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Getting Started with the Agile Marketing Navigator: Story Points

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Do marketers need their own agile framework?

We recently introduced you to Agile Marketing Navigator, a flexible framework for navigating agile marketing for marketers, by marketers in the article A new way to navigate agile marketing. The navigator has four major components: Collaborative Planning Workshop, Launch Cycle, Key Practices and Roles. Within these categories, there are several sub-pieces for implementation.

In recent articles we covered the Collaborative Planning Workshop and the Launch Cycle. Now we’re going to dive into the second of our 6 Key Practices: Story Points. This is a practice I wrote about in a 2020 article, “Agile estimation techniques help marketers manage workload.”

What are Story Points?

Story Points is an estimation technique borrowed from our software friends. The idea is that a quick, non-precise point system can help a team understand how much work they can accomplish in a given cycle. This helps resolve two main problems that marketers face — too much work and lack of trust by stakeholders that marketing will deliver.

The point system comes from the modified Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical string of numbers that doubles in value on the low end and gets less precise as the numbers get higher. In both software planning and agile marketing, the exponential growth in the numbers reflects that more complex work has more critical unknowns. While the full sequence goes on a scale up to 100, we recommend simplifying the scale to avoid unnecessary complexity. Here’s our suggested sequence:

1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13

The point numbers are there to compare one work item type to another, allowing team members to have a conversation about strong differences.

For example, you may be talking about a celebrity endorsed Instagram promotion. A few team members may think it’s really easy and call it a “2”. Then, you may have another team member that says, “Hang on, getting a celebrity endorsement is a huge effort. When we tried to book Reese Witherspoon last year it took months of going back and forth in contract negotiations. Do we have a contract and just need to create the post, or does the work include booking the celebrity?”

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As you can see, the effort required for creating the content and booking a celebrity would be a lot more than just the effort of creating the content. By having these early discussions, the team can make sure they have a shared understanding of the work and avoid either under- or over-planning.

Who can benefit from Story Point estimation?

Teams that are newly formed can really benefit from this technique. It’s a great way to get a shared understanding of delivering customer value as a whole, not just one marketer’s piece of the puzzle. 

Story Point estimation can really help teams that are overloaded (isn’t that just about every marketer these days)? This technique applies data to how much work a team can take on at a sustainable pace, giving the team some well-deserved breathing room and stakeholders a higher level of confidence as to when their requests will be completed.

If your team is already proficient at quick delivery, isn’t overwhelmed, and has a good rapport with stakeholders about when work will get done, you probably don’t need this practice. Our 6 Key Practices are optional, so pick and choose the ones you think will give you the most bang for your buck.

Why Story Points are easier to implement on marketing teams 

For decades, software teams have been under the gun to estimate and have been reprimanded when an estimate proved false and the work took longer to complete than expected. Stakeholders wanted less of an “estimate” and more of an “exact”. So when Story Point estimation started to become the norm with software teams, they had a lot of estimation baggage to deal with, and converting to a new system that’s quick and imprecise caused a lot of uneasiness.

However, in marketing, we’re mostly working with a clean slate. Marketers rarely estimate work, so there aren’t a lot of bad habits to break — only benefits to be gained. 

How to conduct Story Point Estimation 

To get started, you’ll be working off of your Marketing Backlog. Once this is in priority order, the team meets to start estimating. It may help to come prepared with the different types of work your team typically does, such as a blog, social post, landing page, etc. All team members that deliver work (including agency partners if they’re a big part of your delivery) should attend.

The team will begin by establishing a baseline. I find it works well to look at the easiest work item type first, such as a single social post and call it a “1.” Next, the team will compare the item at the top of the backlog to the social post. Everyone on the team should vote at the same time to see if you have some initial consensus. 

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Now, let’s say that your next backlog item is a blog post. Everyone would be looking at the numeric scale and comparing the effort for completing the blog post to the effort of completing the social post. A quick and easy way to do this with a remote team is to have everyone vote using the chat feature in Zoom, Teams or wherever you’re meeting.

Let’s say the team votes: 2, 2, 3, 3, 8

Since the twos and threes are pretty close, but the eight is an outlier, you’d want to ask the person who voted eight to share why they think it’s a bigger effort. This person may then be convinced that they voted too high, or the team may agree they didn’t factor in something and they should have voted higher. They may do a re-vote, or simply align on a number. This is meant to be no more than a five minute discussion, not a lengthy and heated debate.

After a team gets used to working together, they may establish their own scale — then estimation is really quick and easy. They may always call blog posts a three and unless the work is vastly different from the norm, they don’t need to re-vote over and over again.

Story Point estimation is meant to be fast, provide conversation among team members and establish how much work a team can do before burnout. If you haven’t done it before, give it a try. It just might solve some agile marketing challenges you’ve been experiencing.


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Catch up on the Agile Marketing Navigator series!



Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Stacey knows what it’s like to be a marketer, after all, she’s one of the few agile coaches and trainers that got her start there. After graduating from journalism school, she worked as a content writer, strategist, director and adjunct marketing professor. She became passionate about agile as a better way to work in 2012 when she experimented with it for an ad agency client. Since then she has been a scrum master, agile coach and has helped with numerous agile transformations with teams across the globe. Stacey speaks at several agile conferences, has more certs to her name than she can remember and loves to practice agile at home with her family. As a lifelong Minnesotan, she recently relocated to North Carolina where she’s busy learning how to cook grits and say “y’all.”

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MARKETING

MOps leaders as psychologists: The modern mind-readers

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MOps leaders as psychologists: The modern mind-readers

This four-part series presents a framework that describes the roles and responsibilities of marketing operations leaders. This part discusses MOps leaders as psychologists, in addition to their roles as modernizers (see part 1) and orchestrators (see part 2).

Exposure to marketing during my early educational journey was limited. With a heavy math/science background, I chose the “easy” path and majored in engineering. I struggled in advanced engineering classes but thrived in electives — communications, business, organizational behavior — which was a sign for my future in marketing.

Because of my engineering background, I was fortunate to get an opportunity to join GE Healthcare through its entry-level leadership development program. There I was exposed to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). 

MRIs had become go-to diagnostic devices and subsequently were used in neuroscience. I was fascinated by their eventual application in fMRI: Functional MRI. These extensions helped us understand the most consequential medical mystery: how (and why) people do what they do.

fMRI uses the same underlying technology as conventional MRI, but the scanner and a medical contrast agent are used to detect increased blood flow in response to a stimulus in what is commonly referenced as “hot spots.”

fMRI reveals which of the brain’s processes “light up” when a person experiences different sensations, e.g., exposure to different images in common studies. As a result, we now know what parts of the brain are involved in making decisions.

Successful marketing ‘lights up’ customers’ brains

Traditional marketing campaigns and measurement left gaps in understanding how and why people choose to buy. We were dependent on aggregated data. 

With digital channels, we gain first-hand insights into an individual’s response to a stimulus, i.e., content. Here’s where the comparison picks up: 

  • We can observe nearly anything and everything that customers or prospects do digitally.
  • Most customers know that we can track (almost) everything that they do.
  • Because of that knowledge, customers expect contextual, value-based content, forcing marketing to provide more value in exchange for the permission to track.

Our goal as marketers is to make our customers and prospects “light up” with pleasure or satisfaction at each interaction. And, we now have the technology to track it. We are effectively reading minds — just as if it were an fMRI scan.

Here’s an overview of three of the primary psychology “tactics” that every marketer should know: 

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  • Priming is the attempt to trigger a subconscious reaction to stimuli that influences our conscious decisions. The most common application is in branding and first click-through impressions. If a customer continues their journey, then the use of aspirational product or service images in content are common priming approaches.
  • Social proof is perhaps the most common example, given the impact of word-of-mouth influence. It is commonly seen in product reviews and ratings. Content marketing often relies on case studies and customer testimonials to hear from “people like us.”
  • Anchoring refers to marketing’s role in pricing and discounting. Most decisions people make are relative to the initial set of information they have received.

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MOps leaders manage the mind-reading stack 

MOps leaders are modernizers that now manage the mind-reading martech stack. We then lead the orchestration efforts to analyze the response (the “scan” data) and “prescribe” the next steps of the campaign.

Two catalysts spawned the emergence for martech applications:

  • New channels that delivered stimulus (content) and collected responses: search, social media, retail commerce channels, etc.
  • Tools that organize and manage all of that response data, from foundational CRM platforms to marketing analytics and data enrichment.

These developments led to the new psychological skills that have become essential to the role of MOps leaders. 

Processing and interpreting intent data is an example. ZoomInfo illustrates how B2B marketers are accessing this capability. The company now provides buying signals to marketers based on their customers’ behaviors, in addition to the basic contact information that was the origin of its business. 

Intent data is already in widespread use. Six in 10 companies responding to a recent survey said they had or planned in the next year to implement intent measurement data solutions. 

The top challenges for effective intent data utilization fit squarely in the role/responsibilities of MOps leaders include:

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These trends support the conclusion of the first three parts of this series — that MOps leaders should aspire to be: 

  • Psychologists who elicit responses (i.e., “light up” the brains) of customers and prospects and interpret those signals for the business. 
  • Modernizers who adopt the technology that enables the activation of those signals.
  • Orchestrators who are cross-functional project managers and business partners with IT, legal and compliance.

Next time, I’ll complete the framework with a discussion of how the role of MOps leaders includes being a scientist, constantly testing and evaluating marketing efforts with teams of analytics specialists and data scientists. 

Editor’s note: This is the 3rd in a 4-part series. In case you missed them, part 1 (Modernizers) is here and part 2 (Orchestrators) is here.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Milt is currently Director of Customer Experience at MSI Data, an industry-leading cloud software company that focuses on the value and productivity that customers can drive from adopting MSI’s service management solutions.

With nearly 30 years of leadership experience, Milt has focused on aligning service, marketing, sales, and IT processes around the customer journey. Milt started his career with GE, and led cross-functional initiatives in field service, software deployment, marketing, and digital transformation.
Following his time at GE, Milt led marketing operations at Connecture and HSA Bank, and he has always enjoyed being labeled one of the early digital marketing technologists. He has a BS in Electrical Engineering from UW Madison, and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management.

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In addition to his corporate leadership roles, Milt has been focused on contributing back to the marketing and regional community where he lives. He serves on multiple boards and is also an adjunct instructor for UW-Madison’s Digital Marketing Bootcamp. He also supports strategic clients through his advisory group, Mission MarTech LLC.

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