Three years ago I met Nick Muldoon at the SprintZero Conference, and after the conference, he and several other colleagues decided to start the San Francisco Agile Marketing Meet-up. The meet up went from strength to strength, and is now the most active of the agile marketing meet-ups in the US and around the world. I thought now would be a great time to chat with Nick about the development of the meet-up; here’s my interview:
John: First, can you give me a little background on how you came to agile?
Nick: My introduction to agile was 6 years ago. At the time I was managing customer support teams. An opportunity came along for me to move into a product management role after Atlassian acquired GreenHopper, an agile add-on for JIRA. Audra Eng, the VP Product, took a chance and made me responsible for GreenHopper. I knew little about product management and agile was a brand new term.
It was in this role I learned about agility by immediately immersing myself in the community. I also had a super mentor in Jean-Christophe Huet, the founder of GreenHopper and someone well versed in agile methods. That was how I started.
John: I had thought you had more of a development background before your Atlassian role here in the States?
Nick: Back in the day I studied engineering but didn’t go into engineering; I immediately started managing customer support teams.
From there I built the engineering team for GreenHopper in Sydney. But no actual development in my career aside from hobby projects.
As for the move to San Francisco... the GreenHopper product grew significantly over the three years to 2012. By then it was necessary for a full time marketing person and the Atlassian marketing team was in San Francisco. A great new opportunity for me, and again a VP at Atlassian that was willing to take a chance and provide the training and support to help me be successful in a new role.
John: And what about agile marketing?
Nick: The move from product management into product marketing introduced me to new types of work and new ways of working.
It became apparent that some of the agile practices we had leveraged in Sydney for building product could be easily applied to marketing. And we had challenges in marketing - sequencing work, understanding the team’s capacity, throughput, quality, and so forth.
So there were very similar challenges in the marketing world to the ones software development teams had addressed with agile methods. We started to apply them and see what worked - kanban more effective than scrum, swim lanes and cycle time by type of content, etc.
In mid-2012 I got wind of an agile marketing event, SprintZero. Turns out there were other people exploring similar aspects of applying agile practices to marketing teams - super! John Cass, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff and Jim Ewel hosted SprintZero in San Francisco to discuss these tactics. Because of the SprintZero event, I learned there was a community of people interested in these things, who had seen similar challenges to me and who were on the same journey as I was at Atlassian.
John: As a product marketer, what is different about agile marketing compared to agile development? Is there anything different?
Nick: An example; in the world of product development we tried test driven development to build a shared understanding and improve quality. I haven’t seen anything similar in marketing, maybe it doesn't even make sense; instead I may have a hypothesis in marketing.
Agile is new to marketing teams. In the world of software engineering agile techniques date back 20+ years; while in the world of marketing people’s exposure to agile has a very short window. Agile started in the 90’s, and the foundation day was in 2001 in Utah where the Agile Manifesto was written.
For marketing the date was 2012 at SprintZero where the community came together to discuss and write an agile marketing manifesto. If we hadn’t had SprintZero we wouldn't have an Agile Marketing Manifesto or even the Agile Marketing meetup. Ultimately, without SprintZero we wouldn’t have the strength in the community we do today, especially here in the Bay area.
The San Francisco Agile Marketing meetup has over 2600 professionals. Hundreds of people attend the monthly events. We are constantly updating the event. We started the event over 18 months ago and we have learnt a tremendous amount along the way. For instance, in 2014 we discovered that many folks who had recently joined the meetup didn't have the experience and context that we, the founders, did.
So we introduced lightening talks. These are 10 minutes talks before the keynote focused purely on the practice of agile marketing. For example, in February we looked at retrospectives and how they can be a valuable for practice for helping agile marketing teams continuously improve. Each month we have a different lightening talk speaker, and the audience has found it a great way to improve their agile practices.
John: What are some of the highlights of the group? What events stick in your mind?
Nick: There’s one I keep on referring back to. Colin Crook had a great presentation on hacking the media, how to understand PR, how leverage news outlets, how to build a relationship with people in media and introduce them to your product in a respectful way. I keep on going back to that presentation.
The San Francisco Agile Marketing meetup is about is educating the audience on practices and techniques, about how they can improve the entire customer experience for their business.
John: Who manages the group today, and what events do you have planned?
Nick: Same group of people we've had since 2012 - Austin, Paul and I.
In April we're talking about increasing mobile app downloads by leveraging app store optimization.
John: What do you think is the state of agile marketing today in the industry? What's the future?
Nick: Still very early days.
Future? Perhaps we see maturity to the point where product marketing people and marketing people generally become embedded with the product and engineering team. In the past we've seen designers embedded in the team, QA embedded, and more recently operations people have been embedded. It means we split teams in different ways - stable teams built with a composition of complementary people.
This may not happen across all industries although I can see a world where marketing is embedded like these other functions and we blur the lines between those functions. What's to stop an engineer from writing some content and a product marketer from writing a few lines of code?
Note: (Nick uses the word learnt, its Australian and British English for American English “learned”.)
Takeaways from John
The event model the team in San Francisco has put together for the agile marketing meet-ups is definitely working, I think here are some of the factors that make the event such a growing success:
- Consistency, they hold regular meetings.
- Good content, networking and food.
- Content isn’t restricted to agile marketing only topics, instead the group talk about every topic in modern marketing, though there’s almost always an aspect of the main talks that involves agile.
- The lightening 10 minute talks give people basic education on agile.