September 11, 2018

Why Your Marketing Team Needs Internal Visibility to Scale

Written by
Bryan Urioste
Tags: Marketing

When you’re on a small marketing team, you generally have a sense of what everyone else is working on. As long as you communicate with each other on a consistent basis, it’s relatively easy to stay in sync. But as teams grow, and workflows become more complex, it can become increasingly difficult to maintain the visibility needed to stay aligned. And without alignment, your ability to grow is stunted.

Why? Because there’s no way around it: Marketing is a team sport. Just as a football team needs a focused quarterback, agile running backs, and intimidating linemen, each bringing their own unique abilities and insights to the team – your marketing team needs a mix of diverse talents and backgrounds. You need creative marketers, analytical marketers, product-focused marketers… and you need them all to work together to achieve a common goal.

This starts with visibility into projects within your team – and as your team grows, the need for visibility only increases. Read on to learn why your marketing team needs visibility to scale – and how to achieve it with Kanban.

What is Visibility?

Before diving into why your marketing team needs visibility, let’s align around what we mean by visibility. Old school thinkers (and those influenced by them) might think of visibility as the ability for managers to know exactly what each team member is doing and when – but that’s only a partial definition. If you think of visibility in that way, as one-way transparency, then you limit the autonomy and effectiveness of your team members and increase dependencies by making them rely on someone else as their source of information.

But really, visibility should be a two-way street – it’s the idea that transparent information (upwards and downwards, and across your organization) provides a more complete view of what’s going on – which helps everyone move faster and more efficiently. Put another way – visibility empowers anyone to get a quick snapshot of where things are in your workflow. It’s usually achieved through effective communication, the intentional use of a workflow management tool, daily meetings, or better yet, a combination of these things.

Why Visibility Matters for Marketing Teams

Scaling a marketing team brings a unique set of challenges. The first is that as marketing teams grow, the individuals within them tend to specialize and operate increasingly within their functional silos (making it more difficult to achieve true alignment). The second is that as individuals specialize, the disparities between various marketing workflows make it incredibly challenging to deliver predictably or stay in sync.

Here’s how this often plays out: Let’s say your company has 3 members on the marketing team. One is likely a manager or director and the other two are associates. Even though there are differences in title, the day-to-day reality of a small team is that everyone spends their time cranking out work.

The director may focus primarily on product marketing, but also handle marketing ops and some light development work. One of the associates could be a content marketer but spend much of her time designing marketing collateral and managing social media. The third is a jack-of-all-trades type, who grabs other project-driven work as needed. The three meet a few times a week to discuss what they’re working on. There isn’t a lot of coordination between the three team members, but when there is a need for it, they’re able to come together to achieve a common goal.

You decide to hire a fourth person to handle social media marketing. Suddenly, the content marketer has more time to create content. They work closely with the new employee to create a seamless content and social media strategy. Over time, these two seem to be operating as their own sub-team, while the director and other associate focus on working with the development team to plan a new product launch. The meetings that once involved the entire team now are generally cancelled, because everyone is so busy with work.

When it’s almost time to launch, the content marketer and social media marketer are so swamped with executing the strategy they created to increase traffic to the website, that they barely have time to assist in developing the necessary collateral for the product launch. Meanwhile, the content marketer is convinced that the product launch isn’t the right direction for the business, based on what she’s reading on industry blogs. Everyone feels like they’re doing what’s most important for the company and can’t understand what on earth the rest of the team is doing, or why. Now imagine how this plays out with a marketing team of 50. 100. 1000!

How Visibility Could Have Helped

These types of situations are incredibly common, especially on growing marketing teams. To run efficiently, marketing teams need to be able to collaborate, manage hundreds of small tasks, balance ongoing and project-driven work, synchronize creative and analytical work, and pivot as information changes. These aren’t things that happen naturally – they must be intentionally designed into the team’s workflow.

In the situation described above, a lack of visibility is the main culprit of waste and chaos. If the two sub-teams had known that they were heading in different directions, they likely would have scheduled a meeting to regain alignment – but they didn’t know. They figured that since they were busy, and that it was obvious to them what was top priority, that the rest of the team was on the same page. But they weren’t.

Increasing the level of visibility across the team – whether through daily standups, use of a workflow management tool, or both – could have prevented a great deal of frustration for this team.

With a bit more visibility into what others were doing, both sub-teams could have benefitted from the insights and perspectives of others on their team: The content-focused sub-team could have incorporated themes relevant to the product launch into their content strategy, so that they’d be prepared to promote the launch as soon as it happened. The product-focused sub-team could have incorporated insights from the content team’s research into their product launch, creating a product that would likely be more desirable to their target market. The quality of both projects would have increased, creating a more seamless, valuable experience for the customer.

How Visibility = Efficiency for Marketing Teams

In addition to increasing value for the customer, increasing visibility can make a dramatic improvement in the efficiency and productivity of marketing teams – critical elements to grow at scale. Here are just a few ways that increasing visibility directly increases efficiency.

Reducing Duplicate Effort

Think of how many times you’ve heard an idea in a meeting, spent hours planning and executing on that idea, and then realized that your teammate had spent their day working on the exact same thing? Duplicate effort is incredibly wasteful and it’s all too common, especially as teams grow. Luckily, most duplicate effort can be avoided if everyone has a clear understanding of who’s working on what, and when.

Reduce Unnecessary Meetings

How much time do you currently spend in meetings where the entire purpose of the meeting is to align around the status of work? Marketing is an incredibly collaborative discipline. You must gain alignment on each piece of work before moving it forward – which means you’ve likely had entire days filled with meetings like this.

Now imagine if, instead, you could simply glance at a Kanban board to learn everything you needed to know? You could see what’s been done on a piece of work, what’s left to be done, and whether or not you need to provide feedback or assistance – without interrupting your flow or that of your collaborator. Instead of 30-60 minutes, you’d spend 1-2 minutes getting the updates you needed. As your team grows and your initiatives become more complex, this time savings could have a drastic impact on your speed to market, agility, and overall effectiveness as a team.

Save Brain Power for Where It Counts

In addition to meetings, most marketers spend a great deal of time communicating with their team members to find alignment – they send emails, Slack messages, and do “drive-bys” to make sure they’re on the same page as everyone else. While helpful in gaining alignment, all these communications throughout the day (not to mention the compulsion we all feel to check our phones for emails and notifications) are incredibly disruptive – making it difficult for us to focus on the things that really matter.

As marketers, it’s our job to blend creativity and analysis into innovative solutions, and we can’t do this if we’re constantly playing “whack-a-mole” with our inboxes. Increasing visibility frees us to spend less time finding alignment and more time leveraging our alignment to drive meaningful growth.

Marketing is a Team Sport

Regardless of the size and complexity of a marketing organization, the best outcomes are delivered when the team is coordinated. The best quarterback in the world won’t win a single game without the coordinated efforts of his team. Similarly, to be effective, marketing teams need to be able to coordinate the efforts of people with very different perspectives and skill sets. Designers will always advocate for good design. Product marketers will always advocate for product-driven solutions. Content marketers will always advocate for the best story. And the best results will always come when all these perspectives come together around a common goal to create maximum customer value.

Bryan Urioste is chief marketing officer, responsible for global marketing operations – including corporate communications, demand generation, and digital – across Planview’s portfolio of work and resource management solutions. Bryan has more than 20 years of experience working with transformative software and technology companies to help them identify markets, define product requirements, and build customer acquisition strategies for long-term growth.