A Marketer’s Guide to Agile Development – Insource or Outsource?

A few years ago at a National Center for Database Marketing conference, a panelist said that the decision whether or not a marketing organization should build their database management functionality in-house often rests on the relationship between two people – the marketing chief and the head of technology. How does that dynamic play out in your organization?

Is their relationship collaborative and friendly? Then building and maintaining a marketing database in-house can work well. But if the two executives regularly engage in silo defense and turf-grabbing, then outsourcing may be faster, less stressful on the business, and offer you more autonomy.

Naturally, politics shouldn’t be a key factor in the decision. But it usually is because politics drives delay – and delay drives opportunity costs. You can successfully pull an internally-managed database solution into the station even if your CMO and CTO are ‘frenemies’. But it will take longer while they argue over who’s driving the bus.

How much incremental revenue, cost savings, or efficiency do you lose in the meantime? You need to figure it out, then figure it into your decision process.

I was once refused administrative rights to a database, due to a business rule that only the I.T. team members were qualified DBA’s. I challenged the rule, citing my assistant’s graduate degree in Computer Science and the fifteen years of database experience between
us. We finally did get our rights because we had the proper credentials, not because we were entitled to autonomy. If you don’t possess real qualifications within your team or have immediate plans to hire people with them, outsourcing is probably best.

You’ve got to put yourself in your tech manager’s shoes. A poorly written query against a database on a shared server could grind her production system to a halt. When the field offices suddenly can’t enter any new contracts, she’s the one who has to stand in front of the Sales VP’s desk explaining what happened, not the hapless marketing guy who set the whole thing in motion.

So give her a comfort level by talking like a DBA instead of a marketer. Which statement will be more effective in dispelling her fear?

a) “We should be able to control our own database – we know what we’re doing – you won’t be sorry.”

b) “I promise, I’ll never perform a six-table outer left join without a where clause or import a two million row table without proper indexing.”

If you know what (b) means, she will realize you’re aware of the type of bad acting that brings down servers and she has your word that it won’t happen on your watch. If you don’t know what it means, you should seriously consider outsourcing.

Consider safety and continuity. The server corrupts, the on-call junior tech loads the backup, which corrupts too, and keeps loading each previous backup until they’re all damaged. Or you discover that the backup failed every night for the last three weeks, but the failure notification went to the phone of an employee laid off last June. It happens. Tight procedures and consistent oversight help mitigate it, but the risk is inherent to any in-sourced solution.

Many consider outsourcing safer. But consider the October 2009 T-Mobile Sidekick debacle – a catastrophic database failure in which some vital client data was irretrievably lost. And the keeper of the data wasn’t some undercapitalized DB startup – it was Microsoft. They’ve since recovered a portion of the lost data, but confidence in outsourcing and cloud computing in particular took a definite hit.

Outsourcing data failures are fairly rare, and you at least have the option to sue. But either outsourced or in-house failure can cripple your operation and lose customers. You need to honestly assess how well your in-house staff can execute on database maintenance best practices, compared to the vendor’s ability to do the same, and use those risk factors in your decision.

PLAN B: TRAINING WHEELS AND TRANSPARENCY

If you definitely want to take your database operations in-house, and your tech team balks, you can offer to launch with “training wheel” rights and gradually earn your way to autonomy. Offer to:

 Accept read-only and row append rights to start.

 Submit all query coding to an IT manager for quality assurance prior to a live run.

 Schedule meetings to review server load metrics, table change requirements, and new data loads you need them to support.

 Call for advance clearance to append more than a 100K records into the database.

Give it six weeks and ask again. If you’ve been diligent, you’ll likely be granted full rights to manage your database. The tech department doesn’t really want to review your code, add more meetings to their schedules, or interrupt their day to approve your appends. They just want a comfort level that:

a) You acknowledge you are playing in their sandbox.

b) You won’t break anything.

c) You will be a good steward of the data.

No matter the relationship between your CMO and CTO, you can better develop your own relationship with IT by seeing things through their eyes.

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Agile Humor – Annoying Your Colleagues 101

Here are a few handy tips to annoy the bejeezus out of your co-workers in an open-office configuration:

1) If a topic’s worth discussing, it’s worth discussing on speaker phone. Bonus points if you’re talking to your dermatologist.

2) Instead of saving down a quick iPhone image to Dropbox of the whiteboard you just filled top to bottom with your multi-color Dry-Erase brilliance, just scrawl “DO NOT ERASE” on it. Then leave for your 2-week backpacking trip to Patagonia. Everyone will understand.

3) Be sure to cram as much text ad you can possibly fit onto PowerPoint presentations. Why, with a few crafty abbreviations and a 4-point Arial font, you could get the entire Magna Carta on a single slide.

4) You can never spray on too much Axe. Use enough so your chick magnet scent-cloud enters the scrum before you do.

5) A garlic andouille sausage and pepper jack sandwich with extra onions is the perfect eat-at-your-desk lunch to get you through a grueling afternoon of pair programming.

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Agile Humor – Top Ten Perks Of Being Women In Tech

10) There’s never a line for the Ladies’ Room. Like, ever.

9) Clearly, your easy access to the facilities more than makes up for your 87-cents-on-the-dollar salary differential.

8) Dudes over age 30 spot you points for being able to write code and possess ovaries at the same time.

7) Those Over-30 dudes are likely to be so impressed, they’ll hit on you – but they’re very used to hearing the word “no”.

6) Pizza and Red Bull know no gender.

5) Chicks also look great in hoodies, board shorts and flip-flops.

4) You improve the ambient scent of the work area by a factor of 20%.

3) Your colleagues avoid you three or four days a month out of fear – a great time to catch up on code debt.

2) Pair programming is tons more fun when your programming partner is utterly terrified you’ll go off on him at the slightest provocation.

1) Your boss’s offensive comment on your performance review to “stand back and let others shine” is now a meme.

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A Marketer’s Guide To Agile Development – Survey Says…

The customer base shrank, revenues fell, and prospects told sales reps repeatedly that the product was losing relevance. Not true, said the executives. It was only a misperception, they claimed – industry-sponsored studies indicated product usage was steady, even increasing a little in some areas! But the studies were wrong. The decline was real.

Why such a huge disconnect between the survey results and market reality? Simple. For the most part, they surveyed consumers with landlines, publicly listed phone numbers, who were at home during weekdays, and had the time and willingness to take a long survey. This method has been used for decades, and could be reliably extrapolated over the general population. But the world has changed. The increasingly older consumers willing to answer the phone in the example above still comprise an important constituency – but they are not and should not be construed as the average consumer. This traditional survey bias was also a factor in the 2012 Presidential election polling. Skewed survey results masked problems with candidates’ outreach operations and produced nasty surprises on election night.

In the case above, older consumers were still using the product at the same rate. But younger consumers weren’t. Younger consumers are also less likely to have landlines, have publicly listed phone numbers, spend weekdays at home, and agree to take a long survey. That’s why the surveys (which were otherwise conducted with scientifically accepted methodology) let the executives keep believing the decline was temporary. They told their sales reps to defend the product by explaining to prospects that their perception about product relevance was wrong – they had the surveys to prove it. That did not turn out well.

When the real world indicators don’t look anything like the marketing research, defending the research is usually not a winning strategy. Conduct the research so it WILL unearth the worrying trends and inconvenient truths about your products. At least you can develop a roadmap to deal with them before your competitors do.

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Agile Humor – More Agile Haiku

yin and yang we’re not
more like Hatfield and McCoy
pair programming blows

sorry I was wrong
for coding “Hank’s a tool” see
it’s commented out

crude no elegance
still it pains me to admit
your code works just fine

hell no they’re not bugs
undocumented features
yeah that’s what they are

I’ll buy you Red Bull
you debug my subroutine
okay Twizzlers too

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A Marketer’s Guide to Agile a Development – Who Said It:

When it comes to meetings, meanings of common phrases differ depending who’s talking;

“So that’s the problem in a nutshell. Thoughts?”

– “I’d like to hear your opinion on how I might approach the solution.”

– “I want you to solve this for me, but I don’t want to ask you outright.”

– “I got nothing. Any ideas? Pleeeeze?”

– “Tag – You’re It!”

“Let’s circle back on this later.”

– “There are more pressing priorities, so we’ll revisit this topic at another time.”

– “We aren’t making any progress here – and I need a Red a Bull really bad right now.”

– “You’re clearly delusional. We’ll talk about this once you re-enter earth’s atmosphere.”

– “If you don’t stop talking, I’m going to gouge my eyes out with this pen.”

“That’s a great question.”

– “Good question.”

– “Stupid question.”

– “Phew – I know the answer to this one.”

– “Crap – I got nothing.”

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A Marketer’s Guide to Agile Development – You Can’t Make Me

I fly US Airways a lot. Not road-warrior gold status, but several thousand miles per month.

In the many years I’ve flown US Airways, my assigned boarding zone has varied. You know, sometimes you win (Zone 1 or 2), sometimes you lose (Zone 4 or 5). But something’s changed – in the last few months, I’ve been consistently assigned Zone 4 or 5 for boarding. Understand, it’s not just drawing the short straw occasionally – it’s become a running joke among my travel colleagues – “Bye Cathy, see you in [insert city here]”.

Lately I’ve eschewed wheeled luggage for soft duffels that will fit under the seat with my computer bag. As any traveller knows, Zone 4 or 5 = no overhead bin space = “sorry, we’re gonna have to go ahead and gate-check that bag for ya, ma’am.”

I am loyal to the airline. The airline frequently assigns me TSA Pre-Check status. My ticket fares are rarely in the aggregator bargain-basement tier. They have every reason to like me. So why is this happening? I have a theory.

I’ve never signed up for their credit card. And I suspect my consumer and behavioral profile fits US Airways’ propensity model of customers who should. One of the perks of a US Airways credit card holders is – wait for it – Zone 2 boarding for all flights. My hypothesis is that the inconvenient boarding zone assignments are being used as a prod – to nudge me into signing up for their credit card so I can start carrying a wheeled bag again.

I’m so onto you, US Airways. You are the masters of segmentation. But I don’t care how many times you assign me to Boarding Zone Siberia. You can’t make me get your credit card. I can hold out. Two words. Travel knits.

Update 4/18/14: the siege is over – got Zone 2!!

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Agile Humor – Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road? – Ad Agency Edition

Data Analytics

Cell 1 [Side of the Road A] Attrition = -1
Cell 2 [Side of the Road B] Acquisition = +1
Net Gain = 0
Key Drivers; Insufficient Sample Size, More Data Needed

Creative

She didn’t. Chicken concept didn’t fly – focus group liked the puppy.

Digital

The Side Of The Road A landing page needs to be retooled to improve engagement.

Client Services

No puppy. The client chose the chicken concept. Actually they asked if it could be a rooster.

Client Services

Can the rooster be black? With red tail feathers?

Client Services

No roosters. We need to bring back the chicken. Their CMO was once bitten by a rooster.

Accounting

Tell the chicken to code the time spent road crossing to Account CHIXCROSS438.

Client Services

The client’s just signed on a new CMO. She liked the puppy.

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Agile Humor – And Even More Agile Drinks

“Lean In” Mule

Vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice, made between 11:15 pm and 6:30 am because that’s the only time you’re not at work.

Unrealistic Mojito

Macerate 6 mint leaves in a simple syrup of tubinado sugar and water, add a shot of Cuban rum, juice one lime into…geez, this is taking way longer than the estimate, we’ll have to carry it in the next sprint.

Intern Screwdriver

Skittles-infused vodka, orange juice, and a pile of swizzle sticks to organize by length and color.

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A Marketer’s Guide to Agile Development – A Tale of Two Christmas List Apps

Last year I downloaded an app to help me keep track of my Christmas shopping. I paid the small fee for extra functionality and no ads. It did all the things it said it would do. But it annoyed the crap out of me every day I used it.

This year I downloaded a different app to accomplish the same task. The design is clunky and uses gaudy colors. It’s done up in some kitschy font – looks like Comic Sans on a bender. It also does all the things it said it would do. And I like it much better.

Why? Both apps track budgets, recipients, gifts and costs. But here’s the difference. This year’s app lets me think like a Christmas shopper, while last year’s app forced me to think like a DBA.

Let’s say I bought my nephew Alex a Tom Brady jersey for $48.

Last Year’s App:

Step 1: Click to the Recipient area
Step 2: Enter my nephew Alex’s name.
Step 3: Click “Save”.
Step 4: Click to the Gift area.
Step 5: Enter “Tom Brady Jersey” in the Gift field and $48 in the Price field.
Step 6: Click “Save”.
Step 7: Click back to the Recipient area
Step 8: Find Alex in the Name drop-down.
Step 9: Find “Tom Brady Jersey” in the Gift drop-down.
Step 10: Click “Save”.

I had to repeat these steps for every recipient, and almost every gift. It did have a feature where I could choose multiple recipients for the same gift. Useful if I was giving all my nephews the same Patriots jersey – which I wasn’t. So using it got pretty old, pretty quick.

This Year’s App:

Step 1: Click to the New List area.
Step 2: Enter Alex’s name.
Step 3: Enter “Tom Brady Jersey” in the Gift field.
Step 4: Enter $48 in the Price field.
Step 5: Click “Save”.

And we’re done. It probably creates the same tables as the other app. But it lets me enter the data using a shopper’s thought process instead of a programmer’s. So it’s a keeper. I guess now I have to pay $1.99 so I don’t get an ad every 30 seconds begging me to play Candy Crush.

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