Occasionally people ask me how SolutionsIQ does Agile marketing, and I’m here to let you behind the scenes to see for yourself.
Agile marketing, per se, is not a new thing. It is the natural progression of Agile values spilling over from software development into every part of the enterprise. Therefore, Agile marketing isn’t any different than applying Agile values, principles and practices to a marketing process. The objectives and obstacles are different, but the guiding light is not.
In this post, I’ll focus on a few major touch points in our marketing process:
- The composition of our team
- Our working agreements
- The tools we use
Agile Marketing at SolutionsIQ
SolutionsIQ’s Marketing department is a small, distributed team with members in four time zones, comprising full-time employees and dedicated contractors. Here’s what our team currently looks like on a map of the US:
SolutionsIQ Marketing has shifted and grown over the past few years since I joined in 2014, and we’ve managed to form a solid team with highly aligned values. We are dedicated to using Agile principles and values to produce valuable content for the industry in the form of blog articles, white papers and case studies, webinars and our Agile Amped podcast series (which can be found in our Resource Library). We also provide internal marketing support for all of SolutionsIQ as well as SolutionsIQ India.
We are ultimately a Scrum team. We practice Daily Standup, Sprint Planning and Review, and even Sprint Retrospectives (which often are just an informal conversation). We have a flexible sprint length of one week, which we adjust to our needs, for example, when events such as the upcoming Business Agility 2017 conference change the focus of our work. Everyone who joins SolutionsIQ is encouraged to attend a Certified ScrumMaster training course to give each of us a foundational understanding of what Agile is, how Scrum fits in, and why any of it matters.
Our Team Working Agreement
Because the team is distributed, we have an informal working agreement of when, and sometimes where, we collaborate. Everyone works from home, if not exclusively then partially. Those of us who live near headquarters drive into Redmond, WA, several times a week to collaborate in person, especially if one of our out-of-town team members is also in the office. The only reason the team is effective is we have a team working agreement that includes items such as:
- Virtually “present” when working (see Tools below)
- Overlapping office hours
- Shared toolkit
- Transparency about time off and discussing options for coverage as needed
The main Agile values in evidence here are collaboration, transparency and rapid feedback. Because we may each be isolated from the others, it’s imperative that we broadcast constantly where we are, what’s blocking us, how we are rocking it, etc. Our company is also invested in maintaining our communication channels open and healthy, as evidenced by company-wide usage of shared tools like Sococo, Slack, Office 356 products, and Box.
A Note on Product Ownership
SolutionsIQ is guided by a coalition of stewards who provide guidance and leadership for all of the company. In a traditional organization, stewards might include the C suite, VPs and directors. Our Marketing Steward Roxi is also our acting Product Owner. When the Stewards get together, they may have individual requests of the team that conflict with the wider corporate marketing initiatives or may present problems in terms of resources. In this not infrequent event, Roxi protects the team and is transparent about what is possible (given current corporate objectives) and what isn’t. She shows the stewards our backlog of objectives for the quarter and year and how new, unexpected work can be brought in but that would the In return she works with the Stewards to populate our backlog with epic stories that will actually provide value to our customers, often directly. This is not your typical Product Ownership approach, but we find it works for us.
What Tools Do We Use?
Probably the most important tool we use in Marketing is Sococo, a telecommunications application that provides all of SolutionsIQ a virtual office. While the tool sells itself in terms of utility and ease of use, our distributed team depends on it heavily. All of our meetings and ceremonies are scheduled in Outlook, yet we always have Sococo running so that informal conversations and spontaneous team syncs are quick and painless. No scheduling meetings, no dialing anyone in. Sococo has speech, chat, video, and screen-share functions that make our lives much easier. Before this, we used other tools but very ineffectively.
Because the visualization of work is so important, SolutionsIQ as a company uses a tool called LeanKit to keep work in progress visible and transparent. The Marketing team has our own LeanKit board, which is connected to our corporate roadmap as well as the SolutionsIQ Stewards’ board. Task-level stories (e.g., create and release this blog) roll up to higher initiatives (establish thought leadership and delivery on brand promise). We have also recently implemented BaseCamp. As a truly Agile organization, we are constantly testing new tools to take advantage of new technologies and to optimize our productivity.
Although the company provides all of its employees with Microsoft Exchange accounts and corporate memberships for Outlook and other Office applications, Marketing relies more on free, open-source tools for getting work done, in particular the Google App Suite. We collaborate in Google Docs and Sheets, the latter of which is where we schedule out our Amped podcasts.
Our website is custom-built on WordPress and our webmaster/SEO expert David maintains and manages external contractors who help us customize the site. I also use an application called CoSchedule (and another of their products called Click to Tweet) to schedule out social media posts and campaigns.
Finally we use Salesforce and Pardot for sales and marketing automation and Google Analytics (and peripheral apps) for our data mining.
Agile values drive our process, which is enabled by the tools we use. It’s as simple as that. There are companies out there with more robust approaches to how they gather data and use it to make decisions, and this is an area that we are also passionate about. However, it ultimately comes down to who you have on the team: what are their values and passions, their drivers and strengths? If you start with the values, you can always add on the skills. If you start with only the skills, as many corporates do — so obsessed are they with CVs and resumes — you may find that the clash of values down the road impedes growth needed to achieve your company’s mission, vision and values. In other words, skills are (relatively) easy to add on, but values are hard to break down and reconstruct.