Today I was enjoying my usual habit / hobby of listening to a business audio book, today’s pick being Hacking Marketing by Scott Brinker. As soon as I heard the introductory chapter I knew it would be a book that I liked. But as the book went on I became really surprised.
This book describes the similarities between the process of developing software and the process of developing marketing. It then makes the claim that marketers should adopt software development processes, particularly with respect to the management of projects. The book goes into these methodologies in detail, explaining from a perspective of teaching someone who has never been exposed to software development.
Almost the entirety of my professional career has been in software development; in the well funded, male-dominated defense sector. I first learned to manage developers in my university’s Software Development Project subject (that final year killer subject that’s supposed to turn you into a walking zombie) where I self selected to become the CEO of our project team. As it turns out, we won the project and I personally received the highest marks in the class because they had a scaling system based on feedback from your team. My team had all given me the highest rating possible! The joke in software development teams is that managing developers is like “herding cats”, so it translates well to managing remote teams. (Managing remote teams is also like herding cats, but from very far away).
I didn’t let it get to my head and quickly entered the workforce as a software developer. Over the next ten years I was whittled away into a talented yet angry worker bee. I had a knack for solving impossible problems and then for documenting my processes, enabling others to duplicate what I had done. I loved mentoring and supporting the colleagues I worked with, especially my juniors. Unfortunately though I often fought with my bosses about how to do things the right way and I often felt like a victim of gender discrimination in the blokey workplaces. By the end of my career in software I was desperate to get out of there. I considered starting a side business for mentoring women in tech, but in the end I poured all my focus into starting this agency.
Anyway, I still haven’t explained yet why this book surprised me, but at least now you understand a bit of the back story.
The thing was, when I started this agency I had actually never worked a marketing job before in my life. Everything I have learned about marketing I have learned from books, or I learned on the job once I started selling marketing services. Not one to let myself get caught out, I studied and applied like a mad person. I’m analytical, outspoken and I think deeply about everything, so my thought leadership was well respected from the outset. Now, two and a half years on, I have enough business to support myself, and a small team of around six part-time assistants. My assistants help me with Google Tag Manager development, Google Analytics, Google Ads, reporting, procedure writing and admin. For the most part they strictly follow procedures that I designed; with the exception of my senior implementation team who take higher level direction.
I could do it all myself, but I prefer to focus on developing systems and managing and training a team. Afterall, if I just did everything myself, what would happen if I was busy, or sick, or wanted to take on more work?
The way my team and I do everything is based on software development management practices. It’s the only way I know! So you can imagine my surprise when the types of things we do as a matter of course are described as a “new way” and as something to aspire to.
One of the software development management concepts I have always been a passionate supporter of is agile / iterative development and continuous improvement. There are several different methodologies, probably one of the most famous ones in recent years being Scrum. Scrum isn’t the only one of its type, but it is one with a catchy name that people can easily remember.
Part of the idea behind these agile processes is that you start throwing features out there, then respond to feedback from your “audience”. (In software development this is either the people who use the software or the person who paid for it. They don’t always have the same wants, but it can get political). You improve the thing and fix bugs as you go. The reason why this is a good approach is you get feedback before you invest in any one feature too heavily, and also it prevents analysis paralysis by logical developer types who will often be happy to debate for hours.
(In a software team, the Alpha developer can often be particularly surly and disagreeable, but is often responsible for 80% of the code written once he or she is in the right mood. It’s good to get out of this person’s way and just let him or her get on with the work rather than engage them in debate.)
I follow a similar process to Scrum, and a similar process to another popular one called Kanban, but I developed my own “style” based on the software tools that were available at my disposal. Basically I do Sprint planning on Mondays in which we do a retrospective of the previous week and plan tasks from a backlog of prioritised tasks. Since we’re implementing for our clients and not just ourselves, we have a backlog for each client, or we pull tasks from all the myriad of email requests that come in throughout the week. I try to take into account the amount of capacity that each member of my team has and assign a week’s worth of work so that it is achievable within the timeframe. (I do still have a bad habit of giving myself too much though). I then spend much of my week supporting my team by teaching how to do the tasks that we needed to accomplish that week. We ensure the processes for how to do that task are up-to-date and then I act as a supportive role. I still do the tasks in which I am exceptionally skilled personally, and liaise with my clients. If it turns out that we lack processes in an area then we focus on building that out, but we do it incrementally, always building on what we’ve already got.
As my team work through the tasks each task moves from untouched, to “working on it” to ‘”Done” or “Stuck”, Of course I jump on these and become a mentor, training my team member on how to resolve the issue.
I can’t really imagine managing any other way, but I’ve been getting feedback from my team that this was a very unusual scenario. My team have been telling me they’ve worked for several other remote agencies and none of them had the same kind of infrastructure that I have put into place. I just thought maybe I was quite organised, but it seems that I might be operating in a software development paradigm instead of a marketing agency paradigm?
You see, when you work in the defense sector where a defect in the latest Air Flight Control software could lead to loss of life or the release of military secrets, you quickly learn how to follow a software development methodology that prevents dramas; both defects and internal arguments. I’d say probably my defense sector experience is even different again from someone who has worked in software development writing plugins for WordPress or something like that.
It seems there is no end of dramas on that side of the fence!! 😆
(Sorry to those who write plugins for a living. Some plugins are better than others.)
I’m dedicated to content marketing, not so much as “marketing” all the time but as being genuinely helpful, as I like to document how to do things and I like to and help others. I do find it embarrassing when something I put out gets zero response, but that’s all part of being iterative too. You need to continually work on bettering your best stuff (best according to your audience) and also disregard the fact that 80% of your marketing might have been crap. You just can’t let it get to you. So I treat my own marketing like a software development project too, often putting out work that’s not 100% yet, but that is good enough to get feedback.
I’ve been sharing some of my planning processes in my videos and blog posts lately, and I’m not sure about the response since I really don’t have a lot of organic reach yet, but if I’m doing something really unusual then I’d love to continue sharing it with you so that you can find out for yourself if my way has any merits. Maybe I could teach you a thing or two about marketing management. OR, you might think that my ways are a waste of time and that you have something much better. I’d love to learn about it!
This is a topic I’m just as passionate about as the analytics and marketing itself, so please comment and share your thoughts. Do you follow a planning and implementation process in your agency? If so, does it have a name, or is it one you came up with yourself?