Agile Marketing Tools: Some Assembly Required

Posted 10/8/2015 7:32 AM by Jeff Julian

Before you start reading this post, I want to make you aware that it is part of a series on Sprint Planning for Agile Marketing teams. Here are some of the post in this series:

  1. Put On Your Game Face - The Basics of Sprint Planning
  2. This Post - Some Assembly Required - The Tools
  3. Content Developers, Cross-Functional Teams, and Commitment
  4. Breaking Down The Tasks
  5. Go Run! Starting a Sprint
  6. How do I End My Sprints Well?
  7. What Do I Do When Things Go Wrong?!

Our next step in planning a Sprint is to find the tool we want to use for displaying the tasks we create and their associated Content Item.  You can go with a digital tool like Trello, JIRA, or Microsoft TFS to capture the items or you could go with a paper-based process.  It doesn’t matter which one you choose at this point if your team is in one location but if you have remote staff, you should opt for digital.

So what does a Sprint tool offer?  Well, let’s look at the pieces involved. 

We have a Content Backlog that has information on each Content Item that represents the work we are completing.  Our tool needs the ability to capture the content story, title, how to demonstrate value and the estimate for each item.  Then once you have the items defined, your tool will need the ability to sort those cards by priority.

Next our tool should have the ability to create tasks associated with each Content Item.  The tasks typically have estimates on them associated with hours so you will need to store that information somewhere.

And finally, your tool needs a board with three columns to place you cards in.  The three columns are Open Items, In Process and Complete.  They represent the stages a task can live in through the Sprint and are updated daily during the Standup Meeting. 

So let’s take a look at two specific examples of the process: a traditional paper-based board and a Trello board.

Old Faithful – The Paper Board

I want to make one thing clear before we continue.  3M’s PostIt Notes® are THE best thing since sliced bread.  So next time you catch yourself going for the old phrase, consider using “_____ is the best thing since PostIt Notes®!”

Now that we are on the same page let’s talk about the paper-based board.  I am such a luddite when it comes to agile tools.  I love the feel of paper and the flexibility of the medium.  To capture the Content Backlog, I use a preprinted piece of card stock that has the fields I need.  To sort and prioritize, I place the cards on the table and then stack them back up with the most important content on the top. 

For the Scrum board, I use a cork board or a magnetic wall that is divided into three columns using ribbon and push pins or magnets.  Then I print the titles of the columns out using a single sheet of paper and cut it into thirds.  Those go on the board with push pins and live in their ribbon divided columns.  In the bottom right corner of the board I keep a bunch of push pins or small magnets that are easily accessible.  They act like extra glue for the PostIt® if it loses the ability to stick on its own. 

To capture the tasks, I use the wide yellow PostIt® Notes and a sharpie to write a basic description in the middle of the paper and an estimate in the bottom right corner.  Once we have all the tasks created for the Sprint, I place the Content Item and tasks on the board in the left column and keep them close. 

This next suggestion is a hack and I started using it when our Sprints were longer in nature.  I am one of those readers who still prefers the bookmark to place underneath the current line I am reading because my mind wanders on the page.  So to keep my mind from wandering on the board, I use a strip of ribbon to separate the Content Item and tasks from the other Content Items and tasks.  By the end of Sprint Planning, my board looks more like a spreadsheet.  I can quickly see when a task is in the In Process column that it matches to the Content Item in the Open Items column.

The last piece of paper you will use is a small strip of construction paper with tape that will represent a Content Developer.  Everyone gets their own color and we keep tape around to make sure they stick.  On the wall next to the board, I create a legend that shows what color represents what person and to go one step further, I write their name on each piece.  I keep a stash of 5-10 pieces of paper, depending on our frequency of Standup Meetings or the size of our tasks, for each Content Developer near the board in the supplies pile.  Once a card goes into the In Process column I place the paper in the bottom left corner to represent the Content Developer.  This can also be placed on a Task in the Open Item column if our team requires a particular person to work on a task. You can double up and have multiple people on a card but once you are finished with the work, you can remove the paper and place it on another card or back in the pile. 

In the supply pile, I keep a pair of scissors, tape dispenser, Content Item cards, wide PostIt® Notes for tasks, the Content Developer colors and a roll of ribbon.  You can keep other items like a pack of Planning Poker cards so you can do an impromptu estimating session.

The New Hotness – Trello Boards

Digital Scrum Boards are not a new piece of technology.  In fact, we have been using some form of a digital board since 2004 at AJi.  We have created custom boards that were designed to work with the Kinect from Microsoft.  We have invented boards that print labels from Dymo printers that represent the Items and Tasks.  They were later scanned by a mobile application to place the updates back into Team Foundation Server. 

At AJi, we have landed on an agile tool called JIRA and have designed a 55-inch touchscreen setup where each team can load their board and touch their cards during the Standup Meetings and report their status.  Very similar setup to those CNN folks reporting election results.  I know, you are jealous.

Being that you are probably new to agile processes and are probably looking for something less techie, let’s take a look at another solution.  Also as a marketer, I know portability is a huge concern.  I do most of my writing at a coffee shop, so my solution needs to be accessible from many different locations and different devices. 

If you are “the team” or in a small group, you probably are looking for a solution that is low in cost.  Proving the process works is a big part of the battle in Content Marketing. Combine that with Agile Marketing technique and you have a whole lot of change in the way you do things.  If we can keep our cost low, we probably have a better chance to continue to get the blessing we need to keep going.

So with all that in mind, I will present Trello as a solution to your need for a Scrum Board.  Trello is a free tool that also has pro level features you can pay for.  It is collaborative in nature so you can invite others into the boards and assign work.  The system is as barebones as it gets so we can design a sort-of-kind-of solution that does most of what I like to see in a Scrum Board. 

Trello Agile Marketing Main 

Once you have registered an account, you have the ability to create a board.  A fresh board will have the capability to create lists and within lists you can create items.  The following are the lists I use for a typical Agile Marketing board (from left to right in Trello):

  • Upcoming Sprint Backlog (or Content Backlog) - If this is your only tool for prioritizing content and developing new content items, you can use this column to represent your Content Backlog.  I still use an Excel document with several early stage ideas and lower priority items that I do not want to control in an all-in-one solution like Trello.  So with Trello, I only put upcoming Sprint items on the board that are high enough in priority to be on the radar for production.
  • Open Items – This list holds the Content Items and associated tasks that are available for work.  Since Trello doesn’t have vertical grouping, it is important to label the items with a code or ID of the Content Item.  I use two letters to represent the content effort and a number.  An example would be AG01, which represents the first item in the Agile Marketing backlog. 
  • In Process – These are the tasks that are currently assigned to a Content Developer and are in production.  With Trello, you can use the Members button on the task to assign a team member and their picture will show up on the board. 
  • Completed Items (Sprint # or Name) – I like to have a list that is dedicated to the completed items for a particular Sprint rather than a generic column like Open Items and In Process.  The reason being Trello has the ability to Archive This List versus Archive All Cards in the List.  I want to see what we did at any point in the future, so being able to hydrate lists for review is necessary.  Using more specific Agile tools will handle this for reporting, so if you get to the point where you want more, consider a migration to JIRA or another platform.  At the end of each Sprint, I just archive the list and create a new one for the new Sprint.

What goes on my Trello Cards?

Since Trello cards are an empty bucket for your imagination, it is very easy to make variations from card to card and cause some confusion for the team.  This is ok during the pilot portion of your Agile Marketing practice, but you should standardize on the information you provide and have a Definition-of-Done for Content Items before you get started. 

Just so you don’t have to flip back into the historical records of this piece, here are the fields I suggest for each Content Item:

  • Title – The name of the piece of content you are creating.  This is the name your team uses to refer to the content, not the headline.
  • ID – Some numeric or alphanumeric representation of the Content Backlog and the Content Item.  These are typically generated with Agile tools but Trello does not have a specific field for ID.
  • Content Story – A set of sentences that describes the persona, the problem and the value statement you plan to offer with this piece of content. 
  • How to Demonstrate Value – A set of bullet points or action items your team will take to ensure you deliver on the Content Story.  In Trello, we use the Checklist feature to give our team the flexibility to check off items that are complete or show the remaining piece of value you need to create.
  • Estimate – The amount of combined time required for the team to create the piece of content.

In Trello, we have to make some considerations for the tool to fit the process.  This happens with all Agile tools, so don’t be concerned.  Over time, these reflections may cause to you want another tool.  However, if you have not adopted the Agile Marketing approach in the past, focus on getting the process down at this point.

 Trello Agile Marketing Item

You can see in the figure above the list of Content Item fields used in the Trello tool.  Here is a description of the Trello fields and how each is mapped:

  • Card Name – I use the estimate in square brackets at the beginning of the name followed by the ID for the Content Item.  Then I separate the Content Item’s name with a single dash with spaces on each side.  In this example, I am creating a series of posts so I add the identifier to the name of this Content Item’s part number.
  • Description – This is where I hold the Content Story.  The field is free formed and you can go in and make modifications to the original and the action is logged to the item.
  • Checklist – You can have more than one checklist in Trello, but I use one for my content, the How to Demonstrate Value field.  I list each bullet point I want to create to address the value statement, problem, and persona in the Content Story.
  • Label – I have two main labels I use, Content Backlog Item (or Content Item) and Task.  For this type of card, I apply the label of Content Backlog Item.  You can use as many tags as you like. If you have a lot of content that needs to be regularly updated, you can use the label to also represent the optional State field of the Content Item.
  • Activity – This is a log of what has happened to the Trello card and any comments added by users.  While I would not use this for active Content Item fields, you can use it to describe changes and hold conversations.

Another type of card you will create is the Task.  Tasks are the broken down components of a Content Item in preparation to run a Sprint.  These cards contain a much smaller set of requirements.

Trello Agile Marketing Task 

As I did with the Content Item, here are the fields in Trello that represent the Task shown in the figure above:

  • Card Name – The Content Item’s ID, the description of the Task, and the hour-based estimate separated by a dash surrounded by spaces.  You can use the previous bracket approach for the estimate, but I take this approach to make it a little easier to distinguish between Content Items and Tasks.
  • Description – Most tasks can be described with a simple statement in the Card Name, but if you require more detail, use this field to hold the information.
  • Checklists – These are completely optional in Tasks but if you have a repetitive task, you can create copies based on previously developed ones to help speed up the process.  In this example above, I include the distribution of the content in Social Media.  Since my team is small, we include these activities in our Sprints.  If you produce content that is not shipped during the Sprint, you might create these tasks as a part of another team’s Content Backlog.  Whatever you do, make sure the process aligns with your written Social Media Strategy.
  • Labels – I assign the Task label to this card but you can include other types of field descriptions that represent the skillset required to complete the task if your team is semi-autonomous.  For example, Blog Post, Video, or Editorial to signify the type of skills essential to accomplish the task.
  • Members – Unlike Content Items, we assign Content Developers to Tasks when they enter the In Process column on the board.  In Trello, you can select from a list of users associated with the board and their profile image will appear on the card.  It’s a very nice way to visually show who is working on the Task.

No One Solution Is the Right Solution for Everybody

If you look at the way I describe how to build a paper-based board or a Trello board and don’t agree, that is perfectly ok.  It is at the core of Agile that the process is adaptable to the team.  Just like in any good methodology, there are reasons for each field but those should only be aligned to your needs if you feel it is necessary. 

Sometimes it is best to take a very simple approach and review over time during the Retrospectives to see if you should incorporate the approach others are taking when using the tools or the process to meet your goals.