Speed is key when you are trying to build a marketplace startup in any industry landscape. You need to move at an uncomfortably fast pace in order to lock-up distribution for your product and out-execute the competition. As the Chief Marketing Officer of Porch.com, it’s my job to make sure all of my teams are structured in a way that empowers them to be agile and get things done with as little friction as possible.
When Porch first started, it was just a handful of us in a basement. At that time, I took on all roles in PR, marketing, analytics, business development and even office manager (no really!). In less than 10 months, the company has grown significantly to over 200 people, and Post it notes and emails just don’t cut it when it comes to getting things done.
I realized that in order to continue to operate at “Porch speed”, I would need to find a way to better structure my growing team. We needed clear lines of communication and team-wide visibility of goals and objectives at scale. My answer took inspiration from our growth engineering team. As I began to learn about the methodologies and tools that they use to stay effective and agile, I was specifically impressed by the “Scrum” methodology.
If you’ve never heard of Scrum before, it’s a framework that was originally used by software development teams in order to complete complex projects. From a basic level, it involves prioritizing the most important objectives, breaking them down into specific smaller tasks to be completed during a “sprint” (usually a 2-4 week period). By the end of the sprint, the goal is to have a basic, shippable product that is ready to be used by a client or customers.
As my solution, I implemented a light Scrum model for my team, adding personal tweaks of my own. It’s a bit unorthodox for a marketing team, but since making the switch, we have never been more productive. Below is a short explanation of the changes I implemented.
1. Use Todoist to keep track of team priorities and tactics
In order to scale myself across my different teams, I needed a way to stay up on projects from all of the individuals that report directly to me. Todoist was the perfect tool for the job.
I create projects for each of my direct reports and keep track of their tasks. Each of my team members manages their own projects and task filters and every week, we roll everything up into a planning report which snaps to a larger company plan so we know what got done last week and what’s on the docket for the coming week. We then can pivot by person or by project for ultimate accountability.
Given there’s so much going on, one of the most important queues we’ve embraced for our Todoist is the backlog. Every time someone has a great idea but it doesn’t immediately drive one of the company objectives, it goes to the backlog so it isn’t lost in the ether but rather resurfaced at the right time when that tactic aligns to a company priority.
2. Organize “Squads” within teams
In my organization, I have functional leaders overseeing Marketing, Communications, Sales, Support, etc. However, many times our objectives are cross-functional in nature. Every month for the top company priorities we assign out squads with a ‘lead’ (or Scrum master). The squad is empowered with all the components it needs to execute quickly. I even go as far as having the squads sit next to each other and consider these fellow employees as their ‘first team’ rather than their functional team.
One example is the squad we built focusing on customer retention. The squad we created was a combination of a growth engineer, designer, email marketer, analyst, and performance marketer all working together to find sustainable solutions to a key business objective. They worked together as a team until the problem was solved. They then were organized into new squads around the next objective(s).
3. Daily 15 minute standups with each team
As a startup trying to do something new, we often run into unique problems and awesome break throughs. As a result, we have to test constantly. In order to minimize emails and keep communication crisp, every morning every squad does a daily stand up for 15 minutes. In the meeting, we go around the circle and everyone gets the chance to explain:
- What they did the day before
- What they are working on today
- Explain any roadblocks/needs from the team to help them be more efficient
- Review the daily metrics
This short meeting not only keeps the team and I updated and inline, but it gives everyone a chance to help each other accomplish more. The simple act of verbalizing the work you’ve done and what you plan to complete seems to breed a sense of accountability in each individual, further boosting our productivity.
In a Scrum based model, you need to have some sort of a basic working product by the end of a “sprint” period. This is effective because it forces the team to have something created upon which they can build. Many organizations create artificial timelines based on the calendar year, but instead of having one final culminating deadline, we implemented time-boxed efforts around weekly and monthly sprints. As we grow, we’ll undoubtedly have ‘’epics’’ that last much longer.
Every rhythm is different. For Porch, every month we’re evaluating the strategies we have in place that will hit our objectives. And week-to-week if not daily we’re iterating on our tactics. Results are reviewed daily so we can push the pace to do it better than it’s ever been done before.
When it comes to productivity, the most important thing a leader can do is to lead people around a narrative, empower them with the right tools and knowledge, and organize them effectively to hit short and long-term company objectives.