How to Run an Agile Marketing Sprint Planning Session

Sprint Planning Meeting

Based on a diagram created by Mountain Goat Software

Agile Marketing teams that are using Scrum begin the Sprint process with an Agile Marketing Sprint Planning session. Sprint Planning, one of the four key “ceremonies” of Scrum (the others are the Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective and the daily Scrum), establishes the baseline assumptions of the company’s approach to the market, the goals of the Sprint, and the list of activities which the marketing team will do to reach those goals. To say that it is important to the success of the Sprint, and to the success of the marketing team, would be an understatement.

So how does one run a successful Agile Marketing Sprint Planning session? What are the key agenda items? What are the inputs? What are the outputs? I’ll try to answer these questions and more in this post.

Preparation for the Agile Marketing Sprint Planning Session

Decide who to invite to the session. This list should include the members of the marketing team, the business owners, sales if you have a direct sales force or telemarketing organization, and any critical internal partners. Invite them with an agenda, describe the expectations, and outline the goals of the session. The first time, Agile Marketing Sprint Planning sessions generally take a full day. As you get a few sprints under your belt, you can reduce the length of the meeting to a half-day.

Establish the start and end date of the Sprint. Calculate the team capacity, in terms of hours or “points”. Review planned vacation time, training time, out of the office time and anything else that might reduce the capacity of the team. List resources available, including budget.

The Agenda

I typically divide the agenda of the Agile Marketing Sprint Planning session into the following sections:

  • Review the marketing model
  • Set the goals of the Sprint
  • Create/Review the Marketing backlog
  • Create the Sprint Plan

Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

Review the Marketing Model

Begin by reviewing the baseline assumptions of your approach to your market and to your customers. I do this by reviewing a one-page marketing model canvas, a variant of Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model canvas. It has sections like target customer segments, customer problems and aspirations, value proposition, customer touch points, key partners and channels, buyer behavior models, revenue streams and success metrics. It’s important that everyone on the team is on the same page about these base assumptions.

Set the Goals of the Sprint

Next, decide on the goals of the sprint, consulting with the business owner and the sales team. I recommend setting goals that are SMART – specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. Decide how you’re going to measure the  progress towards those goals during the Sprint, and how you are going to publish those metrics. Jascha Kaykas-Woolf, CMO of MindJet, provided an interesting insight on this aspect of adopting Agile Marketing:

It can be scary initially for many marketing teams to be completely transparent and accountable. In traditional marketing, at quarterly or mid-year reviews, marketing teams typically ‘present’ the data. If we’re honest with ourselves, we select the statistics that show our efforts in the best light, to tell the story we want told. In Agile Marketing, the team decides on the measurements up front, and they are communicated throughout the Sprint. There’s no hiding, no retreating from accountability.”

Create/Review the Marketing Backlog

If this is the first Sprint, you’ll need to create the marketing backlog. If this is the second, or subsequent Sprint, you have an existing marketing backlog, but you may want to add to it, based on your experiences in earlier sprints, or on the demands of the goals of the sprint. Usually, this is a brainstorming session, taking contributions from everyone in the meeting. To give some structure to the brainstorming, I divide it up into three sections:

  • Customer value creation activities
  • Experiments/Testing assumptions and hypotheses
  • Promotion mix activities

There can be some overlap between these three sections, but I find by going through all three, we are able to think through the kinds of activities we need to execute to reach our goals.

Customer value creation activities – these include things like understanding the buyer behavior model, and making sure that we’re providing the opportunities and materials buyers need to make a good buying decision.  Adoption – what are the barriers to successful adoption of our product or service, and what bridges can we build to help customers get over those barriers? Content – what is our content marketing strategy? What content do we expect to generate during this Sprint? What is our content curation strategy? And lastly, what are we doing to build community with our buyers?

Experiments/testing assumptions and hypotheses – Looking at our marketing model, are there assumptions that need proving out and testing? Looking at what we have done, what improvements can we try and test, using either A/B testing or a multi-variate analysis? What wild and crazy experiments do we want to try in hopes of achieving a breakthrough?

Promotion mix activities – I walk through the five components of the traditional promotion mix (advertising, promotion incentives, personal selling, PR and direct marketing) and decide what activities we need to do for each to reach our goals. This is also the time where we cover lead generation, lead nurturing and lead qualification and get agreement with your our force on a common definition of a qualified lead.

Create the Sprint Plan

Once you establish the marketing backlog as a sort of wish list of all the activities that the team might engage in to reach the goals of the Sprint, the hard work begins.

First, the team must rank the activities. Which are the most important for reaching the goals of the Sprint? Once the activities are ranked, estimates of both time and money are stated by the team for each activity in rank order. The team accepts activities until no more resources are available for current Sprint. In this way, activities which are not ranked high enough to make it into the Sprint backlog do not need to be estimated or costed.  Remaining projects are placed back in the marketing backlog.

Activities are then assigned to individual members of the team, and these individuals set intermediate due dates.  The last activity of the Agile Marketing Sprint Planning session is to document the Sprint plan as a commitment by the team. This document is shared with all the attendees of the session.

What’s Your Experience?

So that’s my process for running a successful Agile Marketing Sprint Planning session.  What’s your experience? Have you used a different process? If you use something like my process, what have been your results? I’d love to hear from you.

Comments

  1. great article Jim!

  2. great article Jim!

  3. Hi Jim,

    I was reading your article again and was wondering about the “tasks assignment”. In true scrum, tasks are not assigned, each team member decides which taks he/she wants to take ownership of. Having somebody assigning tasks to the team members is therefore the opposite of that.
    What would you suggest to do in an agency situation where true scrum might be difficult to apply, especially with members having different skills sets.

    • Eric, it’s a great question. The teams that I’ve worked with, both brands and agencies, have been small, and for the most part, it was pretty obvious who was going to take individual tasks because of the skill set issue you mention. Of course programmers aren’t interchangeable, however, I think marketers are even less interchangeable. I guess I’d suggest that people choose their tasks as much as possible, with the scrum master (?) stepping in as necessary. I’ll ask around and see what some of the teams that I know that are practicing marketing scrum are doing.

  4. Hi Jim,

    I was reading your article again and was wondering about the “tasks assignment”. In true scrum, tasks are not assigned, each team member decides which taks he/she wants to take ownership of. Having somebody assigning tasks to the team members is therefore the opposite of that.
    What would you suggest to do in an agency situation where true scrum might be difficult to apply, especially with members having different skills sets.

    • Eric, it’s a great question. The teams that I’ve worked with, both brands and agencies, have been small, and for the most part, it was pretty obvious who was going to take individual tasks because of the skill set issue you mention. Of course programmers aren’t interchangeable, however, I think marketers are even less interchangeable. I guess I’d suggest that people choose their tasks as much as possible, with the scrum master (?) stepping in as necessary. I’ll ask around and see what some of the teams that I know that are practicing marketing scrum are doing.

  5. Hi Jim- Can you elaborate on the assignment portion of the Sprint Planning process? How is a story assigned to a designer? Do they choose what they want to do? Is there an assignment process? Thanks!

    • Michelle, most of the time designers choose the projects they want to work on, generally in a discussion with the rest of the team. However, I have also seen it where the head of the design team assigns individual tasks, particularly those tasks that are assigned later in the Sprint, after the Sprint Planning process. Generally, I don’t advocate assigning a full load to each person at the time of Sprint Planning. Instead, everyone has enough to initially work on, and then they get further assignments or pull of the to do list, Kanban style, once they finish their initial tasks.

  6. What is Agile methodology, the easiest explanation with real life solutions says:

    Activities are then assigned to individual members of the team, and these individuals set intermediate due dates. The last activity of the Agile Marketing Sprint Planning session is to document the Sprint plan as a commitment by the team. This document is shared with all the attendees of the session. – agree with that! Absolutely!

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