What marketing experts can learn from engineers: the steps between To Do and Done

Visiting quite a few tech startup offices in my life, I couldn’t help but notice that next to each engineering team there is this typical bunch of colourful post-its displayed in 3 columns: To Do – Doing – Done.

But it wasn’t until a recent product management training at ViSenze, my current company, that I realised what all this fuss is about, and how a marketing department can adapt the methodology to increase its efficiency.

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 10.24.06 pm

Why the To Do – Done model is broken?

Regular meetings to discuss the status of a campaign. Discussions about the progress of a content marketing piece. Emails between design and marketing teams to mention it is time to review some artwork. Does this all sound familiar?

There is a lot of communication inefficiency in marketing teams while using meetings/ emails/ task lists/ gantt charts. That is because:

  • there isn’t much visibility of the work-in-progress
  • there isn’t a way to see where the bottlenecks are
  • there isn’t much predictability of meeting the deadline

…without constant discussions.

A task is usually going through quite a few stages before the Done state: to do but not started yet, started development, ready for internal review, pending on design/ engineering etc.

And as long as tasks are not marked and moved across customised stages for marketing projects and campaigns, there is a big mystery of what is the progress between To Do and Done that is usually solved via inefficient methods.

But there is a solution. It’s called Kanban and it is one of the efficiency secrets of engineering teams.

How to use Kanban for marketing teams?

Here I was in this product management training with our engineering team and I started seeing the benefits of using a columns system to define multiple stages of a task between To Do and Done. But while they use To DoIn ProgressStagingDone on Jira and on post-its on the closest walls, there will be a bit of tweaking to adapt this Kanban methodology to marketing needs.

As a marketing expert, I typically use Asana – which is a more business-friendly tool for staying organised, but without a built-in Kanban functionality. Typical “projects” my team and I work on would be marketing campaigns, editorial calendars, new website launches, events preparations etc.

In the midst of launching the new ViSenze website back then, I left the training and quickly started experimenting with a remake of the Kanban methodology for managing the website redesign project.

https://medium.com/@rafweverbergh/our-step-by-step-journey-to-becoming-a-lean-pr-agency-1-b8db5f9162c5

I created a new project in Asana called “New website – Q2 2015“. Each website page would be a Task. Then I added multiple Sections, one for each progress stage that made sense for this project:

  • To Do
    • A list of all the pages we wanted to create, each marked as a task, with an assignee and a deadline.
  • In Progress – Started Development
    • A Task from the To Do section would be dragged & dropped here when someone starts working on it.
    • The person would add a link on the task in Asana to the draft document in Google Drive.
    • Like this everyone in the team can see what’s been worked on at a moment, in case there are team suggestions/ contributions, and simply for management purposes.
  • In Progress – Internal Feedback (Marketing Dep)
    • When the person would have his draft ready for review, the Task would be dragged & dropped in this Section and change the assignee from creator to reviewer.
    • The linked document on the Task comes now very handy.
  • In Progress – Internal Feedback (all team)
    • Some pages of major importance would then go through an additional round of feedback opened to everyone in the team. Or some customer pages would have to be checked by the Account Managers. In these cases, after the internal review the Task is moved to this section. If not, skipping to next one.
  • In Progress – Submitted to Designer
    • After we were done with the copy, we would move the page/ Task into this section.
    • Like this we had visibility on how many pages the designer has on his plate at one moment.
  • In Progress – Internal Review of Design Outcome
    • Once the designer would finish with a page, the Task would be moved to this section, with an extra attachment: the design mockup.
    • If there is anything to be edited based on feedback, the Task would go up one section until it is ready again for review.
  • Done – Add to Staging
    • When we are happy with a page from both copy and design perspectives, it is moved to this Section – which means that the mockup is ready to be coded and added to the staging website.
  • Done – Testing
    • All pages reaching this stage should be available on the staging website link for testing.
  • Done – Release
    • If the testing went well, the pages would be moved here.
    • When there are no more pages in previous Sections, or at least no pages that are mandatory for the initial release, we are ready to push the website from staging to live.
    • This would be used for succeeding releases, as we actually release the website in a few batches.

By following this approach, we saved lots of useless discussions and back and forth emails. In our case, the other departments and the design agency were not using Asana, so we still had some inefficiencies. But at least inside the marketing department we benefited from this improved flow and visibility, and we could spot bottlenecks right away.

We started using it afterwards for our Editorial Calendar too. This would have way less sections:

  • Content Ideas
    • Each suggested topic would be a Task, with description.
    • Anyone can add topics here.
  • Started Development
    • A topic idea/ Task would be dragged & dropped here when a Content Marketer is starting to work on it.
    • The writer is assigned to the Task, and attaches the draft document it.
  • Internal Review
    • Another pair of eyes (new assignee) will go through the draft.
    • When it is reviewed, if there are changes to be made it goes back one Section, if not it moves forward.
  • Written, Pending Media
    • If it is our Owned Media, it means taking care of publishing it.
    • If it is for Earned Media (guest post etc.), it means we discuss with the media about publishing it. If one media doesn’t show interest, we go for another one. The Task would stay here until the article finds a home.
  • Published
    • What gets published, gets moved here.
    • This is sort of a “bucket of pride”.

These are just a few use cases, but you get the drill. It is easy to adjust for any need.

An industry colleague with whom I usually exchange knowledge, Raf Weverbergh – Managing Partner at Finn Public Relations, has also shared his personal experience with implementing Kanban for marketing and other goodies “borrowed” from engineers: Our step by step journey to becoming a lean PR agencyI really recommend it.

If you tried Kanban for marketing (or you are planning to), do share your experience and advice.