Marketing is spending ever more budget on technology, which means it has to learn how to deal with a department it has spent decades ignoring. David Reed learns how the choice of methodology may make all the difference to successful project outcomes.
Some mergers are hostile - the big fish eats the little fish and digests it whole. Others are more mutual - two fish decide that if they swim about together, both of them get more to eat. What determines how the merger plays out is the build-up when both parties try to work out where they stand in the deal.
For marketing and IT, this phase has been going on for years, decades even. Both business-critical and wielding substantial budgets, neither has talked the other’s language well. Yet circumstances are forcing them ever closer, with marketing taking on board more technology than ever before and IT needing to service the data requirements of its competitor to a previously-unforeseen degree.
Hostility between the two is so taken for granted that the IDM needed to offer some therapy at an event in April titled “Marketing and IT - How to be awesome partners”. Nobody blinked at the idea that this is a relationship in conflict. With forecasts that marketing will soon be spending more on technology than IT, it is easy to see why there might be fracture lines.
Andrew Buckley, VP, product manager at Mastercard told delegates at the event how he saw this struggle up close at his previous job. “We had a particular problem at American Express of getting marketing and IT to work together,” he said. When the company decided to roll out a lead nurturing solution globally, the pain points became very evident.
“The way each department works is very different,” he recalled. In particular, two competing methodologies for implementing sys tems brought the cultural differences to the fore. “In one case, the project started using waterfall, then switched to agile. Another decided to use agile, but delivered the project using waterfall. You need to be very clear which methodology you are using, particularly when you are implementing systems. The way each department works can be very different,” said Buckley.
Confusion between the two methodologies is understandable. IT has been committed to the waterfall approach for decades, since it suits the enterprise-scale and business-critical projects it usually delivers. Only in recent years has agile become appealing as new systems with a shorter shelf-life have needed to be introduced at speed.
Marketing on the other hand can best be described as “methodology-lite”. Many of its critical processes have not been properly formulated and it lacks any track record in implementing systems. So marketing is always going to be drawn to the new, which means agile has been gaining traction.
Buckley says the method is less important than the “resource spin-down diagram - you have to ask for that.” This is the timelin e of expenditure on a project across its course and it shows clearly whether it is running to plan or not. “If they are under-spending by week three, they are going to be late. If they have over-spent, they are going to be over budget, whatever they tell you,” he said.
Project management is another skill which marketing needs to learn for its technology implementations. In the agile methodology, projects are advanced through considering a regular backlog of needs and having a sprint to prioritise or “groom” which ones get to the head of the queue. Making these choices every week or three weeks is how agile keeps projects moving forwards, even though that backlog is never completely cleared.
The problem for marketing is finding the capacity to engage with these “sprin ts”. “Because marketing has other projects and plans, it is not necessarily trained to take part in those meetings, so somebody else ends up prioritising its needs ,” warned Buckley. As a result, the function may find that it promised the bu siness it would implement a system offering 14 features and discover that only seven have been delivered.
Asen Tsvyatkov, strategy consultant at EMC Consulting, shared some findings from McKinsey about the outcome of average IT implementations - 45 per cent came in over budget, 7 per cent over time and 56 per cent delivered less value than expected. With marketing spending ever more budget on systems to manage email, digital, CRM and more, it can ill afford to lose time and value in this way.
That makes the choice of methodology even more critical. Waterfall is the traditional approach of gathering requirements, assessing them, defining a system, testing it and then delivering it in a very linear way. Tsvyatkov joked that its name stems from the fact that, “what happens is it falls down badly and ends in tears.” Agile by contrast involves going through multiple streams at fast pace, delivering incremental value that adds up to a greater sum than a singular project.
Another reason why agile is proving more appealing to marketing departments is its story-based approach. “Stories are a key way to deliver a project in agile. But they are hard work and there is a very rigorous method for writing them, using index cards and a whole set of language,” he said.
A user story has to take a form such as “As an
Buckley recalled that, “there were many arguments about what the project needs were. They brought out that how we described customers, for example, was not good enough.” It also revealed that the business didn’t actually need to invest massively in an entirely new system.
“One of the technology teams had built something in the 1990s that did what was needed, but just needed to be tweaked. That was done in less than a year and for below $10 million. If only we had done that with our Salesforce.com implementation which missed our expectations and hit bumps in the road. Nobody read the document so it ended up over budget,” he said.
By contrast, the only resistance to the agile-derived retread of an existing system was the fact that it looked so cheap. “We had never experienced that before,” noted Buckley. It’s a story which many marketers might wish to hear during their own technology projects - that something they already own can be re-purposed at less cost.
It’s an idea that is starting to emerge around creative work - why reinvent it from scratch every time? With technology likely to take more budget than marketing agencies, it could become a highly-effective method for transforming the marketing department.