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Nathan Van Zyl   |   05 Mar 2019   |   Digital Agency

Scrum for marketing teams in 5 easy steps

Implementing Scrum for marketing teams can be tricky.

It is a process that was originally outlined by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in their HBR publication “The New New Product Development Game” for teams building new products.

Essentially it was developed for teams focused on delivering a new product by a set deadline on a fixed budget.

For marketing teams, the process is a little more complicated. You have to deliver campaigns for multiple projects across a variety of channels, both internally and externally, and take requests from various stakeholders from sales to HR.

It can become challenging to prioritise your backlog and remain flexible enough to handle new requests quickly while making sure your team is being utilised to their full capacity and delivering high-quality work on tight deadlines.

We know the struggle. 😓

We are a scrum team delivering marketing campaigns across multiple mediums to a variety of customers both big and small.

So where do you start?

Create a Sprint board with custom columns

In Trello (we use it for project management as opposed to a physical board because occasionally our team works remotely) we set up our Sprint board (you can see it here) with six columns:

  1. Backlog - for tasks that need to be done,

  2. Sprint Backlog - for tasks being done in the current Sprint,

  3. In Progress - for tasks currently being done,

  4. In Review - for tasks that need to be reviewed by the rest of the team,

  5. Blocked - for tasks that are being slowed down,

  6. Completed - for completed tasks.

Transparency is an essential element for Scrum teams so we built our boards like this for each of our main projects, giving stakeholders access to the boards, allowing them to see how we were progressing through the week and reducing the need for email updates.

The columns on your boards should show your progress the various tasks are making but it might be helpful to add additional columns.

Kyle Lacy, the VP of Marketing for Lessonly, added a column for marketing request forms to help bring new requests into their Sprint.

On our Sprint boards we borrowed the review process from our content team and added an “In Review” column to make sure we were meeting our own internal standards (by peer review) across the work we we’re delivering.

Columns should be specific to the way your team works and should have set criteria for each task coming in or moving out.

Assign roles

In a Sprint team there are only two roles:

  1. Product owner - they decide what happens in each Sprint. For marketing teams, this should be a role fulfilled by the person who deals with the other departments when they need work done. This is more than likely the Marketing Manager or team leader.

  2. Scrum master - they are responsible for keeping the Sprint on track each week. This should be done by the person on your team who is organised, has a good understanding of what needs to be done and has the authority to intervene when things are being blocked.

When you implement Scrum for marketing teams you have to take into account the way deliverables are generated. Requests come in for new campaigns or adjustments to ongoing ones that can’t necessarily be postponed to the next Sprint.

Your product owner acts as a buffer to keep the team from being derailed by new requests and manage expectations about delivery dates.

When new requests are urgent they also have the responsibility of removing tasks from the current Sprint and replacing them with the new ones. This way you can ensure your team meets the expected output regardless of the changes.

Determine your rhythm

Your rhythm refers to how long your Sprint is going to be, when you have your daily stand-ups and when you are going to do your Sprint retrospective and your Sprint planning.

Here is what our rhythm looks like:

  1. Sprint - 5 days from Monday to Friday

  2. Stand-up - 15 minutes everyday at 08:30

  3. Sprint retrospective and planning - 60 minutes every Friday at 11am.

Now, I don’t want to sound dramatic but your Sprint lives and dies by your Sprint planning.😳

No pressure.

It is essential to make sure that during the Sprint planning you do the work to effectively determine what needs to be delivered by the end of the following Sprint.

Parkinson’s Law - work takes as long as it has to be completed.

Implementing Scrum is supposed to make your marketing team faster so make sure that during your Sprint planning you add enough work to challenge your team during the Sprint.

Add tokens to stay on budget and in scope

An essential part of implementing Scrum for marketing teams is measuring your speed during every Sprint.

In our team, that means counting tokens.

We allocate tokens to everything we do based on the complexity of the task and the amount of time it takes. This way we can measure how much effort we exert during the Sprint and also to show our clients how much value we create for them.

Tokens also play another role... they keep projects in scope.

In the digital marketing world, it is possible to revise, over think, and iterate until you are blue in the face.😱

Tokens define expectation and should be tied to clear deliverables. Additional changes should require extra tokens. This way projects can be kept on budget and on time.   

Add a buffer

Scrum is about being flexible and if you are a software development team then, unless your project has crashed, it should be fine to delay any urgent tasks until the next Sprint.

For marketing teams, the demands are a little different. It is inevitable that work will creep into your Sprint that wasn’t defined in your planning session.

Responding to an urgent request during the day or dealing with administrative tasks can sap time so it is a good habit to account for it when you are determining the scope of your Sprint.

Allocate a couple of tokens to urgent tasks that might fall out of the scope of the Sprint. This way you can make sure that your team remains responsive to the changing needs of projects and are available to crush out that time-sensitive tweet or correct the copy of your latest ad.


Implementing Scrum for marketing teams requires a couple of tweaks to account for the speed and complexity of handling requests across multiple projects by a single team.

The key is to keep it simple.

Start with the Scrum basics and build out your Sprint boards. It is useful to have different boards for different projects. Make sure your the columns in your board reflect the way you work without over complicating it

Next, assign the role of product owner to the person on your team that spends most of their time dealing with new marketing requests. You also need to choose a Scrum Master. Go for someone who has a good understanding of the project and is well organised.

Make sure you establish an effective rhythm and ensure that during your Sprint planning you set ambitious goals for your team.

Finally, add tokens to keep track of your speed and keep projects in scope and on budget. It also doesn’t hurt to add a couple of buffer tokens to make sure your team is able to handle urgent requests and keep your team fast and flexible.

Ready for growth cta

Nathan Van Zyl

I spend most of my time defending my lunch from seagulls. The rest of my time is spent behind the scenes, figuring out ways to grow our agency and better serve the people we work with.