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April 24, 2018

Starting at SilverLine: Building the Foundations of an Agile Marketing Team

5 mins read

During our first week on the job, coaches are presented with an excellent opportunity to help our teams and model the behavior we hope to see from them. And it doesn’t even involve solutioning! Though it’s tempting to show results right away, firing off solutions to obvious, but ingrained, problems is one of the last things we should expect to do in the early going. Instead to start, we can set a tone of trust and learning by keeping things simple and following three basic principles:

1. Meet them where they are (and be honest about where you are).

2. Put in some basic structures.

3. Observe and teach at the appropriate moments.

Meet them where they are (and be honest about where you are)

It was important to catch up quickly on the team’s interactions and their overall system. The Silverline marketing team was eager and flexible with their busy schedules, so I managed to chat one-on-one with each team member early on. I asked a lot of questions, answered some in return, and shared my thoughts on what to expect.

I also took this time to discover more about the nature of their work and admit, flat out, that they were the experts in their domains. I was there to learn as much as I was to teach, and I needed their help if I was to be effective.

Through these conversations we started to build trust and rapport while everyone – from the President and Founder, to the newest employee – shared a wealth of valuable information and their unique perspectives. Taken together, they helped me piece together a holistic view of where Silverline was at that moment in time. I could now better empathize with their circumstances and figure out where to start.

Put in some basic structures

There are a few basic things I like to check off as soon as possible when coaching new teams, within or outside of IT. To their credit, by the time I arrived at Silverline the marketing team was already using a visual board and a backlog. They’d even experimented some with Kanban and were enthusiastic about its potential.

I own that I’m one of those coaches who frequently touts the “unlimited number of practices” aspect of Agile (see: my first blog post in this series). Having said that, my initial structure is often founded on one of two Agile/Lean practices: Scrum or Kanban. The former is a powerful framework that requires significant upfront change; the latter is a way of seeing the work and how it gets done while minimizing initial disruptions. High performing teams often use elements of both.

There are certainly more options out there and I encourage coaches to stick with what works for them.

In Silverline’s case we settled on Kanban. First among our reasons as that the team served many different clients, which often necessitated daily updates to their plans and priorities. It was difficult for them to fix goals and commitments even one week out. The other big reason was mentioned earlier – Silverline was already interested in Kanban, and in the spirit of “start where you are” I saw no compelling reason to dissuade them.

There are six fundamental aspects of Kanban, shown here in the rough order in which we prioritized them:

 1. Visualize the work: Map your system, then show how value moves through it daily.

 2. Use feedback loops: Doing the work creates feedback on how it’s done – keep these loops short.

 3. Agree to improve incrementally: Experiment and focus on consistent improvement over time.

4. Set explicit policies: How does work move through the system? Write this down to inspect later.

6.  Set Work-in-Progress (WIP) limits: Increase how fast work gets done by limiting capacity bloat.

5. Manage the flow of work: Find the big constraints and address them until they are no longer.

Our goal was to get the team comfortable with the basics, which lowered the barriers to resistance and jumpstarted conversations we needed to have. They’ll admit that at first Kanban felt foreign to how they were used to working, and it took time to adjust. Multiple weeks passed before we worried too much about metrics, which we’ll talk about in the next post.

We didn’t want to lose sight of the big picture. It’s not enough to start with Kanban or Scrum and call things a success. So, I provided training and Q&A around the larger topic of Agile, and we spent a few working sessions discussing how what we did increased the team’s agility. But more importantly, we created an understanding of how this new mindset was helping them to better achieve their goals.

Observe and teach at appropriate moments

Learning about the work and setting up some basic structures gave me everything I needed to help the team inspect and adapt in only a few weeks’ time. Through a combination of training, mentoring, and “in the moment” feedback, we collaborated on improvements that led to some quick benefits:

Coming up next…

We covered a lot of ground in our first month, but there was still plenty more to be done. Up next, the Silverline team will provide their perspectives on the early successes and the challenges we faced in those first few months. Then I’ll be back a few weeks later to talk about how we used WIP limits, metrics, and a spirit of continuous improvement to help Silverline continue forward on their Agile journey.

Read More

This is the fourth post in the ‘Business Agility: A Marketing Agency’s Transformation’ series.

Post 1: How Saying Yes to Agile Changed Our Agency!

Post 2: Expanding Agile Across Your Business.

Post 3: Finding the Right Sherpa: Why an Agile Coach is Necessary for Success.

Post 4: Starting at Silverline: Building the Foundations of an Agile Marketing Team.


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