Scrum - a work in progress or a potential disaster?

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One of Axonn’s ever-growing challenges has been finding the best way to deliver a cross-functional service for clients. Over the course of the next few months, we're going to be keeping a ‘warts and all’ diary of our attempts to overcome this challenge by applying agile principles - also known as ‘agile marketing’ - in what could lead to a full structural revolution for our business. Part one focused on whether agile marketing can make your life easier, part two was  Is your business ready for agile, and in part three we looked at how homeworkers can use agile. Today we're looking at the reality of scrum and its place in the workplace.

Work in progress: Obstacles all agile marketers will face

Three months ago, I had never heard of the term 'agile marketing', so when I took on a scrum-based approach with two of my client projects it was very easy to be cynical. Terms such as 'scrummaster' only left me in a giggling fit, and completely changing our way of working made me question our current processes.

The results a quarter later sure have been impressive. As a team, we have become more efficient, and we have created new products by working with a co-departmental approach. Shared responsibility ensures that we become more critical of each other's work when subbing, and focusing the work within sprints allows us to concentrate on other tasks much better when not scrumming.

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For now, agile seems to be working well. But with it has also come a series of obstacles and challenges. On the battlefront that is scrum, blood has been shed, sacrifices have been made and quick, strategic changes have been forced. Completely changing our working pattern has left us all in a daze, and to truly take on scrum principles, we are still having to evolve - scrum really is constantly a work in progress.

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There's no 'I' in team

Your move to a more agile methodology of working will of course depend on your current processes, but for us a bit of a challenge has been the move to a more team-based mentality. Content marketers often have a habit of pitching their own creative ideas, executing content strategies solo and awaiting client feedback for their own output. Moving to a situation where a sprint team is equally responsible for client satisfaction has meant that expectations have had to be set from the get-go. While we have all been working from the same brief, interpretations and perspectives are always going to differ among creative individuals, creating a situation for conflict and difference in opinion.

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To avoid this, we have to be very clear on client briefs, be in regular contact with the customer and take a more critical view of each other's work. We all need to be reading off the same page, and the world of scrum, as we all have a shared responsibility to the client, we're all a Jack of Spades in what can at any time be a toppling house of cards.

Critical responses

This takes us nicely onto the shared responsibility element of agile. With us working collectively on content production, sometimes even on a single piece, we have been forced to question our current subbing processes. What is often a procedure to check for typos and grammatical issues, and to a certain extent challenging source material, has now shifted to discussing tone of voice, the acceptability of a piece, and restructuring whole paragraphs.

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Those little distractions

The final point of frustration for us during this process has been the inability to purely focus on the task at hand during the sprint. Like all things in life, small and unavoidable issues pop up. A client on another project has got in touch with an emergency issue. You have been called into an unavoidable meeting. An account manager is ringing to enquire about something. An issue in your team needs attending to.

While we have strived to shut ourselves off from everything else, and even considered implementing out of office email alerts, it's required a certain level of self-direction and commitment to simply say 'no'. Naturally, this has slowed us down, not allowing us to be as efficient as we should truly be, and the concept that 'you should be getting faster with each sprint' is just not ringing true at the moment.

There is obviously work that needs to be done, and as we start introducing agile principles to a wider client base, obstacles we have been confronted with are sure to be exacerbated over the coming months. However, through the struggles, frustrations, problems and disagreements, we are polishing our content output and, at times, it certainly makes all of it worth its while. But then, ask me again in a few weeks.

Is your business ready for agile?