You’re an agile marketer and you’re gearing up for an interview with a prospective employer. You’ve read my previous post on assessing readiness for agile marketing leadership, check. Your resume is updated, check. You’ve got top of mind anecdotes about what you’ve accomplished, check. Do you have a list of questions to assess how ready the organization is to embrace agility? That’s just what you’ll find below, plus some tips on what to listen for in response:
Would you describe your dream launch process?
This is an opportunity to assess both agile mindset and gain insight into how agile methods are being applied. Be on the lookout for a release process that culminates with a big bang release—that’s a big red flag that can be spotted by researching recent product or service launches. Do your homework in advance so that you can ask about a specific recent release.
Look to see if there was an early release of the product or feature that was only accessible to the user community or a select set of customers. How active were customers in promoting the release? Look at their blog to see if they’ve been testing potential messaging and positioning. These are all good signs of agility— they started with a minimum viable product (MVP) and have been iterating towards product/market fit while determining what will drive results. Note, this doesn’t mean they didn’t have an “official” launch event but it likely means that the products, services, or features have been in the market before the official launch.
How do teams prioritize their work and integrate strategic direction?
This is an operationally focused question intended to reveal how teams structure and prioritize their work. Agile is a philosophy, or approach, as such it’s more about developing a culture than a strategy. But businesses do require a strategy and it must be reconciled with the approach that teams use to get work done. So, exploring this integration will reveal a lot about the state of agility within the organization.
You’re looking for signals that there is a quarterly strategic planning process such as objectives and key results (OKR) that gets cascaded down into each team’s backlog of work. Ideally, backlogs will be refactored during the OKR setting process. Conversely, you can ask how bottom-up led innovation has influenced, or changed, the strategic direction being set by executive leadership. Here you’re looking for feedback loops that ensure that strategy and innovation are not one directional (i.e. top down).
How is the marketing organization structured?
In a perfect world agile calls for the deployment of small cross-functional teams that are focused on business initiatives. In reality, this is not all that common (at least in marketing) but organizational design reveals a good bit about how fertile the organization is for agile.
Before you ask this question, consider what the stage of the company is. For startup marketing teams it’s typical to operate as a single agile team. As companies grow the marketing organization typically goes through a period of specialization during which proper organizational functions as formed. In this period the team’s overall agility can suffer because cross-functional work takes a backseat to functional priorities. To regain agility it’s common to set up “virtual” cross-functional teams that are composed of individuals who report into a function but whom commit at least half their time to a cross-functional initiative. While this provides value, it’s not sustainable because these individuals bear the significant burden of frequent context switching.
The most effective agile marketing teams that I’ve seen advance through this period quickly and transition functions to operate as centers-of-excellence which support dedicated cross-functional teams. As a result, specialists like designers and writers are distributed across teams but rely on a central function for guidance and support.
Following this, you should have a sense of how big the marketing organization is on your way into your interview—be on the lookout for how the team is designing their organization to promote agility and scale. Have they experimented with cross-functional teams focused on a business initiative? Do they have any centers-of-excellence? Are there any plans in place to reorganize to improve agility?
How does your organization leverage data to make decisions?
As an approach Agile promotes frequent, small iterations that validate with data that you’re headed in the right direction. With this question, you’re looking for signals that teams are oriented towards leveraging data to answer questions and validate hypotheses. For this to be the case, there must be tooling to support tactical analysis (e.g. email telemetry) as well as a data aggregation service to support strategic analysis across channels (e.g. customer data platform). You’re looking for signals that team is actively using these services to optimize their programs and to test hypotheses. If you have an opinion about the leading tools and technologies that support agile practices this is a good place to raise questions about how the marketing stack supports data driven decision making.
Thanks for reading this content series, if you’re interested in learning more about agile marketing, listen to my book The Agile Marketer: Turning Customer Experience into Your Competitive Advantage.