Scrum: see how it works and how to adapt the framework to make your Marketing team more productive

Understand what Scrum is and how it works, a framework used to develop, deliver and maintain complex projects.

Scrum is an agile framework that emerged in the 1990s to develop, deliver and maintain complex products. However, it can be applied in different sectors, teams and situations, including Marketing. Scrum has roles, rituals and rules that must be followed to succeed with the framework.

When you’re dealing with project management, you’re bound to run into the term Scrum sooner or later  – if you haven’t already. This is a term that has revolutionized software development work around the world, but it also represents a new way in which we handle projects in other areas like Blue World City.

To understand what Scrum means, you must first understand the concept of Agile Methodologies. Although these terms are connected, there is an important difference between them.

Agile methodologies address processes that emphasize teamwork, close collaboration with customers, distribution of frequent deliveries of working versions, and quick response to changes.

Scrum is just one of the many ways to develop these agile processes, fitting in as one of these methodologies – other examples are Lean, Kanban and Smart. This is a more specific approach, with well-defined roles and rituals for managing teams and activities.

The purpose of this content is to show you in detail what Scrum really is, how it works, and to present, in a practical way, how to implement it in your team. We also bring an example of how Resultados Digitais did this within the Marketing team.

What is Scrum?

Named after the formation of a Rugby move, Scrum, in its essence, is a framework used to develop, deliver and maintain complex products. It has been used since the early 90’s, which clearly has its roles, rituals and rules.

But its origin actually starts in 1986 with an article called “The New New Product Development Game”, written by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, published by The Harvard Business Review. There the authors describe two different approaches to managing product development:

  • some teams worked as runners in a relay event: they followed in a straight line, passing the baton to the next person responsible for the next delivery;
  • other teams functioned like Rugby players: they all played a single match together and passed deliveries back and forth in the process as needed.

But it was in 1993 that Jeff Sutherland would have created Scrum, making a direct analogy to the article by Takeuchi and Nonaka. The first application took place at the work of Easel Corp., a software development company.

Sutherland was even part of the Agile Manifesto, an industry milestone. It was created in 2001 with the essential values ​​and principles for software development, together with 16 other professionals.

The main values ​​presented in the agile manifesto are:

  • Individuals and interactions more than processes and tools;
  • Working software more than comprehensive documentation;
  • Collaboration with the client more than negotiating contracts;
  • Responding to changes is more than following a plan.

As early as 2014, with Scrum being used by the world’s leading software development companies, Jeff Sutherland’s main book on the subject was published, called Scrum: The Art of Doing Double the Work in Half the Time .

Although it was created for product teams, Scrum has been used in schools, governments, Marketing teams,  and various other teams described in the book itself.

As it is a framework and not a methodology, it is in a constant process of improvement and adaptation. However, for its success, it is necessary to maintain and guarantee each of its components.

Methodology versus framework

Scrum is a framework, not a methodology. It is important to understand the difference in meaning so as not to apply it the wrong way.

Methodologies are sets of methods and techniques that, based on study and scientific basis, have proven to be effective for a certain purpose. A framework, on the other hand, can be explained in general as a structure of basic concepts that will serve as a guide for your work.

While methodologies present defined and trodden paths, a framework only assumes that in the face of anything that appears in this path, the way of thinking and seeking a solution will be the same.

Therefore, it is not enough to simply “follow the recipe”. It is important to understand the whys and know how to adapt to your team’s reality, preserving the essence of Scrum, which is transparency, collaboration, and agility.

What’s more, scrum is learned by doing! In the beginning, a lot of things can still be “crooked”, but continuous improvement is at the essence of the scrum – later on we will talk about retrospective meetings.

How does Scrum work?

Below you can see how a Scrum working structure is created. In short, it is based on:

  • Team: containing the Product Owner, Scrum Master and the Team itself;
  • Main structure: which is the Sprint, worked through the Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog and Finished Works;
  • Events and ceremonies: with Sprint Planning, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective and Daily.

Dividing the work (backlog) by sprints

In Scrum, everything there is to be done is concentrated in a list, properly ordered by priority, called the Product Backlog. The literal translation of backlog is accumulation, in the sense of accumulated work to be done.

In practice, your team can work with a backlog per “product” — in the case of Marketing teams that apply Scrum, products can be represented as creating a website or an Inbound Marketing campaign  — or even a backlog per team, making a prior division of which team will be responsible for which deliveries.

In the backlog, it is important that each item on the list is a delivery of value to the end goal, even if it is not itself a complete release.

A practical example for Sprint

To make this backlog and sprint division process clearer, let’s bring an example already adapting the concepts for Marketing work.

Let’s say a team needs to launch a campaign to publicize new material. In this case, the Landing Page publication delivers value to the final objective, although after it is finished it is necessary to take other actions to launch the campaign, such as Call-to-Action buttons on the website or advertisements in paid media.

On the other hand, the simple definition of what the fields of a form will be does not deliver a concrete value, as it is very granular. In order to release the work contained in the Backlog, the responsible team divides the delivery into sprints. Each sprint is a fixed period of time with a fixed backlog, called the sprint backlog.

This is very important: once a sprint backlog is planned — we’ll explain later how this is done — it shouldn’t be changed! This is one of the main points that keeps the team focused and productive.

What to do when an out-of-sprint demand arises?

It is the team itself that is committed to delivering what it deems possible for a sprint. If someone constantly interferes with that commitment, the risk of nothing being delivered increases.

Furthermore, it is common for urgent and unforeseen demands to arise in everyday life. Ideally, they shouldn’t come in the middle of an already planned sprint, but common sense is good: if you accept any sprint change uncritically, you put the entire project at risk. Therefore, be careful when negotiating delivery deadlines.

The recommended time for a sprint is between a week and a month, depending on the complexity of the product or project. As it is not recommended to interfere in the sprint backlog, the ideal is to plan the first ones with only one week. That way, if an unforeseen or urgent demand arises, you don’t have to wait that long for the next sprint to start.

The Three Main Roles of Scrum

To make things simpler, Scrum proposes that the team is composed of 3 essential roles for successful delivery.

Scrum Team

The Scrum Team are the professionals responsible for delivering at the end of each of the Sprints. These professionals are self-organizedmulti-functional, and have ownership with deliveries of the whole team.

The team, made up of 5 to 9 people, will transform the mapped requirements into reality. Having defined the team, we now need two key people in the entire process: the Product Owner and the Scrum Master.

Product Owner

It is the role of the PO, as the Product Owners are known, to receive the demands, understand them, process them and prioritize them, together with the team. There are not two Product Owners on a team!

Processing the demands means translating them into simple requirements, specifying the “Definition of Ready”, which is a way of indicating which criteria will be used to validate the delivery.

So it’s up to the Product Owner to manage the Product Backlog, defining the items that go there , ordering according to priorities and ensuring clarity in the backlog.

An important detail: the PO must have a clear vision of the product and must convey it to the entire team, so it needs a solid knowledge of the business and good communication.

There is also a “gentlemen’s agreement” between the Product Owner and the Scrum Team: the team commits to deliver the activities that entered the Sprint. The Product Owner is committed to not bringing new demands during the Sprint.

Scrum Master

During a sprint, it is common to experience unforeseen events and impediments that put the delivery established for that period at risk. Or worse yet: distractions and “cross-over” requests that take the focus off the goal. It is the Scrum Master’s role to shield the team from outside influences and help remove impediments.

The person who assumes this role is not formally the team leader, but rather the person responsible for ensuring Scrum is applied, as well as the focus and workflow. Still, many places end up establishing this formal hierarchy, which can work depending on the context.

In addition to being part of the team and working on deliverables, the Scrum Master helps other team members remove impediments, increase productivity,  and ensure Sprint delivery.

The Scrum Master is also the Product Owner’s right-hand man, facilitating events, helping to understand the product backlog and all other aspects of Scrum.

Elements of the Scrum Framework

Now let’s get to know the basic elements that create the main Scrum composition, where professionals must act in each project.

Product Backlog

The Product Backlog is where everything that needs to be done is concentrated, being the only source of demand for Sprints. The Product Owner is responsible for it: he must keep it updated, with all actions and prioritized.

It is constantly being updated as it evolves together with the product. In each Sprint Planning, the team, together with the PO, move the demands that will be prioritized during the period to the Sprint Backlog.

Sprint Backlog

The Sprint Backlog is the set of Product Backlog demands prioritized in the Sprint and must always be visible to the entire team. This prioritization is done through voting dynamics, where urgency points and the execution time of each activity are assigned.

When building the Sprint backlog, the team and the Scrum Master should be aware of the accumulated estimate points: if it is much above the average achieved in each Sprint, the team will probably not be able to deliver everything on time.

It is also important for the Scrum Master to ensure that every demand has at least one team member assigned and also has their estimate points. This ensures that all demands have a steward and are not left unattended on the Scrum Board.

Sprint

We’ve already talked about it, but to make it clear, Sprint is the period of execution of the actions included in the Sprint Backlog, which goes from the Sprint Planning meeting to the Sprint Retrospective and Sprint Review meeting.

The length of a Sprint can vary depending on the team and its deliverables. In product teams, it is common for a Sprint to last 15 days or the whole month (it shouldn’t go beyond that). In other teams, as in Marketing, it is common to opt for weekly sprints, going from Monday to Friday.

Sprint is the heart of Scrum, and to keep it running at its best you must follow some basic rules:

  • No changes are made that might jeopardize the Sprint goal;
  • Quality goals don’t diminish;
  • The backlog can be renegotiated between the Product Owner and the Scrum Team.

Now let’s understand more about the elements that make Sprint a reality.

Scrum Board

The Scrum Board is where all information is organized and should always be visible to all team members, and if possible to other teams as well.

It is very similar to Kanban, with “cards” for deliveries and columns separating their steps: “to do”, “in progress” and “done. In the example below, there is also a “pause” column for tasks that have some impediment.

A good practice to ensure focus is to have no more than 3 cards added together in the “in progress” and “pause” columns. Scrum Board example, made in Vivify Scrum tool

The most common way to have the Scrum Board is a whiteboard, with lines and post-its. This way is efficient because the board is visible not only for the entire team, but also for the entire company, and ends up making the interactions more impactful. It is important to combine a celebration when an item is passed to the “Done” column, for example.

There are also several paid and free tools for making the picture. The most common is Trello, a real wildcard when we talk about task management, but there is also Vivify Scrum, which has features dedicated to the Framework and ended up meeting this need better.  

Estimation Points

Here we can scale the size of the tasks and thus understand how much it is possible to allocate in each Sprint and the speed of the team, something essential in Scrum.

With the estimation points in the tasks, it is possible to understand how many points the team is delivering Sprint after Sprint. Increasing the number of points per Sprint represents an increase in delivery speed and, consequently, in productivity.

Example of estimation points included in demand

Points can be based on some temporary reference, such as hours or days, but it is not necessary. A good suggestion at the beginning is to consider that one point equals approximately one hour.

To avoid difficulties when estimating the points of each delivery, it is recommended to use the Fibonacci Sequence in the points, where the next number is the result of the sum of the last two. Thus, the score is: 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13. 

If you’ve never done anything like this before and have trouble estimating the points for deliveries, you can use Planning Poker, a technique based on consensus. Planning Poker can be done in person, using a deck, or with online tools.  

Burndown

With all cards properly scored and included in the Sprint Backlog, it’s possible to create a burndown chart. It is a visualization of how many points need to be delivered, from the first day of the Sprint to the last. In the chart below, we have a line with the ideal number of points and a line with the number of points delivered.

The line that presents the ideal number of points starts the first day of the Sprint with all its estimation points and is zeroed on the last day, dropping proportionally day after day, serving as a reference for a “Perfect Sprint”.

The line with the points delivered drops according to the tasks that are passed to “Done” and it becomes predictable if the Sprint will be delivered or not.

It is important that the chart is available to the entire team, is reviewed in each Retrospective Sprint and, if possible, is quickly evaluated in each Daily.

Scrum Events and Ceremonies

Scrum proposes several meetings, called ceremonies, each with a frequency and a specific objective, as we will see in detail from now on.

Perhaps they are the most important points of the entire framework, as rituals can define success or failure when implementing Scrum on your team. That’s because Scrum Rituals are meetings that take place during the Sprint, including a daily meeting.

Daily Meeting

Perhaps it is the most famous Scrum ritual: a daily meeting with the entire team standing (the Product Owner does not need to participate), in front of the Scrum Board, where everyone talks about what they did and what they are going to do, in short.

The meeting should last no longer than 15 minutes, and to ensure focus and objectivity, everyone stands in front of the board, where they can view the entire sprint backlog.

There, each must briefly answer three questions :

  1. What did I do yesterday that helped deliver Sprint?
  2. What will I do today to help deliver Sprint?
  3. Do I see anything that hinders the delivery of Sprint?

Remember that, in a team of 9 people, each person will have just over a minute and a half to answer questions. This is not the time for very detailed explanations, much less brainstorming to solve the impediments. These issues must be addressed individually, outside the daily. The purpose of the daily is to maintain focus and transparency.

In order to work correctly, it is important that it always takes place at the same place and time, without delay and without cancellation.

Sprint Planning

It kicks off the sprint and the entire team participates, including the Product Owner, who presents the priorities for the next sprint. Meanwhile, the entire team asks the necessary questions to break priorities into technical deliverables.

There are several possible formats and dynamics for a sprint planning meeting. Regardless of how you choose to conduct this meeting, it is essential that it schedule the “migration” of part of the product backlog to a sprint backlog.

In the planning, after the Product Owner presents and justifies the deliveries and their priorities, the whole team defines what feels safe to deliver by the end of the sprint. It is common for the team to transform each value delivery into a list of tasks to be performed, with the appropriate estimation of time and/or difficulty.

Still, deadlines are deadlines. It is not possible to delay a Mother’s Day campaign, for example. So, the team should be encouraged to look for alternatives in scope and solution, looking for an exit that is beneficial to all parties.

Sprint Review

At the end of the sprint, all work that has been completed must be officially delivered and presented to interested parties. In some cases, only the Product Owner can be present.

The Sprint Review includes the following elements:

  • Participants include the Scrum Team and Stakeholders invited by the Product Owner;
  • The Product Owner clarifies which Backlog items were delivered and which were not;
  • The team discusses what went well during the Sprint, what issues occurred and how they were resolved;
  • The team demonstrates what was delivered and answers questions;
  • The Product Owner discusses the Product Backlog;
  • The whole group collaborates on what to do next;
  • Review of timeline, budget, potential capabilities and market.

Sprint Retrospective

The Sprint Retrospective is a time of evaluation, for each team member to create an improvement plan to be applied in the next Sprint. The meeting takes place after Sprint Review and before Sprint Planning.

It can last a maximum of 3 hours in longer sprints. Remembering that it is the Scrum Master’s task to ensure that all meetings take place within the estimated time.

The purpose of the meeting is:

  • Inspect how the last Sprint was in relation to people, relationships, processes and tools;
  • Identify and order the main items that went well and the potential improvements;
  • Create a plan to implement the improvements.

In the Sprint Retrospective, the goal is for the entire team to raise positive and negative points from the sprint that has just ended, and the negative points should generate practical actionable on how to solve, mitigate or avoid them in the next sprint.

How to adapt Scrum for a Marketing team?

It’s not just the product and development teams that need to deal with long and complex projects in their routine. Several other areas have similar challenges, such as the Marketing teams.

Advertising campaigns, whether for products, services or materials, require several steps to be carried out before reaching their conclusion.

That’s why Scrum isn’t just tied to use by software development teams. As Southerland himself states in his book, the framework can be applied to many other teams and provide the same benefits.

Here you will see the real example of how we made this implementation in the Marketing area of ​​RD, starting the process in 2018. From now on, this experience is described in 1st person by Ewerton Silva , Head of SEO at Resultados Digitais.

Scrum implementation with RD Marketing professionals and teams

Here at Resultados Digitais it is common to use the phrase “Marketing is the company’s locomotive”. Thus, we remember that it is through Digital Marketing that our company grows. When Marketing is “at full steam”, it ends up pulling the cars of Sales, Customer Success and all the other results we need.

And 2018 was one of the most intense years on our locomotive. More and more aggressive goals,  more and more demanding Lead Scoring, international expansion growing and demanding more and more. The Marketing team did an intense job to keep the locomotive at full speed.

To meet all this, several new faces entered the team, which became more and more robust.

We reached a point where it was decided: we are going to divide the Marketing team between Brazil and International Expansion and together with other professionals, I changed my focus 100% to our growth in other countries.

I believe this brought several advantages, mainly bringing focus on the operation. Before it ended up being divided between countries and, in an emergency, it was difficult to know what to prioritize.

But because it encompasses channels and content, the International Marketing team was made up of more than 15 people, making management a little more distant from the professionals’ routine and demanding efficient self-management.

Scrum as a way to make the routine more efficient

In the process of making my self-management more and more efficient, in addition to the desire to increase productivity, I came to the book ‎by Jeff Sutherland.

The book is amazing. It presents real cases of framework application with incredible efficiency gains and solves a doubt I always had: despite having been developed to manage and develop products, it can be applied in several areas and situations.

By the time I finished the book, I was looking forward to getting to next week and starting testing the framework in my routine, and that’s what I did. Even without a “Scrum Team”, I managed to follow most of the framework guidelines, and already in the first Sprints, I saw an incredible improvement in task management and productivity.

Before starting the tests in my routine and in our team, I looked for other references for applying the framework in Marketing teams. I noticed that, as it is something that is constantly being adapted and improved, the other applications didn’t quite fit our reality.

That’s why I decided to do as most teams do: we started Scrum in its essence and we adapted it week by week. Today we use Scrum with the entire team, increasing the speed of everyone’s deliveries, generating great learning, and improving what we do each week.

Here’s how we’ve adapted each of the Scrum features across our team.

Team

Before we go any further into backlog, sprints, and other features, it’s important to introduce our team and how we’ve adapted each of the essential Scrum functions for our team. Remember I mentioned that the International Marketing team had more than 15 people?

In the book and in several documentations on the subject, all authors are very clear on this: the team cannot have more than 9 people. On top of that, it is very difficult to manage and ends up turning several other features that should be simple into something complex.

It’s one thing for a 15-minute daily meeting of 9 people. Can you imagine being 18?  So the first step was to reduce our team to a maximum of 9 people, with the functions more related to the main deliverables of the team. With that, our team was made up of 7 people.

The Scrum Team, formed by these 7 people, are the professionals responsible for delivering at the end of each of the Sprints. A cross-functional example is from our Email Marketing specialist, who needed to carry out a project to improve the generation of Funnel Bottom conversions. 

Looking at your expertise, it’s not your job to look at our Landing Pages and conversion points on the site and analyze their efficiency. However, he had the best skills to carry out the project.

Having defined the team, we now need two key people in the entire process: the Product Owner  (in our case, Marketing Owner) and the Scrum Master.

Product Marketing Owner

When adapting for Marketing, our “Marketing Owner” has similar characteristics to PO. In Marketing, the agreement between the Marketing Owner and the team is that new demands must be avoided, but they can enter the Sprint as long as demands with the same weight are deprioritized.

In the case of our team, the Marketing Owner creates the Backlog demands only in situations where we do not have a member with experience in the subject to take delivery. Thus, its attribution is defined in common agreement with the team, in the Sprint Planning meeting.

He also defines the Sprint objective and helps the Scrum Master keep the Sprint running, using his influence in the company to unlock demands that depend on other teams and areas.

Scrum Master

We saw that the Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring that the entire team maintains the Scrum characteristics, helping to understand the theory, practices and importance of each aspect. For all these reasons, it is very important that the Scrum Master of the Marketing team is the person most familiar with the Framework.

In our case, as I studied and started adopting Scrum on my team, I became the Scrum Master. Since then, we have had training, conversations to answer specific questions from the team, whether in Scrum rituals or in corridors, and several improvements in the Framework’s practices, always aiming to keep the team engaged and increasingly productive.

An example is the daily meetings that in the beginning, we had informally on a TV in the hallway. But the noises around began to disrupt the meeting. It was up to the Scrum Master (in this case, me) to find a better alternative for us to carry out the meetings without interruptions or delays in connecting the notebook to the TV, guaranteeing a maximum duration of 15 minutes per day.

Another example is if, during a daily meeting, I see that a team member has many demands to make and the Sprint is coming to an end: in this case, it is necessary to understand the priority of the demands , their relationship with Sprint objective and if another team member manages to absorb.

These examples show how Scrum improves when executed and how the Scrum Master’s work is critical to ensuring this development.

Adapting the Scrum Framework for Marketing

Like the Scrum roles, its structure must also be adapted to the reality of the Marketing teams. What we did within the team was the following:

  • Marketing Product Backlog: in the case of Marketing, the backlog is more dynamic, as it is updated by the team itself, according to the priorities given by the Marketing Owner. However, the Marketing Owner has complete freedom to include new demands, assign them to team members and reprioritize them;
  • Sprint Backlog: in the case of a Marketing team, it is important that all the demands of the week are included in the Sprint Backlog: meetings, reports, projects, etc. A rule of thumb that can be used is that anything that takes at least half an hour must go into the Sprint Backlog;
  • Sprint: it is important that each Sprint has a clear delivery objective so that the entire team has a direction when prioritizing actions. For example, if Lead generation is below target, the Sprint goal may be to reverse this scenario. 

Adaptation of Scrum Rituals

I don’t know about you, but I avoid meetings as much as possible, as it often seems like a waste of time. Of course, there are exceptions, and Scrum meetings are included in the list.

Each of the Scrum Rituals is essential to keep the framework running in Marketing, the team aligned and generate a positive impact on everyone’s productivity.

  • Sprint Planning: in the case of our Marketing team, each member already brings to the meeting their backlog filled with routine tasks and deliveries that were already planned for the week to come, using the Marketing Owner’s prioritization to include new demands in the Sprint and their prioritizations;
  • Daily Meeting: As our team’s Scrum Master, I make notes of improvements or things I need to talk to a team member about after the meeting. Remember: if you lose control of daily meetings, they will become the biggest thief to team productivity, and everything that has been done will be in vain;
  • Sprint Review: Sprint Review is performed at the end of the Sprint to assess its increment and adapt the backlog, if necessary. During the meeting, the entire team talks informally about what was done in the Sprint, with the aim of generating greater collaboration between the team. In our case, we brought the Sprint Review and Sprint Retrospective together in a meeting of no more than 30 minutes;
  • Sprint Retrospective: The Scrum Master uses the meeting to encourage the team to improve their development process for the next Sprint, and by the end of the Sprint Retrospective, the team should have identified improvements that will be implemented in the next Sprint.

Final tips for applying Scrum in practice

As we warned at the beginning, it is not productive to see Scrum as a methodology or a cake recipe. The ideal is to understand the principles that underlie this way of working and organizing, applying them with adaptations to the context of your team.

For projects with a more defined scope and due date, Scrum may not make as much sense, as its value lies in defining the scope throughout the project. As with all agile methodology, those involved assume that they do not know exactly all the work that will need to be done, nor how it should be done, and that is why they value the Scrum framework.

However, it is worth reflecting: is it possible that even for projects whose scope seems “simple and well defined”, isn’t it better to try an approach that allows the emergence of creative solutions along the process? So how about taking a test and observing the results?