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Breaking Tradition: Scrum in an Ad Agency World

“Embrace the unknown! That’s where learning lies! If you’re too afraid to learn, you will never get any better. This is the key to being successful at Scrum: embrace change.”

Jeff Sutherland, The Power of Scrum

People have been writing obituaries for “traditional” agencies for the better part of 20 years, yet so many continue to exist and thrive in an ever-more-digital landscape. One of the keys is their ability to adapt and meet a broad spectrum of client needs. And one of the ways they’ve been able to do it is by changing the way they work. My team recently pursued Scrum certification together, and the effect has been immediately transformative in the way we approach our work. In case the word is new to you, Scrum is a lightweight framework of events and artifacts which allows teams to break down large complex things into manageable pieces. In Scrum, teams deliver something every two weeks. Scrum assumes that environment and client needs change, frequently, and embraces those changes. And it is this assumption which might be at odds with your agency’s traditional problem-solving approach. But digital marketing is not a traditional problem and demands to be solved in new and different ways.

So how did we embrace change? Well, it started with a two-day Scrum course and a very open mind. The first day was a little overwhelming for some of us who weren't familiar with the tech side of Scrum but our instructors presented the information in activity-based segments. This experiential type of learning allowed us to connect as a team, and made it easier for us to understand how to apply our everyday bodies of work into the Scrum process. Some of these activities showed the benefit of small-batch processing (like the coin flipping exercise), which was eye-opening in how inefficient some traditional ways of working can be, even if they feel fast-paced and hectic. Most importantly, the class gave us a shared experience and language to go back and tackle our day to day challenges with a new set of eyes. We were pumped.

After completing our two-day immersive class, we agreed that our first step should be starting daily Scrums. The daily scrum is a short planning meeting, where teams organize around their work for the day. We all met the next Monday after our Thursday/Friday class feeling rejuvenated and inspired as a true dev team. Some things became instantly obvious. Breaking our work into small segments gave us a sense of accomplishment every day. And that was great. However, designing something in small pieces forced me to rethink how I approach my work. I had to let go of my notion of having it “all in my head” all the time. It meant some re-work, and that was okay. It meant some hurry-up-and-wait as we learned to integrate our traditional review cycles into our new process. And that was okay too. The first two-week “sprint” was tough. So we talked about how to get better and did. In fact, every two weeks we strive to get just a little better. And it works. Above all, this transition has taught me that as a designer, I don’t need to have all the answers up front. I have learned to embrace what emerges when the developer, the designer and (sometimes) the client all collaborate around a solution. In short, I learned to embrace the unknown. And I never want to work any other way.

In class, we learned the three pillars of Scrum are Transparency, Inspection, and Adaptation. It turns out we use each of these things every day to ensure we are meeting our clients’ needs in the most responsive way. Just like the digital marketing landscape, our transformation to Scrum is constantly evolving. As digital marketing budgets continue to increase year after year, the agencies that embrace the change will continue to thrive. I’m thankful my organization had the foresight to give us the chance to implement this new way of working. It’s brought me a renewed energy to my work as I get a chance to solve some “traditional” problems in entirely new ways.

Dawn Sallas is a UI/UX designer at NDP with a background in CLE software, website and app design. She loves collaborative working and her thirst for learning brings new ideas and inspiration to her development team every day.





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