Previously in this series, David Churbuck, Acquia’s Vice President of corporate marketing, shared the art of writing a decent agency brief. Catch up and read David’s blog, here.
As the VP of digital marketing, I lead the team that interacts with Acquia.com every day. From website development to content creation and analytics, we are responsible for all of Acquia’s public-facing digital properties. This includes developing the strategic roadmap, maintaining performance effectiveness, and managing all ongoing content programs for Acquia’s flagship site. As Acquia tackles our own website redesign, my team will be in the trenches working to rebuild Acquia.com.
Any experienced digital marketer knows that a project of this scale comes with a variety of obstacles. Between managing the needs of various departments, directing the scope of external agencies, and navigating unseen challenges, things can fall apart quickly. Before joining Acquia, I oversaw digital and social at an agency called the MullenLowe Group. During my time in the agency world, I saw my fair share of projects go off the rails because internal teams couldn’t strike the right balance between operational execution and executive investment.
I joined the Acquia team in July, which is when the redesign project was beginning to take off. I’ve relied on my past experience to help inform how to organize stakeholders and set internal teams up for success. By no means is it an exact science, but some of my observations might help you in your next ambitious digital project.
Managing Day-to-Day Execution
The first step in assembling an internal team is identifying your core group. The core group should include key leads who will track progress across each discipline. For my team that includes key leads for web development, content, creative, and analytics. The core group is the operational layer that contributes to daily execution, and will put Huge and Acquia Professional Services’ development work into practice.
In addition to key leads, the driving force behind a core team is the project manager. A project manager needs to be a cross functional leader, a natural cat herder, and untangler of spaghetti plans. In addition to overseeing the day-to-day tasks, I would recommend that the project manager is the primary owner of all operational communications. This means managing internal comms in addition to the functional communications that take place with key external partners, which in our case includes our agency partner Huge and Professional Services.
Managing Up and Out
An overhaul of this scale is no small investment, and the website redesign has garnered a lot of executive support in order to be successful. As Acquia’s CMO Lynne Capozzi recently explained, “Acquia.com is one of our company's most valuable marketing tools.” Using our most valuable marketing property to better showcase our products, services, and customers is an executive priority.
Although our executive team has a vested interest in the success of redesigning acquia.com, it cannot (and should not) be in the weeds of the day-to-day. This requires the core group to be vigilant about setting project expectations so that the C-suite is not caught off guard throughout project development. Specifically, it is my responsibility to set clear deadlines and realistic goals to fulfill the interests of the executive team.
Communicating the goals of the redesign also extends to managing out across internal stakeholders. The bottom line is this: Every department, team and stakeholder within Acquia, from sales to product, relies on Acquia.com in some way to be successful. Input from these internal stakeholders is extremely important because it informs how the core team executes a redesign. In partnership with Huge, the core team documented each stakeholder’s input during the discovery stage of the project. These interviews covered everything from the challenges each department faces with digital to what their teams require out of a new site. Absorbing this feedback and understanding how the core team can incorporate these needs into the redesign is an important aspect of managing out.
Finally, one of the most important components of managing the executive and stakeholder layer is defining accountability. As the team lead, I am accountable for the overall success of the project. By identifying who is responsible for the outcome of the redesign, I am required to make decisions that will drive the success of the project. Many times this means using historical data to inform decision making; other times it means relying on my gut to determine what is best for the project. Knowing how and when to make tough decisions includes accepting the risk and responsibility that accompanies them. Here’s an example:
During the early stages of the redesign, the plan was to launch an MVP version of the new site in conjunction with Acquia Engage, our annual customer conference. At the time, this plan made a lot of sense and would have been a great opportunity to showcase the project. I joined Acquia after this deadline had been selected, and the project had already been underway for some time. After I was able to evaluate the state of the project, it became clear that the original plan of launching our MVP at Engage was no longer realistic. More importantly, doing this would only produce short-term benefits, and would not set the site and our team up for success in the long run. The easy path would have been to just stick with the plan I inherited and suffer through it. The harder path was to ultimately to rewrite the original plan and convince the executive team that the new timeline and launch date was best for our long-term success. Nobody said being the team lead was easy.
Managing a Unified Team
Whether a team member is working at the operational or executive level, internal teams need to understand how they can contribute to a universal project goal. This establishes two overarching responsibilities for any VP of digital marketing who is leading a complex redesign project:
- Act as the bridge between operational and executive teams
- Keep internal teams aligned under a ‘north star’
Be the bridge
To execute daily tasks, we need to operate at a speed where critical decisions can be made by the core team. This means establishing the right balance between operational and executive execution. Currently, more than 35 Acquia employees have a vested interested in the website redesign project. However, a project of this size would drag to a halt if it was dictated by a committee of all our internal stakeholders. Instead, the core team has chosen to update and engage with internal stakeholders during project milestones to ensure that team priorities are still in line. This will ensure that operational teams can execute without competing with axillary requests. The VP of digital needs to be the bridge between the operational and executive layers so that the core group can stay focused on the project.
Keeping the 'north star' visible
To successfully tackle a project of this scale, every department, executive, and internal stakeholder needs to be aligned under a “north star.” This means developing a simple and universal goal statement that presides over all of the tactics and planning. As I described previously, the goal of building a new Acquia.com is to create the best showcase of our products, services, and customers. This includes making our flagship site the best demonstration (one that shows not just tells) of our products and services. It’s up to the VP of digital marketing to maintain this aspirational “north star” and reinforce it throughout the trajectory of the project. Doing this helps to keep everyone on course even when teams are in the thick of the day-to-day.
So far, Acquia’s internal teams are off to a great start. Over the course of eleven weeks, we’ve landed on a beautiful new design system and information architecture with our agency partner Huge, reviewed over 4,000 content nodes during a preliminary content audit, and have started discovery with Acquia Professional Services. While there have been a few hurdles, I’ve been inspired by what our team has set out to accomplish with Drupal and Acquia. I have a feeling you’ll be impressed too.