Over the past year, I’ve been working with marketing teams to help them become more strategically and operationally effective. Many of the principles I employ when helping teams come from agile marketing theory. In order to instill these principles, I typically join a cross-functional team for 2-3 months in the role of a Marketing Scrum Master (MSM). As an MSM, my job is to guide the team in its journey to greater effectiveness, thereby delivering more customer and business value.
Through this work, I’ve found that the principles and practices of an MSM can be embraced more broadly by many different types of teams and team leaders. My goal here is to share details about my work as an MSM so that others can leverage relevant practices to improve their own teams.
MSMs play a critical role for instilling agile principles throughout an organization. MSMs are closest to the daily activities – essentially the eyes and ears on the ground working with teams directly. The primary responsibilities include coaching teams and helping them to embody the agile principles. They also help facilitate the connection between the teams and leadership, ensuring sharing of leading practices and helping shape the agile transformation journey across the organization.
One of the most important roles that an MSM plays is down in the trenches with marketing teams. On a day-to-day basis, they serve three roles:
1. Modeler of agile behaviors
In terms of modeling agile behaviors, it is the MSM’s job to challenge the team to adopt an agile mindset. The MSM must display, encourage, and reinforce values such as customer focus, ownership, flexibility, collaboration, transparency, experimentation, entrepreneurship, and adaptability. To do so, the MSM must continuously get the team thinking about questions such as, “How can we refine our strategy in a way that serves our customer?” “What are questions we’re looking to answer with our experiments?” “How can we best pivot based on our learnings?”
2. Facilitator to support team activities and processes
A lot of people believe that agile is all about process. Sprints, stand-ups, retros, etc. The reality is that all of the process components are in service of maintaining an agile mindset. Teams work in short sprints in order to support quick experimentation and learning, they have daily stand-ups in order to collaborate and maintain transparency, and they have sprint planning to constantly maintain a customer focus. The MSM helps the team facilitate these practices to ensure that they happen regularly and that the team is getting value from them.
3. Coach for individuals
Lastly, the best MSMs also serve as agile coaches to individuals on their teams. Oftentimes, people are at different stages in their agile adoption journeys and benefit from one-on-one coaching to help progress forward. Coaching is a good opportunity to identify areas where an individual needs the most support. I always initiate coaching by asking what people want to get out of joining an agile team from both a personal and professional standpoint. Then, as an MSM, I look to provide opportunities for team members to grow in those particular areas.
Another role the MSM plays is ensuring learnings are shared across the organization. Since the MSM is observing what is happening with teams on the ground – and will often work with many different teams – they are in a unique position to see what works well and what does not work so well. They will often work hand-in-hand with company leadership to advise on organizational transformation strategies. In particular, MSMs can help inform decisions about team composition and size, future training focus areas, the speed at which to scale initiatives, how to structure an agile scale-up, and organizational strengths/weaknesses. They also share leading practices for new agile teams, from what types of exercises are most effective for building strategic plans to effective ways to foster collaboration for remote teams.
Because the MSMs serve a lot of roles, they must be flexible and adaptable to fit the situation. And because they are helping teams become agile, it’s important for them to embody and model the agile behaviors mentioned above – customer focus, ownership, experimentation, transparency, etc. In terms of other necessary qualities, the best MSMs need to be organized to keep track of a lot of moving parts, perceptive to know when the team needs support, energetic to motivate the team to drive work forward, a good listener to hear what the team is going through, a problem solver to help the team remove obstacles, a good communicator to ensure the team is aligned on goals, and empathetic and trustworthy so that the team feels supported and safe within the team. With these qualities, an MSM can make a huge difference for transforming a marketing team to become more effective.
How can you learn from the qualities of a good MSM to bring agile principles to your organization? For inspiration, here are some companies that have effectively adopted agile within their organizations.