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By Georgina Lewindon, Events Ambassador CIM Wales Board

On Tuesday 25th September, we had the privilege of running an event in the 22nd floor Capital Tower offices of DevOpsGroup. Fortunately, the weather was kind enough to deliver the stunning panoramic views we’d ambitiously promised, although they were by no means the only thing that left a good impression on delegates.

Gavin Davies, vice chair business community for the CIM Wales Board, introduced our speakers: DevOpsGroup’s Ryan Cullen, people success lead, and Joanna Pontin, marketing manager, who gave a stand-out CIM Marketing Bitesize session on how they’ve utilised Agile marketing to create award-winning employee engagement.

Aside from an above-industry standard eNPS (Employee net promoter score) of +70, the ambitious tech company won the Wales Best Workplace award in 2017 and most recently made it into the Fast Growth 50. In August, The Sunday Times suggested it might become Wales’ first unicorn (a start-up that surpasses the billion-dollar valuation mark).

When you consider they’ve grown their workforce from 16 to 117 in just 2 years, and doubled their annual turnover for the last 3, it’s not difficult to see how they’ve achieved such recognition.

But exactly how they’ve done it while managing the demands of a rapidly growing team is something we were keen to grasp.

Ryan outlined a few of the measures that have made a big impact:

  1. Culture

“We articulate and embrace our 5 core values in everything we do,” Ryan explained. “We regularly and consistently relate everything back to them in our internal communications and recognise people’s demonstration of them. Having the same message externally to what you do internally is really important.”

And it’s a message that is very visible internally, literally plastered all over the walls:

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2. Making sure everyone knows where they fit

“We use a collaborative goal setting system which gives everyone accountability and responsibility,” said Ryan. “By setting their own OKRs, everyone is clear what outcome they’re working towards and how the work they’re doing contributes to overall success.”

Ryan explained that encouraging autonomy and empowerment in this way leads to more empowered staff and lower turnover which has a direct impact on clients.

  1. Working practices

DevOpsGroup uses Agile and lean methodology across all its business areas for consistency of practice and approach. Ryan described how the fact everyone is BCS Agile certified means they have a commonality in language and understanding.

Kanban boards (see image above) help employees visualise their work and let others know how they can support them. “Tools like these can benefit the whole organisation,” said Ryan. “Visualisation of work means that communication comes more naturally and everyone knows where we’re at on projects.”

  1. Feedback loops

Another key to their success with engaging staff has been regularly asking for and acting on feedback. “We have a quick feedback loop and use a variety of communication techniques such as a monthly Pulse survey, focus groups and 1-2-1s and we use that feedback to improve communication” said Ryan.

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  1. Make time to communicate

“Although we’re a tech organisation, we put a lot of value on face-to-face communication,” explained Ryan. “We have a monthly get together and hold ‘Track’ sessions in the afternoon where everyone has a chance to share and learn something new.”

The team also have a day off from day-to-day business every month to attend a Dog Conf and transparently discuss how the business is doing – before heading off for a well-deserved drink!

  1. Tools and technology

Ryan highlighted some of the tools which have been particularly helpful at engaging their growing team better. These include:

Confluence – a crowd-sourced intranet for storing, sharing and collaborative working

Zoom – which Ryan says makes remote works feel less remote

Slack – to provide instant messaging which improves workflow

Hubspot – for tracking engagement with internal communications to see what’s working

  1. People

While this technology is undoubtedly beneficial for them, Ryan explained that at the end of the day, it comes back to people: “We have great people – everyone is special. But we need to keep the right people and attract more. When you have the right people, you get the right clients.”

How do they do this?

“We have our own hashtag #lifeatdog and a strong employer brand. I don’t have to tell people they should come and work here; they already want to.

Fortunately, they have a person dedicated to onboarding their new employees.

After Ryan’s fascinating insight into their approach to people, Joanna Pontin explained how the marketing department has aligned itself to facilitate the company’s enviable success.

Adapting the marketing approach

“When I started with DevOpsGroup back in 2016 it was a young disruptive company, blazing a trail,” said Joanna. “The marketing approach needed to match it.”

Joanna says the fact Agile marketing is practically non-existent in the UK, needs to change: “If marketing wants to be relevant or leading, it needs to adopt Agile processes or it’ll be left out of the equation.”

Senior team buy-in can make all the difference to recognising the importance of Agile marketing, and Joanna recognises that they were fortunate to have this as it’s not always the case for marketing functions who can be siloed off.

DevOpsGroup still develop an annual plan, but reset objectives and review key results quarterly. The focus of Agile is how to break things down into bitesize chunks to create a living plan that can adjust and inform their buyer persona so it is relevant and up-to-date.

Why Agile marketing works

Things move at a phenomenal rate in IT. Agile marketing provides a way for DevOpsGroup to adapt their marketing strategy in accordance with the constant change, whilst also being able to engage with their technical colleagues.

Agile marketing is often perceived as being solely about flexibility; in practice it is about much more than that. Author of Lean Agile Marketing, Femi Olajiga, describes it as:

“an optimised approach to people, processes and tools in marketing planning and execution, in response to changing customer behaviour and market trends….It champions data-driven marketing decision making, with an emphasis on value creation from a customer’s perspective. Every member of the agile marketing team must embrace the core values of the agile methodology in order to facilitate this shift in mind-set and support the successful completion of the team’s activities and the achievement of the team’s objectives.”

Joanna explained that their agile approach means there is less room for the HPOs (highest people’s opinions). To support this, DevOpsGroup hold daily stand-ups (not the comedy variety) to give people a chance to talk about and reflect on what they’ve done: what worked, what didn’t work. “It’s like a daily morale boost,” said Joanna.

The Estnet Best Workplace assessment is a testament to this: “It was clear to judges that this young company is dedicated to a face-to-face approach to ensure that each person can have their say, utilising technology to ensure everyone is included. While data and surveys play a role at DevOpsGuys, the organisation has established a regular series of cultural, coaching, and bureaucracy busting initiatives, to ensure individuals are supported to voice their opinions and aid their personal development.” 

Joanna concluded that: “Agile marketing isn’t a set of rules; it’s a mindset. Ultimately, it’s about saying ‘we’re all in it together’. And this is a mindset that will no doubt stand their ambitions to double or triple in size over the next 5 years in good stead.

Gavin Davies says: “It’s exciting to see companies like DevOpsGroup growing at such a pace and employing local marketing talent in South Wales. As an organisation, the CIM is proud to be supporting this."

Download the presentation slides.