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Agile for Marketing and Communication

Key Takeaways

  • Agile and Scrum fit into the future method and professionalization of communication.
  • Together they can bridge the IT and communication disciplines by speaking the same language and handling work together.
  • It is not necessary to make the organization completely agile proof; start small and test the new way of working just by doing it.
  • Agile marketing and communication ensures movement, flexibility, and connection, having the right people involved in communication.
  • With agile, team members work together which gives optimum results with less hierarchy and bureaucracy.

Agile Marketing and Communication (MarCom) bridges the IT and communication disciplines. Communication professionals at the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) started to apply agile in their projects, which has led to better collaboration and increased productivity and creativity. Professionals take on tasks outside their usual responsibilities and duties, and it's the team that decides how the work is prioritized and done. Using agile with Scrum improved the communication, both within and outside the team, and increased speed and responsiveness. 

Mariëtte Pasman, senior strategist at RIVM and ambassador of the Agile Consortium MarCom community, spoke about agile for marketing and communication at the RIVM at the annual conference of the Agile Consortium Netherlands. InfoQ is covering this conference with Q&As, summaries, and articles.

InfoQ interviewed Pasman about using agile in marketing and communication, how RIVM has applied agile and the benefits that it has brought, and what the future will bring for agile in the marketing and communication profession.

InfoQ: How can agile help to enhance marketing and communications? 

Mariëtte Pasman: Agile MarCom bridges the IT and communication disciplines by speaking the same language and handling work together with the same method. With the use of Scrum as a framework, communication professionals learn from each other in practice so they could respond to changes. It provides less plans and quick results, exactly what clients want.

The Agile Consortium's MarCom chapter started in 2016. Earlier InfoQ interviewed Jeremy Curtin and asked him what the MarCom chapter aimed to deliver:

Curtin: It is not just about certification, although this is an important step in creating a framework within which to operate; it is much more about creating a community whereby people can help to build and enhance a methodology that is creating an evolutionary step in how we engage with our customers, not only internally but also with our consumer base. This community can then support each other in adopting different best practices and ways of working, but also to be a safe place to address challenges with concerns that they have with peers who are in similar situations.

InfoQ: There have been several MarCom events in 2016 and 2017. What results has this initiative delivered?

Pasman: Since February 2016 we have had a core of five people who deeply care about bringing agile working and being a few steps further in the domain of marketing and communications. Together we’ve organized a very crowded event together with Yacht in October 2016, attended by more than 110 professionals, with speakers like professor Betteke van Ruler and Jeremy Curting (at that time working at Liberty Global). The cases and insights were published in the white paper The Agile MarCom professional 2021 (in Dutch)

In 2017 we also had smaller events, tuned to the needs of MarCom professionals: a visualization techniques workshop, a flowlab experiment, and recently a special event around the question how to start with agile in a MarCom environment.

It is encouraging to see that there is a high need for knowledge exchange, and we even noticed professionals from IT departments inviting their MarCom-counterparts to join them.

At the annual conference, we hosted a complete track in the parallel program and it was so much fun to explore different angles of agile MarCom with our participants: opinions on relevance and value, practical techniques, cases and games. We are looking forward to 2018. Our first event in the new year will be on agile online marketing.     

InfoQ: What will the future bring in agile marketing and communications? 

Pasman: The communication area is constantly in motion. Innovations follow each other in rapid succession. So agile and Scrum fit into the future method and professionalization of communication as shown in this video about Scrum and education work. I believe that all the communication professionals must learn to work with agile and Scrum to become part of multifunctional teams where IT, business and other professionals work together to create products with more value and quality.

InfoQ: What are the main duties and responsibilities of RIVM? 

Pasman: The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) works to prevent and control outbreaks of infectious diseases. We promote public health and consumer safety and we help to protect the quality of the environment. RIVM collects and collates knowledge and information from various sources, both national and international. We apply this knowledge ourselves and we place it at the disposal of policy-makers, researchers, regulatory authorities and the general public. Each year RIVM produces numerous reports on all aspects of public health, nutrition and diet, health care, disaster management, nature and the environment.

RIVM has a total of approximately 1,500 staff members. We are mainly commissioned by The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport,  Ministry of Infrastructure and Water ManagementMinistry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, various government inspectorates, the European Union and the United Nations.

InfoQ: How has RIVM applied agile in marketing and communications? 

Pasman: After a two-day training session, a few enthusiastic communication professionals started in two projects with agile and Scrum. The good results these teams have achieved made other colleagues enthusiastic about this way of working. Also, all other employees such as the secretaries, have followed a one-day training to get acquainted with the agile and Scrum way of working and thinking.

The members of the teams were encouraged to take on tasks outside their usual remit, allowing them to develop new skills. The team members worked together for optimum results with less hierarchy and bureaucracy. Changes were welcomed and formalized instead of seeing them as problems and obstacles.

InfoQ: Which benefits did agile bring? 

Pasman: Members collaborate with each other instead of working one after the other, and the whole team took responsibility for the result. This was very different from how the projects worked before agile MarCom. Scrum made work much more fun because the team delivered better results a lot more quickly.

Agile ensures movement, flexibility, and connection, and ensures that the right people are involved in communication. It also provides communication professionals with tools to keep a grip on the development of communication and the use of resources within the field of internal stakeholders. This way you can cope better with change and be more in control of the project schedule and state. It also provides self-organizing teams that take their own responsibility and add value to the product that’s being delivered. Therefore, it helps to finish assignments in a short period of time by focusing and making prior choices. During the preparation of the event RIVM Kennisparade for example, I only interfered one time with the progress when I was asked by the product owner. Because we’ve directly involved users, stakeholders and the necessary other organizational disciplines in the process, we have ensured support during the whole organization of the event. And that is a very good way to add value to our products.

Using MarCom gave us the ability to learn and adapt to an environment that is constantly changing. That way we improved the communication, both within and outside the team, and increased the speed and responsiveness of the work.

At the RIVM we have achieved good results by experiential learning and doing by working with Scrum. This framework offers a set of methods and agreements for professionals to work together at the right time and therefore achieve the right solutions. The detailed actions, the jargon and the roles of Scrum forces team members to build a joint result together. During the stand-up, the team members knew exactly which tasks were finished and what they should do next. At the same time the effort of work and the progress they made was visible to the client and management. Scrum also encouraged the communication professionals to take on tasks outside their usual responsibilities and duties. This led to better collaboration and increased productivity and creativity. Mainly because it’s the team that decides exactly how the work is prioritized and done. Therefore they took more responsibility for the results and the quality of the products they delivered.

InfoQ: What have you learned? 

Pasman: The main lesson was starting small and testing the new way of working just by doing it. It is not necessary to make the organization completely agile proof. The second lesson was taking care of the preconditions and support needed, like training all the employees how to work with agile MarCom.

At first a number of employees had followed a traditional IT product owner course, but this was too technical and did not fit in the work methods of communication professionals. The specific training for MarCom was better-suited and made the communication professionals enthusiastic for agile and Scrum. So we selected two projects and asked an agile coach to support the teams so they could apply theory in practice. One of these projects was the organization of a public-oriented event on the 7th of October this year: The RIVM Kennisparade (in dutch) for citizens of the Netherlands who wanted to get acquainted with the work at the RIVM. This event was realized within five months and during the summer holidays, with the effort of a small team with no full-time capacity, a limited budget and 150 volunteers of the RIVM staff who helped during the event. The five team members also had more work to accomplish during that period, but they managed to focus on the progress by following the MarCom framework. As a result, the event became a success with 1300 visitors, including many children. This pilot has shown that agile works: 65% of the visitors were more positive about the RIVM than before their visit and the stakeholders were very satisfied.

We learned that it is important to keep focus on the sprint goal and to provide the team their own workspace; this promotes collaboration and direct communication within the team. This isn’t easy to realize because the employees didn’t have a fixed workplace. For this purpose, we especially created a Scrum meeting room for the last month. Another insight which came through during the reviews, is that it is important to involve everyone who wants to be involved or needs to be informed. It’s necessary to do this because not everyone in the organization works in an agile way yet. And when there are problems, let the product owner know on time to solve it. After all, we only had two weeks during the sprint to reach the sprint goal.

InfoQ: If readers want to learn more about agile marketing and communications, where can they go? 

Pasman: There are several ways to exchange information about the MarCom knowledge and experience.

Of course, via the MarCom community of the Agile Consortium.

InfoQ readers can also read #FuturePRoof; it's purpose is to explore the opportunity for public relations at this moment and for the next ten years. They can read chapter 20 for information about agile working with reflective communication Scrum by Betteke van Ruler. You’ll learn more about the importance of agile working for marketing and communications and the benefits of implementing Scrum are discussed.

And finally, listen to The Guardian Podcast by Ryn Melberg for more inspiration and ideas. The Guardian Podcast is available to listeners with an interest in agile and Scrum and how to apply it in practice. The interview with Joel Traugott, a marketer at HubSpot, is a good example. He shares his experiences about his adopting Scrum to manage tasks within marketing very clearly.

About the Interviewee

Mariëtte Pasman: Learning and developing are important in my work as a senior strategist, experienced communication manager and project manager. The key words that describe me the best are: connecting, improving and innovating because they stimulate me to get the best out of myself and the people I work with.

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