Recap: Meetup Agile Work on May 16

This is a recap of the Meetup Event “Agile Work meets Software Development”, which took place at tarent solutions in Bonn on May 16, 2019.

This is a recap of the Meetup Event “Agile Work meets Software Development”, which took place at tarent solutions in Bonn on May 16, 2019.

The event was divided into two tracks (Agile Work and Software Development), each of them consisting of three sessions running in parallel. A video about this event can be found here:

 

I attended the sessions on agile working. The first talk was called “Agile Leadership” and was given by Dr. Stefan Barth (tarent solutions). I found the talk to be very insightful, it also contained many real-life examples. According  to the speaker, in order to work in agile way, a paradigm shift should take place at management level. Managers should be willing to co-work and share responsibility with their teams instead of commanding and delegating. Most importantly, they should be willing to admit their mistakes but also to accept that their subordinates can make mistakes as part of the learning process.

The second session was prepared by Corinna Voß (tarent solutions) and was about starting innovative projects using effectuation technique. I personally found this technique very well applicable in personal life, outside business projects. You can learn more about this technique on the website https://www.effectuation.org/.

Here I will briefly describe some elements of effectuation. The first one is bird in hand principle (it was called “refrigerator” principle in the talk). It states that an entrepreneur should plan with what is already there at the start of a project (such as available knowledge, immediately reachable contacts and financial means at hand). He/she should take one small step at a time instead of trying to “start big” and collect means to cover the whole project beforehand. Crazy quilt principle means that a project starter partners with people who show immediate interest into the project thus obtaining their commitment and reducing uncertainty. Lemonade principle means that an entrepreneur should see any unexpected changes in the course of the project as chances to re-orientate and maybe start something new and more promising. With affordable loss principle, one calculates from the start what resources (either time or financial) they will be willing to lose in case the project fails.

The last talk (by Moritz Vieth (ip.labs) und Martin Pelzer (tarent solutions)) was about working with people in agile environments and included some successful practices.  For example, employees can get a day a month to work on something “meaningful”, possibly not connected to their current projects (e.g. learning a new skill, attending a seminar or working on a personal project). Another example was placing an idea whiteboard in the kitchen (the collected ideas are voted on and the top ones are implemented by the company). Some companies also run a buddy program for their employees (in addition to matrix and line manager, employees get a “people manager” who acts as a councilor case of any questions or problems).

In summary, the talks provided a lot of insights into the world of agile work and what challenges and opportunities one may face.

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Into Marketing and Away: the Changing Role of a Marketing Manager

marketing manager competencies“Non vitae sed scholae discimus”, said Seneca (“We learn for school, not for life”). His words truly reflect the situation at the majority of educational institutions preparing marketing professionals: the content of education is not matching real-life requirements. The traditional understanding of marketing as a function has been transformed in many ways, and new competencies are needed for the existing and ongoing marketing managers.

Competency #1: New Media

Indeed, modern marketing practice is almost impossible to imagine without extensive use of New Media, especially Social Media (Facebook, corporate blogs, etc). This includes not only one-way communication and maintaining social media accounts, but also being able to interact with users, even in case of negative comments or complaints. In addition, social media activity should help to sustain the brand values and product/service positioning.

Competency#2: Information Technology

Apart from managing and creating content and graphic material, a marketing manager should have an understanding of IT systems and processes within a company. Possible uses of IT knowledge include: managing customer or product databases, editing and optimizing websites, analyzing performance needs and writing specifications for programmers in the IT department.

Competency #3: Handling financial and accounting data

A marketing manager should understand and control implications of marketing policies on the operational data and end-of-the-year financial results of the company he/she is working for. Instead of thinking of marketing campaigns in terms of costs, a marketeer must be able to demonstrate the value of marketing activities in terms of brand equity accumulation or share price growth.

Competency#4: Corporate Social Responsibility

One of recently emerged functions of a marketing executive is responding to stakeholder expectations both externally (customers, suppliers and shareholders) and internally (employees). Marketeers have to make sure that the corporate values are being lived by and that these values are communicated in the right way across different channels. It is also a well-known fact that skillful use of marketing techniques in CSR context (e.g. fair trade products) helps to sustain higher margins and increase the overall profit.

Competency#5: Cross-functional knowledge

In addition to the above-mentioned IT and financial knowledge, a marketing manager often plays an integrative role between a number of departments. He/she has to communicate with R&D and Production when a new product is being developed, with Sales when the product is being launched, and not unusually, with the legal department, for example, when crafting advertising strategy. Thus, cross-functional and interdisciplinary knowledge is a must as well as the ability to talk to a number of specialists “in their language”.

Competency#6: International and intercultural thinking

Apart from classic cases of international marketing (launching a product abroad, designing marketing campaigns in a foreign language, adapting promotional activities to a different setting), cross-cultural competencies are often required for working inside the company. Two major reasons for this are the growing number of multinationals (including micro-multinationals) causing the necessity to work with branches and subsidiaries abroad; and skilled migration, due to which foreigners fill up vacancies in domestic firms.

Competency# 7: Team orientation

Resulting from the scope of cross-departmental or cross-country projects on which a marketing professional often works, team orientation and team building skills are essential to keep the projects going.

Competency#8: Creative skills

Though this is an obvious tool for a marketing manager, most universities cannot bridge the gap between the requirement for creativity and “out-of-the-box” thinking in the working life and the rigid and mundane teaching methods preventing the students from developing creative skills. Another extreme, though, is creativity for the sake of creativity, when a marketing manager is reluctant to direct his/her efforts into solving a particular customer or organizational problem or to plan the details of putting the creative idea into practice.

Competency #9: Management skills

As more and more companies realize the strategic importance of marketing, a marketeer is faced with typical management tasks, namely planning (laying out campaigns and budgeting), organizing (distributing roles in a project, creating an action plan), directing (ensuring cross-departmental cooperation, motivating the project participants) and, finally, controlling (checking if the set goals are being met).

As can be seen from this list of competencies, both hard and soft skills are essential for a marketing manager of today. Therefore, the ability to respond to the changing conditions and the drive for self-improvement and self-development should be added to make up the full list of competencies required for marketing professionals.

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Why Innovative Projects Fail

Cooper talks about fifteen critical success factors for innovative products, based on the NewProd Study. To sum up, I want to single out several reasons why innovative projects fail.

  1. The product/service developed does not have a real competitive advantage against competing products (also substitutes) and does not offer any added value for the customer.  In this case, you have to compete on price, which is often not possible for innovative products due to high R&D costs.
  2. The target market is unattractive and the product is not scalable to other markets (including the markets abroad).
  3. The necessary research on the target market, as well as  financial and technical feasibility of the project had been skipped or insufficiently conducted before the project was pushed into the pipeline. Too much rush in implementing the project. Think of the time-to-profit, not time-to-market.
  4. The product or service were not defined clearly from the start (including technical specifications, distribution channels and market positioning).  I think the reason behind it is the desire to leave the side door open for sudden changes. But without any clear definition the project cannot be successfully managed by a cross-functional team.
  5. The project team members cannot (missing competencies) or are not willing (missing understanding) to work on the innovative project. The human factor must not be underestimated!
  6. The company has too many projects in the pipeline, the decisions to “kill” do not take place on time. This leads to the resources being spread too thinly and insufficient time and money granted to the potential winner projects.
  7. The organizational structure and the culture of the organization do not allow for the necessary flexibility in the innovative process. The innovative projects have no “advocates” in the company management.
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