How to deliver successful inbound marketing with agile scrum

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Published Jun 05, 2017 | Written by Jeremy Knight

Inbound marketing is a labour-intensive exercise. When done well that is. Success or failure lies in the marketing mix and your ability to pull the right levers at the right time. And the levers and the pressure you apply will always differ dependent on your particular circumstance. And, of course, the situations impacting your customers.

The successful application of inbound requires that you respond to outcomes. You can’t just follow a plan. This is why agile scrum is so important in the process of delivering meaningful results.

But, the agile process can add layers of additional work to no avail if you get it wrong. So understanding how the process (initially conceived for efficiencies in software development) is best leveraged for inbound is paramount. At Equinet we are coming up on our first year of delivering inbound services for our clients (and for ourselves) through agile scrum. And this post lays out the series of events - the sprint, the sprint review, the strategy review, and the retrospective - we follow as we’ve adapted agile for inbound.

Everybody in the house stands up for agile

Every working day starts with a ‘stand up’. The objective is to communicate what everyone is working on and to identify any obstacles that may prevent the team from delivering the sprint tasks efficiently. All members of the delivery team (or Scrum) will summarise what they worked on yesterday, what they are planning to work on today and identify any obstacles that may prevent them from completing those tasks (cards). The meeting should not be longer than fifteen minutes.


The way this is different from a software development Scrum is the repeatable nature of inbound. A dev team works on projects which have a beginning, and an end and the activity will change over time as they build out the product

An inbound team, on the other hand, are working on repeatable processes, and consequently, have to avoid the trap of recounting laundry lists of tasks, the risk being the team can disengage. The opportunity the stand-up creates is awareness of how other team members work might impact our cards and how we support each other to burn down the full sprint.

If we want to achieve greater efficiency and better velocity, it is vital that we work as a team in this way. A shared understanding of how the whole (team) is greater than the sum of its parts (members) is key. Delivering inbound in any other way runs the risk of team members working in silos. And ultimately, we always have to relate everything back to outcomes, as opposed to tactics or outputs. Having a process for delivering a shared vision in pursuit of common outcomes is empowering and hugely more efficient than a more traditional project management/waterfall approach.

Everybody in the house sits down for ‘sprint review'

The purpose of this meeting is for the team to acknowledge what cards were completed in the last sprint collectively, and to establish ‘why not’ if any were not. Is there anything we could have done differently in the case where cards weren’t burnt down? How will we carry cards forward into the next sprint if they weren’t done?

As well as reviewing what happened in the previous sprint the team will collectively review lists of ‘sprint ready’ cards drawn from each client’s backlog. These are lists prepared by the ‘scrum master’ who is also your Inbound Marketing Consultant (IMC), in Equinet’s case and your Inbound Strategist.

So, we are aiming to work systematically through each client establishing what was done, what still needs to be done, and what gets planned into the new weekly sprint. With the preparatory work by the scrum master and the strategist before the meeting, we would aim to spend no more than ninety minutes on each sprint review.

We avoid cards that are not going into this sprint, and we point cards that have not yet been pointed. Points are an arbitrary measure used by scrum teams to collectively gauge and agree on the effort required to implements a card (task). The points can then be used for planning and tracking. Scrum points are different to Client points which also take account of additional aspects such as value or any other costs.

Client points are the currency we use to communicate how we burn down all of the activity inherent in implementing work against an inbound retainer while ensuring that you never pay for any inefficiencies (onboarding a new member of the team for example).

The importance of a ‘strategy review meeting'

The strategy review meeting is where the team checks in on the strategic direction of each client, ensuring that outcomes are aligned with goals and timelines for the month, quarter and year. The meeting will include insights gleaned from interactions with customers as well as highlights on aspects that need improvement and confirmation on areas that are working well.

Working back from annual goals and timelines agreed with each client, we agree on quarterly strategic goals which inform monthly activity. It is pursuit of these specific targets at this level of detail, always tied to outcomes (not outputs), that provides the context for how we fine tune, amend and enhance activity and gain the traction needed to deliver meaningful results for your business.

This meeting is managed once again by your IMC and Strategist, and it follows the monthly ‘Backlog Meeting’ we have had with each client. This is the opportunity for the team to re-calibrate each month and ensure that all activity is indeed tied to outcomes.

The retrospective is one of the most important meetings for an agile scrum team

Marrying the delivery of inbound marketing services with the agile scrum process is about removing silos and introducing a shared vision and consciousness beyond the how and what of what we do, to include a united appreciation of ‘why’ we do it.

This is, of course, obvious when looked at through the lens of ‘you pay us – we do the work’.

But an agile approach helps bring the ‘why’ full circle. It engenders accountability across the team and promotes involvement at a visceral level that draws on a shared sense of belonging and purpose. Ultimately, this leads to more motivated and committed people who are collectively focused on delivering measurable outcomes that matter to our clients.

So, the monthly retrospective meeting is designed to allow the team to reflect on the work they have been doing and what they can do to improve it. This applies to any aspect of their work including the process, performance - both personal and collectively, team dynamics or anything else.
The exercise begins with asking everyone to provide one thing they would like to ‘start’, ‘stop’, or ‘continue’ from the past month. We keep on gathering ideas in this way until no more suggestions are forthcoming. Each of these ideas is captured in a column on the wall (whiteboard paint helps here). Then everyone gets a marker pen to prioritise three items (with a star). And more than one star can be associated with a single item if they choose.

The scrum master then circles the top three items in each column, and the person who introduced each of the circled items then expands on their thoughts, leading to an open discussion to identify what needs to be done to take action against each item.

When done well this process enhances team health, encourages continual improvement, and promotes better velocity.

Oh dear, there is that word – VELOCITY

This is a whole other matter and hugely significant in the context of agile inbound. As soon as I’ve written that post, I will include a link right here.

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Published by Jeremy Knight June 5, 2017
Jeremy Knight