Do I Really Need A Scrum Master for Agile Marketing? Part 1

If you’re using Scrum then the short answer is ‘YES’.  When people take my Agile Marketing Boot Camp class, one of the most challenging concepts is the Scrum Master role.  Not that it’s difficult to understand, the challenge usually lies in figuring out how to fill that role.

Why is that so hard?  It’s often a combination of one or more of these factors:

  • Marketing is overworked so they don’t want to re-purpose anyone
  • Marketing can’t get more headcount this year
  • If marketing could get more headcount it needs to relate to revenue (e.g. lead-gen)

While all of these may be valid issues and concerns, at the end of the day, if you’re going to use Scrum then you need to fill the Scrum Master role.  And this is the first entry in a four-part discussion that deals with these problems.  Let’s start with a reminder of why the Scrum Master is important.

First, at the risk of stating the obvious, the Scrum Master is your expert on the Scrum process.  That’s important as Scrum is likely to be extremely different from how you operate today.  And Scrum is not a one-size-fits-all process – it’s intended to be customized for each team that uses it.  So without an expert on-board it’s far too easy to get stuck wondering exactly how you should adopt Scrum and how you should adapt it given the feedback generated after each sprint.  And one of the most common pitfalls is the temptation to “adapt” by simply eliminating any parts of Scrum that seem hard or uncomfortable.  Skilled Scrum Masters know how to find the underlying causes of such issues and deals with those rather than just the symptoms.

Second, the Scrum Master ensures the team is living the values of Agile Marketing.  What do I mean by “living the values”?  There are seven values laid out in the Agile Marketing Manifesto.  And they’re not there for decoration.  After all, being an Agile Marketing practitioner isn’t simply a matter of using Scrum to manage your work.  If you do that, you may find yourself getting a lot of work done, but it’s not the right kind of work.  Being an Agile Marketing practitioner means you apply the values from the Manifesto in your marketing work – whether you use Scrum or Kanban or Lean or any other process is a related but separate issue.  And while everyone involved should feel empowered to check work against those Agile Marketing values, the Scrum Master occupies a neutral role that can readily do just that.

Third, the Scrum Master actively encourages collaboration.  Granted, this has some overlap with the previous point as collaboration is one of the Agile Marketing values.  But it’s one that the Scrum Master uniquely deals with every day.  Ideally, your Scrum Master is someone that everyone on your team respects and will openly work with.  And this is one example where a Scrum Master is critically different than a project manager- if team members need to collaborate but they have a lot of interpersonal conflict, rather than simply escalate the issue to the team members’ managers, the Scrum Master tries to resolve the dysfunction directly.  That’s why respect is so important.

Lastly, the Scrum Master aggressively removes roadblocks.  And just as mutual respect from team members is required to resolve dysfunctions in the team, mutual respect outside the team is required to get people to change priorities, commit more resources, or change business processes.  For instance, let’s say your team is blocked by slow approvals from your legal department.  In this case, your Scrum Master won’t just hound the legal department every time an approval is needed.  Ideally, your Scrum Master will have the rapport with them to deal with the broader issue and work together to find a better process that works for both sides.

When you think about these responsibilities, and you appreciate how valuable they are and how much time they can entail, it’s no wonder that having a Scrum Master is critically important to the success of using Scrum.  So hopefully, I’ve bolstered any wavering commitment to establishing that role in your Agile Marketing teams.  In the follow-up posts I’ll cover:

  • The Pros and Cons of Mixing Scrum Master with other Roles
  • Transitioning People to the Scrum Master Role
  • Ways to Get a Scrum Master Headcount

In the meantime, if you’ve adopted Agile Marketing and value the Scrum Master role, tell us what benefits you’ve seen – let’s help convince anyone who’s still on the fence!

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