Experts Blog

Digital, Part-time and Home Office – Old Hat for Us at Unic Marketing

  • Bruno Pedro Mettler

Right now, many marketing departments are faced with a need to reorganise and adapt. In Unic marketing, we started changing our way of working three years ago. We embarked on this journey in 2017 when Holacracy was introduced at Unic, and it took us via Kanban to OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Yes, marketing with OKRs works and it is serving us well. And we are proud to be the first team at Unic to have introduced OKRs.

Unic Marketing – Who We Are and Where We Are

The goal of all our work at Unic marketing is to attract new talent for our job openings and to generate new projects. Geographically, our three markets are Switzerland, Germany and Poland, and we are represented at our five offices in Zurich, Berne, Karlsruhe, Munich and Wrocław.

Our core team consists of six people, working from Zurich, Berne and Karlsruhe. Most of us work part-time, and all of us work in several circles (which are similar to departments and a key aspect of Holacracy). Currently, we have four full-time equivalents in total, who also cover the development of our website, unic.com. We organise ourselves based on Holacracy, and the relevant roles are represented in our marketing circle.

As we work in different locations and at different times, we only overlap for about six hours per week: this is the time for our meetings. As is the norm at Unic, we can work from home at any time and do so frequently – even before coronavirus. Usually, we all meet up every two months for a workshop in Zurich or Berne. Right now, unfortunately, we can only meet in the virtual world. But every Thursday morning, we make time to share a cup of coffee (in front of our screens...).

Our Journey to Agile Marketing

It all started three years ago, when our circle changed its name from Corporate Communications to Marketing Services, with an accompanying shift in strategy. We wanted to move away from traditional B2B marketing with events and trade fairs towards digital marketing, with content marketing at its core.

The biggest change was the introduction of Kanban. This has increased transparency, because all our tasks, tickets and projects can be viewed by all Unic employees, and everyone can actively participate in their completion.

We also have internal roles that cover most tasks – i.e., we use insourcing instead of outsourcing. Thanks to this transparency and insourcing, we now have a much wider network within Unic, and the acceptance has increased in step with this. Our collaboration with colleagues has become much closer and more constructive. We rely on internal expertise for our content marketing and the generation and publication of credible, relevant expert content.

Why Did We Choose Kanban?

The transformation from deadline-driven events to practically deadline-free digital marketing required a different approach to task management. Priorities are no longer determined by deadlines but by individual prioritisation. We also wanted to increase the analysis of our activities and their results and improve them over time.

Thanks to Kanban, each one of us always has enough to do and never needs to wait for others. Everyone’s backlog is more than full. It also allows us to integrate all Unic colleagues into the process, and we do not have to interrupt others as often with urgent issues. The Jira ticketing system that everyone at Unic uses in their customer projects supports us in our everyday work. We have a 15-minute stand-up meeting every week, during which we go through the entire Kanban dashboard and discuss any issues and impediments. From time to time, we dive into the depths of the backlog and close any tasks that have become obsolete.

In addition to “open”, “in progress” and “done”, our dashboard has a few additional statuses that help us organise our work. We use the “feedback” status whenever we are waiting for action from an external or internal colleague. This means that the work has already started but can only continue after this step has been completed. Another customisation is “done”, “verified”, and “closed”. “Done” means that the task has been completed but we are still waiting for the results. For instance, the newsletter has been sent out but we are still waiting for the open and click rates. As soon as the results are in, the task can be “verified” and then “closed”. The board replicates our value creation chain and always reflects what we are currently working on.

Our Experiences With Kanban

In the beginning, Kanban was not exactly popular: it creates a great deal of transparency. Suddenly, everyone can see what tasks everyone has and read other people’s comments. Everything is transparent, documented, and binding. We had to find a way to deal with this unfamiliar transparency, together.

That is why we set some ground rules for ourselves about assigning tickets, voicing and tone, and when it might be better to have a conversation than to play ticket ping pong. We also had to learn that we cannot expect an immediate answer from someone just because we have assigned them a ticket. There are other ways to achieve that. Tickets can never replace face-to-face conversations.

We have got used to Kanban and tickets and wouldn’t want to give them up. Most tickets are complete enough for every one of us to understand what they are about when we read them. This means that we don’t usually need any verbal hand-over of tasks any more. This allows us to work on our tasks with more focus. The quality of the results has also improved, and the output has increased.

As an agile instrument, Kanban helps our distributed team working different hours to still generate exceptional results. At the same time, Kanban (and Holacracy) has enabled us to respond more quickly to change.

OKRs – the Next Level

However, Kanban does not help us define measurable goals that we want to achieve. This is what the OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) do for us. We have just started our fourth quarter using OKRs. We first started out with four objectives and four key results per objective. Today, we are at three objectives and eight key results in total. Less is more. Thanks to OKRs, we have joint goals that we work towards. This increases motivation and helps with team spirit.

OKRs Are Demanding

We have noticed that the OKRs were often an addition to our daily workload. This was not what we intended and was impossible to handle in terms of available time. That is why we are now defining OKRs closer to the tasks we are working on. They are still demanding. We are struggling with the integration of OKRs into Holacracy. This is something we need to keep working on.

Finding measurable data for the key results remains a challenge, but we are getting better at it. We have noticed that many actions we take because of OKRs stay with us as “infrastructure” and knowledge and help us evolve in the long run. Other circles are now introducing OKRs and learning from us. We wouldn’t want to give up the OKRs now, but they still need to become more routine.

Conclusion

We have embarked on our journey of transformation to agile marketing and we can see that we are very well equipped for the current challenges arising from the COVID-19 crisis. Tools to allow us to work on tasks together are easy to find. What takes time and effort are processes, methods and change management to allow us to do our work in a more useful, value-creating and satisfying way. Our agile instruments – Kanban and OKRs – are helping us do that.

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