A zest for agility (and agile tools) in our Marketing

Upon joining Nuxeo, I had to not only start work on the Product side, but also lead our Marketing team. Our team is a bit complex to manage, it is splited across several locations, Paris, Boston, San Francisco (and sometimes more…). It has grown with different people, on different roles, some usually not considered as Marketing related, like documentation and UI designer.

I must say I am tempted at times to rename us from “Marketing” to “Product Perception” because in the end we are a product company and the most important thing that matters!

I wanted to write this post to share some of our experiences as I, and I should say WE as a team could see that we had a couple of issues in the way our team was running. So, we tried a couple of things to improve. To sum it up, our main issues centered around difficulties in:

  • Connecting with the rest of our company, and sometimes understanding it
  • Maintaining control on the flow of tasks, and making sure they continued moving at a good pace, with an emphasis on getting many a lot of things done and having as little as possible in standby
  • Understanding, even within the same team, to know someone who does what

As I come from an engineering background,I could see the value of some of the agile development methodologies and, more specifically, the SCRUM methodology. We decided to give it a try with a couple of concepts taken from them! After all, even though Marketing is not development, they are very similar on many levels: you have to manage complex tasks (often involving several players, most of which are dependant on others), you have deliverables like in software development, you have to manage quality like in software development, and as a manager you have to be able to have predictability and to take your velocity at the max! So why not?

On top of this, I have the conviction that trying to share the same methodology and also tools with other teams in the organization will help us improve the company.

Of course, the mistake would have been to apply Scrum “by the letter”. We would more try to make our own methodology and organization taking some good practices of SCRUM or other Agile methodologies. For instance, the simple fact of being geographically dispersed, and in different time zones, some almost not overlapping, is not necessarily scrum friendly, which  is an issue that has often been raised. So, no Scrum “by the letter”, more slight adaptation and inspirations. We’re still experimenting, but here is what we’ve done so far:

  • Cohesion, understanding, and collaboration — We try to have some sort of Scrum Meeting everyday. We don’t have a fixed name, I used to call it the Daily Scrum but the name isn’t important. What is important is that we take a few minutes to quickly exchange notes on what we are working on that day, what we just achieved, and also raise any topic where collaboration might be needed but not anticipated. Due to different cities and different time zones we can’t make this as a stand up face-to-face meeting, like the book (or the rugby rules) define it. What we do instead is, depending of the days, carve out 15mins in a jabber chat room using instant messaging or do it asynchronously as an email chain. I think it’s good to not be too strict about it and have some flexibility, but it is also important to have the discipline to not forget and keep doing it. In two months it’s definitely brought value and allowed us to have a better understanding of who we are as a team, giving us more visibility on what we do, and enabling us to identify issues related to time such as schedules, bottlenecks or overlaps.
  • Focus and iterations — We also try to have sprints, like in the scrum book. It’s not as clearly defined, but we hold a “sprint” meeting every two weeks (initially we decided on a 2 week iteration cycle, but might extend it — I don’t think shortening it would be good for us). Some might think this is just a usual team meeting, but we really treat this as a sprint meeting, where we do both do a retrospective of the last 2 weeks: what did we achieve? And more importantly, did we achieve what we wanted to? Then we go through the major items, the focus points for the next 2 weeks. We certainly don’t make a very strict planning of the next two weeks, but we try to identify the items that matter the most at the time and decide to focus more on these and try to agree on a reasonable list of things to get done. This helps  to control the pace, and also helps in minimizing the list of tasks sleeping, in standby, half-done, “ni fait ni à faire” as we would say in French. This may actually be closer to Kanban than to Scrum, but I consider it an essential factor in helping us become efficient and productive, all the while maintaining a good mood, which in the end, is what a company like ours is all about!
  • Tools — We, like so many people today, were really tired of how we collaborate. Of course we have an excellent Collaborative Open Source Document Management solution at Nuxeo, that we use ourselves 😉 but this does not address all the different types of project collaboration that we engage in. We were still living with a lot of email, IM, and others communication vehicles in which information can get lost or buried in an inbox. What we decided is to give the same tool our tech colleagues use for development a try, specifically Jira. Jira is known as a ticketing system for software development projects but to me it’s really more than that, it’s a global project and task management tool. The start was slow, for some (including me), because the user interface of Jira is not the most appealing (a lot of clicks, often a lot of useless fields) but we quickly found it very very helpful, and on its way to becoming our best friend! Even though it’s designed or project management or software development, it really works for our activities as well! And, the icing on the cake, we just did the migration to Jira 4, which incorporates many enhancements to the UI addressing some of the previous issues we had with usability, making it much more pleasant to work with! For us, using Jira really improved some of the tasks that we do all the time, like launching a marketing campaign or releasing a product.
So what’s next? For us a lot more of exploration of Jira’s capabilities, as it demonstrated high value! I am jumping now in customization of Jira and I am sure we can optimize many things… Also trying to gain in being able to do good estimate on “user stories”, so we will jump in the game of the estimation process. I would love to hear and read about other Marketing team following the same kind of approach for collaboration and project management!

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