What does award-winning Agile marketing look like?

I was delighted to be able to organise an event for the CIM Wales Board last week on Agile Marketing for Internal Engagement. I’m no stranger to the challenges of internal comms, particularly when it comes to geographically dispersed companies, and having met with the DevOpsGroup team previously they struck me as an ideal case study for such an event.

When you walk into their 22nd floor offices in Capital Tower, the first thing that hits you is the view. The City Centre all the way to Cardiff Bay in all its glory. The second is the illustrations on the walls – all of which focus on the people who get to enjoy them every day: why we’re here, what we believe in, why you matter. This is a company who knows its most important customers.

I had a moment of mild panic on Monday that it would rain on Tuesday and the panoramic views I’d promised wouldn’t come to fruition. But the sun was shining on us both literally and figuratively, and everyone was enjoying a good peek inside the castle walls over their pastries and coffee.

Following a fitting introduction from Gavin Davies, vice chair, business community, for the CIM Wales Board, we heard from DevOpsGroup’s Ryan Cullen, people success leader, and Joanna Pontin, marketing manager. They told us how they’ve worked together, using Agile marketing methodology, to create employee engagement worthy of winning them the Wales Best Workplace Award and earning them an Employee net promoter score of +70.

In 2016 they had just 16 staff. Today they have 117. Last month the Sunday Times suggested they might become Wales’ first unicorn (a start-up that surpasses the billion-dollar valuation mark). This month they made it into the Wales Fast Growth 50.

But what has been the ticket to this enviable success? A few things it turns out:

DOG valuesBeing consistent – having the same core values internally as they do externally, regularly reiterating these values and acknowledging good examples of them in practice. We all like a little recognition from time to time.

Making people accountable – DevOpsGroup use a collaborative goal setting system to ensure people take ownership of tasks and know how their work contributes to organisational success. As Ryan says “encouraging autonomy leads to more empowered staff and lower turnover which delivers externally to clients.”

KambanVisualising success – The IT firm uses Agile (with a capital A) and lean methodology across the board. Ryan explains “Everyone is BCS Agile certified which means they have a commonality in language and understanding.” As such they all benefit from being able to visualise their progress with tools like the Kanban board pictured on the right.

Picture2Acting on feedback – DevOpsGroup put a lot of their engagement success down to their feedback loops. “We use a variety of communication techniques such as a monthly Pulse survey, focus groups and 1-2-1s to improve communication” says Ryan.

Communicating in person – Despite using some of the most up-to-date technology, DevOpsGroup still prioritise face-to-face communication and have monthly get togethers where everyone has a chance to share.

Being inclusive – Of course, they have still made the most of some technology to engage better with employees, especially remote team members, for example:

  • Confluence – a crowd-sourced intranet
  • Zoom – video conferencing
  • Slack –instant messaging
  • Hubspot – to track engagement with internal communications

Putting people first – By recognising the value of engaging and retaining their employees (check out #lifeatdog), DevOpsGroup have built a strong employer brand. Ryan says: “I don’t have to tell people they should come and work here; they already want to. And when you get the right people, you get the right clients.”

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, one of those people happens to be an incredibly talented in-house designer who produces all the imagery I’ve been referencing.

But how does marketing fit into all this?

Joanna explains:

“When I started with DevOpsGroup back in 2016 it was a young disruptive company, blazing a trail. “Marketing needed to match it; we needed to eat our own dog food as we say in the IT industry.”

Agile marketing is a relatively new and underutilised approach to marketing in the UK, although it’s starting to take hold in the US. But it requires a recognition of the strategic importance of marketing at board level, something Joanna acknowledges the DevOpsGroup marketing team were lucky to have.

Joanna explained: “It was a really unique experience for some of us. Suddenly, we weren’t a silo. Colleagues actually wanted to help us.”

Things move at a phenomenal rate in IT so Agile marketing is a fitting approach for DevOpsGroup. It’s defined by author of Lean Agile Marketing, Femi Olajiga, as:

“an optimised approach to people, processes and tools in marketing planning and execution, in response to changing customer behaviour and market trends….It champions data-driven marketing decision making, with an emphasis on value creation from a customer’s perspective.”

Samuel Scott recently criticised Agile marketing as being ‘a crutch for those who don’t have a real strategy’. But this certainly isn’t the case for DevOpsGroup. They still have an annual plan, but keep it fresh with quarterly reviews of their objectives and key results. In his article, Scott advises readers to remember ‘you are a marketer, not a software developer’.  But when you’re working with software developers, this bitesize chunk approach enables marketers to create a living plan that can adjust and inform the buyer persona. At least, that’s what DevOpsGroup have convinced me.

As Joanna says, Agile marketing is less a set of rules and more a mindset. “Ultimately, it’s about saying ‘we’re all in it together’,” she says. And who doesn’t want to award an organisation with that mindset?

The presentation slides will shortly be available for download on the CIM Wales website.

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