All posts in “business process”

Living Without Email

Cam Finlayson is the Director and Group Head, Client Strategy & Innovation at Social Media Group. 

When it comes to email there are typically two types of people: (i) those who generally embrace it and (ii) those who tolerate but secretly despise it.

I tend to associate myself with the latter. That said, I obviously accept that email is currently the preferred medium for online communication and use it for personal and business correspondence. However I can’t seem to shake the notion that email is antiquated medium that shares more in common with fax machines and telegrams than our modern communication tools. Not to mention that that from a business standpoint, email is cumbersome, an ineffective medium for collaboration and the source of countless hours of lost productivity.

Interestingly, while researching potential business solutions to this pesky email problem, I uncovered a third group users that I neglected to include above: (iii) those who have simply removed email as a form of personal and/or professional communication.

One example is an IBM employee named Luis Suarez based out of the Canary Islands. Luis is one of IBM’s social computing experts, who famously decided to remove email out of his day-to-day back in 2008. He now communicates with colleagues primarily via IBM’s business software platform Connections and various external social networks – including Google+ and Twitter. For Luis email only plays a very minor role, simply notifying him of meetings and the rare confidential email.

To some Luis’ decision is totally crazy, not to mention potentially career limiting. However to others he’s viewed as a genius and trailblazer. Regardless of your view, Luis has developed a solution that enforces work-life balance, while ensuring a productive work environment. And he didn’t get fired in the process.

Another high profile example that’s worth mentioning is the French technology firm Atos. With over 70,000 employees around the world, their firm plans to remove email as a form of internal communication across their company by 2014. Other tech companies including Intel have been reported to be piloting similar modeling for over a decade.

Regardless of the validity of these alternatives, the reality is that there’s a pending influx of future workers who have little use for email. These individuals have been raised with social tools and understand the limitations of legacy methods of communication. To them the solution is a no-brainer, to the old guard it won’t come easy and to the rest of us it’s just a matter of time.

The Agile Agency: creating the best conditions for awesome

This infographic from the good folks at Gist resonated with me. It summarizes the notion of the Agile Business succinctly and lays it all out simply. It is very much worth a look. You see, we run an agile-inspired workflow here at SMG. It takes collaboration, communication and a great team. It also takes work.  I believe it is worth the effort because it creates the best conditions for success. Being an Agile Agency introduces some unique challenges and opportunities. Before I get to those, lets take a look at the infographic which gives a quick overview of what Agile is all about: (Click for the easier-to-read full-res version).


The Agile Business


I was first challenged to think about agile and how it applies to marketing and communications when I worked on the client-side at an internet services company. I witnessed the development team (and large chunks of the business related to the delivery of web services) transition from waterfall development to agile. It was a significant transition, but entirely worthwhile (and needed for the business).  Since the business was moving to agile, I was given the mandate to come up with an agile approach to running our communication and marketing team.

I struggled initially. The agile development work teams tackled one project or problem at a time in a scrum methodology. Our marketing communications team was a service to the business and typically ran over a dozen projects concurrently. Another challenge — we didn’t necessarily have control or influence over the prioritization of our work. For example, quarterly financial reporting had to happen at set times during the year. Product updates rolled out to meet the needs of the customers. Rarely did this happen on a schedule (or in a manner) that set optimal conditions for our team.

But my (incredible) team and I cracked it. We created a wiki-driven central nervous system where we actively documented, tracked and managed all “Active” projects; kept a prioritized “Next” queue of defined projects waiting to be resourced and kicked off; maintained a prioritized (and frequently changing) “Backlog” of projects and a dream list of “Someday Maybe” projects. I came to adore the flexibility, collaboration, communication, knowledge management, improved workflow, increased productivity, transparency, accountability and improved morale that accompanied our successful agile-influenced marketing and communication team.

When I joined SMG in 2009, I knew I wanted to be part of an Agile Agency. With Maggie’s support and collaboration, I became obsessed with creating workflow and defining the processes and supports needed to allow us to see the benefits that come from being an Agile Agency:

  • Accelerated time to market for our client campaigns, and quick starts for our programs (frequently large-scale campaigns and transformation initiatives)
  • Enhanced ability to manage changing priorities helped us roll with the fluidity of social media service delivery — the unpredictable nature of pilot programs and the discoveries that come when we co-innovate with clients
  • Increased productivity is crucial for the morale of our team of A-players. No-one likes to spin their wheels and waste time. In a services business this has a direct impact on quality of work for clients and the bottom line.
  • Enhanced quality is essential. The ability to bring the discipline of fast iterations, frequent and disciplined communications and collaboration to our work has had a demonstrable impact on the quality of work product and results generated for our clients.
  • Increased visibility into projects immediately reduces risk. There is nowhere to hide inside our Agile Agency. We are accountable to ourselves and our clients. Our team knows that a snag or a new discovery is not a crisis, but the opportunity to iterate for improvement. We embrace these moments and support and lead our clients through, frequently gleaning new insights along the way.

I could go on and on. I’m a total geek for this stuff. I’ll own that.

At the start of the post, I mentioned some challenges and opportunities. It really boils down to what is a true clash of cultures between how SMG is (agile) and how the majority of our clients are (not terribly agile). So yes, this brings challenges. But it also brings incredible opportunity for us to lead and support our clients. SMG’s Agile Agency model is about being proactive, nimble and responsive and excellent collaborators and communicators. We strive to inspire our clients with our workstyle and our ability to turn-on-a-dime while producing great results.

I truly hope the agile business movement continues to gain traction and catch on. We are certainly spreading the word by bringing elements of agile business to our client engagements.  After all, in many ways, successful and sustained operations in social media requires an agile approach. The internet is anything but static.


(infographic: h/t Global Nerdy )