In this third and final installment of our blog series, which was inspired by a recent Digital Marketing News webcast, Chris Penn and Shawn Dickerson will talk about Collaborating in Context and Understanding Agile Project Management. In case you missed the first two posts, here’s part one and here’s part two.
4. Collaborating in Context
Shawn: Traditionally, the solution to any kind of collaboration challenge was another tool. If email isn’t cutting it, we need to add an IM system. If that’s not working, maybe an enterprise social tool. But the problem is you end up looking a little bit like this next image, juggling a half dozen communication channels that get farther and farther away from the work to be done.
For example, trying to provide feedback on a video project over instant messaging can get confusing really fast. “Go to 1 minute and 32 seconds, and do you see that image in the background?...and so forth.” When the communication is separated from the work that’s being accomplished, that’s where a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding begins.
Chris: You’re absolutely right; too many channels means fragmented communications. People don’t know where to go. One of the most important things to do is pick one. Pick something that fits the culture of your team. And you have to know the culture of your team. You have to know the culture of the people around you, because not every tool is right for everybody. We use Slack internally at Shift, because it has a number of features that fit the culture of the team. Being able to share almost not safe for work animated GIFs is one of the major features, and you can definitely make custom emojis.
We just added the bacon emoji to our system today. It’s one of those little things that seems silly and trivial—like there must be more important things for you to worry about. Yes, but you want a place where people can go that everybody is on the same page; they’re collaborating in context with the work. If you integrate all these different tools with Slack like Dropbox and Workfront, you can have the collaboration, the conversations where people want to be. People want to spend their time in a place that’s familiar, that is easy to use, that’s available on every device. They want to spend their time and they want to have outlets.
“People want to spend their time in a place that’s familiar, that’s easy to use, that’s available on every device.”
One of the things that will kill your marketing operations collaborations point faster than anything else is dictating to people what the system will be. It has to grow. It has to grow organically. Individual people have to have some latitude to provide customization to make the environment look like something that is theirs. For a really simple example, on Slack, we have a couple of channels where people can post very simple, casual updates, like: “Hey, I’m listening to this song right now on Spotify.” And it links to their Spotify playlist. The closer you can simulate the full dimension of the human experience, the more likely they are to use a collaboration tool that makes sense, rather than have something that just drops from Corporate on down. And it’s important to not only have the online collaboration and tracking the audit trails, but it’s also important to foster that collaboration in context, in person.
I am a huge fan of whiteboards and just writing services. Again, we want collaboration in context, and context comes from visibility. Going back to what we were talking about earlier, remember prioritization, visibility, urgency, importance, and ease. Visibility is so important. So having spaces in your workplace that permit and encourage creativity is paramount. I found this great set of pads that are from a company called Tac-On. Instead of a regular easel pad for an easel stand, this is a dry erase easel pad so you can cover your walls with dry erase panels for about $30, which is a super cheap, super inexpensive way to provide collaboration. People can feel free to write on the walls all day long.
Having desks, having an environment that suits collaboration, having lots of meeting rooms is important. Don’t kick somebody out of their office and turn it into a conference room, because you want that collaboration in the context of the work that’s being done. You want fun chairs.
Because I live in Boston, I don’t want my nice lawn furniture outside from about October to May, because one day I’ll wake up and it’s under eight feet of snow. So I bring all my crazy chairs to my office, and it provides a unique, interesting, different way for people to be able to interact.
Again, this is all about visibility. You want people collaborating. You want them together. You want them to have a system like Workfront on all their devices absolutely, but you also want them to be able to take their devices. You want WiFi in the office that works. You want power outlets everywhere you can possibly put them. You personally want to be just a little bit like Lumbergh from Office Space. There is a huge amount of value in you, and the higher up you are in your organization, the more important it is to be visible, to be walking around, to be stopping by people’s desks with a coffee cup.
I’m not saying to ask them to turn in their TPS, reports but just so they have an opportunity to talk to you. Because again, if you have Workfront on your mobile phone, if someone’s talking to you, you can just put that task into the system right there and then. But you won't get that collaboration if you are not in the context of the people that you help, which means being visible, being in their spaces.
Shawn: Another dimension to this collaboration question is collaborating in the context of the work to be done. Here’s an example of how collaboration in context works in Workfront. The task or the project itself, with all its associated request form information, deadlines, milestones, etc., is where the conversation is actually happening. And like a traditional social media interface, you can post comments, like other people’s comments and so forth. And so the collaboration stays with the work through the life of a project and beyond.
No more getting a comment or two in an email thread, only to have to go find the document over in a shared folder on Sharepoint. And that’s really the essence of how we see collaboration in context. And as I mentioned on another one of our points as well, if your particular team has some marketing compliance requirements, maybe operate in a highly regulated industry, this comes in very handy as well as an audit trail.
5. Understanding Agile Project Management
Shawn: And so with that, let’s finish our discussion talking about what I think is probably the most compelling of the topics that we’ve talked about, and that’s Agile Project Management. This, of course, is the buzzword right now. Most marketing teams today are using the same linear planning process that we used decades ago. Just like this image of the reel-to-reel tape, many of us plan and execute in a very linear fashion. It’s a work management methodology we call waterfall; one step precedes another.
But at a time when instant user feedback and real-time results data, not to mention changing corporate strategies, means that we’re constantly shifting our plans, our campaigns may look dramatically different at the end than what our expectation was in the beginning. Here’s one example from our recent work. One of the main competitors that we have at Workfront is the status quo. People are comfortable using spreadsheets and Google Docs to manage even complex work. We created a campaign around an organization called CHAOS, the Center for Honoring Ancient Office Solutions; positioning some of these old ways of doing things as inductees in this hall of fame. We built the traditional micro site around it, and had some interactive games to play on the site.
But what’s interesting is the thing that really resonated right off the bat was a video series. And so even though our marketing plan on this campaign focused in a different direction, we quickly shifted our resources around pre-roll and other digital advertising for these short, one-minute videos that talk about the organizer of this group. They’ve been a huge hit and driven a lot of traffic to the website as an example of the need to be Agile. So with that, Chris can you give us your take on how Agile might help this efficiency challenge?
Chris: Sure. Let’s make sure that everybody knows what Agile is. The concept of Agile marketing comes from the development world. As Shawn mentioned, waterfall is a very linear process. You set up the project requirements, you define the project, you make the thing, and then it goes into QA and you deploy it. In an ideal world, that’s how everything works. But this is a far from ideal world. Think about this. Let’s say you were planning on doing a lead generation campaign in Q1 of next year.
You had all your strategies set up, everything is set, an approved budget is signed off, and you’re ready to execute. Well, guess what? One of the channels, Twitter, said they’re cancelling their lead gen cards. Well, now you have to throw out your whole plan because you’re not agile—because you had this locked-in, carved-in-stone plan and something disrupted it.
Another example, let’s say you’re doing a video plan of some kind. Well, Facebook announced two days ago that you’ll be able to have live, 360-degree video. Well crap, that’s not in our plan. That’s not in the model, thick as stone tablets that we handed down to our teams. What do we do about that? Well, let’s ignore it. But if we ignore it, we’re going to miss the boat. Agile development was meant to have much more iterative processes for developing code, which allowed for uncertainty, allowed for changes, and allowed for much faster feedback loops.
Here’s how it works. The beginning of the process is the update of the backlog. As you remember from the Kanban wall in my office (from post one), the backlog is the list of all the stuff that we need to do. And then from there, we plan a sprint. A sprint is a two-week plan. Which of all these tasks do we need to get done in the next two weeks? What can we get done in the next two weeks? What is urgent and important that we can at least make substantial progress on in the next two weeks?
From then you begin a sprint, which is a two-week cycle. Every single day, you have a standup. Every single day, you review the progress you made, you review what’s in progress, what’s blocked, what needs to be reviewed, and what you accomplished the previous day. And this is an iterative process so that if something comes up in the middle of that two-week cycle, you say, “Okay, if we put this in we have to bump something else back to the backlog,” as a way to handle uncertainty.
At the end of the two weeks, you do the review. What got done? What didn’t get done? What stuff went better than expected? What stuff went worse than expected? What unexpected things happened? How do we accommodate for those things? And then you do your retrospective where you clean up stuff that’s been done, you take the stuff that’s not been done, put it back in the backlog and you reprioritize.
Again, think about your input system in Workfront. You have all these tasks that keep coming and keep coming—that feed into your backlog. So the next time you get ready for a sprint, you have a whole bunch of new things you can review and prioritize: what’s visible, what’s urgent, what’s important, what’s easy to do.
The daily standups are super important. They have to be something that you do every day. You must commit ten minutes a day. And honestly, if you can’t commit ten minutes a day, there are much more severe problems in the organization.
You need people standing up and talking very quickly about what they’re working on, what they’re blocked on, and what they need help with. The other thing you need to do that’s super important is the after action reviews and the backlog reviews. You have to sit down and commit the time to talk about what went wrong, what went right, and what can be improved. Think back to what we were talking about much earlier on about that idea of kaizen (from part two in this series): what can we constantly be improving? What little things? What pieces of code could we have written that would have taken this task and shrunk it by half?
The Agile process works for just about anything. The rule is if it has a deadline, it can be Agile. The only thing that wouldn't work in an Agile framework is if there’s no deadline. But if there’s no deadline, then why would you even bother doing it? So think about that. If it has a deadline, it can be made Agile. You can put it in this framework and make it work that way. Shawn, do you want to take it and explore it some more?
Shawn: That’s a great overview of the Agile methodology. Let me show you how it works in Workfront, because this is actually how my team operates. I have two Agile teams that work with me and break their work up. We actually chose to go with the one-week sprint for our marketing team; that went a little better. This is an example of that storyboard or Kanban board in Workfront. It shows you a burn-down chart, which is your progress against completing everything you assigned to that sprint.
You can also see the cards there that represent the various tasks to be completed, the colors denoting different members of the team, and there are also some overview metrics near the top of the board. What’s interesting or unique about the Workfront approach that if you’re transitioning to Agile and not necessarily ready to make the whole plunge, it will let you create a project or use an existing project in one of those traditional waterfall formats and then flip the view as you get comfortable with the idea of operating in sprints, breaking your work up into more digestible chunks, and having a visible representation of the work.
In fact, our creative services team, which also operates in this fashion, actually broadcasts their work board on a big TV monitor over by their team, so any stakeholders can see the progress against the various requests that they’ve submitted.
And so with that, that brings us to the end of our five points. Chris, any final thoughts?
Chris: I just want to reiterate from the very beginning of our discussion today, the 10x marketer really is a fictional concept, but the 10x process is real. We’ve shown five different ways to get to that 10x improvement. We’ve looked at prioritization, we’ve looked at automation, value data collaboration, and the Agile methodology—and we have concrete examples of different ways you can do this. Start. Start somewhere.
Take that concept of kaizen, of continuous and never-ending improvement, and ask, “What can you improve today?” It may be as simple as Shawn mentioned: you just go and learn that VLOOKUP function. That may be enough to make an improvement today in how you do your marketing, so that by this time next year, every little improvement adds up to that 10x improvement in productivity.
About the Presenters
Chris Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. His latest book, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change.
Shawn Dickerson has over 15 years of experience in managing strategy for Fortune 1000 companies, venture-backed firms, and trail blazing startups. In his current role, he oversees content and product marketing strategy at Workfront.
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