When Michelle Peluso joined IBM two years ago as chief marketing officer, she decided to completely revamp the way people worked. If she was going to move the storied media company’s 5,500-person global marketing team forward, she thought, they would have to be more agile, or rather, Agile.
Agile is a project management methodology that became popular with software development teams in the early 2000s. The methodology is designed to maximize “value creation” by pushing out product updates faster — usually on a two week deadline.
It’s the way that tech titans like Facebook and Google got so big so fast, by organizing teams so that they could improve the product in real time with a constant stream of small updates.
So how does a computer programming technique apply to advertisements, brochures and other marketing material?
In marketing, this means putting out brand campaigns one piece at a time, and adjusting the next iteration based off of data and customer feedback. Previously, marketing teams at IBM would work on projects for months before putting anything out into the world, Peluso said.
“You just feel more productive. It’s more rewarding to get to see work going live faster and much more regularly,” Peluso told Business Insider. “It tends to produce better outcomes because you’re iterating all of the time.”
Agile brought an end to IBM’s work-from-home policy
Peluso, who first tested the methodology while CEO at Travelocity, thinks IBM may the most “aggressive at scale” teams to use Agile for marketing.
To make this happen, IBM reorganized its marketers from large, focused departments into 8 to 10 person “squads” who all bring different skill sets to a project.
“So instead of having a full-functioning creative department or a full-functioning product marketing department or content department or social department or analytics department, every squad has to have some of those ingredients,” Peluso said.
The transition hasn’t been without some difficulties. For one, about 2,600 people on Peluso’s team worked from home when she first joined IBM. But in spring 2017, IBM made waves by requiring that those people, as well as some software teams, make their way back to IBM offices.
Team co-location, Peluso said, is vital for Agile to work well since workflow becomes organized around what a squad can accomplish in a set time frame, rather than what the individual can get done.
“They start their day with certain rituals. They do a daily stand up each morning and end with retrospectives,” Peluso explained, adding that each team decides on a joint priority at the start of the day. “It really pushes and forces reconciliation on what is most important.”
Now data is front and center for everyone
Changing up how its teams work has positioned IBM to have a more data-centric approach to its marketing campaigns.
For one, the data-minded team members work side-by-side with the creative minds, which means that analytics are involved from the very beginning. Additionally, the shorter deadlines means that IBM can actively adapt its next project to earlier feedback.
“Now it’s like a real time sport,” Peluso said.
To put its data to work, IBM has put what Peluso calls “a huge amount of effort” into taxonomizing how it understands data across the entire company.
“I can’t have a different metrics and measurement than the sales team has,” Peluso said. “We ground ourselves in the sales and finance data and then we work backwards, so there’s not competing versions of the truth and the numbers.”
The marketing team also has its own digital dashboard where all of the marketing data from various marketing tech platforms is aggregated into charts and graphs to give insights into its campaigns. Namely, it indicates which teams are making the most out of their ad dollars, and which ones need to play catch up.
“It’s almost the gamification of data,” Peluso said. “You create an environment where people strive to do better and you have a lot of transparency.”