Scrum in Email Marketing Teams

Too often, I’ve seen that email marketing departments in large organizations are a chaotic mess. The work comes in bulk, mostly driven by market forces and need to make up revenue. The marketing teams demand emails be prepared with multiple variations and tests and approvals take forever.

While there exist a plethora of workflow systems, they fall flat when it comes to actual implementation and use. Part of the problem is the underestimation of work and time it takes to send a mail. Today, we look at using a popular method of agile in managing centralized email marketing.

The Methodology

Scrum is a process framework used to manage product development and other knowledge work. If we consider each campaign as a feature that the team has to roll out, we can drop-fit the Scrum principles on the process of email marketing. Here are the key artifacts and practices of Scrum, in the context of email marketing (EM):

A sprint is a timebox of fixed duration, during which a team produces outputs that are aligned with its goals. As most emailing activities are done weekly, we’ll consider the EM sprint duration as 5 days.

A daily scrum or stand-up is a short team meeting (less than 15 mins) wherein each team member speaks about the work they’re doing for the day, what they achieved yesterday and if any blockers need to be cleared. It is usually done with a Kanban like board:

This helps the team focus on the right campaigns and keeps the discussions aligned. It also helps in making the information public for those involved.

A key problem of EM is that reports are always shared late with the brands. This is mostly due to overloaded teams that have no breathing space to prepare reports. In this board, a column called ‘Report Generated’ shows which campaigns do not have reports against them. Only when a report is shared, the campaign can be marked as done.

The Roles

The following roles exist for EM Scrum:

The engagement manager role comprises of the following duties:

  1. Gather all the information for effective utilization of the resources available — if an image is missing, the EM exec has to wait for the graphics team to deliver the designs
  2. Engage with the brands to provide visibility to their current campaign progress & get visibility on future campaigns
  3. Manage multiple teams backlogs and clear blockers
  4. Share reports & be a single point of contact for the brands for resolution
  5. Process improvement

The data executive role has the following responsibilities:

  1. Provide data for the EM exec to run campaigns
  2. Provide data for ROI calculations (Targeted base, CTORs, Projected revenue, costs, etc)
  3. Provide data for template improvements (which CTAs perform better, which templates are better, A/B testing segments, etc)
  4. Process improvement

The role comprises of the following duties:

  1. Develop the templates & emails for sending
  2. Optimize sending
  3. Process improvement
  4. Provide reports where required

You’ll notice that everyone has a process improvement aspect in their duties. This is a key feature of Scrum — everyone has a responsibility towards making the process better. These ideas are captured in the Scrum ritual of Sprint Planning and Retrospectives — which we will combine to a single review session every week.

The entire team organization looks like this:

The data execs & the EM execs need not engage with the brand teams and they can work without interruptions on their tasks.

The Process

The below process is defined based on the assumptions:

  1. 50% of campaigns are a split-jerk response to market forces — i.e. they are not planned for — while the remaining ones are planned at least a week earlier.
  2. There are two sends in a week — Weekdays & pre-weekend
  3. Scheduling is possible
  4. Governance is inherent (more than X number of emails are not sent to the same customer)
  5. A campaigns effect dies out after 2 days (the last relevant open is 2 days after the mail is sent)

Basis this we have the following process & artifacts:

Typical process for an EM Engagement Manager

Key points:

  1. The flow follows the Trello board process.
  2. There are responsible teams for each step.
  3. The key here is self-organization and the EM as the orchestrator.
  4. The EM has to ensure that there are no blockers for each ticket to move forward.

Practical Considerations

While we’d love to have this implemented from day one in our organizations, process changes are difficult. I recommend you approach this in a phased approach:

Initiate the Trello Board and reference that every time you are discussing the status of the project. This keeps you away from the emails and brings sanity to your team. It helps to get an internal buy-in before getting the external stakeholders involved.

Slowly start getting everyone coming in for the daily standup, from within the team. This will help them realize cross-functional dependencies. Avoid the common pitfalls of conducting bad standups.

Once you’ve established a set process and it is effective for the team, evangelize your team. Make them the ambassadors of your project. In my experience, the common reason for process failures is when external parties fail to follow — mostly due to personal favors called in. When the team realizes that the process is to be upheld for a long term gain, they will ask the external teams (Brand teams) to follow the process.

With the brand teams falling in line with the process, you now have new sets of needs and expectations. Now is the time you improve this process to optimize the output. After all, your goal is to ‘efficiently utilize the available resources for maximum gains’.

Email marketing pipelines are tough to manage without process. Given the craziness of e-commerce life, it helps to bring sanity through a process dynamic enough to keep pace with the changes in commerce.

Thank you for reading. Hope this has helped you with your team. If you have any questions, please let me know!

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