Agile Marketing Best Practices - Keep a Catalog of Tasks and Estimates

Posted 2/18/2015 10:31 PM by Jeff Julian

Let’s face it, creating an estimate is hard.  If we are moving into an agile environment for the first time, it can be downright impossible to get everyone on the same page.  The way I see the solution through my eyes, is completely different than how someone on my team may see it.  Being on the same page as early as possible will help us not waste time and more importantly, keep the peace.

Being Agile is a Team Sport

I love making running analogies.  The challenges you overcome while running and training are very much like the challenges we face in life.  I’m sure if I was a bowler, I would see the same in that activity, but for now I will stick with running.  When you are on a project by yourself or thinking about your personal work load, your activities mirror the endurance that comes with a long run.  Sustainable pace and the ability to repeat the exercises during training day-after-day is important to keep yourself interested and form the appropriate habits.  But when a team is brought into the picture, we have ourselves a relay. 

Remember back to your days in high school and either at track practice or during gym class, your coach brought out the batons and had each member of your team line up at different parts of the track.  After the whistle would blow, do you remember what happened next?  Would each member take off and finish the race?  Of course not.  The runners would prepare themselves for the leg of the relay they were in.  If they were the first one out of the gate, he or she would be running their heart out.  The second runner in the relay would be ensuring they were in the right position with their hand back ready for the baton.  If you were the third or fourth member, you would be watching the race seeing what you would have to do to win and encouraging your team by cheering. 

Most of our work could be viewed in the eyes of this race.  Each piece of content we create usually has to be passed off to someone else for their portion of the work.  During the day we work on several independent tasks, but when we are expected to complete a task as a team, we have to be ready at the appropriate time to ensure we do not slow the process down. 

It is important we understand what the team is doing each day and what the expected duration will be to see where we are in the big picture.  It is also important we do not begin work until we are able to or we might not have all the details needed to make the best decision.  Because of this, we should practice often as a team to get a good rhythm.  We should also keep track of our times so we all know how well the team is performing.

Review Your Common Backlog Items and Break Them Down

Whether we are creating an infographic, writing a blog post, or creating a brochure, each activity has a set of tasks that are specific and repeatable.  Some of these tasks have the same rules and procedures between types of content and others are very specific.  However, most people do not take the time to document what goes into their work or what goals they have set.  It is time we get out of this rhythm and start producing details we can use to forecast our abilities as a team.

To get started, make a list of all the content types you are using today on this team.  On this list you should include the variations of delivery approaches.  So if you create articles online and in print, list those as two items.  Once you have your list created, write each type and delivery approach on an index card at the top, and sort by frequency during your average month.  Once you have sorted them, write the number on the corner of the card, starting with 1.  Our cards will get messy and we don’t want to forget the order.

Next give each member of your team a blank sheet of paper and have them write the tasks down that make up the completion of this item.  You will probably see a few questions about one-off scenarios, but just handle those tasks with an asterisk next to them.  This may mean we need another card to represent this type of content or will just be removed from the common items because of its rarity. 

Once you are finished with the task breakdown for the content type, have your team write the items on a white board, based on their list and mark a tick by the tasks based on how many people listed it.  Make sure you list the tasks in the order required to complete the item with the highest efficiency. 

Planning Poker

Now give each member a set of Planning Poker Cards® or a slip of paper that represents your breakdown of hours/days for the tasks depending on the size of your item.  If you are using hours, I suggest: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, and 24.  Anything larger could probably be broken down into another task.  If you are using days, the Planning Poker® sequence is: 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, and 100.  I would suggest removing the anything larger than a 20 because it qualifies to be broken down further. 

Pull the top card off the list which should be your highest priority content type.  Go around the table and discuss what goes into producing this item.  Talk about what requirements we have for quality and the estimated size of content.  Talk through audience delivery as well, to make sure you capture all processes involved.

Now using the estimating cards and sequence, have everyone pick an estimate, but do not show anyone.  Once the entire group has estimated, show your cards.  If everyone agrees, write down the criteria discussed and the estimate.  If you have differences, discuss and repeat until there is consistency. 

Move on through each item and at the end of the session, you will have a baseline you can go off of before you begin estimating your backlog.  Remember, we need consistency across the board so as things change, we can go back into our backlog and make the appropriate changes quickly to our estimates. 

Getting to the Definition of Done

One of the valuable parts of the previous exercise, is the time spent determining what quality and relative sizing a content type has.  We have defined the model for this content type and gave it an estimate.  Our next step should be to document anything that we required for the quality measurements or a content type, on a checklist that we will call the Definition of Done.  We can have a generic list for all content types and specific ones for each content type.  The idea is to capture what we consider quality and our measure of excellence to form a pattern and a set of controls that Content Developers follow each time they produce their work. 

Here are some items you might consider:

  • Length of content (articles, blogs, case studies, etc.)
  • Images for delivery (social cards, sharing, print, blog, etc.)
  • Content review process
  • Social media announcements
  • Research and reference attribution
  • Video export quality and publishing considerations

If you run into a content type you don’t feel you have guidelines for, that’s ok, and the point of the exercise is to not make everything procedural.  We want to ensure quality during delivery and sometimes we have to complete a few content types in the real world before we know what we need to repeat.

Definition of Done

Once you have a few checklists, print them and give them to everyone.  Everyone should have a copy accessible during the planning meetings, estimating sessions, and any time we consider an item complete while working on it.  After some time, the list will be embedded in our memory and each team member will understand the criteria and estimating will be much easier.

Review after Each Sprint

At this point, our initial meetings are over and we have a lot of great artifacts.  The problem that will arise here is if we do not remain focused on this list, they will become stale.  We need this list of estimates and the Definitions of Done to be the accurate and current, for any new members who are added and to ensure we have the appropriate quality controls during all deployments.

Sprint or Timebox 

I suggest you bring each one of these lists to your retrospective meetings and discuss any changes.  The sole purpose of these meetings is to discuss things that might need to change.  If we are using a new content type that has not estimated, it makes sense to add it to this list.  If we are faster or slower than we originally expected on a content type, let’s make adjustments on the baseline.  If we feel we need to kick up the quality of our content, let’s add whatever we need to, on the Definition of Done for that content type to make sure we are consistent. 

Conclusion

Your team may consider this exercise dull and not worth the time required to get accurate numbers, but ROI and delivery expectations need to be set with Content Marketing efforts.  We have to get out of the mentality that we can create anything we want in a month as long as we just put it on a calendar. 

With these project artifacts, your Content Owners and ScrumMasters should have the tools they need to estimate content delivery expectations and balance what they can do with what they want to do.  They will be able to accurately make team size estimates for big initiatives and work better with agencies to get what they need to be successful.