People Trump Process

Trust

Photo courtesy of Vagawi

Sometimes it seems like Agile is all about the process: Scrum or Kanban or some ad hoc mixture of both. Particularly when you’re first learning about Agile, you can be intrigued or overwhelmed by the vocabulary related to process: sprints, ceremonies, sprint planning, sprint review, sprint retrospective, daily scrum, burndown charts, user stories, points.

But at SprintZero on Monday, I was struck by both the discussions and by the people involved, of the importance of attitudes, skill sets and trust. Agile isn’t all about the process; People Trump Process.

Attitudes

Jascha Kaykas-Woolf may be the most experienced practitioner of Agile Marketing on the planet right now. Certainly he was the most experienced practitioner of those of us who attended SprintZero.

Jascha first came across the concepts of Agile Development at WebTrends back in 2008. He began applying Agile concepts to marketing at WebTrends. When he moved to Involver, he introduced Agile to a relatively small marketing team (under 10 people). About nine months ago, he moved to MindJet, where he has introduced Agile Marketing to a much larger marketing team (around 40 people). Each organization has had its own unique challenges.

When Jascha initially spoke, he didn’t talk about process – how long were their sprints, did they use Scrum or Kanban, how did they view the role of the Scrum Master – instead, he talked about attitudes.

Some people are drawn to the constant change and “marketing as discovery” that is Agile Marketing, and others find it unsettling. Jascha was clear: when they introduced Agile Marketing at MindJet, some embraced it and others did not. If they couldn’t embrace Agile Marketing, they either decided to leave or they were helped out. Attitudes matter. Attitudes are about people. People Trump Process.

By the way, it’s not just the attitudes of the team, but the attitudes of management and of your peers, that count. Without supportive management, attempting to introduce Agile in to the marketing organization will almost certainly fail. Agile can also sink or swim based on the attitudes of other departments as well, particularly development and sales. The good news is that if the development team also practices Agile, introducing Agile into marketing will tend to build bridges to the development team. You speak a common language. Perhaps you share some values. Development can get a better understanding of what Marketing is doing through regular meetings like the Sprint Review session.

Skill Sets

While hiring people for an Agile Marketing team, what skills should you look for? We didn’t talk directly about this at SprintZero, but I’ve given it some thought, and I’ve come up with a preliminary list of five skills. I’d love to hear from you what you think of them, and if there are additional skills which you think are critical.

The ability to cope with change
The ability to learn rapidly and adapt
Inter-personal skills and the ability to collaborate
Analytics
Courage
Patience

  1. The ability to cope with change – this almost goes without saying, but Agile is all about responding to change versus following a plan, and in many cases, it requires welcoming change and living with uncertainty. Some people like this kind of environment, and other people don’t. Hire the former, not the latter.
  2. The ability to learn rapidly and adapt – again, this may seem obvious. Agile Marketing values validated learning. Not only does someone need to learn the values, principles, vocabulary and process of Agile itself, but they need to learn about the customer, what works and what doesn’t, and how it changes over time. People who learn rapidly and adapt will thrive in an Agile Marketing environment.
  3. Inter-personal skills and the ability to collaborate – OK, this is almost always important, but it is especially important for the Agile Marketing team. Agile is the antithesis of the Don Draper model, the self-centered, rude genius of the television show Mad Men, who brings enlightenment to the client and the rest of the team with a burst of insight that seemingly comes from nowhere. Agile is about breaking down silos and hierarchy and focusing on collaboration: collaboration within the team, collaboration with other departments, collaboration with the customer. It is about iterating towards a solution, not leaps of genius. If you don’t have strong inter-personal skills and the ability to collaborate, you’re not going to do very well in an Agile Marketing environment.
  4. Analytics – we talked briefly about this at SprintZero. Because Agile is all about measurement over opinions and conventions, you need to have someone on the team with strong analytic skills, and it doesn’t hurt for other people on the team to be able to adopt an analytic frame of mind.
  5. Courage – No one said that Agile Marketing is going to be easy. It isn’t. It requires courage to try something new. It requires courage to swim against the stream. It requires courage to expose your marketing to constant measurement and evaluation. But all of this is necessary for Agile Marketing to succeed in an organization. Hire people with courage.
  6. Patience – It takes a few sprints for a new Agile team to gain a sense of rhythm and cadence. It takes even longer before it becomes organic. Setting this expectation upfront with the team and with leadership can help to smooth the transition (thanks to Justin Bracato for suggesting this skill).

Trust

At SprintZero, we agreed that trust was an important word for Agile Marketers. Managers have to give the team the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. Team members have to trust each other. Failure must be an accepted part of the process. As Jascha said a couple of times, “Don’t be afraid to fail; just don’t fail the same way twice”. The extreme transparency of constantly publishing metrics and evaluating success or failure every few weeks can be scary and de-motivating unless people trust that in the end, they’ll produce a better product.

People Trump Process

What do you think? I know I’ve sometime been caught up in the terms and the process of Agile, and it may seem like that’s what Agile is all about. But in my own journey of discovery, I’ve come to see the deeper truth: as important and helpful as the process can be, in the end, people trump process.

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Comments

  1. Justin Brocato says:

    This is a great summary, and consistent with early observations from our Agile Marketing journey at Cisco. One skill set I would add is patience. It takes a few sprints for a new Agile team to gain a sense of rhythm / cadence. Even longer before it becomes organic. Setting this expectation upfront with the team / leadership can help to smooth the transition.

    Since we have established that people (teams) trump process, I have found it is valuable to look at our Agile Marketing initiatives through the stages of group development (Tuckman): Forming–storming–norming–performing–adjourning.

    Based on Jascha’s presentation at the SprintZero conference, his team at Mindjet is clearly in the performing phase. His Agile teams are self-organizing, individuals participate on multiple agile projects and they have a well established method to identify Scrum Masters.

    Six months in at Cisco we are still storming. Part of the root cause, incidentally is people. As we add new individuals to the team (forming), we have to get them up to speed on both the details of the project and the fundamentals of Agile. Some members of the team cannot adapt, so they are removed from the team. Either way, as a result, we cycle back through to the first stage. Other things can cause the team to storm. For example, we moved to a new building and the team lost their war room that housed their physical task board. Now we are transitioning to an online tool for backlog/task management.

    One last observation about norming. Obviously you want the team to cycle through this phase, just be cautious about where/how the team is norming. There is a fair chance that it is around the ‘old’ or the ‘easier’ way verses the principles of Agile you are trying to implement. This is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as the team is trying to improve their Agile Marketing fitness with each sprint. For us, we can’t seem to embrace the notion of sizing and estimation. I get the sense this is a challenge for other organizations as well.

    • Justin, great comment. I updated the post to reflect your suggestion of adding patience.

      Two questions: one, can you say which tools you’re looking at for backlog/task management? I’ve looked at all of them I know, and have yet to find one I’m entirely happy with.

      Second, how are you sizing and estimating the work? Is it in terms of hours, shirt sizes, points, pebbles/rocks/boulders?

      • Justin Brocato says:

        We just started using Mingle. Too soon for me to opine. We selected it because our IT team and some of our Web Developers were using it.

        In our Agile Marketing workshop we suggested using t-shirt sizes to size stories and number of hours to estimate tasks. As I mentioned, our pilot team is norming around not sizing (even though it comes up in every retrospective). I am hoping the tool will help, as I believe it is a required field in the stories/task cards.

  2. Justin Brocato says:

    This is a great summary, and consistent with early observations from our Agile Marketing journey at Cisco. One skill set I would add is patience. It takes a few sprints for a new Agile team to gain a sense of rhythm / cadence. Even longer before it becomes organic. Setting this expectation upfront with the team / leadership can help to smooth the transition.

    Since we have established that people (teams) trump process, I have found it is valuable to look at our Agile Marketing initiatives through the stages of group development (Tuckman): Forming–storming–norming–performing–adjourning.

    Based on Jascha’s presentation at the SprintZero conference, his team at Mindjet is clearly in the performing phase. His Agile teams are self-organizing, individuals participate on multiple agile projects and they have a well established method to identify Scrum Masters.

    Six months in at Cisco we are still storming. Part of the root cause, incidentally is people. As we add new individuals to the team (forming), we have to get them up to speed on both the details of the project and the fundamentals of Agile. Some members of the team cannot adapt, so they are removed from the team. Either way, as a result, we cycle back through to the first stage. Other things can cause the team to storm. For example, we moved to a new building and the team lost their war room that housed their physical task board. Now we are transitioning to an online tool for backlog/task management.

    One last observation about norming. Obviously you want the team to cycle through this phase, just be cautious about where/how the team is norming. There is a fair chance that it is around the ‘old’ or the ‘easier’ way verses the principles of Agile you are trying to implement. This is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as the team is trying to improve their Agile Marketing fitness with each sprint. For us, we can’t seem to embrace the notion of sizing and estimation. I get the sense this is a challenge for other organizations as well.

    • Justin, great comment. I updated the post to reflect your suggestion of adding patience.

      Two questions: one, can you say which tools you’re looking at for backlog/task management? I’ve looked at all of them I know, and have yet to find one I’m entirely happy with.

      Second, how are you sizing and estimating the work? Is it in terms of hours, shirt sizes, points, pebbles/rocks/boulders?

      • Justin Brocato says:

        We just started using Mingle. Too soon for me to opine. We selected it because our IT team and some of our Web Developers were using it.

        In our Agile Marketing workshop we suggested using t-shirt sizes to size stories and number of hours to estimate tasks. As I mentioned, our pilot team is norming around not sizing (even though it comes up in every retrospective). I am hoping the tool will help, as I believe it is a required field in the stories/task cards.

  3. Hey Jim, Great post. Thanks for the mention. I think your and Justin’s comments are super important. People do trump process. Always. I’m a firm believer and practitioner of this philosophy.

    My CEO Scott Raskin uses the analogy of a mogul skier and it’s stuck with me. Until you let go and feel a ‘little bit’ out of control your body can’t take over and you are most assuredly headed for a nasty crash. When you pass that state of fear and relax you allow your training and reflexes to take over amazing things can happen.

    For what it is worth I believe I’ll be forever in a state of norming and performing. I think this puts me and the teams I work with right at the ultimate flow state…just over the edge of control. Right at the spot where great people take over.

    jkw

  4. Hey Jim, Great post. Thanks for the mention. I think your and Justin’s comments are super important. People do trump process. Always. I’m a firm believer and practitioner of this philosophy.

    My CEO Scott Raskin uses the analogy of a mogul skier and it’s stuck with me. Until you let go and feel a ‘little bit’ out of control your body can’t take over and you are most assuredly headed for a nasty crash. When you pass that state of fear and relax you allow your training and reflexes to take over amazing things can happen.

    For what it is worth I believe I’ll be forever in a state of norming and performing. I think this puts me and the teams I work with right at the ultimate flow state…just over the edge of control. Right at the spot where great people take over.

    jkw

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