Articles tagged maark

Kicking off an awesome responsive data visualization project. It’s Lab Day with the new client. Get your pencils ready…

o be expected. But the snag is when these conditions push technical decisions in ways that become a stumbling block to brand execution. Sometimes the constraint is being forced to build upon legacy infrastructure that isn’t up to snuff. Other times it’s having technology choices handed down to engineering based on concerns not directly related to the project itself. Perhaps it is the comfort level of the stakeholder or maybe an entrenched partnership with an inferior service provider.

2. Fluidity. I have been around software development projects long enough to know that project requirements are probably best described by a play on a familiar line from Pirates of the Caribbean: “Requirements are more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” In other words, requirements are set in stone – that is, until they change and change again. From a business perspective, this fluidity is certainly understandable. In the length of time it can take to deliver a software product, internal priorities and external environmental factors can shift radically. So too, schedules can so easily shift in an attempt to accommodate a key press event or the unexpected meeting with C-level execs.

While volatility may be business reality, the more requirements shift and change, the greater the challenge that engineers face to deliver innovation. Well-crafted architectural and implementation decisions made at the start of a project can become instantly compromised by timeline surges or last-minute feature requests, pressuring the development team to implement a rushed, tacked-on solution that becomes technical debt to deal with for years to come.

3. Pace of Others. Innovation can also be challenging as we collaborate with and are frequently reliant upon tech partners that can operate at a much more languid pace than we are accustomed to. We think in days or weeks, but it is not unusual for other organizations to think in months by comparison. The culture clash can be jarring – much like trying to pair up Usain Bolt with a group of marathoners for a relay race. In such a scenario, Bolt would have a fundamentally different way of executing on the race than would the more conservative, slower paced long-distance runners.

4. Tension Between Quality & Speed. Undoubtedly, the greatest challenge that engineering teams grapple with in delivering innovation is the inherent tension between quality of delivery and speed to market. Innovation, by definition, demands both: a quality product that is slow to market is a could-have-been while a hurried, immature product is a should-have-been. Engineers can become distracted from executing on the brand and simply deliver to the deadline. The mastery comes, not in balancing the two, but delivering on both quality and timing.

Making Innovation Happen

As a technology leader, I need to do everything possible to lesson and mitigate these tensions for my development team. But our ability to execute on the brand is not going to be realized by trying to change the realpolitik of the business landscape. Instead, it is done by responding to those tensions in ways that overcome them.

First and foremost, being able to successfully deliver innovation is done through the assembly of the right engineering team. Individuals need to be smart, savvy, and creative, but they also need to be highly adaptable problem-solvers – a quality that can be surprisingly rare to find among even skilled developers.

Beyond individual developer qualities, however, you also need to assemble the right composition of skills across the full team. A temptation that I see many companies falling into is lumping engineers into the same category. You would never charge a UI developer to build out your cloud infrastructure. But, in the same way, you shouldn’t assign your backend engineers to build a compelling, nuanced user experience that your brand ultimately hinges upon. That’s a different skillset, even if the engineer knows how to put things together. And yet we see that happening all of the time around us.

Being able to successfully execute on the brand is also achieved by the engineering team working closely alongside the design team. The stone-age practice of “throwing over the wall” between these two groups just will not cut it. Instead, organizations need to foster a collaborative environment for iterative development and cross-pollination. At MAARK, we have been working to fuse the groups together in new ways – with the clear objective of being better positioned to deliver a compelling user experience.

At the end of the day, engineers want to create cool things that last. We see ourselves as craftsmen and artisans skillfully creating value in the world of UX and software architecture every bit as much as our pre-digital forefathers did with their hands. However, when our deliveries are almost invariably under duress and innovation is compromised, this can inevitably have an impact on the engineering team’s moral. Some can develop an almost PTSD-like mentality, while others can become too jaded to even try to deliver innovation under such conditions. Still others flee to less demanding pastures. The ultimatum for technology leaders thus becomes cultivating a team of engineers that can rise above these tensions and, in fact, relish these challenges.

Baring Your Brand

In the end, whether the stakeholders or engineers realize it or not, the “innovation vs. serviceability” dilemma is bare for all the world to see. Frankly, every visitor to your website or user of your app can see it. I can look at a host of apps on my iPhone with household names attached to them and know with certainty that, for whatever behind-the-scenes reasons, their engineers took an acceptable, but ultimately uncompelling path. Conversely, I can look at a well-designed, intuitive, fast-performing app in the App Store and tell exactly the innovative manner in which it was crafted. At the end of the day, that is successful brand execution.

Rich Wagner is the Managing Director of Engineering of Maark where he leads the development team and spearheads the technology strategy of the agency. He has led the development of multiple enterprise apps, mobile apps, and websites for Fortune 500 companies. Rich has also authored over 20 books on software development and other subjects.

Photo credit: 35mm

Crossing the Ocean of Digital Transformation Means Losing Sight of the Shore

Posted by Michael Colombo

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The usual big plans and big vendors mean big delays and big expenses for the content management initiatives of today’s big businesses.

To cross an ocean, you must lose sight of the shore. For a business to change, it must embrace the unfamiliar. Many of the rollouts for large enterprise content management systems, like Adobe’s Experience Manager (AEM), don’t meet their potential because those rollouts are rooted in the familiar: Massive planning with massive partners and not enough focus on pragmatic approaches to deliver value quickly. It’s the exact opposite of digital business. And if you are a large marketer with multiple brands and businesses in your portfolio, that means literally hundreds of web sites to manage and a range of content to disseminate across many digital channels and platforms.

On its face, AEM represents all the value of next generation content and digital asset management. It can give enterprises the foundation they need to act nimbly and in real-time by integrating enterprise content marketing with analytics, audience segmentation, and personalization at scale. However, for many customers who have acquired and implemented it in some form, change has still been slow and disaster feels like it’s lurking behind each code deployment or content update. Even with all this new potential; the problem, the proposed solution, the lack of results…it’s all too familiar. Your transformation journey hasn’t really left port.

Taking advantage of the opportunities that AEM provides requires making some unfamiliar choices. For instance, harnessing the technology requires experts with deep experience in the specific platform as opposed to technology generalists learning AEM for the first time. The ability to configure, control, and manage complex AEM environments comes out of front-line experience from server-side teams that have created their own tools and hardened processes for automating operational tasks. Properly configured automation reduces deployment errors and downtime. And that takes focused, nimble innovators, which are hard to find in monolithic vendor organizations.

The teams you rely on - whether internal or external - to help you deliver transformation cannot themselves require transformation. Many legacy vendors suffer from the same need to overhaul their cultures as the clients they are attempting to serve. That’s why smaller SWAT teams, coming more often from startups than from the Fortune 500, often represent the enterprise’s best chance for change. You are trying to cross an ocean, not boil one, and to do that, you’ll need the small, swift guide boats that can help you navigate AEM’s tricky waters.

Smaller partners also help you focus more squarely on time-to-market over everything else. When industry dynamics and customer behavior were stable, over-planned corporatist initiatives made more sense. Now, they almost never do. Company-wide AEM solutions, while academically appealing to many consultants, lack the pragmatism that should be the first principle of any project that hopes to result in greater business agility. Fostering individual business-unit creativity should be the goal, not the obstacle. Platforms like AEM can support those individual business units looking to get to market more quickly with innovative ideas, but doing so requires lean development models, and an approach to code and component sharing that doesn’t rely on overwrought development.

Embracing the unfamiliar is the only path to transformation. It’s in that unfamiliar space that you will find the innovative tools and processes that really untie the platforms in which the company has invested so much. Choosing smaller, less familiar partners to work on them is going to bring the new thinking, the energy, and the technical wherewithal to help you achieve the change you want. And by focusing on the speed of individual business units, the journey toward transformation becomes an achievable one, mile-by-mile, with value delivered at each leg of the voyage, meaning you can say bon voyage to the old shore, and hello to the new one.

Michael Colombo is the founder and CEO of Maark where he oversees the overall direction and development of the agency as it continues to build its brand as a leading marketing and innovation engine for its customers. He has served as the executive lead in programs including corporate rebranding, solution marketing, sales enablement, digital transformation, and new product design for Fortune 500 companies around the world.

Ready to embrace the unfamiliar and transform your business? See how Maark can help you get more value from your AEM investment faster.

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Photo credit: Cooper Smith

Livin’ the Maark Life: How Virtualizing the Office Invigorated Our Productivity, Cemented Our Culture, and Defined Our Core Value

Posted by Jason Ocker

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“Hey, would it be crazy if we virtualized the office?” That was the question thrown at me one day by the CEO at Maark.

It was 2013, we were at the end of our lease for a beautiful (and expensive) office on State Street in downtown Boston—lots of open space and glass (too much glass—I still bear the scar on my nose from the time I walked right into the door to the conference room because I thought it was open). Also, it was only steps away from Faneuil Hall and enough Dunkin Donuts to ding us on our company health plan. But our staff was becoming more geographically de-centralized. Our clients were becoming more nationally and internationally spread.

Basically, fewer employees could make use of that great office space, and hosting a client on-site was becoming a rare event. Meanwhile, productivity and communications technologies were advancing. We never established in that conversation whether it was crazy or not, but we still went ahead and virtualized. I think it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made: operationally, personally, and corporately.

Operationally, things got tighter. We were suddenly only a tap or click away from anybody in the company. For some reason, it was easier to jump in a Google Hangout or a Slack video call than pull everyone into a conference room. Even one-on-one, it felt less invasive than walking into somebody’s office.

Those employees who were in other states and countries didn’t feel like outsiders anymore, like they were missing the important moments in the office or felt unable to access who they needed to access. Those with frustrating commutes suddenly found themselves not having to deal with that stress and gaining hours of extra time every day. It was like the company flattened a bit, with everybody on closer terms.

But what really changed is that everybody seemed more engaged, more vested in projects. And that’s because, I think, people liked the new lifestyle. And to protect that, we had to kick ass at work. Personally, virtualizing the office was life-changing. It doesn’t happen often, but just the fact that I can work a twelve-hour day and still be on the couch at 6 pm watching TV with my family removes a lot of stress. I gained three or four hours back per day once commuting was excised. Work fits more organically into my life. If I need to pick up kids after school, it’s a blip in my day as opposed to the tactical exercise it once was.

Corporately, virtualizing helped us define ourselves. Maark has always been a strange company. A small agency boxing above its weight and taking on projects for major companies that would daunt any-sized agency. Because of that, we were often worried about appearances to our clients. We worked hard to come off like the bigger agencies do. But once we lost the trappings of a conventional workplace, we embraced that we weren’t a conventional agency. We have 30-some full-time employees and a network of 20 more trusted freelancers. Our average employee tenure for those 30 is an astonishing eight years (in an agency, mind you), and many of those freelancers have been around just as long.

That all adds up to a time-tested, flexible team that can execute at speeds and costs most agencies can’t. It also means that we have no B-Team. Our clients get exactly who they meet on Day 1. We excel at highly technical, strategic, complicated projects and at driving execution. We are a SWAT team. Our new perspective helped us really see what our strengths are and what our highest value to clients is. We are different, for when clients need something different.

The proof is in the bottom line. Since we virtualized, we’ve increased revenue 250%.

There are issues. Recruitment is difficult. It’s hard to find the type of people who thrive in an environment so predicated upon personal initiative and responsibility. But that’s always been an issue for us. Figuring out the right productivity and communication tools took time, too, and is probably a never-ending exercise. Brainstorming doesn’t quite seem to work virtually (although it has its issues fundamentally.

But we eventually mitigated some of that. Turns out, one of the most important parts of virtualizing was…leasing an office.

We knew immediately that we needed physical face time regularly, so we decided to meet one day a week. We tried co-working spaces. We rented conference rooms. For a time, we even met in a rock climbing gym. Finally, we leased a small, two-story building in Cambridge. Now we had a permanent, always-open space to meet for brainstorms. A place to meet clients. A space employees can come any time they wanted to, if only to get out of their house. It gave Maark a tangibility without creating an artificial construct.

The idea of a positive corporate culture is usually just a few paragraphs in an employee guide. Maybe some motivational posters stuck on a wall in the cafeteria. A bullet point in a thought piece. A quote in an article. But a culture—any kind of culture, corporate or not—really only forms, really only works, when every individual is vested in it. When they feel fortunate to be part of that culture. When it makes their lives holistically better. When they value it as much as the paycheck that comes with it.

As the company continues to grow, the culture and the operations are more of a challenge for us. But the good kind of challenging. In fact, recently, when somebody floated the idea that maybe we should revert to a more conventional work scheme to adjust to our growth, it was that suggestion that was deemed the crazy one.

Maark Makes…A Party

Posted by Jason Ocker

Drinks were on the house at the first annual Maark Makes Mixer last week. And I mean that literally, as we were 21 stories above the streets of Cambridge. There, on a rooftop deck above a Charles River pointy with sailboats, we watched the sun go down and the Boston skyline get dark and dotted with window light as we ate food and drank cocktails catered by one of our favorite local restaurants, Commonwealth.

The theme for the night was “Maark Makes…” a nod to all the services we provide—brands, embedded applications, digital campaigns, digital products, mobile applications, business stories—but the point was just to hang out with friends, colleagues, and clients and really take in what a cool town Cambridge is to work in.

This was our first public event, and it was a really enjoyable time. Even better, nobody fell off the roof. So, automatic success. We can’t wait until next year’s event. It’ll hard to top 21 stories, but we’ll find a way.