“Where are we now with that project/task/assignment?”
That is one of the most used lines I encountered and even personally uttered when I was working in marketing teams. To get this question answered, meetings were organised frequently, sometimes daily, just so everyone in the team could be updated on the work in progress. Not exactly an efficient use of everyone’s time.
When the same question is being asked too frequently, it can get annoying. I used to be frustrated with this because giving a status update for work that has barely moved the needle requires plenty of creative thinking (also known as fibbing). It also puts a team member under pressure to deliver a positive update all the time. As a leader or manager, asking this too often can cast the impression of micromanaging despite it being a “harmless status update”. Worse, there’s a danger of projecting a lack of trust or belief in your team’s abilities to deliver.
Making Work Transparent
One hundred years ago, during the Industrial revolution, work was very visible. Goods produced by factories can be visually inspected on the line and at every stage of production, from raw materials right to end product. Defects or poor quality were rooted out before goods were even shipped.
Today, however, digital technologies have changed how we work in a corporate knowledge-based environment. More often than not, our work input and even output (email campaigns, for example) exist as invisible digital pieces in each others’ computers. We then transmit our work via invisible channels to one another and make a prayer that our collective output will fit in very well with each other’s. We hope that the boss will be kind with feedback and only minor revisions are necessary before we introduce the ‘finished work’ to the world. That’s almost a unicorn scenario.
And, unfortunately, this is how we’ve been conditioned to work.
One of the key aspects about Agile work practices that I’m in love with is the Work Backlog. The Work Backlog consists of tasks written down individually on pieces of Post Its or even in digital cards. It is similar to a To Do list although this is administered collectively by work teams and each task has an owner or owners. Work Backlog is then organise on a Kanban board similar to below.
In today’s hyper workplace and constantly changing marketplace, a million tasks are worked on, all at the same time. To make our corporate lives exciting, unexpected tasks/requests/demands also pop up on a pretty regularly basis from all parts of the organisation. Isn’t this all too familiar to you, marketers? This is especially so when we are tasked to manage multiple marketing channels and interaction points with the customers, support other client-facing teams or deliver big multi-parts marketing campaigns. It can get overwhelming very quickly.
This why a simple and physical Backlog Board on a wall can help so much. Everyone who walks past this Backlog board will receive a real-time update on tasks-in-progress. As long as marketing team members play their part in updating these task cards, the Backlog Board is a very visual one-look indicator of work-in-progress. There will be less of: “Where are we now with that project/task/assignment?”
Also, dear marketer, the next time someone asks, “Sorry, what does Marketing do? It looks like you guys have a lot of fun with Facebook, events and parties,” show them this Backlog Board and take your time to explain all the impactful and valuable projects that Marketing gets involved in.
Prioritising High Value Work
A physical Backlog Board has the ability to visualise all the tasks that the marketing team is responsible for. As this can get unwieldy over time, it is very important that The Backlog Board has a Backlog Owner (marketing VP/director/manager, for example) who can decide on what goes on there based on the strategic business plan or current business needs.
And here’s where Backlog Board can be really useful for any marketing leader. As all the projects and tasks are visible, prioritisation can happen very easily. Almost too often, everyone claims their project or tasks they are working on are “very important”. However, we have never questioned how important that one piece of project/task is when compared to another, in relation to the total value produced for the Customer.
Marketing teams can get pretty stretched at times. We wear multiple hats and responsibilities. Therefore, the Backlog Board helps us to make trade-offs between one work and another. Is ensuring a Facebook Post goes out 5 times this week more important than helping Sales with a customised Solutions presentation urgently needed for a big value prospect?
Put it simply, the Backlog Board helps us focus on high Customer Value work. Less important or non-meaningful work can be deprioritised or shelved till a later date (if it’s not important, it will be forgotten over time any way). And trust me, the next time you receive an urgent “drop-all-tools-the-roof-is-falling” request, put it on the Board amongst all the other tasks, evaluate its importance with the requester against all the other tasks you already have and you can easily see if the roof is really falling.
That’s powerful leverage. And you’ve just earned your team’s respect along the way.
Make work transparent. Are you brave enough to give it a try?