Marketing Sprint Execution: GMLC Phase 3

About The Author

Ahmad Iqbal

Ahmad Iqbal

Co-founder and CEO at HMS Commerce. Product development and marketing of our suite of apps, as well as providing growth marketing services to select merchants.

Sprint Execution

The Execution, Launch and Optimization stage of the GMLC is where the magic happens. Teams will spend the vast majority of their time cycling through this process via a working framework called Growth Sprints. The purpose of this stage is to slowly chip away at our quarterly or yearly growth goals, and to identify those rare 10x opportunities for us to scale.

A Growth Sprint is a relatively short time-boxed period where teams execute and implement work. Every sprint involves executing on campaign tasks, deploying those campaigns to market through one or many channels, measuring the results of previous campaigns and developing new hypotheses to test.

Some sprints will also include optimizing existing “always-on” campaigns, planning campaigns for future sprints and/or research tasks to help inform new hypotheses and ideas. It’s anything teams can do to help push the revenue needle, opportunities we call “Growth Stories.”

Although the generally accepted sprint period is two weeks (in software development) we highly suggest working in one week sprints for growth marketing teams. The two main reasons for this is important. Firstly, digital marketing is a fast-pace, highly trackable and data-oriented function. Some campaigns can be launched in a matter of hours, with statistically significant results pouring in within 24 hours. Secondly, it forces your team to think of smaller, low-hanging opportunities, rather than executing against big-bang initiatives. The smaller your hypothesis-led opportunities, the more of them you can implement. And the more you can implement, the more likely you’ll find something that really works and is ready for scale. The graph below does a great job at visualizing the difference using an example between a 2.5% weekly growth rate, versus a 25% quarterly growth rate.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. This seems like a lot to do in just one week. What about larger seasonal campaigns like Black Friday/Cyber Monday? Thanksgiving, Back to School, or Christmas shopping period? These larger “waterfall” type campaigns also have an important place in the GMLC and one we cover in the third, fourth and fifth playbook; it’s unwise to try and change your implementation methodology on such campaigns that may make or break your year.

In fact, the goal of these sprints is to find the campaigns we want to scale, which may very well be through a waterfall workflow. For example if we find Facebook Ads written in Chinese language, targeted at Chinese speakers, is driving very effective acquisitions, then perhaps adding the Chinese New Year as a nation-wide cross-channel campaign is worth our while. Since data would have validated this audience segment is engaged, underserved, and cheaper to acquire, we have a case to invest more money behind this type of “waterfall” campaign and scale it. Since it’s been de-risked, there is no harm in utilizing a waterfall workflow to deliver it.

Roles & Responsibilities

Performance Owner

The Performance Owner is responsible for driving the majority of campaigns. This is where their name holds meaning, because their objective is to lead the team to identify the best performing campaigns and help catalyze the ideation of new hypotheses. To do this, they own the backlog and prioritize the experiments and campaigns. As in software development, the Product Owner is the “voice of the customer,” the Performance Owner in marketing should be seen as the “voice of the market.” Ensuring the right message through the right channels is being communicated at the right time to the right customers.

There is another lesser discussed role of the Performance Owner we wish to highlight. It’s important for the PO to also groom the core team to take over the PO role as a team. Initially, once teams are getting started and transitioning to this new way of working, it’s smart for a leader to drive the work through key moments in its value chain. However the ideal scenario for this way of working is the team collectively taking ownership of the backlog and its prioritization.

Core Team

Continuing from the above Performance Owner role, the core team is the execution team. However the best performing teams are those where any member of the team can do the role of the Performance Owner if asked. Everyone should quickly establish a pulse of the team’s marketing efforts, channels, customer audiences and offers.

The Performance Owner should also be seen as a member of the Core Team. And as the Core Team is, be involved in hypotheses generation, prioritization/re-prioritization, designing the experiments and campaigns, executing on committed work and measuring and analyzing deployed campaigns.

Leadership

Leadership’s role in this stage is quite singular in its objective. Its primary concern should be around removing impediments and roadblocks the Core Team encounters. Even though this sounds simple, in reality the sources of roadblocks and impediments will be incredibly varied. Depending on your organization, they could range from such basic things like a broken chair, lack of meeting room availability, to something a lot more complex such as underperforming team members, fighting for budget, lack of training or “protection” from executive distractions.

The role of leadership here is to make sure the teams have exactly what they need to execute. Leadership is in service of the Core Team’s sprint objectives. The leaders serve their teams so the teams can do their jobs better.

Peripheral Team Members (optional)

Every now and then there may be a piece of work that requires outside help from other members of a different team. This could be from a shared service such as Data Science (to help answer questions or identify a unique customer audience), Translations (if a campaign requires French, Spanish or Arabic translations), Legal (when evaluating a new message never tried before), and more frequently from Product (when an experiment requires a site change or landing page alteration).

Members from these peripheral teams should be called upon to join the Sprint activities as described in the following section when needed.


Activities & Outcomes

Each sprint is comprised of up to five “ceremonies,” or activities. In the below visual you’ll see the cyclical nature of these ceremonies. They follow a general pattern of planning to preparing to executing to measuring, and repeat. There is no hard and fast rule to the nuances of these ceremonies, but we’ll explain in depth in the fourth playbook of this series.

Sprint Planning

Sprint Planning happens once at the beginning of every sprint. In this activity the team plans their work for the upcoming sprint. In our case, since our sprint is one week in length, the main objective then is to identify and commit to one week’s worth of work. And since we also must aim to achieve value delivered by the end of the sprint, part of this ceremony is to plan how to achieve a result. This part is often the most contended in the transition to the new way of working, and we will get into more details in the relevant playbook Part IV.

Before entering Sprint Planning, the Performance Owner should have an idea on a handful of hypothesis and campaigns they want to test or deploy. They should be prepared on what they’d like the team to accomplish that week. Without this preparation, not only will this ceremony suffer, but the rest of the sprint will be ineffective.

A great way to achieve this would be with a Monday morning health check session beforehand in the morning of the Sprint Planning days. Borrowing a framework from John Boyd, a military strategist for the US Airforce in the 1960s, the OODA loop is a clear template of the intake into Sprint Planning. OODA loop is short for Observation, Orientation, Decision and Action. The Monday morning health check correspond to the Observation and Orientation. And Sprint Planning corresponds to the Decision and Actions of the loop.

During the Sprint Planning, the team will evaluate the work items from the backlog, score and rank in order of priority, and answer the gaps in the Growth Story. If things like the discount amount, copy strategy, message frequency or sequence is in question, it’s at this ceremony where those items are documented and closed.

Once the work has been committed to, the team knows what they need to do and should feel secure their job won’t change. Although ad-hoc requests will happen, there is a process for that which we’ll discuss in the later playbook.

Backlog Preparation

Since the backlog is the source of the teams’ work, it is an important artifact to always have updated, prioritized and groomed. Keeping the backlog updated is so important there is a ceremony dedicated to precisely that.

In this ceremony relevant team members meet to ensure future Growth Stories down the backlog is relevant and ready to be initiated when its time comes during a future Sprint Planning session.

This means team members ask questions about how the campaign will work, the desired results of that Growth Story, who else needs to be involved in its delivery and when to go live, just to name a few. Basically, the objective of these sessions is to fill in all the Growth Story Template fields that your team had agreed were need-to-know to ensure a successful campaign execution.

In addition to this, it can also include answering or addressing new questions or concerns that arose since the start of the sprint. For example, perhaps the Legal team disallowed a certain claim, or teams can decide how to split the budget for an A/B test, then these sessions can be used as problem solving ceremonies to get to an outcome so the team can continue to move forward.

Daily Standups

Probably the most known and implemented ceremony of them all, the Stand Up is also misunderstood and the easiest ceremony to get wrong.

Most teams treat the Standup as a status update where individuals take turns updating the rest of their team on what they’re working on. But not focusing on accomplishments of the previous day and what is impeding you from accomplishing work on the present day is a recipe for waste. What should be a five minute ceremony can easily turn into a 20 minute standing meeting where team members start discussing and solutioning issues.

The purpose of this ceremony is to align on the team on progress of the previous day and blockers holding the team back from delivering work by the end of the sprint. There should be a real focus on impediments that the Performance Owner should take to Leadership.

Additionally, this ceremony should take place in-front of the physical Kanban Board and appropriate Growth Stories should be moved to represent their position in the workflow.

Sprint Review

Sprint Reviews close the loop on each of the committed Growth Stories and their objectives within the sprint. It’s when the team comes together to discuss the success, failure or confusion of each Growth Story that was deployed. Teams will track the results on the KPIs and formulate lessons and next steps.

At the end of the day, this is where teams need to come together to see if their hypothesis was correct. If the hypothesis was correct then that insight should be applied to other channels, tactics, or landing pages to drive more of those results. This will mean creating a new Growth Story and prioritizing it to be picked up at a future Sprint Planning ceremony.

If the hypothesis was not proven correct, or in other words, the KPIs were not affected, teams can discuss whether there was an issue with the implementation, timing or seasonality, or if it was just a bad idea. Either a new hypothesis or experimentation can be discussed, or the team can decide to shelf this hypothesis and others similar to it still on the backlog.

Kaizen

Kaizen sessions are Continuous Improvement ceremonies dedicated to the sprint process. The word literally means “Change for Good” in Japanese and its focus is on incremental improvements. Like our growth philosophy shared earlier, incremental improvements compounded weekly far outpace larger quarterly compounded improvements, we apply the same thinking to our process.

These sessions are recommend bi-weekly and should be hosted by a different volunteer member of the team. If anyone on the team has a problem area they would like to discuss, they can facilitate the discussion and source solutions from the rest of the team during this time.

Once a solution (or an amendment to the existing sprint or execution process) has been agreed upon, it can be applied immediately. Examples of such solutions can include changing the workflow on the Kanban Board, the criteria for prioritizing Growth Stories, or even the re-shuffling of desks to make collaboration easier.

At the end of the day Continuous Improvement is at the heart of this way of working, and so we must have a dedicated time and place the team and utilize to drive this behaviour.

Outcomes

Simply stated, the outcomes from each sprint are tested hypotheses, deployed campaigns and optimized campaigns. It’s important that each week, or sprint, follows this cadence and value is delivered.

Not getting to the “done” state for any one Growth Story is considered a failed sprint because it means the team didn’t get anything to market, and so they missed an opportunity to compound their weekly growth. Again, this is why it’s very important to commit to “minimum viable experiments” or research and questions tasks that are executable and answerable within the week, or the sprint cadence.

There will be times when some work cannot be done within a weekly sprint, but in those instances, the work should be split up into weekly chunks of real value. For example, if a new channel experiment requires a language translation that is outside of the skillset of the Core Team, and the French translation service requires an additional week to complete the task, then the first week should have a reviewable outcome, such as the pulling of an audience segment, an analysis on forecasted lift or ideally an English only campaign with French being deployed once it’s ready.

Once the team has run several sprints, these outcomes will become more naturally attainable and soon after will provide the team with a slew of campaign data and insights which will drive the next stage of the GMLC, Scale.

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