Marketing wants this. Development wants that. What is a digital leader to do?

what-to-do-tue-volder
What to do?
Artwork by Tue Volder

When you look at how to speed up a complex digital project and deliver high-quality end-user experiences, the palette of options placed in front of you is daunting. It’s never a binary decision what to do next.

What I’m seeing experienced digital managers do—when their organizational challenges get too wild—is to put shared tools in front of different teams with different needs. That way, they nudge their divergent teams to work together on advancing projects.

Technology is never the silver bullet. But it does serve in a bridge-building function. Sometimes, it’s a shortcut to deliver better projects when the organization and cross-team processes are unruly and fluid. This article reflects on what some of the most proficient digital leaders I know actually do when introducing technology.

The lone digital ranger

My daily work is leading product management of the Magnolia CMS. I incessantly interview digital managers who are challenged with getting marketing and development teams to work well together. All of them realized long ago that technology alone rarely solves problems, so they use other means to get results:

They are well-versed at building processes and they focus on organizational structure. They facilitate fluid handovers but also obsess over tools and integrating systems—and they hold in high esteem the marketing creed of forging memorable customer experiences.

The digital leader becomes the central orchestrator and facilitator for digital experiences—by connecting people and content or data through processes.

Alas, that turns out to be a surprisingly lonely position.

Here comes the trojan horse: Disguised as technology

While those digital leaders typically agree that technology itself cannot magically save their projects, they still end up turning to technology to speed up projects and improve quality.

You might ask yourself why. My take is that their organizational challenges are too overwhelming and hamper progress in their projects.

What digital leaders still achieve through technology is a shared toolset that fosters collaboration and supports the productive process that drives things forward. Implementing processes through deploying tools and asking people to work with them is a subtle and sometimes surprisingly effective way to operationalize change management. They’re building the bridges they need by using technology as a trojan horse, squeezing it into the organization to help people band together.

The horse may be camouflaged as just another technology tool—but out of it jumps better collaboration.

Why software has a hard time pleasing both sides

Because of the internal culture of software vendors, most products lean to either marketing or engineering. This is an obvious, yet difficult reality about software:

—Technology-centric products cater to development teams producing systems

—Marketing-centric products cater to marketing teams producing experiences

In theory, it is straightforward for software to empower both developers and marketers at the same time. Behind the scenes, however, there are problems that make it really difficult for software vendors to achieve this. For example:

  • The ways marketers and developers work change rapidly—whereas software to support their workflows takes time to produce
  • The collaborative culture between developer-focused tooling and marketer-enabling features is hard to establish
  • Establishing software ownership that strikes a balance between different needs requires an equal and deep understanding of both sides
  • As you try to cater to opposing needs, complexity rises—and with that, speed of developing software goes down

Software that strikes a good balance between marketing and development are simply just phenomenally rare.

My work is leading the product management of a large CMS. That means constantly dealing with the interconnection of technology, processes, project methodologies, design thinking, integration strategies, user experience, collaboration scheme changes—and a whole host of other topics that a CMS implicitly or explicitly interfaces with.

We try hard to focus on innovation that balances the collaboration between marketing and development, because our world is divided per definition—and because we think this is where digital managers can get the most value from technology. Again, it may look like just another tool—but it can help remodel the way teams work together.

The duty of a digital leader

Let’s face it. As a digital leader, you don’t have the luxury of choosing sides. You have to build the bridges—whatever it takes. With handover processes, with agile methods, with organizational changes—or any other gadget, method or procedure you can find in your toolbox.

A sound approach for digital leaders working on revving up their digital projects is to focus on the bridge rather than the two islands it connects. One way to do that is to look for technology solutions and also particular software products that are committed to traverse the cultural silos between marketing and development. That may just be faster than the change management your organization otherwise needs to get people to collaborate naturally. It just doesn’t work for a digital manager to rely on technology that leans too heavily to one side.

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