Why an advertising agency should work on SCRUM


SCRUM is a popular framework for software development. It allows companies to gradually build a product and refine it with agility. But SCRUM is not only useful in IT.

new age. Digital agency CEO Alexander Rolsky explained how he adapted the approach for the work of a marketing agency. Now the system can track hundreds of campaigns across dozens of ad accounts, and not go crazy.

What is SCRUM

SCRUM is an organizational methodology used to work iteratively on projects. This allows you to be flexible without losing sight of global goals.

The essence of the approach is that work planning is carried out gradually, in even segments, which are called sprints. For each of them, the team collects a pool of tasks (the concept of story is used in SCRUM), unchanged until the end of the sprint. Each story is rated in story points – the rating describes the volume and complexity of tasks completed in the sprint. So, the “recheck stream” and “create media plan” tasks can take the same amount of time, but the more difficult one will cost more story points.

As the project progresses, the team completes tasks, collects story points, and accumulates ideas for the next sprint. Thus, in uniform segments, projects are constantly finalized and improved.

What is the difference between SCRUM in Marketing and IT

In general, the SCRUM approach in marketing is similar to the same method in the IT field. But it’s in our agency work that there are differences that make SCRUM even more important than in software development.

In IT product companies, the team is engaged in a global project. Let’s say it’s about creating a mobile application: the tasks are gradually thrown into the backlog and do not conflict with each other, because they evolve within the framework of the same project.

And for backlog agencies, tasks from different projects, campaigns, and clients intersect. And between them, you have to distribute the priorities in order to give each one the attention it deserves.

With standard weekly planning, it can happen that a difficult launch of a campaign distracts from those in progress – and the team will only remember on Friday that they did not have time to finish something for another customer.

But when planning a sprint, we understand in advance how much time each client will have and how many difficult tasks will be completed for them.

How does an advertising agency work with SCRUM?

Work on SCRUM is done iteratively and cyclically. This means that the processes described below are constantly repeated in each sprint.

1. General work organization

Determination of sprint length

The first thing to do at the start of each sprint is to determine its length.

Short sprints are convenient because they allow the company to maintain maximum “flexibility” and the willingness to make frequent adjustments to its plans. In addition, it means a short feedback cycle: we receive customer feedback quickly and waste no time working in the wrong direction.

But long sprints are also practical. The team has more time to pick up the pace and leeway to resolve any issues that have arisen. In addition, the longer the sprint, the longer it takes to reach your goal, without having to plan for the next one.

We use short weekly sprints by default, but use longer periods as needed for certain clients and projects.

Choice of time and place for the daily stand-up

In flexible work organization approaches, it is important to regularly synchronize with colleagues so that the whole team understands who is working on what and how much they are working on each day.

And for this, you must determine in advance the place, the time of the daily meetings – and attend them conscientiously. Such planning takes 5-15 minutes and is worth every second spent because it “puts the ball in play” – and after the meeting everyone knows what to do today.

newage.agency project teams meet in the morning, usually between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m.

2. Planning preparation

At the end of each sprint, the team plans the next one, but to do it well, you have to prepare in advance.

Before each planning, the team leader checks a few things.

  1. Does the team have a team backlog – a document that accumulates potential tasks for upcoming sprints? We create separate backlogs for each ad campaign and PM checks if any of them have been lost.

  2. All tasks should be ranked by importance.

  3. Since the sprint includes tasks for multiple customers and they may have the same priority of importance, the PM assigns different responsible executors. This allows you to distribute the load and complete tasks on time without shifting deadlines.

  4. The PM must understand each story. He doesn’t need to know in detail what exactly needs to be done, but he needs to know why a certain user story entered the team backlog.

To note: Stakeholders can add user stories to the product backlog, but are not allowed to assign an importance level to them. It is the prerogative of the PM. Also, stakeholders should not be involved in the costing of labor – that’s the responsibility of the team.

Before planning begins, the PM cleans up the backlog, assesses the importance of tasks, and clarifies details on topics that are not well understood.

3. Sprint planning

Definition of sprint goals

This is where the structural and ideological differences between SCRUM and the usual continuous work planning begin. In SCRUM, each sprint has a goal that serves as an answer to the key question: “Why are we working on this sprint and why don’t we just go on vacation?”. The benchmark can be anything: “make more money”, “finish three stories with the highest priority”, “prepare to launch a campaign”, or even “surprise the marketing manager of the customer “. The objective should be phrased in business language, not in technical terms, meaning in words that even people outside the team will understand.

The sprint goal can seem a bit silly and far-fetched during the planning process. Its key value is indicated by the middle of the sprint when team members are already slowly forgetting exactly what they want to accomplish. If you have multiple SCRUM teams working on different projects (like we do), it helps to have a list of sprint goals for all teams in one place. For example, hang them up where everyone can see them, so every employee (not just management) knows what the agency does and why.

Choose the stories that will be included in the sprint

The key point of sprint planning is the process of generating a task list. Specifically, choosing which stories should be copied from the product backlog to the sprint backlog and done within the next two weeks. The team determines how many stories will be in the sprint. Neither RM nor anyone else should directly influence this choice.

Definition of readiness

It is important that the PM and the team formulate a readiness criterion. Can a story be considered complete if a report is written, but there are no conclusions and no notes are prepared? Or the task is only ready after the result has been sent to the client and rescheduled.

At first, we tried to use checklists to determine the readiness of a story, but we abandoned this solution. Now, we either prescribe specific criteria for each story, or we say, “A story is ready when RM thinks it is.” In this case, it is the manager who is responsible for conveying his wishes to the team and controlling the preparation of the story.

Planning result

The sprint is considered planned and you can start implementing it when, therefore, there are such points:

  1. The goal of the sprint and its duration are clear

  2. There is a list of stories the team will do as part of the sprint

  3. Each story has a story point rating and the task readiness criteria are clear

  4. The performance and workload of each team member is calculated, no one is overloaded, but also does not sit idly by

  5. The time and place of the daily gatherings have been determined

When the plan is ready in this form, it remains to execute it, synchronize with colleagues and throw ideas in the backlog of the future sprint.

What does the SCRUM approach bring to an advertising agency?

For us, SCRUM has increased team throughput. People understand their load and can add or subtract tasks based on that. Moreover, the load is not only in hours, but also in case volume. If we understand that a task takes a lot of story points, but is not profitable, we can delete them. And it works at all levels:

  • teams understand a clear order of actions: what will be done and in what order,

  • the project manager knows what the team is doing all the time,

  • The management has a digital toolbox to understand the workload of the teams.

When you run 500-600 story points for several weeks, then suddenly 250, it signals a problem. It’s times like these that we connect and connect.

On the other hand, if, with an average of 500 story points, a team suddenly gives 900, this is also a strange situation, and some operational decisions have to be made – transferring part of the projects to others teams or help with redistribution.

Important! Shortly after implementing SCRUM, we noticed that project teams were evaluating story points differently. Typically, the “write a letter to tech support” task costs five story points for one team and 25 for the other. Therefore, at the agency, we have developed a rating scale for typical stories: a certain type of task should be calculated from and to. This allows you to assess the load of different shifts “in one line” and compare their results.

In addition, it is beneficial for customers, because optimized processes reduce the cost of services. We spend less time on the same job and therefore we can keep the commission at an acceptable level. Also, when the team is working on processes, the number and likelihood of errors decreases.

Thus, SCRUM helps a marketing agency:

  • to increase order flow

  • clearly define a set of tasks for the sprint – without the possibility of endlessly adding new cases as soon as possible

  • link the goal of each sprint to the overall company projects

  • synchronize the work of the team on a daily basis

  • properly assess workload and labor costs

  • provide managers with a digital and measurable performance evaluation tool to identify problems or, conversely, great results.


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