One of Axonn’s ever-growing challenges has been finding the best way to deliver a cross-functional service for clients. Over the course of the next few months, we're going to be keeping a ‘warts and all’ diary of our attempts to overcome this challenge by applying agile principles - also known as ‘agile marketing’ - in what could lead to a full structural revolution for our business. Part one focused on whether agile marketing can make your life easier, part two was Is your business ready for agile? Today we're looking at the tools you need to use agile if you work from home.
Agile marketing can make your life easier - or that's certainly the opinion of a lot of us here at Axonn. That doesn't mean that implementing it is easy though, as you can see in our head of content's 'warts and all' agile marketing diary. Personally, one of the biggest challenges I'm facing in adopting an agile approach is my office, or rather lack of it: I work from home.
Why is this a problem? SCRUM, a process originally designed as a software development framework to manage product development, by nature encourages a flexible approach. But it stresses that team members should work in physical proximity - not just in the same office, but in a shared space.
However, agile is all about overcoming problems to achieve the perfect balance of creativity and efficiency, so we are as yet undeterred.
I am approximately four weeks into my first official agile projects. It's been intense, exciting and, at times, rather stressful. As well as creating a lot of content I think my teammates and I can be very proud of, I've learned a lot about the relationship between agile marketing and remote working.
Here are the main points of tension I've experienced so far.
We can't use sticky notes
In many ways, Scrum really suits my existing working style. For years my desk has been strewn with sticky notes, acting as everything from reminders to ways of keeping track of what I'm doing.
In Scrum, sticky notes are used to divide the project up into bitesize chunks. Each chunk is written on a note, which is then placed on a board. Said board is divided into several columns - typically 'to do', 'doing' and 'done'. The sticky notes are moved along the board as each task is tackled, making it easy for everyone to see at a glance how the project is progressing.
Of course, this only works if your team shares a single location.
Starting a conversation isn't as easy as just opening your mouth
Picking up the phone isn't hard. Neither is typing a message on a chat platform. Or writing an email. But none of these things ever feel as natural, or as easy, as simply starting to speak - especially if multiple people need to be involved in the conversation.
On my particular projects, I'm the only team member in a different location, so I feel this challenge particularly keenly.
Demonstrating new skills is problematic
One of the things I've enjoyed most about adopting an agile approach is all the new skills I've learned. But niggling away at me are the skills I've yet to master; the barrier to learning these has been location. Some of the tools I'll mention below certainly help tackle this issue, but in some cases they haven't been quite enough.
Team evolution is slower… maybe
Another key element of agile is the evolution of your team. The theory is that as time passes, you will get used to the way each person works and, as a result, the team will become a well-oiled machine, working faster and more efficiently.
I was hesitant about putting this point in, because the truth is that I'm just not sure whether remote working actually is a barrier here. It certainly seems like it should be. But I already feel like I've learned more about my two teammates in the past four weeks than I have in our previous years of working together.
Personally, I think that speed might not be the crucial thing here; so far, speed of evolution doesn't seem like a problem. But I wonder if bonding will be. Because I suppose what I am really missing is the social side - and often, that's what makes a team really gel. Whether and how this affects our progress remains to be seen.
The remote worker's agile toolbox
Fortunately, there are some seriously good tools out there that help bring agile marketing and the remote worker together - and are just as useful for those who work from home only occasionally as for permanent homeworkers. The beauty of them is that their uses far exceed simply facilitating agile remote working. These are tools that can be harnessed throughout your company to increase project management efficiency, improve communication and encourage collaboration.
What it is: For me, Trello is the ultimate organising tool. It is a flexible web app that combines all the best elements of sticky notes and to-do lists. You can create a virtual whiteboard for each of your projects. On every board, you can create and name as many lists as you like. On each of these lists, you can add 'cards' (essentially virtual sticky notes), which can then be dragged between lists as you see fit. These are small, but you can add plenty of information, including attachments and comments, to ensure they contain everything you need.
Why it works well with agile marketing: Well, it solves the sticky notes problem I mentioned above pretty much instantly. And thanks to its flexibility, it's easy adapted to the needs of different projects.
What it is: Another great web app, Basecamp is fantastic for project managers. Essentially, it creates a central online hub, where everyone working on a single project can come together to talk, share information, create to-do lists, add deadline reminders - I could go on.
Why it works well with agile marketing: Agile marketing involves lots of people from lots of different departments coming together to work on one project. This makes the sharing and communicating of information - and the status of the wider project - absolutely crucial to its success. Basecamp provides a platform where this can happen.
What it is: Google Hangouts is similar to Skype in that it provides video calling. It allows groups of people to have face-to-face discussions, and also provides the functionality to share screens, making it very useful for presentations.
Why it works well with agile marketing: Anything that makes it easier to communicate with your team is a good thing, and Hangouts can be used in lots of ways. Meetings are the most obvious, but we also use it for presentations, as well as occasionally calling on it during conference calls so we can all look at the same screen. In all these functions, it can be really useful for learning new skills remotely, it being about as close as you can get to actually being in a room with your trainer.
That said, we have experienced problems with functionality occasionally. When it works well, Hangouts is a good solution. But its unreliability has cost us a lot of time more than once.
What it is: Google Drive is a cloud storage system. It lets you create documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more, and access them from any computer - as well as share them with as many people as you like. What's more, you can select whether they have the power to edit or comment on said documents, or simply view them.
Why it works well with agile marketing: As it lets you share files with others, it makes group editing and management of spreadsheets and other documents a doddle. Not only can you see each other's edits in real time, but there's no chance of anyone looking at an out-of-date copy - unless you've purposefully created duplicates, that is!
Why it works well with agile marketing: It's not particularly high-tech, but that doesn't mean it isn't incredibly useful. Picking up the phone is often a lot quicker and easier than any other form of remote communication, and it's reliable to boot.
Are you working remotely and experimenting with agile marketing? What tools do you find most useful?