Radosław Szmit | Project management | 28.05.2021
For project managers in the IT industry, SCRUM is a widely-known and widely-used method, and has become increasingly popular in the last few years. Even if they do not use SCRUM, Kanban or other agile methodologies in their pure form, they take full advantage of an agile approach to IT project management. In this article, however, I would like to consider whether it is possible to apply the Agile approach in management in industries and company departments which are not directly related to IT.
In my opinion, selected fragments and parts of e.g. SCRUM may be successfully utilized in managing sales teams. This is especially easy if these teams cooperate in any form with developers who use agile methodologies in software development. This facilitates the transfer of knowledge and culture, which is necessary for agile project management, but is not absolutely essential. In fact, any organization or team can implement Agile and SCRUM, although it may be harder if the process starts from scratch. The key role in this case will have the Scrum Master, because apart from being a team member, he is also responsible for promoting the agile approach in the organization and maintaining the adopted standards. Agile and Scrum methods are what our team use with many of our IT Outsourcing Projects that we undertake to get the best results.
Let’s consider how we could organize the work of the sales and marketing teams to make them agile. The SCRUM Guide emphasizes the fact that we must take the diversity of our team into account. Among the people who form the core of our team, let’s assume that there will be: a graphic designer, a content writer, a marketing specialist, a new sales specialist, a key account manager, and a project delivery manager. We must choose someone to act as SCRUM master and support the flow of information. It should also be remembered that positions connected with management (e.g. Marketing Manager) and sales (Sales Manager) are de facto equal, which requires an approach drawn from the assumptions of the holacracy model and teal organizations. They assume co-operation without designating traditional, hierarchical positions such as a director or manager. Decisions are made jointly in project circles by team members, and one person can participate in numerous projects and fulfill many roles, depending on their knowledge, experience and involvement.
Our agile sales team should also include a Product Owner. This role may be filled by the Sales Director, the CEO, or someone who is responsible for sales, the delivery of solutions or recruitment activities, but it is necessary to define such a role before starting work. The Project Owner’s task is to define the scope of project tasks among others, in this case determining the sales and marketing objectives, broken down into markets and specific salespeople who are responsible for given areas.
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Creating a backlog of tasks is certainly a great challenge. Commercial and marketing work is connected with constant change and the fact that the clients are different each time and require a bespoke sales and design approach. Task allocation and prioritization therefore requires parallel work in several projects, which may give rise to the danger of “putting aside” difficult topics in favor of easier ones, or concentrating your energies on the wrong client.
From my project and business experience, it appears that B2B sales work very well for models based on SCRUM/Kanban, because they promote the work of their own salesperson or marketing department as a separate entity in the company at the beginning of the sales process. As a rule, sales representatives work with clients individually and generate the right number of leads in the sales funnel with the support of the marketing department. An efficient salesperson is able to conduct the first conversations with a potential client independently. Only at the stage when specialist knowledge is needed (e.g. business or system analysis) should the Product Owner of a given agile sales process act to create a team modeled on SCRUM, consisting of e.g. a business analyst, a solution architect, a project manager and/or delivery manager, a quality control specialist, and a recruiter. By defining tasks in the product backlog (and using publicly available tools such as Jira, Notion or Asana) one can properly prioritize, monitor status, organize Scrum team daily standup meetings or organize a team meeting with the client. Slack is an example of a great tool for communication in such a model.
This type of approach is also suitable at the point when the representative transfers the customer (assuming that the contract has been signed) to the production/delivery department. At the moment, we maintain full agility and project continuity, and the people who will be responsible for e.g. the development of a given system are already familiar with the client, the solution, the people responsible etc., which also helps in the efficient transfer of knowledge. The Business Manager remains part of the customer service process, but is only responsible for the contract, orders, etc., whereas, for example, the delivery manager becomes the project owner.
The model described can be applied by selecting appropriate events and artifacts known from SCRUM, such as sprints or retrospectives. If the process of signing a client up lasts, say, 3 to 6 months, it is easy to break this time into two-week sprints, for example, and thus monitor the progress and costs associated with sales activities for a given customer. It’s also easy to stop the project when we think that finalizing the sale is unlikely. We can also discuss progress with the potential client during the sprint review, and during the retrospective, for example, indicate the three most important elements to be improved during communication and the customer acquisition process. In addition, when the client is already signed up, it is easy to progress to further Kanban-based service process management.
The key to this process, however, is a thorough understanding of the Agile approach, especially SCRUM/Kanban – and this not only applies to salespeople but also the rest of the team members that support them. Educating the client in terms of using the SCRUM sales process is also a relevant factor. However, we cannot deny that the use of SCRUM in sales and marketing means not using this methodology “in a textbook manner”. It requires significant modification, which means that it is no longer SCRUM in its pure form according to the principles of the SCRUM Guide. On the other hand, I think that if it helps us with effective sales management, the sales process, and finally the signing of a contract with the client, for whom Agile is not just an empty word, it is worth considering this type of approach.
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