scrum is a Struggle?

Published By Team AdaptiveWork

Let’s start with this: if the title of this article implied that the next few hundred words would be an all-out attack on the use of Scrum in agile marketing, then rest assured (or conversely, sorry to disappoint), that’s not the game plan.

Scrum works quite well for some agile marketing teams. Some, that is — but not all. This is because some teams struggle with the significant culture change that Scrum demands; most notably the intense, and sometimes overwhelming pressure to release new iterations in short periods of time (i.e. sprints). Sacrificing individual achievements in favor of team goals can also be a struggle. This is not because team members are selfish of self-absorbed (at least, most of them aren’t!), but because this represents a dramatic paradigm shift from what they’ve experienced for years. With Scrum, seniority doesn’t matter. In fact, IT teams that subscribe to a pure, by-the-manifesto Scrum approach don’t even have lofty job titles with labels like “Senior” and “Specialist.” There are only roles, like product owner, scrum master, and developer.

What Not to Do

And so, what should organizations do when their agile marketing teams aren’t ready — or sometimes, aren’t (yet) willing — to embrace Scrum? Let’s first look at what they shouldn’t do.

They shouldn’t continue shoving agile marketing team pegs into Scrum holes. Instead of clarity and cohesion, clarity and conflict will reign. What’s more, this paves the way for a phenomenon known as “lipstick agile,” which is when underlying processes and practices are rooted in conventional marketing, but have an agile flair. For example, status meetings are called stand-up meetings, project managers are called product owners, advocates are called scrum masters, and so on. This re-labeling is not just superficial, but it’s counter-productive — because status meetings are status meetings, project managers are project managers, and advocates are advocates regardless of the label. Changing the name doesn’t make them part of the agile landscape.

Next, they shouldn’t give up on the idea of Scrum and see it as a failed experiment. While Scrum has its fair share of critics, it can work for agile marketing teams that are positioned (both resource-wise and psychologically) to leverage its advantages. As such, organizations that need to go to Plan B should put Scrum on the shelf — not in the shredder. It may re-appear later on when the timing is right.

Bridging the Gap

Instead, organizations should seriously look at adopting another methodology that imposes significantly less of a culture shock on the journey from conventional marketing to agile marketing: Kanban.

Like Scrum, Kanban focuses on completing tasks in the backlog and constantly improving performance. But unlike Scrum, this is not achieved through sprints and learning loops that are acted upon by specific roles. Instead, this is done through continuous delivery and ongoing iteration. What’s more, there are no required roles, which means that team members retain their familiar job titles and professional identities.

In addition, Kanban uses workflow boards to visualize the progress of stories (i.e. tasks) as they move through the four lifecycle stages: to do, doing, review, and done. While anyone on the team can add to these columns/lanes, Kanban boards have pre-defied Work-in-Progress (WIP) limits that cap the volume of items. For example, if the WIP for “review” is 5 items, then a 6th item cannot be added until there is capacity. This goes a long way to preventing teams from getting overloaded, overwhelmed and exhausted.

Is Kanban the Answer?

Kanban is not a magic wand, and requires proper planning, resources and policies to work. But it could be a welcome solution for agile marketing teams that are struggling with the rigors and culture change of Scrum, and for organizations that understand that on today’s obsessively customer-centric business landscape, agile marketing isn’t an option. It’s essential.

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Written by Team AdaptiveWork