Nonprofits: Get Ready to Launch Your First Agile Communications Project

Few people want to begin a project knowing that there will be failures along the way, but that is one of the key concepts behind Agile communications projects. Perhaps you would be more comfortable with the concept of “iterative development” — which is another way to describe a particular brand of Agile project management. No matter what terminology you use, launching your first Agile communications or marketing project can be scary and exciting at the same time. Never fear: we are going to walk you through each stage of your first project, calling out special notes that will help you be successful. Because one of the first projects we often work with clients on is launching or updating a website, we’ve decided to focus on how a website development project works using this project management framework. Let’s get started!

Building Your Team

All teams are different, but there are a few key roles that you need on your team in order to be successful. They include:

  • Team Lead: Responsible for ensuring that the project stays on track, and that key stakeholders continue to support the direction. This individual also helps guard against scope creep, and helps identify any roadblocks to moving forward.
  • Business Lead: In very small teams, the Business Lead and Team Lead may be the same individual. The lead business role helps build consensus from the marketing and communications side, helps define overall project priorities and may do much of the work as well.
  • Technology Lead: The technology lead may be the developer or someone managing a few developers or vendors. This critical role helps ensure that the business lead understands the impact of their requests on the overall project scope and timeline.
  • Team Members: For a web development project in particular, you may have a variety of additional roles depending on the size of your organization including copywriters, UX (User Experience) designers, branding experts and more. Having a cross-functional team allows you to leverage knowledge from across your organization and create connections that will help drive your project forward to successful completion.

Even if you’re on a small team of 2-3 individuals, the most important measure of success is personal and team accountability. Team members are often wearing more than one hat (or three!) and it can be tough juggling a variety of priorities. All team members should agree upfront that they are fully committed to making the project successful.

Agile Overview

Now that you’ve built your dream team, it’s time to get started actually scoping out the project. Agile communications projects can have a large number of moving parts, making it critical to document the business and marketing team’s expectations clearly and concisely. When you’re using an Agile project management framework, this overarching plan is called an Epic. This is a concept that is meant to be broken down into smaller User Stories, which can then be implemented during a Sprint. This all may sound confusing, but it’s truly just a way to break down a large project plan into components that can be executed in stages, or iterations. The beauty of Agile communications projects is that you can truly fail-fast if something isn’t working — once you’ve identified that a particular path is not ideal, teams can stop, review and shift to avoid wasting precious time and resources.

Planning and Executing a Sprint

A Sprint is technically a unit of measure that allows a team to accomplish a discrete set of tasks in a compressed timeline — often 2-4 weeks. However, before you can jump right in to this framework, you’ll need to plan what you want to accomplish during the project. This is done through a sprint planning meeting, and is wrapped up with a sprint review meeting and a retrospective. Each day during the Sprint, the Team Lead will host a stand up meeting, which is one of the most important pieces of the Agile Communications framework. The meeting should only be between 15 minutes in duration and focus tightly on three key questions: What are you working on? What have you completed? and Are there blocks to completing your work? Blocks are items that are out of the individual’s control, that need to be raised up in prominence or risk delaying the project. The Team Lead, or Scrum Master, has the job of either breaking through the roadblock or reassigning the work as needed to keep the project within tolerances.

Teams should plan to complete each Sprint with usable material. Developing a website could include these Sprints:

  • Sprint 0: Sprint planning, defining user stories and project scope
  • Sprint 1: Creating and approving site wireframes
  • Sprint 2: Creating and approving site comps (also known as page layouts)
  • Sprint 3: Site buildout and server deployment
  • Sprint 4: Content migration and training
  • Sprint 5: Launch and cleanup

Determining exactly how much work should go into a particular Sprint can be challenging. You want to ensure that the work can be completed within the allotted time or risk demoralizing the team. In addition, team members are often pulled in different directions throughout the life of the project. Consider that one point equals a single day. Ascertain how many “points” you’ll be able to cover within the Sprint period.

Sprint Review and Closing Out Your Project

Once you’ve completed several Sprints (and hopefully launched your website!), it’s time to review what worked and what didn’t. That doesn’t mean you point fingers at others — far from it! Instead, you’re looking for what worked, what didn’t, what you should continue and what you should stop immediately. Keeping this review process as part of your project helps keep the lines of communication open while pointing out to the team the great work that’s been accomplished in a short period of time. Anything that wasn’t completed during the Sprint period will be added to a Backlog at this point. The backlog is a collection of tasks and user stories that are not directly related to the current Sprint. Once added to this list, backlog items are prioritized and then considered as additions for future Sprints.

Project Management Software

There are many project management software options on the market today that support an Agile philosophy. One that we often use at MagnifyGood is Trello. It’s extremely easy to use and free for individuals. Basecamp and Teamwork are two other options that work well for smaller teams and allow you to help keep details and documents tightly tied together to aid communication.

The first time you work through an Agile Communications project, it’s unlikely to be perfect and may feel a bit uncomfortable. However, when you commit to this framework you will find that you’re able to be much more agile in your marketing tasks. Marketers everywhere get frustrated with creating a marketing plan that seldom comes to fruition exactly as it should due to changing market conditions, business strategy shifts or even budgetary constraints. Using the Agile methodology provides you with an easy way to complete a small portion of a project and then re-evaluate whether or not you should continue down your current path or shift to gain greater impact with your work. Ready to learn more about Agile Communications and how this methodology can positively impact your marketing strategy and execution? Connect with our team today at 941-953-9191 or get some inspiration from our website.

Sources: VentureBeat; Taiga

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